Commentary

It’s time to hold Jim Curtin accountable

Photo: 215pix

Another week, another loss.

The Union have now dropped three straight games. They’re winless to start the year and haven’t managed more than one point in a game since last August.

There is some question as to who deserves the brunt of the blame for this disgusting, disheartening string of fixtures.

The rot in Chester runs deep. It runs to the very foundations of the franchise, to the underresourced and underpowered ownership that forced the Union to spend half a decade without a proper practice facility or training field.

Besides ownership, it’s tempting to blame the recently arrived sporting director, Earnie Stewart. His signings haven’t been perfect. He’s a taciturn figure without strong ties to Philadelphia. It’s fair to note that Stewart is yet to make a blockbuster acquisition that turns the team’s fortunes.

But there is no doubt in my mind that this team’s failings are primarily on one person — the manager.

The manager must put his team in a position to succeed by getting everyone on the same tactical page and by managing his squad so that spots on the field are earned through both talent and form.

Jim Curtin has failed to do that.

If the Union don’t win their next two games, it is wholly right that he should pay with his job.

The basic tasks of a manager

What has Jim Curtin done to make the Philadelphia Union better than the sum of their parts?

When you look out at the field, do you see players who are on the same page, who know where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing?

Tentative, incoherent play has been the hallmark of the 2017 Union. The back line is a mess, with Keegan Rosenberry’s fall from grace deepening with every match and slapdash moments across each member of the back four.

The wingers are yet to score a single goal. Chris Pontius looks lost. No one is on the same wavelength as Ilsinho, and the fullbacks aren’t getting forward intelligently. (Fifty ballooned crosses per game from Fabinho don’t count.)

The midfield is discombobulated at best, the no. 10 role is a black hole filled by the most expensive player in franchise history, and the strikers are reduced to fighting and clawing for the tiniest scraps that come their way.

The roster has more talent than any in Union history. The problems, systematic as they are, are failures of the game plan.

It’s up to Curtin, as the manager, to make tweaks that help the team play better. He’s failed to do so. The lineup has been unshakeable, save for those changes forced by injuries. A roster that Curtin said during camp would call for “tough decisions” to be made every week has instead been forced to watch as the same 13 guys battle fruitlessly every week.

If there are tactical changes outside of personnel being ordered, they’re not evident to my eye. The formation is the same. The roles within that formation are the same. The team’s inability to grasp those roles is either an indictment of the coaching staff’s ability to teach that formation, or the staff’s inability to reshape the tactical plan to allow players to thrive.

Even when the Union do play well, they can’t sustain it. Other than the Vancouver game — a bunkering attempt done right against a tired team — every match has paired moments of relative competence with shocking collapses. There have been blown leads in three of those four matches, with the Union never even holding the lead in the fourth match.

Failures in talent evaluation

Curtin’s tactical issues notwithstanding, there are serious questions about his ability to manage a roster.

Take Fafa Picault. During training camp, Curtin praised Picault’s elite speed and ability to play both wing positions and at striker.

After three games, he’s not even making the bench, surpassed by a no-name draft pick.

Do we look at this as an example of Stewart botching another signing? Only if you assume that Curtin is above reproach as a judge of talent.

That’s not backed up by the record. Over the last few years, he’s proven that he’ll run out the same players over and over again, even when they’re in the worst form of their lives. (See: Andrew Wenger, C.J. Sapong.)

With Pontius anonymous at best in 2017, Curtin’s decision to drop Picault to the reserves is wildly misplaced. Rather than pushing his under-performing starter, Curtin sent a signal to Pontius that his job is safe. Marcus Epps isn’t taking Pontius’s job.

The only way to blame Earnie Stewart for poor signings is if you’re absolutely confident in Jim Curtin’s ability to evaluate and choose a starting lineup. Considering Curtin’s history of questionable personnel decisions (see: Ken Tribbett starting regularly over Josh Yaro), it’s foolhardy to call any of this year’s signings a bust — not, at least, without a fair chance to earn playing time.

Right now, the situation is untenable. Thanks to Curtin’s squad management, the top half of the roster knows that they need to do only the bare minimum to keep their spots. The bottom half must wonder if there’s anything they can do to earn a chance.

That’s not a recipe for success.

A sad end

It does not give me any joy to conclude that a new manager is needed.

Jim Curtin has been a loyal servant to the club, a local native who became the manager far too early and with far too little support.

