Deja vu all over again

Photo: Earl Gardner

Breaking up is like knocking over a Coke machine. You can’t do it in one push. You gotta rock it back and forth a few times, and then it goes over.”

Jerry Seinfeld, Season 9, Episode 2, “The Voice”

Last time

It was May 19, 2015 when the Sons of Ben decided enough was enough. The faux coffin they carried into PPL Park that day served direct notice to the Union’s front office that the status quo of mediocrity couldn’t continue. The team had just a single win through their first 11 matches, were already buried at the bottom of the table in the Eastern Conference, and could only be described as left for dead in the race for the playoffs with only a third of the season gone. This, on top of several years of irrelevancy, was enough.

The coffin wasn’t for the coach (not even a year into his tenure) or any of the players (who were outmatched from the start, minus a few exceptions), it was for one of the team’s management: CEO Nick Sakiewicz, who had his picture on the inside of said coffin, “Serial Franchise Killer” inscribed on the side.

Union fans tried breaking up with their franchise that day but, “you can’t do it in one push…”

Sakiewicz wasn’t fired until October of the that year. Despite the Sons of Ben statement, it took another five months for Jay Sugarman and his ownership group to actually help knock the Coke machine over because, though the Union won three of their next four matches after the protest, ownership wanted to make sure the rocking back and forth wasn’t actually progress.

By October, that truth was evident beyond a shadow of a doubt.

This time

Fast forward to today, April 19, 2018, and some similarities begin to emerge, as well as some new data that doesn’t show well for the team.

After the least active off-season of any club in the league, the Union have only a single win through their first five matches and are already 12 points off the Supporter’s Shield pace.

The Union lowest shot conversion rate in league history, small sample size notwithstanding).

The Union are giving more time to young players than nearly anyone else in Major League Soccer but are actually worse with this focus than they were before. (This is astonishing, given how bad the team actually were before).

A list like this could go for pages and Union fans don’t need the litany. They’re already pushing the Coke machine. This time there isn’t an out of touch CEO to shout about as they push. Instead, their furor is focused on head coach, Jim Curtin.

Curtin leads the short list of coaches in Union history in wins, win percentage, cup finals, and playoff appearances. He is either a few bounces here or there away from being a true revelation as a head coach, or he has proven himself to be systematically rigid to his team’s detriment and the leader of a side that has been guilty of being unprepared, outworked, and outclassed across several seasons.

Few fans agree with the former statement any longer and have almost universally coalesced around the latter. They’re not going to games, and frankly they’re hardly even booing (the boos at the end of the Orlando match were halfhearted and brief, apathy having set in perhaps).

More than in 2015, though, it’s not clear that the Union front office feel the machine being rocked at all. Every statement made by current Sporting Director Earnie Stewart about Curtin has been a supportive one:

“[Because of the] certain way we’re going about our business,… I think we’re years away [from a championship]… I would say Jim is doing an excellent job”

Now what?

A real breakup requires the actions of two parties, and one can obviously sway the actions of the other. That can look like what the Sons of Ben did in 2015 or like what Anthony Precourt is doing to Colombus fans today.

As for Union fans, bet on them to keep pushing. So long as the team continues to under-perform, they will keep pushing.

Earnie Stewart will keep supporting his head coach. It would be bad leadership not to. When an empty stadium and nonexistent merchandise sales start to cut into the team’s already-thin margins, perhaps the people whose job it is to assess both Stewart and Curtin will take notice.

A real breakup requires the actions of two parties, and one can obviously sway the other.

Union fans will keep pushing.


  1. “This time there isn’t an out of touch CEO”
    Sugarman is about as out of touch as it gets.

  2. I didn’t renew my season tickets this year, having held them since day 1. Now my fan rep, who has been great, is emailing me to come to the next home game for free. I guess management thinks that putting me through a time-sharesque process will actually convince me to spend money with them! It came across as so desperate I had to take them up on it.

    • Matt Thornton says:

      Likewise, was a founding member and STH and didn’t renew because this franchise simply doesn’t care about winning games. The highest aspiration expressed by current ownership and management is “developing players for the USMNT.” Great, I’ll take my $$ elsewhere until someone decides to start building a winning culture.

      My old rep called after the first game and said “Hey, the Union got off to a great start, winning 2-0…still seats available.” Not a peep since then. PPL is going to be an library this year.

