Press Conference

Transcript: Jim Curtin’s preseason conference call

Photo: 215pix

Jim Curtin took questions from the media as the Union trained in Florida on Friday. 

Opening statement

Just, again, looking back on phase one from preseason. Got a lot of work in in Philadelphia. It was a big evaluation phase for us, see some of our draft picks, see a couple trialists, make some assessments. Played in big spaces, got after it a little bit, a lot of 11-v-11, we were able to compete outside. Into phase 2, we’ve really focused a lot on our defensive shape, principles, how we want guys to defend each position and also the location of the field that they’re on, and what their assignments are. So, been really stressing that, and we’re excited to get going and play our first match tomorrow against a D.C. United team.

Guys have put in a ton of work — we’ve done double sessions every day on the field. Fitness has been pushed — the data that’s come back on our sessions from the last two days is the highest output since I’ve been the head coach. So the guys are responding well to it, I give them credit because I believe they’ve come in in better shape then they ever have, and that leads to being able to work on a lot more for a lot longer period of time. So credit to the players for coming in fit, guys are sharp, and obviously with some of the additions we have we’re excited to put this second phase in motion here with the three good games we’ll have. And then obviously the final phase three with the four good games we’ll have against MLS-caliber teams.

On the recent signings

Obviously exciting. You’re getting quality players that are coming in, experienced guys that fill needs. Jay Simpson just walked through the door, just landed here. Excited to have him on board, a guy who’s a proven goal-scorer. Fafa Picault came in today also with Jay, flew in also with Earnie [Stewart] who stayed back to bring them along with him. They are two guys that I think will really help our attack. Fafa obviously adds an element of speed that is unique, so again a guy who’s done it at a high level in a good league and is excited for a new challenge here in the U.S.

With Haris [Medunjanin], you have again another experienced guy who’s played in the Europa League, has played in big games for his country, has been a captain, can control the tempo of the game with his range of passing, can give us that calming presence. Three guys we’re really excited about, along with the rookies, and also having [Chris] Pontius and [Alejandro] Bedoya and Andre [Blake] away from us right now too. So you sprinkle in those five players, you’re looking at five guys who will really make an impact this season. An exciting window for us, a lot of great moves by Earnie and Chris Albright, who did a great job, and we’re excited to get to work on the field.

On whether this year’s team is deeper than past teams 

I would agree. You start to pencil in the teams and you’re trying to pick a projected lineup, or even breaking up the teams for this DC game, and you look at them on paper and do a double take, you know, “which team’s the better one?” [laughs] So, a good problem to have. The depth, I think, pushes things in training each and every day. In some spots, we have three quality players. I think our depth is as strong as it’s ever been in the club’s history, and that’s a credit to Earnie and Chris for the work they’ve done. But it’s also a credit to the players, who are competing in the right way, pushing for minutes, and challenging each other each and every day. We’re happy from that standpoint.

Tough decisions — to get into our 18 this year will be a very big challenge, and that’s one that they’ll have to fight for each and every training session during the week. And the mentality of the guys has to be that if you’re not called upon to be in the 18 or in the starting 11, you still have to keep the mindset that we’re all in this together. It’s not always easy when you’re not called upon, but when you are called upon you have to be ready to go. Depth is a good thing, I think it just leads to us raising the bar and being a better team in 2017.

On how Haris Medunjanin fits into the lineup

Haris is a guy who can get on the ball, with pressure, with a guy on his back, who can kinda slow the game down. Has really good feet, but also his ability to connect your back four to your attackers is incredible. These 40-yard balls on the balls that he plays between the lines are important and something that we think that we needed. Again, we want to be a team that has the ball and tries to dictate possession. Of course, that’s not always the case, you need to do some defending too. But as a team philosophically we want to be a team that has the ball more, and Haris is a guy that fits that. We have great ball winners in a Creavalle, Edu, Carroll, but Haris is a guy that brings a little different skill set to the group, and one that complements the rest of the team very well.

On what position Fafa Picault plays

If you ask him, he’ll say left wing where he can cut in on that right foot. So that’s where we’ve been using him a lot in training. Because he is so fast, as a number 9 late in the game, to really scare the defense, that could be a situation too. But we want him to come in and compete for one of the wide spots, that’s where we see him first and foremost. He did well on the right for us, but in the discussions I’ve had with him, he’d tell you that his most comfortable spot is wide left, where he has that ability to cut in on the right foot, almost use the defender as a screen, and shoot from his right foot, curling the ball to the back post is what he likes to do. Speed-wise, he gets to the endline whenever he wants. He is fast. He has a different level of speed that we haven’t had before. So, I guess that was a long-winded answer for “left-sided winger.”

