Fans' View

Fans’ View: I choose optimism

It’s been a while since I’ve written a piece for PSP, and that probably reflects a similar apathy that has crept into many long-time Union fans. However, two events occurred last week that will reshape my outlook this season.

The Four Year Plan

The other night I was watching the excellent documentary, “The Four Year Plan,” about Queen’s Park Rangers rise from near-bankruptcy to promotion to the Premier League. In it, we see the backroom boardroom turmoil in which a dichotomy develops between the passionate, and often impetuous Italian businessmen Flavio Briatore and Gianni Paladini juxtaposed against the cool, level-headed approach of British-Indian investment manager Amit Bhatia. The club goes through a ridiculous stretch of eight managers over the four-year period with each one’s tenure marked by impossible expectations, vitriol and insults from Paladini and Briatore. Everyone is an “idiot,” and everything is a “disaster.”

Then something changes. They make the brilliant move of bringing in Neil Warnock, and he enters the scene broad-smiled and oozing optimism. Bhatia becomes much more vocal, and in one lovely moment at the season-opener, chides the chairman Paladini for shouting an insult at a player from the owners’ box. He instructs that there will be no more negativity and he will no longer be allowed to sit next to him if he continues to shout insults.

Amazingly, and quite surreptitiously following a goal from none other than one Jay Simpson, the club begins to turn things around in a dramatic fashion. The negativity of Paladini and Briatore fade as the positivity of Bhatia and Warnock dominate the culture of the club. You see it in the players’ faces, the fans’ faces and the style of play.

They are having fun.

Lunch with Curtin

I received an email the other day form Dan Walsh asking if anyone was interested in attending a Union practice and lunch with Jim Curtin and Ernst Tanner. A very generous, thoughtful PSP reader and season ticket holder, Micah Bertin, reached out to PSP with an extra spot as a token of gratitude. While I certainly felt as though there were many more deserving contributors to PSP than me, I still jumped at the chance.

It was fun watching the guys practice from the sideline. While there were lots of new faces and names to learn, it was obvious the quality these new guys are bringing. Sergio Santos is fast, and Marco Fabián looks fit and clever. But the highlight of the day was sitting down next to Jim Curtin for lunch.

I won’t go into the details of the conversation, but I was floored by how open and forthright he was with our questions. He talked about tactics, locker-room challenges from the past, theory behind team selection and many more topics that were discussed so honestly that you forgot you were sitting next to a professional coach.

Personally, I’m a huge Jim Curtin fan. And it’s not just because he’s a nice guy. But let me say this: he is an incredibly nice guy and that actually is important. He thinks about tactics and adjustments way more than many fans give him credit for, and he prioritizes preparation for the players to be problem solvers on the pitch. This was clearly evident for periods of last year where the Union were playing some of the most attractive soccer in the league. This was not a mistake. You could see from repeated patterns of play; the triangles working the ball through the midfield along the right side for instance; that these were evidence of a coach with a plan.

What I was most impressed with is that Curtin still exudes a calmness and confidence that as a player I would find a joy to play under. Never once did he show or mention any sign of the pressure-laden challenge he faces this year in a new system and a new general manager who most certainly will be scrutinizing his performance.  I left the visit feeling really excited about what this season will bring and even more confident that Curtin deserves much more than a short leash.

So, I’ve found a renewed interest and fresh perspective for this season.

In the end, why do we watch the Union, read about them on Philly Soccer Page and debate them ad nauseam? Because it’s fun. Just like Neil Warnock and Amit Bhatia transforming QPR through intentional positivity, the same holds true for any soccer club, including the Union. I’m not here to tell you how to act as a fan, but I firmly believe that as a club and community, positivity will actually affect the product and results on the field. I’m sure some will criticize me for drinking the Kool-aid, but guess what? I’m gonna have a lot more fun.

That’s why I’m choosing optimism.

25 Comments

  1. Section 114 (former) says:

    Congratulations. That’s a great story. Why did he say he was starting a player who doesn’t choose to defend at the back of a midfield diamond?

