Press Conference

Transcript and video: Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference

Note: Questions have been paraphrased

Opening statement

Just to reflect back on Toronto, obviously, a great opponent, a top team in the East. Difficult environment but I thought our guys were up to the challenge, put in a good performance. Obviously, would’ve been happy with all three points but, at the same time, showed again that we can play with anybody. When we’re on our game, home or away, we can create chances. I do think we did slip up at the very end in the 69th minute, a couple of plays that we talked through on film where we could’ve maybe prevented a goal but, overall, I think the recipe in this league to get results is to contain the other team’s top guys — in this case it was Michael [Bradley] and Jozy [Altidore] — and having eleven guys on the field that are committed to defend and fight together for 90 minutes and, for the most part, I think that we checked a lot of the positive boxes.

We’re at a point in the season where every point matters. Our guys are playing well against good teams. Again, you want to test yourself against the best. We have two games now against Red Bull, a game against Orlando, two at home, one away. All points matter at this stage. Some results have gone our way in recent weeks so that there will be a week where they don’t go our way, so we need to take care of business and get as many points as possible down the stretch here. We know we have a good team, we know our fans deserve to be back in the playoffs, and that is our singular focus at this point of the year.

What do you need in terms of points out of the remaining three games? Is it realistic to for the team to finish in the top three?

Yeah, it’s certainly realistic to get into the top three just because of the simple fact that we play Red Bull twice, you know, so you kind of control your own destiny, in that regard. Listen, Red Bull hasn’t lost since early July so to think that you’re just going to take two games from them is…there’s no guarantee in that. It’s going to be difficult.

To put a number on it think is hard because there’s so many other variables that go into it. You look at even Columbus right now is hot, you know. So, again, it’s tough to put a number on it. We do know that we’re in a good spot, we’ve earned all of the points that we’ve got. Again, we would like to have a couple more and have it been taken care off already but going to Red Bull, it’s a difficult environment but a place where we think we can get points. And then to finish with two games at home…Yeah, we’re shooting for 9 [points], that’s the way to put it and I think, obviously, if you get all 9 I think you are in that probably two or three area [in the standings], maybe even…we’ll stay at two or three [laughs].

Again, speculation is tough with everybody fighting for points, and taking points from each other. We recognize it’s going to be a tough task but, at the same time, we’ve set ourselves up nice where we control our own destiny for once, which hasn’t been the case in past years.

Can you elaborate on the atmosphere at Red Bull Arena?

Our fans are usually great at Red Bull Arena, they’re usually loud and tend to take over the stadium in certain moments, which is key. We’re going to need them and I know that there’ll be a big crew up there. We’ve had some good results against Red Bull this year; in the Open Cup, so there’s a little revenge, the exciting game here, the 2-2 game where they took it to us for a half, we took it to them for a half. So, again, I think it’s two good teams. They’re well coached, Jesse’s done a great job with them but, yeah, going to Red Bull Arena will be difficult. It’s a great surface, great field, great atmosphere, nice stadium so, all to play for. It’s exciting, and we’ll look to try to get points in a hostile environment.

How does that fact that the team isn’t so much chasing a playoff spot as it is the chase affect the team’s mentality?

It’s a better place to be in, I can tell you that. You know, I can’t tell you…I think I’ve memorized everybody’s remaining schedule of every team, and where you think they’ll take points and how it can change. The reality of our league is, though, you have no idea. You have no idea what tonight’s going to look like where there’s three big games that we’ll be obviously having an eye on. If I was to predict it and write it down, and what it looks like on paper, you’ll probably get it wrong, you know? It’s one of those things I think like I know the league pretty well and I’m sure there’ll be some crazy result tonight that you can’t expect.

The good thing is, again, if we control things and take care of business, and, especially, take points at home. we’ll be in the playoffs. What seed that is — four, five, three — I’m not sure yet. But, again, I think two wins pretty much all but assures you that fourth spot and that home game, and that’s what we’re playing for. We want a home game for our fans for obvious reasons: We’re a better team at home than we are away, just like most teams in MLS. Our fans deserve that home game, as well. You talk about when they come to Red Bull Arena they’ll be there in full voice. We can expect that, they have our backs. They’ve supported us all year and to give them a home game is what we’re really fighting for at this point.

