Transcript: Earnie Stewart, Jim Curtin speak to media as preseason opens

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Jim Curtin and Earnie Stewart took questions separately from reporters as Philadelphia Union’s preseason camp got underway. 

Jim Curtin

Q: Just talk about Day 1 and where you are with the roster. 

JC: Day one is always exciting. There’s an energy within the group, a good mix of young players, academy players, Bethlehem Steel guys, a trialist sprinkled in here and there. A good core of our first team guys back. So exciting day, I think there’s 21 other teams now, as you start, that think they have something special. You have to think about what’s going to make us different. We talked about that in the meeting today. Again, we got a taste of the playoffs last year and we want more. That’s the way we put it. Our guys, a good core of them have now played in two open cup finals and a playoff berth and they know what that’s like. And there’s a whole next step we need to go to.

Q: Takeaways from last year? 

JC: I think there were highs at the beginning part of the year, midseason when you play, Pablo [Mastroeni] and I were joking about it, us versus Colorado at the midway point, both first place teams, and again, not probably what everyone expected. But again, with that comes a little more accountability from the group. We’re going to be a team that isn’t just going to be satisfied to get in. The expectations from our fans should rise. Certainly, on paper, I think we’ve added some good pieces. And there’s more to come. The roster is still fluid and evolving. Impressive though, to see some of the young draft picks today up close, in what weren’t ideal conditions to play soccer. Cold, bumpy field. But we thought it was important to keep the whole group here instead of get in the vans, go to [the University of] Penn[sylvania bubble fields] and be back and forth. So initially it was going to be 55 degrees today, that wasn’t the case, but we still wanted to stick with being here.

Obviously exciting on the first day, we have a good group. A good mix of old, young, and experienced guys. It’s nice to know that five or six of our key guys aren’t here. So to add them to the group, we have a good starting point.

Q: You mentioned new arrivals.

JC: Yeah, they’re just going through some visa issues right now. The hope is to have them in by the end of the week. And certainly by the time we leave for Florida. It’s always important to have them in with the group for the whole preseason, which is a big advantage, one that we’re happy about. But the finalizing of the paperwork, those things that are a little bit out of our control. They will be here soon. Maybe as soon as Thursday, but certainly in the very near future and to get them in with the group, acclimated with the group is critical. I think we have competition at every spot, which is good, it’s healthy, and a strong group.

Q: Talk more about Jay Simpson. 

JC: He’s a guy that’s scored goals everywhere he’s been, at all stages of his career. Again, a guy that we know if we get service in the box, he can finish. Between him, between CJ [Sapong, between Charlie Davies, we think we have three good number nines that can push each other in the right way. Each has a little different skillset, but Jay is a guy who, character-wise, fits in with the group, and I’m really excited to get to work with him.

Q: What can you say about Oguchi Onyewu being here? 

JC: Gooch is here training just now. If it evolves into something more than just a training stint, he was in the DC area recently, he was in with the Cosmos just keeping his fitness up, he was sharp today, he looked good on the ball, organized things well, but at this moment it’s just a training stint. Not a trial, no.

Q: What about Fafa Picault? 

JC: He would be in the trialist category. Fafa was at St. Pauli. Obviously, you guys were out there for a little bit, you can see, it doesn’t take a genius: He’s fast. There’s no question about it. He has a bounce in his step. A guy that can add some pace to our wide areas. Has played up top as a nine, too. A guy that is in on trial right now, and one that, again, checks a lot of the boxes of something we need, and we’ll see how it goes from there.

Q: Talk about having guys called up to the USMNT. 

JC: Important. Because those guys now when they come into our group, and join a good group, they should be confident. They’re fit, which is good for me. They’ve been going now for a while. They’ve been going hard with Bruce [Arena] out there. Two-a-days. We’ve been in contact with them. And again, they’ve had some good feedback that we’ve got on how they’re doing. All three of them are in a unique phase where Keegan, it’s his first time going through it, which is a great experience for him. You talk about going against Jozy and Agudelo all day, day in and day out, I think you can only get better. Zardes as well, who he’s been matched up against a bunch in training there. So it’s invaluable experience for him. Pontius has found his way back through a great season that he’s had. Earned it, his own way, through the great year he had with the Union. And Ale’s the guy who’s been there, kind of a mainstay, but has a new coach now in Bruce. So getting a first camp under his wing.