On how the midfield shape will develop

You have to have your full group here, and the other thing that has to be said is the health of the group. Again, Mo [Edu] I hope is ready by week one, but realistically that might be a bit of a stretch, so we might have to adjust and plan accordingly. Whether that’s Haris at the 6, with Bedoya, with [Roland] Alberg, that’ll be determined on the training ground.

But at the same time, they are guys who — you can see Haris has played in the 4-2-3-1 system, he knows the role and responsibilities of the 6 and 8, he can do both, he’s comfortable doing both — we’ve talked with him about that. Again a guy who can see a pass, has experience, can read the game. And he’s sneaky 6-foot-2, so he’s a bigger body and presence in there. It doesn’t show up on the tape but he’s a pretty big guy. So in terms of who’s your ball-winner, who’s on the ball to facilitate things, Ale and him can both do it when Mo’s not quite fully fit, and obviously Warren Creavalle is a guy who I trust a great deal to bring the ball up. So we’ve got a lot of tough decisions, but in the preseason now once we get everyone here will be when we’re able to assess and see who’s the best pairing. And it might look a little different when we’re at home and when we’re away, in terms of personnel to choose from. But again these are good problems to have.

On the fitness levels of Maurice Edu and Ilsinho

I would say, for the first one, Mo Edu has been working very hard in the weight room. He looks big to me [laughs], he looks like a bodybuilder, he’s put so much time in the weight room, he looks strong and healthy. He’s itching to get running again, and that date is February 7 when he will be cleared to resume running, which he’s excited for to be here with the group right now, with all of the guys, to get going. And again working incredibly hard to get back as soon as possible, but February 7 is that date where we’ll really start to learn some things and start bringing him back into training.

Ilsinho, I don’t have to tell you guys, is incredibly skillful 1-v-1, has all the skill in the world. Has come in in a lot better shape, down about 8 pounds now in terms of weight. He looks healthy, looks fit, and has been doing well in all our fitness — and obviously we measure distance covered and workload that they’re getting each and every game. He’s responded well to that, and the soccer has been good too. Excited for tomorrow to get him in the game. Two guys we’re excited with and hopefully we can avoid with a little maintenance and taking care of the bodies any further injuries.

On having guys who’ve played at the highest level

Helps a lot. And, again, it’s early still. But the way Gooch [Oguchi Onyewu] is interacting with the group, how he puts his arm around our our academy kids, every meal he sits with a different group, I think he speaks every language that there is. He’s fitting in with everybody and has been doing a ton for us sharing that knowledge. Holding guys accountable in training, getting on guys the right way, with the right tone, and getting a good response out of them, that part’s been good.

And it needs to be said that his soccer’s been excellent. Been playing center back at a very high level in the short time that we’ve been going. So he’s been above and beyond what I anticipated, I must say, and I’m happy with where he’s at right now. Haris isn’t in with the group yet, but obviously playing at the level he has with clubs all over the world, another guy that gives our guys some stories to tell. He can put his arm around guys and show them the ropes, because we still have a young core of guys. It’s encouraging, I think you need that mix of veteran leadership and young, kinda eagerness and fearlessness that we have. Happy with where we’re at right now, but there’s a long way to go, it’s a long season ahead. And nothing’s won on paper, that is for sure, especially in MLS.

On when Haris Medunjamin will arrive

Yeah, so with the visa they’re ahead of schedule. Hopefully that gets resolved quickly. Once all that paperwork goes through, all the different things that need to go on, hopefully we’ll have him here, hopefully before this phase of preseason ends, but certainly on the final phase of preseason where we have the four important games that we want everyone on the same phase for. So happy with where he’s at in that process.

On whether Oguchi Onyewu has a preferred side

It’s funny you mention that, because I had that discussion with him today as we were walking out to the field. He has, if you go by numbers, he’s played more on the left. But I asked him point-blank today and he said that he honestly had no preference. And I said “listen, you’re not telling me this because I want it to be one way or another?” And he said “no, I’m not,” that’s the truth, he doesn’t have a preference, right or left. Which is a good thing, because certain guys are more comfortable, get used to the angles of one of the sides. Obviously you’d prefer everyone on the left be left-footed, but left-footed centerbacks aren’t easy to find. Guys have to be able to do both at times, and Gooch falls into that category of guys who are comfortable on either side. But, yeah, came up today.

