Union to remove interim tag from manager Jim Curtin

Updated Wednesday afternoon: As you'll see in the above video from the Inquirer's Marc Narducci, Jim Curtin announced at his weekly press conference Wednesday that officially, he is still the Union's interim manager.

"I'm still fighting to have the interim tag dropped," Curtin said. "To be honest, I was on the playground yesterday with my kids and all the sudden the phone starts going - Alexi Lalas, and then Ives, and then Twellman and different guys, asking questions, congratulating in some regards. Same as you guys, probably, I read the article: Not true."

I stand by what I originally reported, though I suppose I can't really put it past the Union that they might change their minds on a whim and reverse course. We'll have to keep waiting for the official announcement.

Although Jim Curtin came up short in his first attempt to win a trophy for the Union, the Oreland native has clearly won over both partisan and neutral observers. On Tuesday, after three and a half months at the helm, Curtin won over the Union's front office.

I've been told that Curtin has had the interim tag formally removed from his title. The news is not official yet, but you can expect confirmation soon.

Since John Hackworth was dismissed in early June, Curtin has compiled a record of 12 wins, six draws and three losses across league games, U.S. Open Cup games and friendlies. His only defeat at PPL Park was the U.S. Open Cup final against Seattle.

Just as important as Curtin's record has been his tactical nous. The Oreland native has put an emphasis on playing his players in their best positions as much as possible. His 4-2-3-1 formation has drawn the best out of Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, Cristian Maidana and even Andrew Wenger. And Curtin's many years of experience in MLS helped convince Maurice Edu to move back from midfield to defense for a time.

It will be interesting to see what this decision does to the rest of the Union's technical staff - and also to candidates to join it. Former Fulham mananger and Manchester United assistant Rene Meulensteeen has been in Philadelphia quite a bit this summer, and was Curtin's main competition for the head coaching job.

There may yet be room for Meulensteen in a player personnel role - whether as technical director, general manager, director of soccer operations, or whatever equivalent term you might like to use.

That, in turn, could affect the role played by Union CEO and part-owner Nick Sakiewicz. The veteran MLS executive has had a major hand in some of the Union's highest-profile acquisitions, including Edu, Nogueira and Freddy Adu.

But Sakiewicz has come under increasing scrutiny from Union fans for having delivered any trophies to PPL Park in the team's five-year existence, and for the club's relatively low profile both locally and nationally. His career in MLS dates back to 1996, the league's inaugural season, and spans three different organizations.

Philadelphia fans know that Sakiewicz has worked for the Union since its founding in 2007. Prior to that, he worked for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, now known as the Red Bulls, in a variety of capacities for six years. He was the Tampa Bay Mutiny's president from 1997 until the team's dissolution in 2001, and in 1996 was an executive at MLS headquarters.

Of all the managers Sakiewicz has ever worked with, Curtin has brought him closest to ending the drought. This month's U.S. Open Cup final at PPL Park was just the second championship game ever that one of Sakiewicz's teams reached, following the 2003 U.S. Open Cup. 

When Edu headed Cristian Maidana's free kick into Seattle's net in the 38th minute of the final, it seemed that the wait was finally going to end. But it continues, and it will be up to Curtin to try again to end it.

Curtin has that championship pedigree, with two U.S. Open Cup titles and a Supporters' Shield on his résumé. His players have clearly bought in, and as I said above, Curtin has won praise from both Union fans and observers outside the fan base.

For much of the summer, rumors flew around PPL Park that Sakiewicz wanted to hire a foreign manager with a marquee name. He didn't do so. Though Meulensteen might have brought more glamour to PPL Park, big-name foreign managers have often failed to succeed in MLS. Jim Curtin doesn't bring Meulenteen's sizzle, but he might just bring more steak.

It is no secret that I have been one of Sakiewicz's harshest critics in his years with the Union. I have also been a strong backer of Curtin, including multiple times in this space. That is not just because I've known him for a long time and think very highly of him. His results and his rapport with his players are more important, and both factors earned him the promotion.

Ultimately, as Curtin knows well, the continuation of those results and that rapport will be what establishes his legacy with the Union. Hackworth was considered to be a breath of fresh air when he replaced Peter Nowak, but quickly turned stale after he had the interim tag removed. Although Curtin does not have the amount of managerial experience that Hackworth brought to the job, Curtin has clearly shown that he knows what he's doing.

For that, Curtin has been rewarded. Now it's time to see if he can lift the Union to the playoffs.

Word of the Union's decision first surfaced via Kristian Dyer, a reporter for Metro Newspapers who also works as a studio analyst on the team's local television broadcasts. I received separate confirmation from my sources, as did other outlets that reported the news independently Tuesday evening.