We’re very happy the Philadelphia Union is represented so heavily there. It also helps us in terms of them coming in here with confidence, flying. And can share with our different guys what that experience is like.

Q: Any updates on Adam Najem? 

JC: He was out there today. Again, he’d be in the trialist category. A good young player whose, everyone’s career path goes different ways. There’s different rules in our league that come up, and he came across and we had a good meeting with him. And he’s been in training with us now today, and showed very well. Again, his stats speak for themselves in college, he dominated the college level. This is a step up for sure. He had a good first day.

Q: Where is Mo Edu at this point?

JC: I hate putting timelines on it, but he’s progressing well. He’s able to walk, able to resume running. The current date, we’ll just call it the beginning of February, for beginning to run. So it’s close. Not too far off. He’s been progressing well. All things are positive. But at the same time, we have to be smart with how we manage it. Again, it’s a completely separate fracture from the one that was previously done. So it’s healed naturally on its own. And it should be a situation where he’s in the hands of the doctors and when it’s time to fully let him go, he’ll be ready to go. And that’s exciting.

Q: Anything on Josh Yaro?

JC; He’s all cleared to go, now. Part of that was just timing, final meeting with the doctor. At the same time, we’re very cautious now with head injuries. There’s a lot unknown about the brain. And Josh is a guy who had a couple [of concussions] last year. Had some other injuries as well. We’re going to be smart with him, but you don’t want to take away from his aggressive style of play as well. Again, we’ll always follow the protocol, listen to the doctors. But Josh was out there today, competing as usual.

Q: What does controlling mid mean? 

JC: You can put the number on it, it would be more a guy that can slow the game down, a guy who has the range of passing. The title of that, controlling midfielder, it points more towards the six spot. Depending on who’s healthy, and who is available to draw from, you can share a little bit of that load. But there is still an ongoing search for that spot.

Q: What about a veteran center back?

JC: It’s an area where I think our young guys got a ton of great experience the past two years. You talk about Richie [Marquez], you talk about Yaro, you talk about Ken. It’s more or less their first or second year doing it. To have a guy back there that is committed, has been through the battles, can share some experience but can also contribute to the team if called upon to start, is an important priority for us. Is that easy to find? No. To check all those boxes? Fit under the salary cap, there’s a lot of variables that go into it. We are still looking for an experienced guy to pass things on. Because you can do a lot in the film room, I can do a lot with them, different things that I’ve learned in the game at that position, but at the same time it helps to have someone in that position going through training sessions with them.

Q: Who isn’t here for visa issues? 

JC: Simpson and Giliano [Wijnaldum].

Q: Were there other trialists out there? 

JC: I think you guys hit the two main trialists. It’s a weird one because the guys from Bethlehem are, in a way, always on trial. They’re trying to show good. There was a big handful of them out there on the field that did well. Academy kids, Anthony Fontana had a very good day from the academy. And goalkeepers, two academy kids there that were helping us out.

Q: Was that Romero?

JC: Yeah, exactly. Romero and Friese were out there. Friese just recently got called in… I don’t know if it’s been announced yet, I don’t want to get in trouble… but Brad Friedel likes him, I’ll put it that way.

Q: Two trialists officially? 

JC: Najem would fall into that category and Fafa.

Q: Is Steel a landing spot for some of these guys? 

JC: It’s a huge factor. It helps us in a lot of ways. It helps us with the foreign roster spots, the ability to have some flexibility there. It gives them games, it gives them a spot to, as the roster becomes more and more full, to put guys that we consider assets for the future. It’s critical to have two full rosters of guys that, yes they’re young, but they’re pushing the first team guys in training, but also they’re staying under the Union umbrella. I can’t stress enough how valuable Bethlehem has been for us, and you guys will see the roster this year will be a heck of a lot stronger than it was last year. Just from, naturally, us learning, the right mechanisms, the right age of players to bring in. It will a younger group this year, that is a certainty. You will see a lot of academy kids getting minutes there as well. And already you’re starting to see the depth of the first team spill over into Bethlehem. It’s strong, stronger than it’s been.