On Adam Najem

Yeah, he’s been excellent in training. He gets goals and assists, which I already knew about — you just have to look at his statistics to know that he can do that. He’s shown in the short time with us that he can do that at the MLS level. He’s been very strong in each and every training session, and actually has an ability to cover more ground and do the defensive work that we ask our no. 10 to do, even more so than I anticipated. So, high on him, hopefully, we’ll see what’s coming in the next couple of days.

Adam has done everything to show very well, has made it clear that he wants to be a Philadelphia Union player just by being here. Hopefully something can come of that in the coming days. But I’ve been very impressed. Good kid, humble kid, quiet, incredible work rate and ability around the goal to score and set up goals that is special. Guys that are in our league who’s not the biggest, you think of a Mauro Diaz — I think I described him at dinner the other day as a Mauro Diaz-Benny Feilhaber combo. Again, that’s getting ahead of ourselves, but you can kind of think of the attributes of those two guys with the similar size to a Diaz, for a young kid. Again, don’t say I’m calling him the next Mauro Diaz, because that’s a little fast. But he’s done very well, and for the people who maybe don’t know what he’s about, that would be a comp of skill sets that I see.

On the draft picks and a largely full roster

I agree — we didn’t have a first round draft pick, but we, in some ways, Bethlehem and having that, it changes the dynamic a little bit. And I would also add that Derrick Jones and [Auston] Trusty kinda fill in — the signings of them, moving them to the first team last year, can substitute, replace the draft picks. And Adam Najem, a unique mechanism to maybe bring in a kid like that where, for me, top-5 player in the whole draft is where you would have put him in this combine. So, unique ways and different things you have to do, yes we didn’t have a top round draft pick on paper but we’re really happy with the guys we’ve got.

Marcus Epps is getting better and better each day, shown that he belongs, scored a great goal to end training today cutting in from the left off that right foot. He’s very good 1v1, like I’ve mentioned before. Jack Elliott has done really well too. He has a future with the size that he has, great feet for a big guy, good in the air, and has done great at center back. Aaron Jones as well, ability on the ball at that right back, similar attributes to Keegan [Rosenberry], likes to defend 1v1. And Chris Nanco has done well also, gives us some speed out wide, has done good in training. They’re each getting better each and every day. It’ll be good to see them now in games and see where they stand up. Obviously some will be with the Union first team, on our roster. There will be a numbers game to this thing — some will be part of the Bethlehem Steel, we want to keep them under our umbrella as best we can because they have talent. We’re happy where each and every one sits right now. But games against D.C. and Chicago will tell you the most.

For what it’s worth, [Fabian] Herbers has been the sharpest guy in training, if anyone has any interest in that. Fabian Herbers has separated himself as one of the sharpest guys. Just a tidbit.

How has he done that?

This is me, my opinion, this isn’t fact, but I think in college the game came a little easy to him. I think he’s a very smart kid, and last year he learned he had the tank for about 60 minutes but he was hitting kind of a fitness wall, so to speak. And he has come in in a shape where he is able to do what he could do in the beginning of the game for much longer periods of time. I think he’s in much better shape and he’s scoring goals left and right, he’s working hard defensively, his passing has been excellent, he’s just sharp and he’s confident. And I think it starts with that basic fitness. He’s raised that level, I think he knows what it takes now in MLS to be successful, and he’s a very talented player who is playing very good right now.

Again, it’s early, but that’d be one that really jumped out.

So all five rookies are still in camp with you?

Yeah, Epps, Jones, Elliot, Nanco, and… I’m drawing a blank right now.

Santi Moar?

Yes, Santi is still with us. Santi has been good. Santi has been under our umbrella already though. He’s signed with Bethlehem.


  1. The Little Fish says:

    Who’s going to be our Captain. Mo Edu again? From this article it sounds like it should be Gooch, and that’d be quite alright with me!

  2. Soccer union dad says:

    I see that Curtin has been stressing fitness for the players. I wonder if the players have been doing fitness runs on the off season. Using Vo2 max runs and interval quick speed work during the off season to increase endurance and speed. A good 7mile run one day followed by 12 x 400 on the track 2 days later would increase speed and endurance 3 to 4 times a week. I think doing that for 8 to 12weeks would build the teams speed and endurance. Hopefully the boys can be a to level of fitness for the start of the season. Looking forward to see the season veterans work with the rookies. Excited about the start of the season!

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