Commentary / Union

Loving Jim: Apologizing for Curtin in 2017

Photo: Earl Gardner

In his book The Road Ahead, Bill Gates said this: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” Though he was speaking of the coming revolution in technology, this idea can be applied to the Philadelphia Union and, particularly, head coach Jim Curtin.

Learning On The Job

Jim Curtin had a lot of professional soccer experience and no head coaching experience prior to taking his current job. He retired from playing soccer in 2010 after nine seasons, 200+ games played, and two U.S. Open Cup trophies. He joined the YSC Academy for a short stint before becoming a Union assistant coach in 2012. He was then hired as an interim coach for the Union in June of 2014. The “interim” tag was removed in November of the same year after picking up seven of the team’s ten total wins after his initial appointment.

The dysfunction of the team he inherited, far too much to write about in any detail here, included a consistently misguided CEO, a team with barely 11 professional players (though three professional goalkeepers), and a fan base that was quickly losing its passion and patience.

Making lemonade

In spite of the utter mess that Curtin inherited, he amassed a 38.75% winning percentage in his first 80 matches (while simultaneously becoming the club’s all-time coaching wins leader). Neither of those achievements place Curtin in any rarified air, but pause for a moment and compare his winning percentage with the early results of these four not-exactly-cherry-picked coaches, each of whom has now become a managerial icon:

  • 161 matches coached, 32.9% win percentage — Mauricio Pochettini
  • 101 matches coached, 30.7% win percentageRafa Benitez
  • 104 matches coached, 52% win percentageJurgen Klopp
  • 114 matches coached, 28.9% win percentageArsene Wenger
  • (Just for fun… 96 games coached, 42.7% win percentage — Bill Belichick)
Great expectations

Curtin has been in charge of the Philadelphia Union for about 2.6 years, which, according to a 2014 study out of Mexico, is the median tenure for an MLS coach. Some say Curtin faces a “make or break” season this year, and given the data, it’s probably true. In order to be entrusted with more than an average MLS coach would expect, he needs to deliver more than an average MLS coach.

With that in mind, Union fans should continue to expect progress from Curtin and his team this year, but not perfection. The Union have improved, but so has the rest of MLS. Therefore, progress should look like a playoff round win or two, and not an MLS Cup. Not yet anyway.

Jim Curtin is the youngest coach in a league full of young coaches, and he has the potential to be a very good soccer coach very soon. It’s asking too much to expect that he be a finished product in 2017 though. Expectations must match reality. Don’t underestimate the changes over the last two years, but, similarly, don’t underestimate the progression that will likely continue over the next ten.


  1. The fact that he is young and has the ability to learn on the job is probably his biggest plus right now, and is probably why until this year he hasn’t faced a true hot seat.

    But this is the year we actually need to see some proof of him learning and growing.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Well said. If we are complaining about substitutions (or lack thereof), lineups, and 18 choices in June… Curtin hasn’t learned. If that’s the case – that will be extremely… let’s say politely: “trying”.

  2. In the recent interview with Curtin — I think it was on 442 — he talked about being completely under-prepared when he was first offered the job, but knew he couldn’t say no when the opportunity presented itself. I just heard Jason Kreis explain his career beginning in the exact same terms.

    I think it’s definitely make or break for Curtin this year. He no longer has an excuse that his squad is incomplete. He has the tools to not only make a playoff appearance but to make a dent when he gets there. I’m actually optimistic as the season starts. I think we will see better out of this club.

    • I Am Citizen Insane says:

      Just.Play.Well. is all I still need.
      Metric should not be a playoff win IMO.

      • I can get behind that. I don’t think I’d ever feel strongly about a firm litmus test. If the team looked good, played well but still fell just short, I’d be fine with that. Would be nice to start winning some stuff, though.

      • My metric would be a home playoff game. That would mean either a top 4 finish or winning a playoff game on the road.
        The problem with a specific goal within the playoffs is that it is hard to predict what’s going to happen that far in advance. Not to jinx the team but lets say they win the supporters shield but Blake and 2 other starters get hurt in the last regular season game and they lose 2 playoff games on questionable calls. That to me would be a hugely successful season even without a playoff win (especially since outside this country there is no such thing as playoffs).

      • I Am CItizen Insane says:

        I need a team that dominates possession at home. That pursues clean sheets in Philadelphia….that attacks when up 2-1… then sees out the win in tidy fashion; that steps on the other team’s throat up 2-0; that has a lethal counter so when on the road a smash and grab steals the point in a low scoring affair.
        A body of work that displays greater sophistication; that says this is a team and organization coalescing. Complete leadership at every level of the franchise from 8 year olds up year in year out. PROTOTYPE.
        Playoffs as metric. Not for me. Joy first. Always.
        Once all those pieces are in place and repeatable – lets talk about playoffs and winning titles. This is not about being a One Off.

      • ^ This.

  3. What i don’t know and what i am curious about is: 1) what type of experience do his assistants have? I think CA and ES help but they aren’t on the sideline nor have a ton of coaching experience. 2) How experienced are the staff at BSFC? Who is in charge of coaching development for the club? If it is Curtain (a young and relatively inexperienced coach), it seems a little like the blind leading the blind. Who are the vet/seasoned/experienced coaches in the organization?

    • I would say Sorber and Burke both have a pretty good amount of experience

    • From my chats with Coach Burke over the last several months, the Sporting Director is in fact in charge of coaching development informally.
      My impression is that some of the wise old heads in the academy may get involved as well, E. G., Director Tommy Wilson, E.g., Ian Munro.

  4. If Jimbo was axed I’d still want him around.

  5. Nice guy and I like him. Still not convinced he’s the answer.

  6. I Am CItizen Insane says:

    BTW. Welcome Chris and thank you. Enjoyed reading. Funny I missed three sitters indoor the other week. Once because I overcomplicated things by being ‘tricky’ — twice because the feet just don’t work too good anymore. Pissed me off royally…then went about having fun again.
    …still have a load unload greater than 110mph swing speed with a driver so that helps ease the tension of aging a bit… damn if the obliques aren’t sore after a round of that sport I used to play really often too.

  7. When Jim Curtin got the job, he got the job because we has there. The team performed better under him than Hack, the players liked him and he was retained. He was a Hackworth/Sak guy.

    Earnie Stewart came with no loyalty to Curtin or Chris Albright and so far, not only has retained both, but seems to believe in them. He is giving them every opportunity to succeed. From what I see of their interactions in public, he seems to enjoy working with them. As long as he believes, they are safe.

  8. Old Soccer Coach says:

    I would observe that Earnie Stewart has stated he places a great deal of emphasis on PRACTICE. He is on record that he wants to watch a player practice not just play in a game.
    Haris Medunjanin complimented Union practices for being creative and interesting.
    And the first team coach’s footprint extends throughout the organization.
    The actual judgment will be against a metric that includes much more than just winning games.

  9. This article needed to be written because, as in 2014, 2015 & 2016, his coaching required apologies. I’m glad to see we’re in mid season form for excusing mediocrity in 2017 before the first whistle blows.
    Will Curtin one day be a good manager? Maybe. Is he today? No, not really. He’s earned a fractional PPG more than Hackworth, who was awful (though this site defended him months after his firing) AND without benefit of any of the things-academy,training fields, competent sporting director, more infrastructure and investment his successor enjoys. Think about that for cherry picking, Curtin now has all of these advantages and he’s turned them into precisely a 0.02 PPG improvement over a man who once looked the other way on dehydration and sandal spankings.
    It’s about time there was some heat on a Coach Local.

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