On Alejandro Bedoya’s goal in Toronto

Yeah, special goal, I think it’s instantly in the discussions for Goal of the Year contender. I think there’s been a lot of great goals this year from a lot of teams but, first and foremost, the ball that Fabian [Herbers] plays through the line, Ale’s turn to get himself some space, and then to have the composure to chip a ball like that, it’s outside the box. It was a special goal, a big goal for us at a big point in the season, and Ale would tell you he’d trade that goal in for three points. So, again, that’s the way this team is. Everybody contributed to the goal but, yeah, special play from a very talented individual, and a heck of a way to open your goal-scoring account for the club.

First two times you player NYRB this year, they came out stronger in the first half, and then your team was stronger in the second and got results. Do you see the game on Saturday (and later at home in October) going that way or will NYRB change their game plan?

It’s a good point and, again, you just get the scouting report. Tons of data goes into it and it shows what we already know, which is that the first 30 minutes of games they do their damage. They kill teams in the first 30 minutes of games. So, I expect Jesse [Marsch] will play the same way, especially in his home building. We’ll be prepared for it. We’ll have to weather that first 30 minutes because that’s when they make teams uncomfortable. They turn you over in bad spots close to your own goal so we’ll have to be smart about how we build out of the back. When does it make sense to be direct and play in their end and use their aggressiveness against them? They did play last night; a couple of regulars in the lineup. There is the travel element [from playing in Guatemala in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday night], that does play into our favor a little bit but they’re fit enough now, they’re ready to go. And, again, it is two teams that know each other pretty well: you play in the preseason, you beat each other up there; you play in the Open Cup, you play in the regular season now so there’s not a lot of secrets. I don’t think all of the sudden he’s going to come out and play a totally different formation so I do think we know each other well. It’ll be the team that executes in front of goal best. We have areas that we know they like to exploit that they’re very good at getting into that we’ll do our best to prevent them from getting into. It starts with Sacha [Kljestan] and [Bradley] Wright Phillips, and obviously, Dax [McCarty] kind of being the one that starts their attack. So, must do a good job limiting Sacha’s touches, he’s had a heck of a year. Wright Phillips, one of the best goalscorers in the league so we’ll have to weary of him. SImilar to how we dealt with Michael and Jozy, we’ll have to do the same thing and be on our game and deal with these two stars.

How does that play into the gameplan against Toronto, where the UNion started quickly on the front foot? 

I think every game’s different in its own way. Again, there’s no secret to Red Bull’s press, they’re press is the best in our league. They have an ability to make teams uncomfortable, they’re on the same page. They do leave their center backs exposed a bunch, and their defenders 1v1, and they trust them to put out fires.  Early in the year, nothing was going right for them, they were getting punished in every situation. They’ve really done a good job of rectifying that and they’re a team that’s playing as well as anybody right now. They’re a handful. Again, Jesse won Coach of the Year last year but I think as an outsider just looking at it, the injuries they’ve dealt with, the tough start they had, I think he’s done even a better job this year of managing those type of things. Again, that’s an outsider’s view, I don’t have all the insides of what’s going on there but I think he’s done a great job with them. His team is playing well right now, they’re a handful but, again, it’s not going to be a surprise. They’re not going to sit back against us, we have a pretty good idea of that, it’s not going to be anything new, and it’s going to be two teams that are going to get after it. I think there’ll be chances created by both sides; I think both teams like to play, and it’ll be the team that executes inside both boxes that comes away with the result. Hopefully that’s us.

On Tranquillo Barnetta being back in training

With Tranquillo, first and foremost, obviously, I want to thank him for everything that he’s done for the club. This is by no means the end, we want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be in MLS Cup and I’m going to preach that to our guys, to prolong it and run with him within our group as long as possible. A special player that meant a ton to the club; I learned a ton from as a coach. I think he enjoyed his time here. If you rewind back to when he signed his deal and we offered several years, he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal. You know, a lot of people say they’re not about money, and this and that, but Tranquillo truly means it when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market, had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day, and it was an honor to have him here. A special player. Again, this’ll be my opinion but, pedigree wise, what he brought to the locker room, what he brings to young players, his talent on the field: the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey, in my opinion.

It’s a short history that the club has, one where he’s a guy that gave everything for the team, gave everything for the fans, and did it the right way, and you won’t meet many people like him in this game. And we want it to last now as long as possible.