It would be one thing if the Union looked like they were growing, week after week, and that they were just missing luck or good fortune.

But that’s not the case here. Simply put, this team is stuck, sinking into the swamp inch by inch, every attempt to escape only exacerbating the situation.

If things don’t turn around before the end of the homestand, it will be time for someone else to jump into the swamp.

54 Comments

  1. Spot on

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Agreed. This article is perfect.
      .
      The one thing this roster did was give Curtin the tools. He has shown he can’t or won’t use them. It’s not the best roster in the league, but it’s better than this.
      .
      Changes must be made.

  2. Now this is the article i was looking forward to!

  3. I’ve defended Curtin on this site since he was selected. But now he’s clearly in over his head. Perhaps he really did need more time as a good manager’s assistant. He doesn’t have the ability to adjust his squad from moment to moment or even game to game. It’ll be sad to see him go, and I don’t doubt he’ll have success elsewhere (isn’t that always the Philly way when it comes to coaches?). This roster is better than it’s record. It needs a new direction.

    • I too have defended not Curtin per se, but keeping Curtin as manager — with the argument that frequent coaching change itself brings much turmoil, and honestly, it hasn’t always been clear to me that the manager makes that much difference. Far too often firing the manager is used as a scapegoat for a poor roster and a lack of, as our favorite PSP sage puts it, vision, philosophy, and plan.

      But I can’t make this case any more. There is simply no excuse for this team to be playing like this. Somebody should be getting more out of this squad. We need to find him.

  4. We keep saying this is the most talented roster and that’s probably true. But I’d argue it’s not the most talented starting 11 or even 18. Last years team was better, especially offensively. But I agree that Curtin needs to try something new, because the buttons being pushed right now are clearly not working, and time is certainly running out.

  5. The Chopper says:

    There may be more depth on this roster, but any lineup that had Noguiera and Barnetta on the field was a better team. For his 60 minutes of play and lack of defensive anything, Maidana was a better playmaker than anything we have at the moment. Not to mention the fact that even an old and slow Connor Casey or the limited but effective Sebastian Letoux were better goal scoring options than are currently available.

    Curtin hasn’t shown us anything, and there may be more depth, but I think the talent level of Earnie’s roster here is way overstated.

    • Re: Maidana, I love when people say “Earnie should have signed a traditional No. 10”.
      .
      We had that guy, the coach ran him out of dodge. So too did his subsequent employers in Texas.
      .
      “Traditional” attacking midfielders don’t have a place in MLS, where atheltic ability and endurance are valued higher than playmaking skill. The best #10s in the league are basically offensive-minded 8s; think Kljestan or Feilhaber.
      .
      There are no Riqulemes in this league, and the poor man’s version we had was unceremoniously dumped for drifting too much and not chasing after the ball enough.

      • Disagree.

        Valeri, Higuain (or soon Meram), Javier Morales, Mauro Diaz, Nico Lodeiro … there are a few No. 10s right there.

      • Fair response, I even told myself as I was writing it “you should take another look and make sure you’re not forgetting someone”.

      • I guess you missed PTFC midfield the other night? But as you were.

  6. Curtain has to go. At this point, I see no other option

  7. pragmatist says:

    Can we trade him for Brendan Burke? Just a thought…
    (Only partially sarcastic…)

    • I think FO knows they can’t get away with promoting the assistant again. They’ll skip Sorber (maybe even can him too) and go with Burke. He’s cheap, a known quality, and best of all is young.

      .

      We’ll all in for another summer of reading about a young coach and his growing pains.

      • pragmatist says:

        I agree this is where we’re headed. I also think it likely a mistake, both for performance reasons and for PR reasons.
        .
        Go spend $2M/year on a manager who can get more out of the players. No, I don’t know who that is, but finding a respected manager, instead of some version of “Next Man Up” will go a long way to improving the team’s performance, and its standing among its supporters.

      • Zizouisgod says:

        Agreed. If they decide to get rid of Curtin, they have to get an experienced manager this time.

      • Roger Allaway says:

        Wouldn’t promoting the head coach of their minor-league affiliate be nearly the same thing as promoting the assistant?