  2. Curtin has a 1.28 PPG record, zero playoff wins, and three runner-up USOC medals.

  3. Zizouisgod says:

    Nice piece, Scott. Whatever you do, don’t check on how QPR has been doing since that doc.

  4. Being positive is nice and all, but what has it brought this club exactly? Thinking and talking about tactics is great. Any idea when he actually plans to implement these things? I’m happy the players have a nice easy going coach that makes their life easier. Any idea when he plans to hold the veterans as accountable as the younger team members? Did he ever express a reason why using all three subs is so difficult? Maybe he mentioned why making a non injury sub before the 65th minute is a bad idea. Any insight there? Did he possibly mention why practice is more important than winning on match day? Just wondering if any of these questions got answered since he is so forthcoming.

  5. Great write-up and sounds like an incredible experience. Optimism is a trait I’m constantly striving for, so I really, really dig the theme here.

    .

    On a different note, this piece hits on an interesting dichotomy I’ve noticed in the narrative surrounding Jim Curtin. Anyone who spends any length of time with the man seems to echo the commentary that he’s extremely well prepared, that he’s forthcoming perhaps to a fault, that he knows his way around tactics and that he’s just flat out a good dude to be around. The amount of times this has been stated and the diversity of mouths from which it has been stated make me believe that it is not an act, nor a coincidence.

    .

    However, even with the brief spells of beautiful soccer we saw last year taken into account, this stands in direct contrast to the man we’ve watched on the sidelines over the past 5 seasons. The man who is perilously slow to adjust midstream – to the point that it seems he’s nearly incapable of doing it. The man who regularly and repeatedly shoves round pegs into square holes. The man who will continue to ride with a player long, long after the wheels have fallen off, while conversely holding other players to an unreasonably high standard just to step foot on the field and actually kick a ball in anger. To steal a horrendously overused analogy, he seems like a man that would be able to dissect and explain in great detail exactly how and why he’d be able to beat Mike Tyson in a boxing match, only to have absolutely zero clue how to react once he got punched in the mouth.

    .

    All that said, I think the optimistic view is worthwhile this year. We got our butts whooped last weekend, but let’s see how, or if, Jim adapts. For the first time probably in the entirety of his tenure, he has multiple options at a variety of positions, and I’ll be interested to see if he can put that tactical nous he readily displays in conversation to use on the field, and actually translate it into a functional, winning team.

  6. pragmatist says:

    I always come back to one simple fact: this isn’t life-or-death. This is a bunch of grown men playing a child’s game. Why do adults get so intensely worked up about it?
    .
    (Don’t yell at me for that…yet.)
    .
    I’ve met Curtin a couple of times, and I’ll echo that he is a fantastic person. He and Gaddis are similar in that they are targets of intense fan vitriol, but are wonderful humans. We are represented by good people.
    .
    That said…there are a lot of good people who may not be up to the task in front of them, and they need to cede the responsibility to someone who is up to it. For Jim, it’s VERY early in the season, and it was one game on a crappy field in crappy weather against a motivated team that had just been humiliated. Give it a few games to see how everyone settles in.
    .
    Santos just had a baby, like last week. Fabian has been with the team about 5 minutes. Monteiro is still unpacking. McKenzie is hurt. And Derrick Jones is probably hungover again. (Sorry…cheap shot.)
    .
    People are choosing cynicism/pessimism over optimism because in Philly we have been trained to see ourselves as Charlie Brown waiting for Lucy to pull the football away from us. The Union, however, have never provided a cause for optimism. But each season is a new dynamic. Try to wait until at least May before running these guys out on a rail.

    • Or.. we’ve seen the previous five seasons under Curtin.

    • The thing is we constantly come away from games with a loss but all the stats saying we should have won. I think you can easily trace this to breaking in a young D and also our owner being so incredible cheap that we consistently have forwards that can’t score. Our roster is always over-rated on these boards in my opinion (except this year I think maybe we have better talent than before, though still ? with all the new guys minus Fabian).