His injury is one that is manageable. We hoped to have him back for Toronto, it just didn’t feel quite right. So, we decided to hold him. I think he’ll play a role in the New York game, whether that’s as a starter or off the bench still remains to be seen. We do have that awkward bye week kind of situation at the end of the year, which is strange but, at the same time, we have to have an eye on what’s best for him, his body, and the club, obviously, getting the most points we can, and using him the best way.

But, again, have to thank him for, again, a short time that we had him, but a special time because he kind of embodies everything that we want this club to be.

Did it help him that he came to MLS knowing perhaps he would only be here for a short time? 

Yeah, I think so. I don’t want to speak for him [but] I think that the chronic knee…the feeling he has in his knee is the scare to him that if he doesn’t pull the trigger and go now he might never be able to be himself playing for his hometown team. So, I respect that. You wanted him to stay here — we have a great relationship, he gets along great with the technical staff, with Earnie, and everybody — but you won’t hear anyone say a negative word about the guy. Again, I think the timing of it, and the fact that it was only an 18-month contract, he gave everything, he gave everything that he had and I think he still has more to give down the stretch here. And he will.

I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still a season left to play. I think it’s strange for everyone to go through and hear it that way. But, in Europe that’s kind of the norm to get out ahead of it. It shows the kind of man and leader he is because he addressed the team, he spoke to them first and foremost, didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaks out. So, a pro, a true pro. Again, honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can and keep working with him.

How did the players handle the news that he would be leaving?  

It’s tough, man, because, again, he’s a great example for our young guys, he’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys, and just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work he is the hardest worker there is. He leads by example, he knows his body well, takes care of himself: a true professional. And, again, his pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had at this club in terms of where he’s played in Europe, the games he’s been in, the quality, the Champions League and bringing that experience to the group is special. People are going to say “How do you replace it?'”, and you can’t, to be honest. That’s the reality.

We’ll do our best to but there’s not many people and players that have the total package like he had, and kind of embodied the city and embody what the club is about. So, he’ll be missed, no question about it. It’s not over yet; again, I keep stressing that. But you have to respect the fact that he wants to fulfill his promise and dream to play in his hometown at the end of his career.

Is it odd for you as a coach telling the players that such an important player is leaving — but not yet?

Yeah, it’s the first time I’ve gone through something like this too, for sure. So, again, it’s something we want to kind of celebrate rather than pity and feel bad. We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here and now we’re going to make it last as long as we possible can. And, again, I’ll say it probably the rest of games out in the pregame talk, “Let’s extend this thing as long as possible,” and use it kind of as a rallying cry because you don’t want it to come to an end, and when it does come to an end you want it to be in a special moment. So, we’ll keep pushing through the regular season, hopefully through the playoffs, and hopefully through to MLS Cup, and Tranquillo would probably want nothing more than for it to end that way, as well.

On using Brian Carroll/Warren Creavalle double pivot in Toronto. Was that about Alejandro Bedoya playing the No. 10 or protecting the back line? 

A little bit of a combination. I think, if you remember back in the game here in our building, their wide guys did a really good job: Will Johnson came inside [Marco] Delgado came inside, and created numbers advantages where we were scrambling a bit, and our outside backs, we didn’t do a good job of cutting them out so we were kind of in between: we never took out the outside backs and we were not taking out the outside midfielders. When they came inside it created issues for us and to put another body in there, and experienced body in Brian Carroll, I thought that they did a good job of kind of clogging the middle. I think it needs to be said that Chris [Pontius] and Herbers did a good job of protecting the middle first, and when it did go wide they did those dirty runs to get out and put pressure on the outside backs. Again, we fell asleep the one play that led to the goal so, not perfect. But, did a good job of frustrating Toronto, especially in the first half. I think if we’re a little more clinical we get a second goal and that changes the whole shape of the game. But, yeah, the thinking there was to clog the middle, defend from the inside to the outside, especially once they crossed midfield. And having Ale there, who has a little more mobility to run and chase Michael Bradley in the tough spots was also key because, again, he’s the heart of their team and we thought if we could squeeze and cut out the heart we could get some chances. And it worked for the majority of the game but we had that one moment where we fell asleep and we got punished. By their left back, which was tough [laughs].

Injury update on Josh Yaro

Josh is back, cleared to a concussion test this morning, was able to train yesterday noncontact. So, had kind of the red pinney on and wasn’t allowed to get hit like a quarterback kind of thing. Cleared this morning so, again, to have him back in the lineup is a good option.