    • Jesus I hope not

  8. I’m probably gonna get creamed for this but… I just think the way the Union operate the parent club is outdated. Moneyball(or the way the Union deploy it) to me is at the root of all the problems. The Union say they have to take the not so popular way of finding players. In other words a not so financially competitive ownership group in a top media and sports market whose chief rivals in every way to the north and south have owners who are very competitive. The type of players the Union find are hit and miss. There is nothing wrong with bringing in a name player like Alejandro Bedoya or Mo Edu but this has to be a starting point. You need the dynamic striker like Adi. You add a Pontius and you bring in a #10 to link up and make the killer pass or score the complimentary goals. Then you have a coach who insists on having a roster that allows players to play to their strengths while adjusting to different formations. A bench that the coach will use to affect the outcome of the game. The Union have drafted well but that was luck for the most part. You can’t always rely on drafting a Rosenberry, Yaro, and Herbers all in one draft. Where would the Union be if they hadn’t been lucky. This all means that if the Union were to start today it would have to be with a competent and financially competitive ownership. The Union are too limited and small for this market and the fan base has just about had it. If a Sakiewicz could push the fan base to its wits end then the way this organization moneyballs in acquiring talent might just about force us to call it quits. Also Curtin and his unwillingness or ineptness at changing the formation or to put players in their normal positions or to make smart substitutions is pushing this fans closer and closer the longer this team loses. Tired cliches and talking points no longer work. It’s a shame really. This has been a study in sublime lunacy. First the ownership group, Then the location of the stadium, Then the criminal activities of Nowak and the questionable Sakeiwicz weirdness. Then the minutia like that BIMBO logo clashing with the kits. When Hacksworth was let go I did not want Curtin because I felt that he was too much like Hackworth. When Sakiewicz was fired I was hoping there would be a complete house cleaning of the old guard, front office, coaches , trainors etc. What I had mostly hoped for was for the Union to be sold to a competent and financially competitive ownership. If we need a proven DP or MLS quality players we’d have them. Not so much with Sugarman and cohorts. With the Union, other than a Bedoya or an Edu, neither of whom play in their most dominant positions, the players the Union bring in take a lot of google research. The Union will be getting national exposure this Friday mainly because its against NYCFC. The Union aren’t a draw on national TV because they aren’t worth watching. People want to see Villa not anyone on the current Union roster. This top fan base sports and media market deserves better. It deserves a Michael Bradly and Altidore with a Bedoya. It needs a Sigi Schmid. It deserves to really rival NYC,ATL, ORL,TOR in every way.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      To be fair to the FO and staff, you can’t just say that the Union have been “lucky” in the draft because they’ve been relatively successful there. That’s just not accurate.

      I agree with a lot of what you wrote, but candidly, it was hard to follow. You gotta break things into paragraphs or bullet points to help the reader.

  9. HopkinsMD had a good summary of a talk with Curtin before the game in the post game thread. The biggest things he pointed out was about Bedoya getting higher than he’s supposed to (why he’s not listening is a great question) and Rosenberry being stuck back because of Gooch being out there.
    .
    While I think these are valid reasons for some of our issues, Curtin needs to do something because we don’t have a good enough 10 on this roster so something needs to give. We are getting a below par Bedoya for our money, it’s like playing Barnetta at the 8 last year. So either Alberg needs to be put in or we need a formation shift.

    • I should have also pointed out over the weekend that Curtin’s body language was, at first, in a crossed arms position as he began by acknowledging the dissatisfaction and stretches of poor performance. He took ownership, which is what I’d expect a leader to do publicly.
      .
      He became more comfortable as the conversation shifted to tactics and Q&A.
      .
      I believe he is feeling the pressure rather squarely. I feel for him, the players, the organization and the fans.
      .
      I also believe that he can one day become a very good manager as he continues to grow and develop.
      .
      More than tactics and adjustments, perhaps the most challenging piece will be learning to make the difficult personnel decisions/holding players accountable.
      .
      All of my comments are said from the comfort of not being in his shoes. From one human being to another, I wish him nothing but success… here or wherever else he goes.

  10. We have our most talented roster even, but it is still substandard compared with most of the MLS 3.0. I won’t object to changing the manager, but find dubious the notion that such a change results in an improvement in the standings.

    • I’m not sure it’s THAT substandard to the rest of MLS. Instead, I’m worried that players are regressing. Rosenberry has not been playing anywhere near the level he was. Pontius has gone from call up to washed up in 2 months. Fabinho has us all preparing the sun rocket again. Bedoya is a swiss army knife, a player deployed to plug a gap, not star in a system built around him, and it shows.
      .
      And instead of benching ANY of the aforementioned players and trying SOMETHING different, we’ve been forced to watch the team rotate Strikers and right wings as possible solutions. If Curtin were going down swinging with creative solutions to the myriad problems, I’d be fine. Instead, its dreary and predictably bad. Curtin has to change, or we need to change him out.