    • This year is a make-or-break year for me. We moved to corner seats (section 102) to reduce the price. I need to start feeling like I’m getting my money’s worth, or I don’t envision renewing. My daughter will be a senior in high school starting in the fall, my son a junior. That means, among a lot of other things, I’ll have to start paying college tuition during the 2019 season. The cost of my season tickets, of course, is just a drop in that bucket. But every drop can help…

    • This is also a step up or I’m opting out as a season ticket holder year for me.

      Unfortunately the big difference from 2015 is anger is being replaced by apathy as fans have grown tired of the same brand of sloppy play, poor results and the message from the team that the Union have limited resources and are not a big market team. Add the attempted distractions of mascots and tattoo officers instead of true changes needed to be a winning team in today’s current MLS and fans are saying they’ve had enough and it is showing in the number of empty seats.

      This is issue is bigger than just replacing the coach in my opinion.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Agree with you both – Unionjacq & John Ling. My dad and I have had em since Day 1 and this season is our make or break year. At most, I will only buy a half season next year but that will turn into nothing if the current trend continues. It’s sad how enthusiastic and crazed fans were for this team and in less than a decade, it couldn’t be more of the opposite. If this was any other league besides “prop em up” MLS the Union would have folded by now. Sugarman… please sell.

  3. Could anyone do better with the rosters he is given? Would an international coach who leaves after a year be better? Curtin got to 2 cup finals with weak teams. He plays academy teenagers at defense because they are the best players available to him, which is a problem.

    Look at the roster, then compare to Atlanta or NYCFC or Toronto. It’s not Curtin. Pay for some players. Toronto was historically terrible until they decided, hey lets get players and try to be a good franchise…

    • bro, hes been here for a long ass time, through a ton of players. each off season we bring in players at positions we have needs at (even if they arent DP level). at some point its on the coach to display SOMETHING. its on the coach to give us SOME indication that he can get his team to gel or play better than the sum of their parts.

      • I’ve defended Curtin before because our previous rosters were complete garbarge in terms of roster construction. This year though our roster isn’t horrible. We should be at least a mid table team.
        I haven’t given up hope for this year yet because Fafa and Ilsinho missed the first few games and Dockal is still adjusting and we have actually looked like we could be dangerous. It’s starting to get to the point of the season where the excuses lose their merit though. I probably give them 4 more games to start showing results before I completely turn, but I can totally understand why other already have.

    • QuillosMyCat says:

      > then compare to Atlanta or NYCFC or Toronto.

      Gerardo Martino, Patrick Vieira, Greg Vanney. We wouldn’t be better than those teams if we have one of them coaching but I’d at least want to watch.

      • The only one of those three who had a well-credentialed prior coaching resume is Martino.
        Vanney has made his excellent name with Toronto, and Viera was a rookie when he started in New York, I am fairly sure I remember.
        Parenthetically, remember that our Swiss “ring of honor” member was not clearly such from day one! 😉

      • True, but the only reason we still hold onto Curtin is because he is cheap. I can guarantee you both Vanney & Viera were making more money from day 1 because the teams saw value in them. They knew they were taking a risk but saw they had their vision. Jim doesn’t have a vision.
        Vanney and Robin Frasier were also both at Chivas 1.0 and basically just swapped roles in Toronto between head coach and assistant coach.

    • I hate going on and on about it being time for Curtin to go because I think he’s a superb guy, but he’s clearly not cut out to manage a side that’s talent challenged. I have no doubt that a Sean Dyche, David Wagner Or Claude Puel would add at least 10 points to an expected season total with the same squad. The difference between a playoff berth and an early off season. I’m not a big fan of his, but Mourinho could find a way to win CCL with this squad.

      But let’s forget a euro manager. Bob Bradly would get more out of this team. And so would Jesse Marsch. And Oscar Pareja.

      When you’re doing what the Union are trying to do with academy talent– and I like the vision — you have to have a manager who knows how to maximize waxing (academy) and waning (vet) talent on the pitch. Curtin should have been the assistant coach to an accomplished manager and been prepped to take the reigns in 5+ years.

      If this goes on for another month and this team only takes 1/3 o available points, Curtin has to be sacked. Anything less should trigger another protest.

    • We add players, but at a quality at least a step behind the rest of the league. Atlanta and Toronto prove that, if you build it, North American fans will come. Keep thinking small and we’ll forever be small.

    • I hear you. Those other teams definitely have more interested ownership, that actually has money and invests.