Needs to be said: Ken [Tribbett] really did a great job for us [against Toronto]. Talked to him this morning, really proud of the way he bounced back from a difficult game against Toronto in the previous. We joked it’s certainly better when [Sebastian] Giovinco’s not out there but, at the same time, you can’t control that, he still had to step up in a big spot against Jozy Altidore and do a good job of limiting his chances. And Ken had a very good game defensively and offensively. And, again, that’s a credit to his character. There’s been some highs this year, some really high highs, he’s won us a lot of games and been a part of a lot of wins, and he’s had some learning experiences, too, and that’s normal for a center back. I really couldn’t be happier, though, for him with the bounce back that he had. We have between Josh, him, and Richie [Marquez], guys playing really well in the back. We’ll have to make a decision match-up wise what makes the most sense against Red Bull but, yeah, happy for Ken, too. And Josh is back.

On the injury status of Ilsinho and Tranquillo Barnetta

Ilsinho, and again, it’s the same reason he hasn’t been in the starting lineup, the plantar fasciitis is painful for him. He was in training on yesterday, on Tuesday, with the knowledge that we were going to get a shot in the foot after training. He was the best guy in practice, in the little 5v5 possession so, in the tight spaces it’s not a big deal, he doesn’t feel it much. But, when he opens up now in big space and has to run and fully sprint over 50 yards which, unfortunately, happens a heck of a lot in soccer games, he has some pain still. So, they did a shot today with the doctor. We’ll see how he responds to it but, obviously a key piece down the stretch that’s a real weapon for us in the attack.

Other than that, Quillo was able to get through the technical part of training today and actually was able to play when we opened up and went to bigger spaces. So, positive, I feel like he’ll be to play a role some way or other in the weekend’s game.

And Maurice Edu?

Mo’s good. He was out there today, trained well. Again, he continues to cover more and more ground each training session; we obviously monitor that with the Catapult System and he’s getting up closer to the numbers that we want him to get to each day. Right now I’d say Warren and BC just because they have a full season under their belt, they’re able to cover a little bit more ground right now but Mo is working toward getting to those numbers that we see fit for that position in MLS and what it takes to play a game.

Did you watch NYRB play Antigua in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday night?

I watched it last night but it was kind of a washout in more ways than one in that they had a torrential downpour [and] it was more of a fight about getting a result. They had some guys out on the field that you’ll see most likely: Felipe [Martins], [Aurelien] Colin, [Luis] Robles in goal, Kemar Lawrence had to come in due to injury — all good things. It was a heavy field, that’s a good factor. I wish the game was Wednesday but it wasn’t. They had some travel but, yeah, any time you travel it could work two ways, you know? They’ll obviously gain confidence from it because they’ve achieved a goal now that the club never has [before] in advancing in the Champions League, so they’re high in that regard. Travel’s travel, it’s difficult to jump on planes and have to respond and play games so, I tend to think that it’s a good thing for us. It’ isn’t going to be the decider in a game, they’re a very fit team as it is. But, yeah, had an eye on the game, watched it. You take a few things from it but it looks a lot different than an MLS game, I’ll just say that, just because of the way they have to go down there looking to get a result and the weather conditions, the field conditions — it’s a difficult place to play. But yeah, they got a result there and kept an eye on the game.

How do you assess the performance of Cole Missimo and Taylor Washington with Bethlehem Steel this year?

First and foremost, the games that they got this year are so valuable, not only for our evaluating them and seeing if they’re ready, [but also] just for their personal growth. You learn the most from games. You can train and get kind of comfortable and get used to it but the games tell you the truth. And the MLS games it’s ramped up even a bit more. So, I think it was a great first year for a lot of those guys. You think about Derrick Jones and [Auston] Trusty getting games there, as well, goalkeepers staying sharp — it’s critical, it’s great for us.

We’ll integrate some guys, especially Academy guys that did well in those games, into our training sessions down the stretch with, obviously, the primary focus being us getting into the playoffs. So, again, you’re managing all of those things and there is a balance between getting valuable training sessions for guys and rewarding the guys who did well with Bethlehem, versus us staying on task and getting priority No. 1 right, which is getting in the playoffs. But, yeah, happy for a lot of the young players that did really well there, had good seasons. The older guys that contributed in more ways than just on the field — James Chambers comes to mind — who can pass on knowledge down to young guys. All those things go a long way and they make them kind of coaches on the field for me, in a lot of ways. So, great success. Again, we’re not too concerned with the results of games. Sure, we want to win every game we play in, but there’s more to it in Bethlehem and the year that we had there [was] a very positive one, and the game minutes that guys got are the most valuable for me.