      • If you want to see Rosenberry playing a high level, go watch the preseason game against DCU. We should have signed a better backup CB than Gooch.

  11. This article is exactly what everyone has been thinking. I don’t know hat I’ve even seen anyone argue for the merits of Jim Curtin, other than being nice. Most people just don’t want to always be switching coaches. I feel like this is always Nik Sak like in that it has to literally get to the worst possible point before anything is done.

    • I’d argue that the team morale has been good his whole tenure (an overlooked quality needed in coaching) and all the players, including the new ones from overseas seem to think he knows what he is talking about. He has taken the courses to try and get better at his job.
      .
      A lot of complaining has been done about his press conferences which honestly is just dumb. But I do agree the results haven’t been there, and the lineups are stale. Something needs to give next game more than just the striker. Personally I want Elliot in for Gooch and anyone in for Pontius at the very least.

      • Fair points. I generally agree. Those are the challenging decisions that he may not be willing to make at this point in his coaching/managing career over concern that locker room morale could be put at risk. But when the results are not good, morale can only stay healthy for so long.

      • I’d argue if you’re a Jim guy, your morale is sky high. If you’re not, see Alberg, Fafa, Etc., I bet your morale has been higher.

      • One thing I’ve learned since moving here is that fans obsess over press conferences. They are even more important to many fans than the actual game. It’s really, really weird.

  12. The timing is right for another “We deserve Better” march. First time was after a poor start on a national TV game and here we fans find ourselves on the same ship 2 years later with a match airing across the country. Perhaps a display of fan frustration of the coaching and ownership on national TV will get the message out again? It worked the first time.

  13. I think he keeps his job no matter what happens on Friday. I think he loses his job if Montreal get their first win at Talen the week after.

  14. I guess I’m not sure why we have to wait one more game, much less two. He isn’t getting better. Three years ago it was, he’s local. He’s nice. Wait til he can bring in his guys. What the hell does anyone think will change? At this point he’s the longest tenured coach here and, mind bogglingly, with a WORSE PPG THAN HACKWORTH.
    .
    He’s been afforded training facilities. DPs. $1M+ salary player that HE chased for two years. A reserve team. A Chief Tattoo Officer. John Hackworth, who is absolutely awful and will never coach in MLS again, without benefit of ANY of Curtins advantages, OUTPERFORMED him.
    .
    Why in the name of Danny Califf do we need to wait one minute more? How much more evidence do you Posidelphians need? The state rests.

    #CloseTheCurtin

    • In the name of Danny Califf!!!

      **pushes something over

    • Scottymac…BAM! I’m on board! Nothing personal, but Curtin has been in over his head since the beginning and he hasn’t learned a thing. If he has, the league has outpaced him. Either way, there’s relative backward movement. JC doesn’t have a clue how to manage/train for the opposition. We look simply stupid out there. The “U” has got to quit being a training ground for “juniors” and wake up to realize we’re actually in the big leagues. This is just ridiculous.

      “#CloseTheCurtin” … GREAT!

  15. Adam Schorr says:

    I decided to compare this roster to our 2011 roster. It’s 6 years, the league has gotten way better, it should be way better, right? TALE OF THE TAPE!
    .
    GK: Mondragon and MacMath vs. Blake and McCarthy. 2011 takes this one I think. I love Blake, but Mondragon was probably his equal when you look at the overall package, and MacMath is far better than McCarthy.
    .
    Outside Back: Sheanon and Harvey/Garfan vs. Rosenberry and Fabinho. I’m gonna give this one a push, but I’m leaning towards 2011 as well. It depends whether you think the real Rosenberry is last year’s version or this year’s.
    .
    Center Back: Califf and Valdes vs. Onyewu and Marquez. 2011 wins and let’s just move on.
    .
    Midfield options: Carroll, Mapp, Marfan, and others vs. Jones, Pontius, Bedoya, Medunjanin, and others. The 2011 Union went through a lot more midfielders, mainly because they were all bad. 2017 easily.
    .
    Striker options: Le Toux, Mwanga, Paunovic, Ruiz, and others vs. Sapong and Simpson. Again, not even close. 2011 easily.
    .
    Bench options: Roger Torres! Freddy Adu! Jack Mac! Amobi Okugo! It’s like a who’s who of early Union potential! vs. Gaddis, Creavalle, Fafa, Epps, and some others. Get down to this point, and it’s basically a wash. Both teams have a bunch of guys who were good at one thing.
    .
    Basically the only place that the 2017 Union are clearly better is in the midfield with Bedoya (playing as the 10) against Mwanga and Paunovic (playing as second strikers) and Medunjanin’s position just didn’t exist. The 2011 Union were stronger at CB and ST, and they basically had the same depth, with a bunch of interesting but flawed players. At the very least, it’s close enough that *at best* you can say that while the Union are still playing in the 2011 MLS, the rest of the league is playing in the 2017 MLS. No wonder we’re in last.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      If I take a finger out over here to stop the leak over there it starts to leak back here again.
      .
      Damn. I do believe you
      have made a compelling case.