      But Curtin is absolutely part of the problem.
      He got to those finals with another coach’s players and by beating B and C MLS teams or lower division teams. Both finals occurred before he finished his first full season in charge. New coach bump could account for some of it. He lost both finals when the other MLS team took it seriously and played their first team guys.
      When we’re comparing against those teams, also consider the coaching. They all adjust to opponents and deploy different configurations and strategies, certainly more than Coach Local. He’s consistently out coached during games too…other teams adjust. Union doesn’t.
      I agree though, it isn’t just Curtin. But he’s the head coach and heat comes with the paycheck…just like extra credits when the team is consistently winning.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Never forget Jim Curtin sitting the most balanced and consistent player the Union had fielded in its brief existence for the shiny new car…. who missed the PK which ultimately led to the loss. Player has been in the cesspool of US Soccer purgatory since.
        If you didn’t recognize the quality in the player as a ‘young’ and long term solution as the HDM I can’t help you.
        The entire spine should have been built around him.
        Never Forget.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        El P… you’re love of Okugo is genuinely amazing 🙂

      • El P, how many other chances has your adored one had to make it in the league?
        Kansas City, New York Red Bulls, and Portland are organizations that assess talent well.
        He priced himself out of his market. Or his agent did.

      • E P

        Benching Okugo for Ethan White….
        Benching Blake for McCarthy….
        Your honor, the state rests.This club will never be closer to trophies as they were that day.

    • It’s Curtin. He’s overmatched and lost the plot. He’s never been good and he hasn’t improved. His teams have been prone to poor defending and an inability to create.
      Imagine how bad we’d be without the saves Blake’s made? Perennial wooden spoon winners.

  4. The Chopper says:

    Question: if your life depended on winning a game with MLS talent, who is your coach, Jim Curtin or John Hackworth.

    I’ll take Hack. Enough said

    • Zizouisgod says:

      Chopper – I have several questions:

      When would this game occur? Is it a home match? Is it late in the season after the Union have been eliminated from the playoffs?

      Would you be doing the first kick so we could give you a nice memory? Would the Sons of Ben do a TIFO for you?

      What concession stand would you order your potential last meal from? When would you eat it? (FWIW – you don’t want to wait too long as Talen concessions always seems to run out of everything quickly like a Soviet supermarket.)

      If the Union lost, how would they kill you? Would they still pass out english muffins when we are leaving the stadium?

  5. Any chance it gets bad enough that the S.O.B. don’t even show up to a match and leave the River End empty? The next 7/8 matches are very tough with most coming on the road.

  6. I’m quite OK with Stewart saying supportive things of Curtin publicly. I’d actually be concerned if he wasn’t, because that would make me question his management style. (It’s the same reason why I have no problem with Curtin saying mostly positive things about players in public, even when we can see with our own eyes that the player is struggling, or just isn’t good enough.) We have no idea what is said behind closed doors – and that’s probably the way it ought to be.
    I expect Jim will be gone when MLS hits the World Cup break. They play June 8th, and then they have off until June 23rd – just over two full weeks. That strikes me as the time a change will happen. Curtin is fired after the June 2 match in Atlanta or the June 8 match at home vs Toronto. It all depends on whether you want a “dead man walking” to coach that final home game before the break.
    I like Curtin. I’ve been a sometimes-vocal supporter of him. But through it all, there are 3 constants: ownership, Stewart*, and Curtin. Ownership isn’t going anyway; Stewart probably isn’t going anywhere. That leaves Curtin as the obvious change to make. I’m OK with that, and I’d wish him well after his exit.
    (* Alright, technically Stewart hasn’t been here as long as Curtin; close enough for this discussion, though.)

  7. Time for a Close the Curtin TIFO!

  8. Desh Bouksani says:

    “It occurs to me that if US Soccer Dev’t/Play focuses so much on 1v1 play (which is the tone I perceive from littles to college to pro) then of course any use of Jokers to create overloads is forbidden, because the concept of numerical superiority IN POSSESSION is anathema to them.

    so much of what I hear in the US is ‘take them on. beat them. win your 1v1s and you watch our teams play at all levels and its what you see, often not real successfully: poor moments to do it, making it 1v3 rather than 1v1 etc. Very little use of possession to…

    …enhance 1v1 situations or to create better odds (2v1). Its a mindset that I don’t understand. There is enough evidence that creating / seeking out numerical advantage has benefits. Why you’d exclude certain spices from your recipe is just odd to me”

    -someone who knows the game pretty well.
    To answer the question up thread, would another coach make a difference. Unequivocally yes, at every level of the organization.