      • pragmatist says:

        I think you hit on one of, if not the biggest issue: we have never had a pure finisher. Someone who is a pure and ruthless goalscorer. Some guys have had good years, plus there was the JackMac-as-poacher years. But there hasn’t been someone that you knew would get you 15 goals if he stayed healthy.
        .
        I love Fafa, and 95% of his game is awesome. But that last 5% KILLS us. He’s like the Orlando Jones character in The Replacements…faster than everyone…makes all the right moves…then drops the ball that’s placed right in his hands. In Fafa’s case, it’s a matter of blowing past everyone with speed and control…only to launch a shot into the Delaware River.
        .
        I’ll put my hopes into: A) Santos being better than we are expecting, or B) Burke making a leap. But both are reaches.
        .
        I know it’s sounds ridiculously simplistic, but a pure scorer can cure a lot of what ails a team.

  7. The thing is, consciously or unconsciously, the real vitriol directed at Curtin comes from the success of the organization as a whole.
    .
    Would going back in time and making a sub at halftime instead of 75min really change the outcome of that game? Would using all three subs in a game that only two were used? Would starting Jones instead of Medunjanin?
    .
    Of course we will never know, but the assumption that changing something would result in a positive change in the outcome comes from knowing what the outcome was and not being happy about it.
    .
    Win = genius; lose = fool.

    • Agree, but would also quote Albert Einstein:
      “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

      When Curtain routinely does the same things (starting CJ, subbing at the 65th minute, claiming players need to show more in practice, etc.) he starts looking like a one-trick Pony in a fitted blue suit who can’t adapt.

      • That’s my point. We assume that changing something would result in a more positive outcome given the knowledge that the outcome was poor. Which completely overlooks the fact that changing something could have cause the outcome to be even worse or not changed it at all.
        .
        For example, say we go back in time and start Jones instead of Medunjanin – we assume that change would lead to something better for the Union then the 3-1 loss. But what is better? A 2-1 loss? It could have also been worse – say a 4-1 loss after a Jones red card because he wasn’t up for it as could have been noticed in training that week?
        .
        It is impossible to judge a decision without exploring all outcomes, that is why any computational simulations/projections/predictions are run thousands or millions of times. And they are still wrong often enough, especially when it comes to sports.
        .
        .
        .
        P.S. Einstein never said that: https://www.history.com/news/here-are-6-things-albert-einstein-never-said

  8. As nice as the Neil Warnock story may be, QPR fired him halfway through his first season at the helm in the first division after he guided the club through a nine-game losing streak. Say what you will about keeping it positive, it wasn’t more important than results.

    I appreciate your point very much, Scott, but it is not negative to hold those in charge of a team accountable. If you want loyalty from fans, it’s not a one-way street. You must demonstrate loyalty to the fans with a commitment to excellence. Union fans haven’t had much evidence that there’s a commitment to a higher standard. That may very well not be Curtin’s fault. But he does play a role. As do the players. As does Tanner. And Sugarman and other owners.

    In many ways, they should take a positive away from the portion of fans who are irate. It means they care.

    • But what he DID do was turn around an absolute shit-show near relegation in the championship that 7 previous managers couldn’t, win the league and promotion to the Premier League. In the end, lack of quality players was the cause of his demise. Not the manager. Sound familiar?

  9. el Pachyderm says:

    I choose optimism as well…
    .
    but as this commentary from earlier in the week argues…
    .
    .
    (( el Pachyderm March 5, 2019 at 11:14 am
    .
    1967.
    .
    A hockey team is founded in Philadelphia and finds immediate success. Goes on to become iconic and draw a hardcore fanbase – through thick and thin and moreover a preternatural inability over time to evolve with the changing game and see beyond its own shadow still draws a loyal and faithful 20,000 people game after game to its stadium. The Flyer Faithful.
    .
    484 feet.
    .
    One of his longest measured home runs last year —-as it landed in the upper deck of the Home Run Derby in Nationals Park. Let’s backtrack about 8 years to a story about this Paul Bunyan I read in Sports Illustrated when he was in high school in Las Vegas regularly belting the ball over 500 feet in the air as there was no upper deck in the stadium he played for the ball to land in. Coaches report the ball regularly left the stadium his senior year landing on the other side of the road across the street over there, a finger pointing into the distance. When interviewed for the story, and asked to define his swing, Bryce Harper called it “controlled violence.”
    .
    Late March 2019. First weekend of MLB.
    .
    The first Sunday Night Baseball game of the year is in Philadelphia this year. Paul Bunyan will step to the plate and hyberlobic story telling will begin anew in Philly as the ball is launched out of CBP over Xfinity and into the east facing end zone of Lincoln Financial Field. Mike Trout is already on speed dial.
    .
    By mid April, 43,000 people will begin flocking to CBP and if things go according to John Middleton’s STUPID MONEY plan– the next 10-13 seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies which just happen to coincide with Jay Sugarman’s mid table business plan Philadelphia Union will cast a long long cool summer shadow over Chester.
    .
    The announced attendance for this first fart of an MLS game was 14,000 people I believed which was quite generous. If Jim Curtin does not get this right. If Ernst Tanner has not gotten this right. Talen Energy Stadium might just get about 6,000 to 9,000 fans a game, if it is lucky–and that entire Union emblem used by me for the last three years to denote an already shriveling fanbase will be more and more and more visible… as the last 10 years and opportune time to build and convert casuals to the hardcore -through early success – was pissed away.
    .
    Philadelphia Union needed to become the 21st century Philadelphia Flyers.))
    .
    …..it might not matter…. because the optimism is 18 miles up the Interstate 95.

  10. I had lunch with you that day. I was the one asking about about the mental aspects (practice player vs somebody that freezes under te lights etc). Very accurate account of that day and an experience I will never forget

  11. UnionGoal says:

    Thank you, Scott.
    I appreciate you writing this.
    Team needs time to gel. Late April they’ll have that annual bump of success for several weeks.
    With more depth and a summer transfer(striker) there is potential to keep going strong through summer and into playoffs.

    But if it doesn’t, I agree with you Curtin is extremely nice guy, and demonstrates his knowledge of tactics and soccer so I would hope if he’s not with union in 2020 he gets chance elsewhere.
    UnionGoal

  12. Excellent article, Scott, and thoughtful, incisive comments. I was at the lunch as well. I consider Curtin’s comments off the record so, like Scott, I won’t go into specifics. But I left the lunch feeling as though he is not only well aware of many of the points people have made here, but he gets it and he will be bringing a different approach this year.

    Is that an overly optimistic outlook from a perennial Polyanna? Guilty as charged. And I don’t see Curtin doing a 180 based on fan comments, but I predict we will see this new approach reflected in several line-up changes for Sunday’s game, and win lose or draw, this will mark the beginning of a shift.

  13. Just FYI everyone. I wrote this BEFORE the home opener. So my mindset was tested early, but I’ve been able to maintain positive for one game at least. Fingers crossed…

  14. Joseph G Barnett says:

    Measured Patience vs Curtins Limitations

    In the first 6 games of Banettas and Doakals Union zareers they were able to bring at least 3 positive team results (wins or ties). Lets at least give Marco Fabian the same chance before we make any judgement on how he will help the team.

    However, Curtin has got to see by now Harris is way too slow to play the back of the diamond and maybe its not the best system for the vet mids they have. None of them have recovery speed to track back. If he is going to use this system he has got to at least put Jones in the back and sit Ilshinio who plays zero defense. He should bring in Aaronson or# 21 to take his place. Gaddis is ok but he is never going to be any help starting a play from the right fullback spot. I would gladly take Seanon Williams back from wherever hes playing as a known proven spark from the back We are not getting Rosenberry back ever. What a shame. Curtin almost destroyed his career. Good luck to him…… Now that I am thinking of it what promisng player has Curtin helped to grow each year. I can think of at least a few he slowed or reversed there progress. Jack Mac, Seanon Williams, Keagan Rosenberry, Mark Mc Kenzie?? I am sure you can think of others

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