Q: What is the international roster spot status. 

JC: …Oh jesus. The easiest way to put it is: Between the two rosters, we have a lot more than the allotted MLS version. How’s that? Is that good? Is that vague enough?

Q: Is it 15?

JC: Yeah, 15 allegedly… But you can buy and sell spots so it can always change. I think the easiest way for me to say it: If there’s a good international player, he will be on our roster. There won’t be… that mechanism will never prevent us from maintaining a strong international player. The numbers can change, there’s green cards that happen at the snap of a finger now, so status has been changed on a player on our team recently, so again. It’s a crazy one, but it’s one where you have to always play the game and find creative ways to keep everyone happy.

Q: Who had their status changed recently?

JC: We won’t comment on that one. There’s good things working, in terms of guys adding their green card that will change the amount of international spots.

Q: Is Auston Trusty on a timeline to go to U-20 camp?

JC: Yeah, Auston will be headed out with that group. Really excited about that. He’s a guy that, obviously, Tab [Ramos] is high on. Did a good job when called upon. A good young center back with a good skillset. We’ve talked about him a bunch. Good left foot, wins everything in the air, is really developing into a better communicator, which is a hard thing for a young center back to do. But again, a high ceiling and to be involved in that U-20 group, which is a strong group, is a testament to Auston’s growth.

Q: Will Chris and Keegan play in the friendly? 

JC: Yeah, we’ve texted. We’ve gotten feedback from Bruce, we’ve gotten feedback from the different assistant coaches there. The hope is they’ll play. You see little things like a couple injuries that happened in the camp, and that always helps the possibility just numbers-wise. The feedback that we’ve gotten is good. Keegan’s first time going through it, Chris is Chris, he’s a great professional, I’m sure he’s showing well, and that’s the feedback we’ve gotten, and Alejandro is in and around a starting spot at all times for the national team. The hope is that they get minutes, it would be a great experience, but if they don’t we’ll get them back here and the hope is that they’ll be flying and fit, so it’s a win-win.

Q: What did you learn during the stretch of seven straight games where you guys didn’t have a win going into the playoffs? 

JC: You learn a lot in the hard times, right? The one thing I would say is that our group remains strong in terms of the locker room. Those guys stuck together in the tough times towards the end of the year. We still played some good soccer, we didn’t finish off some games though. And I think our guys got better for it. It’s a good experience for us, we’ll take a lot from it. We’re not happy with how the season ended, of course. The ultimate goal is to win MLS Cup, and only one team does that; only one team ends with a smile on their face. So a lot to work for in the offseason, a lot of motivation behind that. I think we’ve strengthened our roster significantly. And I’ve mentioned to the guys: It’s on paper. The focus now is to move forward in 2017. And the first game, in Vancouver, is our focus right now. Everything we do from here til in Vancouver is most important.

Q: There was speculation about Blake. What does that mean?

JC: Speculation, right? He’s a Philadelphia Union player. Always has been. There was never anything that came up that would even hint at otherwise. It’s great to have him now with another year under his belt. Obviously, a very good year that he had. And now he’ll go to work with Oka Nikolov who will continue to make him that much better. He’s Jamaica’s number one, there will be call-ups, and he’ll get experience there internationally, which is good. He’s come in, he looks sharp in day one, but again it’s early and happy where Andre’s at. It’s important to have a good goalkeeper and Andre’s a good goalkeeper.

Q: What about a third stringer?

JC: We’re working on that. It’s still something we’re working on, to address. Again, with the roster size and different mechanisms, it’ll be something that has to fit in the parameters of that. We’re confident in John McCarthy as the number two. Has some experience, has a little bit of a shoulder injury right now, but we’ll add a third goalkeeper to the group.

Q: Can you comment on Isiah Young?