    • Ouch

    • Pragmatist says:

      Is there a way that I can unread that? I’d like to live in a world where I didn’t possess that level of logic.
      .
      Can we get some Bimbo-sponsored Prozac, please? So depressed now…

      • What’s wrong with Bimbo? Do you know how much bread I’ve been buying for the past several years? What a great sponsor! Bread! Bread! Bread! Bread! All I ever think about is BREAD! BIMBO BREAD!!! WONDERFUL BIMBO BREAD!!!!! …..How about Bimbo front office, hiring a Bimbo manager, to put out a Bimbo product, making us all look like Bimbos?

    • Zizouisgod says:

      Interesting comparison and I don’t disagree with you on most of it.

      However, aren’t you discounting 2017’s team a bit since we are judging on such a small sample size?

      • Adam Schorr says:

        Actually, if anything, I felt I was giving the 2017 a huge benefit of the doubt because I gave them credit for their good versions. If I was taking just 2017 performance, I would have knocked Blake, Fabinho, Rosenberry, Pontius, and maybe Bedoya.

    • Le Toux looked great coming on as a supersub early last season. But apparently he was too expensive so we instead have a just as expensive Davies not even making the 18. What a terrible switch. But yeah, the starting 11 is really not any better, the bottom half of the roster is a lot better though.

      • Adam Schorr says:

        We won’t know for sure until this year’s numbers come out, but last year Le Toux was making ~3x what Davies was making.
        .
        And go back and look. I think the 2011 team had better depth honestly. The “we have depth now” argument just doesn’t hold water. The Union have maybe 2 proven quality backups on the entire roster (Gaddis and Herbers), a couple of question marks (Simpson, Alberg), and a bunch of dreck or pure hopefulness (Epps, Fafa, Creavalle, Elliott, McCarthy). The 2011 team had 19 outfield players with 10+ appearances and 5+ starts. We were tied for second in goals allowed that year. Why? Because when it was time to close out a game, they could bring on guys like Daniel, Migli, and Okugo. Need more offense? In come Jack Mac and Torres. I’d rather have a bottom half of the roster made up of guys who have clear roles than “slightly worse versions of the starters”. That 2011 team had flexibility. What I would give for somebody with Roger Torres’ creativity or even Keon Daniel’s ability to hold possession for a few seconds on this team.

  16. Pragmatist says:

    Arsene Wenger’s about to be out of a job…
    .
    Imjusayin’…

  17. “What has Jim Curtin done to make the Philadelphia Union better than the sum of their parts?”….I’ve been asking this question for almost a year now…still no answer good enough.
    .
    He’s been given time. He’s been given tools. The team has gotten worse. Time for a change.

  18. I’ll say it again, get Bradley. Lots of local ties too. I think you keep curtain in the organization somehow. Bring in Rooney at the 10 spot and leave sapong high. Plus we’ re playing Swansea in the friendly. We’ll be good by then and they’ll be relegated.

  19. Saint Ernies Sins

    1 Not replacing Barnetta with someone equal or better

    2 Signing Simpson as the # 1 Forward
    . This was not an upgrade to team that needed a quality forward.

    3 Not signing a left back who was MLS ready.

    Curtin is too stubborn to see that they don’t have the personnel to play with a solo forward. He has got to find a way to put as many skilled offensive players on the field to start the game..

    The Union made. 1 decent move in Signing the big Serb to improve their control in the middle of the field. Onyewu is unfortunately too slow when they face opposition with speed.. The result is the are very slow and have no recovery speed in the middle of the field. That would be ok if the had a more dynamic attack but they don’t.

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