Will Maurice Edu be traveling this week?

That’s the plan. The hope is it’ll kind of sort itself out. Where guys are at. He’s pushing in training each day, he’s done great. And again, we’ll still have to pick the 18 that we think is best, that makes the most sense. You don’t want to be too backed up in any one position. So again, we’ll have to assess it as the week goes on but he’s been playing very well in training and all signs are positive.

Is there an effort at the Union to help players do what they want to do even if it means they’re leaving? What does that mean to you?

I think two separate situations. Vincent [Nogueira]’s was more of a private emergency matter, where it’s a health issue. If that ever gets revealed, it’ll be from him. It was a tough one. In both cases, it does need to be said, these guys aren’t doing it to chase money. In the case of Vincent, it was significantly less to go and put his mental health first. In Tranquillo’s case as well, it’s not about money. He doesn’t make decisions because of that. Even when we tried to lock him up for three years, he was adamant on 18 months. That was turning down guaranteed money. That tells you right off the bat that we knew what we were getting into and the quality of person that he was. I would say that in my time as a MLS player’s union rep, I do have the players’ best interest in mind, for sure. I think the league has grown a ton in that regard. It’s improved, it’s still not perfect, or maybe where it should be.

But at the same time, for a guy like Tranquillo: He’s intelligent, he knows how things work in Europe, he knows how things work in MLS, and he wanted to leave himself an open window to have a push and bring something to a club for 18 months and then step back and kind of see where it was at. Again, I don’t want to speak for him, but I do think it’s possible that the knee factors into it a little bit, in his decision-making process. Because, an Oka Nikolov, who’s extremely close with him, keeps me clued in. And I talk with Quillo a bunch, obviously, every day. And he really did enjoy his time here, and he’s genuine about that. Loved his teammates, and played for the badge, and gave everything for the badge.

Yeah, it’s tough to lose a guy of his caliber. But at the end of the day, it keeps a smile on his face, makes him happy, and that’s what, ultimately, you want players to leave with… happiness. And there’s things that are bigger than the game, and Quillo is certainly a guy that puts his happiness first.

He’s been happy here, and he’s going to finish happy here this season, and we’ll move on and he’ll be missed at this club.

Will this pay dividends down the road when people ask him what it’s like to come here? 

I think it certainly doesn’t hurt. I think he’s been impressed by everything: How the city embraced him, the facilities that we have here now, the growth of the club, the relationship that he had with Earnie [Stewart], with myself, with the technical staff, with the players, with the medical staff, it all matters.

So when he goes back to Switzerland and he talks to his best friends and former players in Germany, and they say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about going over.’ He’ll say, ‘Philadelphia is the place to go.’ And that is positive. And long-term it does pay dividends. Again, I’m grateful from his time here. I learned a ton from him as a player and a person, and he was a special one.

You’ve come back twice against the Red Bulls this year. Does that give you a psychological advantage? How much? 

I don’t think so. They’re a great team. They haven’t lost a game since early July, so they’re doing just fine. Again, those games were earlier in the year. Open Cup and, obviously, the one in our building, which seems like forever ago. I think we’re different teams right now. A lot’s getting said about them losing late leads, but I think it needs to be said that they have needs all the time. In order to give up goals late you have to be ahead. And I think they’ve played from positions ahead a bunch. I know a lot of teams in MLS would like to trade places with them right now, in terms of where they’re at in the standings. I think Jesse [Marsch] has done a great job. Obviously, a former teammate for a long time, a guy I respect a great deal. And again, he’s navigated a very difficult start, he’s navigated a lot of injuries, and I’ll say it: As an outsider, he’s done a better job this year than last. And last year he was coach of the year.

I can’t say enough about where they’re at as a team. We know we have our hands full. It’s a new game, so I don’t think there’s too much psychologically there, that we have their number or anything like that. I don’t buy into that. So we’ll have to be at our best to get a result in a very tough place to play this year. We’ll have our fans there behind us though, which is good.

6 Comments

  1. We were this close to not blowing another 1-0 lead.

  2. The continued updates of Mo not covering enough ground for MLS games is troubling. Low likelihood he sees the pitch this season.

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