JC: Isiah’s a great player! I worked with Isiah a great deal growing up, know the father very well. Great accomplishment, he’s had a great career involved in the Union academy, involved at PDA, won some big awards in terms of player of the year at the developmental academy, good young player who I wish nothing but the best for. Everybody’s career is different, takes different trajectories, there’s different mechanisms to bring different players into the league, but Isiah’s pathway now takes him to Germany and I wish him nothing but the best. It’s good to see him have success.

Q: Any update on Derrick Jones’ citizenship papers?

JC: Derrick needs to be a US citizen for five years in order to play in the competitive games. So he can play in friendlies and those under 20 situations, but to play in qualifiers, he comes up a little bit short in that regard. It’s an ongoing process we’re trying to expedite. But at the same time, the hope is, the timing is he’d be available for Tab’s selection and that’s totally up to Tab at that stage. Not available for qualifiers at the moment, but would be available for the actual World Cup. If the timeline goes as expected.

Q: Will he be with you for January?

JC: He’ll be with us, he’ll be with us right now. Every day in training. And, again, a kid that I don’t just want to in the 18, I want to be pushing for a starting spot this year. I think he’s grown a great deal physically, mentally. A guy that we’re high on but is still young and has a lot to learn. And a guy that has done well in all the camps with Tab. That’s the feedback we’ve gotten. Anxious to see him in a full preseason, against some MLS competition. We have a lot of good games set up, DC, Columbus, Chicago, Montreal. So we’ll get to see him up close in those games. He’ll get a real crack at this thing.

Q: Any plans to get another exhibition game in before the Suncoast Invitational? 

JC: When we land, we’ve set up a game against DC, a game against the U-17 national team broken up into a split squad, so we’ll get a good run in that one. We’ll also play Chicago in that first phase. Then we come back, then we have the whole Suncoast where we play Tampa, Montreal, DC, and Orlando. Initially that final game was scheduled for Toronto, but then the schedule comes out and you talk to Greg Vanney and you say, we’re going to play each other in the final buildup game and then also in week two, and it’s a little… tight. So that’s the thinking there. A lot of moving parts go into everyone’s preseason, and where everyone’s located in Florida or wherever, so that’s just a variable we tweaked at the end.

Earnie Stewart

Q: Just thoughts on Day 1 out here and where you are with the roster at this point.

Earnie Stewart: Pleased with the way guys came back. It’s already been a couple of weeks of optional training where we are here and working. So, pleased that everybody is back and that it finally starts again. As for the roster, we do have a couple of spots that we do want to address. But as you know, MLS is a little bit difficult in that way, in regards to the spots that you do have. So I do see even the draftees came in today, the guys from the academy, the guys from Bethlehem Steel, plus our guys that came back from the offseason, there’s a lot of talent out there right now. We’ll have to make some choices.

Q: Talk about draft picks.

ES: Once again, Marcus Epps is an outside winger who loves to play one on one. Is fast, has a lot of speed, is potentially one of those guys, reminds you a little bit of Jean Paul Boetius who plays for Feyenoord with a little bit on the taller side. Very gifted on the ball, has speed, and can play one against one. So very good.

Aaron Jones, who we picked, a young right back, has a little bit of the same traits as Keegan [Rosenberry, duh] has, and knows exactly what he’s good at and what he’s not so good at, and that makes a fine and good professional.

Chris Nanco is also one of those outside players, wingers, that has a lot of speed, is very strong on the ball, and can create chances as you’ve seen today during practice. Jack Elliot is a center back but can also play as a controlling midfielder. Tall. Feel like he still needs to grow into his body a little bit, but very, very smart, intelligent player. Good in his passing. So excited with that. And Santi Moar is one of those guys that can play all kinds of positions on the field. Is already kind of experienced for a draft player, but very happy that these guys are in and that they get to prove themselves.

Q: Four of those guys have overseas pedigrees. Is that something you look for?

ES: No, no no no. Not something that we look for. That’s something, as I tried to explain last year, when we look at our positions and what we expect of our players and their roles and responsibilities, that’s what we first and foremost look at. And then you find out in the fit that that is the case. But it’s not something that we go out and say this is important for draft players to have.

