Analysis / Front Office / Signing News / Union

Jim Curtin: Coach of the year (so far)

With the announcement of his two-year extension this week, Union coach Jim Curtin’s skill on the sideline is being recognized as the Union continue to sit at top of the East and second in the Shield race. Calls to fire Curtin have been around as long as Curtin has, getting louder after losses but not necessarily calming down after wins. However, there’s an argument to be made that Curtin has always overperformed given the squads he’s been given, and his success this year bears that out. Previously this space has been used to discuss Ernst Tanner’s scouting acumen, but Curtin is the one on the sideline and in the locker room, actually making gameday decisions and interacting with the players. Here are three ways that Curtin has proved himself to be an effective and flexible coach in the 2019 campaign.

Tactical flexibility

Under former sporting director Earnie Stewart, the 4-2-3-1 formation was unvaried. No matter the opponent, no matter the scoreline, the Union lined up, basically, the same way from the opening kick to the closing whistle. Curtin received a lot of flak for that invariability, but now we might be seeing that some of that inflexibility came from above.  This year, as they’ve spent much of the season first in the East and second only to the probably-untouchable LAFC in the Supporters’ Shield race, Curtin has shown incredible flexibility and on-the-fly acumen in shifting players’ positions, at one point even sending midfielder Bedoya to right back in a pinch. Though Curtin admits he is not the best tactician out there, his work this year shows a marked improvement in flexibility and, more importantly, permission from above to experiment.

Targeted substitutions

As Matt Real’s late assist in the second Orlando match last week showed, Curtin understands the talent he has and how to use it. A significant number of his subs have come on to score a late goal or provide an assist, and both the substitutes and their timing in the match show an understanding of his own depth chart and the rhythms of the game itself.

Locker room presence

Curtin is generally respected in the locker room, and his post-game talks after losses are always notable for his diplomatic approach to discussing individual players. In an era when coaches and players routinely if indirectly savage one another in post-game interviews, this dynamic is notable. When players leave the pitch, Curtin is always there with a handshake, and the players are nearly always receptive despite some occasional clear frustration at being subbed off. There are very rarely any clear inter-team dustups from the Union, and all sources point to Curtin as responsible for creating a locker room environment where that kind of culture can flourish.

Curtin might not be a name considered when a big coaching job comes up. However, he’s doing a lot with a roster that—while it’s improved under Tanner—has not always been as competitive as Curtin or the fans might like. This year, he’s shown that he has the ability to take even a slightly improved squad to the top of the eastern conference. The second half of the season will test his skill in seeing how deep into the playoffs he can guide the team.


  1. good points. truly am excited for the ride, but there are — in my mind — a minimum 4 more months of soccer to be played before we start considering COTY and rewarding with an extension.
    i’m all for praising Jim’s growth and success but it’s one half of one season
    (somehow ignoring the four previous) and the competition is fierce. fending off the wolves by consistently getting results and winning a couple playoff games is what makes him COTY

  2. scottymac says:

    He over performed to an 0-3 record in Cup Finals and never winning a playoff game. Just last month he got to a winning record after 170+ matches.
    THey’re doing good. Consistently doing well through an entire season and not fading out is always the challenge.
    I’ve always been baffled by this site’s rush to praise.

  3. SilverRey says:

    Everyone blames Stewart for the 4231 just because he came out saying it was going to be the formation for all Union levels.
    Everyone forgets that’s really all Jim played for the years before that.
    That’s one of the things that makes this year exceptional for Jim, you can see him growing some as a tactician.

  4. Bob Bradley will win COTY. LAFC is on pace to have the best regular season in MLS’ short history.

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