  9. Sons of Ben have decided they have no interest in being anything but cheerleaders. Don’t expect them to dust off the coffin anytime soon. Any protest will have to be done independent of them. Someday when the team is decent maybe a rival supporters group will be born.

    • Original SOB here…unfortunately I concur.
      I will most likely join that supporters group when it arrives

    • +1, hope that group rises.

    • This is so true. The SOB leadership have made it evidently clear they are not interested in making a statement and will continue to cheerlead.

    • John Harris says:

      Perhaps we form the group now…

      • Are there any other supporter groups that call themselves The Fanbase? I think it would be cool to see a crowd of people all with shirts on that said “I am Fanbase”. Kinda in the spirit of “I am Spartacus”
        Sometimes I’m more creative than logical…;)

  10. I’ve been saying, for years, that Curtin could not be blamed with the glaring holes we had on the roster. I’ve also been saying, for years, that the impact of a coach on the team is somewhat overrated, and there is evidence to that effect.

    However, the team clearly has more total talent this season than it has ever had previously, and “looks” better, in some respects. Yet still we languish. Unless they turn things around within the next month or two, we will be at the point of be able to say, with confidence, that the one thing all of Curtin’s teams have in common is underperformance. And at that point, we will simply have nothing to lose by firing him.

    I agree with John Ling that the World Cup break should be the breaking point. If there isn’t a significant turnaround, Curtin should be fired. I just can’t see how we should be doing any worse, honestly.

  11. I don’t see the firing of Curtain ever coming from Earnie Stewart. Earnie believes they are a few years away (which is still insulting to hear), and Curtain is a company guy who will go along with the plan. Only when Sugarman sees by June that attendance, merchandise and food sales are plummeting, will Jim be forced out, simply to appease fans who’ve decided to stay home this season.

  12. i don’t think his firing could come soon enough. love jim, blah blah blah. why wait till June? we sacked Hack then and didn’t have enough points to go anywhere. someone with better ideas can do a better job. let’s prove its coach first, sporting director second (“is that USMNT GM job still available? asking for a friend”) and we all know sugarman is root of problem.

    i weathered all three managers with unwavering loyalty to club. protest is now apathy 3 years since i pulled the plug on season tix.

  13. Just fire Curtin & hire someone anyone with an idea. Who will play a striker other than C.J. Who won’t move C.J. to the wing when that other striker comes on. Who will change formations. Who won’t play a high press all game until everyone is too tired to play any defense at all. Who will play Bedoya at his best position right midfield. Who will coach effective corner kicks on offense and defense. Then you can leave to go to the USMNT Earnie. And good riddance.

  14. Honest question, if this team were planning on moving to another city, would you protest? Not sure I would and I wanted a team since I was a kid.

  15. Firing Curtin won’t help if they simply replace him with a guy with even less experience like Brendan Burke or Dick Schroeder (or Adam Cann!), which is all I expect Sugardaddy to spring for. Let’s face it, Jay isn’t going to crack open his piggy bank for a guy like Vieira or Tata Martino…he takes the same approach to managers as he does to players: find guys that are inexperienced and cheap, and hope they are a diamond in the rough who will rise to the occasion.
    I’d almost rather he stick with Curtin and get the remaining fans to tune out, as this may at least force the league office to step in and implement changes like they seem to have done in Chicago.

    • I don’t know. So many puns available around “Coach Cann” for the good times and the bad. 😉

      That said, Sugarman ain’t spending money unless he’s forced. True, the Union is his trophy…not that he cares about the team per se, but that I’m sure he drops that he owns a team at every opportunity to everyone he sees at the country club…but he obviously can’t afford it. He’s a poser.

    • I, for one, would wait at least a half dozen games before I started calling for the ownership to fire Coach Cann and created the hashtag, #CanCoachCann.

  16. Sugarman is the real problem. Take your investment gains off the table and run jay, run. Sell to a real owner

  17. John Harris says:

    It’s the ownership. It’s always been the ownership. #sell.

  18. I have not made the drive down from NYC to attend a Union game since the middle of last season. I won’t attend games at Yankee Stadium or Red Bull Arena when the Union come north either. I rarely comment on this page anymore. I watch teams come into MLS and I look at the Union with disgust. I just need to occasionally rant. This is such a great fan base and market.
    Sugarman, Stewart, Albrigt, Curtin-the feckless 4! Philly is not a 2nd rate outpost! It’s only my opinion.

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