Q: Is it big to have all the key players back from last year?

ES: Yeah, not everybody’s back. So that’s the good part – that we still have Chris [Pontius], Keegan, and and Alejandro [Bedoya] with the national team, but they’re in good hands over there and playing at a top level so that’s excellent. And guys have come back well, really well. So everything that we set out to do in mindset and making sure that it’s a profession that’s a lot of fun and you need to work for it as well. I think guys have done really well in the offseason with the time that they’ve had. So very pleased how they came back. And from a general sense, you can just see already, just taking Fabian Herbers and Josh Yaro, who have this experience of a year under their belt, practice-wise and game-wise, is a big, big plus. They’re already, at a young age, almost veterans, the way they perceive themselves and the way they go about their business these days. So pleased how they came back.

Q: How is the search going for a vet center back and controlling mid?

ES: Once again, it all has to fit in the roster we have and the capabilities that we have budget-wise. They’re going well, I can say that. I don’t see a real long trajectory for filling in those positions for us. But once again, it all has to fit. So that’s the part that’s always challenging, but we’ll get there.

Q: Can you talk about Oguchi Onyewu being here?

ES: First and foremost, he’s here as a player that wants to keep up his level of fitness and be ready for any moment that anybody steps in. He has a great history when he comes to soccer, so we felt that you have to oblige him. It’s really simple. I think it’s great for the young players around him to see his experience. So for us it’s great to see Goochie here.

Q: Is that something that could lead into something more?

ES: I wouldn’t want to go that far right now. Never say never, but that’s really clear. That’s the way soccer is, and we are looking for an experienced center back, and I guess it’s pretty easy that he fits that mold. But again, it needs to be possible and needs to fit. So that’s going a bit too far right now, but it didn’t take Jim and myself too long when Goochie came with the question to maintain his fitness and everything… yeah, we’re open for that. Because I think Austin Trusty will get better from that, I thin Josh Yaro will get better from that, I think Ken Tribbett will get better from that just by being able to stand next to him, speak to him, and talk about game situations and training situations.

Q: Talk about having so many guys with USMNT.

ES: I think it’s fantastic. And we want more. We’re eager for that. As we’ve said throughout the year, we’re trying to be a club that’s there for development of players and everybody of a certain category. Chris, from a category where he was with the national team at one point, was in the mix for it, had some mishap with injuries and then became like injury-this, injury-that, and he’s back with the national team. And Keegan from being a draft pick last year to becoming an international. And Ale is obviously a little different because he’s already been with the national team a long time. But very proud. I think it’s fantastic that when these games go on, and obviously we hope they’re going to be a part of that. One, you see their name, and two, you’re going to see the Philadelphia Union behind that. The more, the better. So in all categories we want to be known for that. And all categories, what I mean by that is no matter if it’s under-16, under-18, the Olympic team, our full national team, as long as there’s players from Philadelphia Union there, I think it’s fantastic and says a lot about what we’re trying to do, and it’s great advertisement and it’s free.

Q: What is a controlling midfielder.

ES: A number six. For me, a controlling midfielder is a defensive midfielder who kind of in the mold of what Vincent [Nogueira] has, but also what BC has. Their first thought, even when we have the ball, is defensive. They’re always in the right place at the right time, coaching at the right time, and being available to receive the ball. In the buildup from the back, your six is very, very important.

Q: Thoughts on the trialists.

ES: That obviously is early, but both players. Fafa Biko, Fabrice, is one of those wingers that has tremendous pace. Already has a background, has a pedigree, has experience, so glad we could get him in and get a free look at that. Because if there’s one thing that’s important in modern day football it’s speed. And that combined with control over the ball is not something that everybody possesses, but Fafa does. And very pleased to have him in.

Adam Najem actually just came about in recent week of getting a player in who has a professional background in that he’s come from the academy of the Red Bulls, is a good and gifted player on the ball, is a real number 10, he’s creative, sees things that other players don’t see, so it’s great to have these players in and get a good look at them.

Q: What’s the deal with the international slot/green card situation?

ES: I don’t want to get too much into it. We’re going to find a way to do that. Right now, we’re in a good position, between the first team and Bethlehem Steel you have certain spots, so we’re going to make sure that we fill those because that’s what’s ahead of us, and what’s needed. Getting into green cards is a bit difficult because you never know anything about that until the moment they have them. A couple of them are in process right now, but nothing that’s going to be done in a week from now. We’ll have to do it in this regard, in this way, and find the best way to fill those spots.

Q: With Andre Blake, there’s all this speculation…

ES: I don’t think that speculation came from us!

Q: No, no. But apparently nothing was even close. How glad are you to have him back?

ES: He’s goalkeeper of the year, so that says a lot. I think Andre still has a whole other level he can go. He’s a great goalkeeper for us. And he’s talented. So he can go even further than that. And obviously our coaching staff, and mainly Oka Nikolov, is the guy that goes about that. But nothing has been close. We haven’t had any offers on the table, so that makes it really easy. In soccer there will always be speculations.

Q: Does that surprise you? No offers?

ES: Surprised, not surprised, doesn’t really matter. You have to deal with the facts that there are. If they’re there, you look at it, see if you can do something with it. In this case, they weren’t there, so not even a need to be surprised or not surprised. Wasn’t there.

Q: Can you talk more about Jay Simpson?

ES: Jay came through… what we try to work with because we don’t have our scouting system in place as we would like it in the future. So a lot of it has to do with the network that Jim, Chris, myself have. So he came through our network. Came onto our radar. After that, we’ve looked at a lot of tape, went to go see him, had a conversation with him, and found that he would fit the mold of what we see in a center forward. He’s not here yet, together with Giliano [Wijnaldum] because they’re working on their visas, but hopefully, they’re going to be in within the next week, so that’ll be fantastic. But he’s one of those guys that has the background of coming from the Arsenal academy, has a lot of experience when it comes to being a professional soccer player already. He’s played at some lower division teams as well, where England’s known for scrappy football in those regards, in those leagues that they play him, but I think that fits well with what we do here. Because you need to be an athlete to play in this league, and it’s not an easy league to play in. I think that’s been shown and that’s been proven. But we think the athleticism that Jay has, and the background that he has, that athleticism and speed, is going to be a good fit for us.

Q: What’s the deal with Eric Ayuk? Was he on loan?

ES: To Bethlehem Steel. That’s something a little bit different in our mind. Once they go to Bethlehem Steel, we don’t consider that…

Q: Well, he came here on a loan…

ES: Yes, but then that became a transfer. So Ayuk has been with us now two years, two and a half years. Is still young, is gifted, has great talent, but there’s a lot of people fighting for that right outside winger position that is his best position, so getting valuable minutes with Bethlehem Steel and gaining experience, but also he’s traveled back to Cameroon a couple of times to play for their under 20s and their full national team. It’s not easy once you come back over here. There’s a lot of players that want to play that position. Between him, Ilsinho, and Fabian Herbers, I mean there’s a good competition going on there right now. But once again, he’s a talented kid and we try to give everybody a chance of making their dreams come true and playing. But there’s only one that can play that position.


  1. “ES: Jay came through… what we try to work with because we don’t have our scouting system in place as we would like it in the future. So a lot of it has to do with the network that Jim, Chris, myself have.”

    – I’m pretty amazed they still don’t have a scouting team. I guess this doesn’t bother anyone else.

    • I think its a huge deal…. that said probably number 4 on the list of 3 things.
      Director just passed his first anniversary and I imagine he has had many many thoughts on how much needs tweaking and general fixing.
      It is important to read the KK piece on SoB to help remember and remind—this team was created from thin air buy a bunch of dudes sitting around a bar table at the oldest watering hole in center city.
      –just a few years ago.

  2. A formidable share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing slightly analysis on this. And he in actual fact bought me breakfast as a result of I discovered it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the deal with! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If potential, as you develop into experience, would you mind updating your blog with extra particulars? It is extremely helpful for me. Huge thumb up for this blog publish!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *