Q&A with Union under-18 team coach Jim Curtin

Those of you who followed Major League Soccer before the Union came into existence might remember the name Jim Curtin. The Oreland native had a quite successful playing career in Major League Soccer, with the Chicago Fire from 2001 to 2008 and Chivas USA from 2008 to 2009.

Since his retirement from playing, Curtin has taken his soccer skills from the field to the sideline. He now coaches the Philadelphia Union’s under-18 squad, and is also the Director of Curriculum Development at YSC Sports in Wayne.

Jim Curtin back in his playing days with the Chicago Fire. He still has the mop of curly orange hair, though not as much of it as he used to. (AP file photo)

The Union under-18s played Everton’s under 18s on Wednesday afternoon at PPL Park, a few hours before the friendly between the senior squads. After the under-18s game - which the Union lost, 2-0 - I caught up with Curtin for a few minutes to talk about his new job.

What are your goals for this team, and what kind of player are you trying to develop?

Our academy system has a unique setup, in that we can pull kids from a variety of different teams. We had them in for about a week and a half - some guys less preparing for this game.

I just wanted to give them a basic structure of how we’d like to play, and how the first team likes to play - explaining those dynamics, and getting the mentality of the Philadelphia Union first team. Trying to instill that in some of these younger guys, and some of them have bought into it. It’s been good.

What does it mean for you, as a former player, to be on the management side now?

It’s different. To be honest, that was my first time ever coaching 90 minutes. To have it be a great team like Everton is a great experience. It is new, and you look at things a little differently. There’s part of me that wanted to jump out there and help out with some things, but knowing that’s no longer an option, it was good.

Finding different ways and different strategies to get at a team like Everton, that was organized, was a challenge. To be fair, I thought we created some chances and we did enough to score a goal. We deserved a goal out of the day. We made a couple silly mistakes, and we got punished.

I said to the boys that the big difference between a European team that’s been together, and us right now, is that they’re good in front of both goals. Defensively, and in attack - you give them one chance and they will bury it. Our boys need six or seven at the moment, and they are a little sloppy defensively in front of goal at the moment. So a few things we can tidy up.

There are a couple of former players in the Union’s front office - you, technical director Josh Gros and youth technical director Alecko Eskandarian. And there are former players in management positions across the league - Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis, D.C. United manager Ben Olsen and Seattle Sounders technical director Chris Henderson are just a few. What does that mean for you?

I think it’s good. I think it’s only a positive thing. It’s more guys that have been involved in the game at a high level on the playing side, that we have instructing younger kids on the right way to do things.

Not just on the field, but off the field, letting them know that this is a full-time job. You don’t just walk in, play the game and leave. Your mentality and mindset is to do everything for your team, to get them better.

You played with Peter Nowak in Chicago, and Peter coached Alecko Eskandarian and Josh Gros when he was with D.C. United. How much has that familiarity helped you all to build up the Union as an organization?

It’s been very good. This is still my first game with the under-18s, but I am very familiar with the ideas that Peter wants to send out. Having had him as my captain, I know what he wants and I know what he likes.

I tell people all the time, when they ask who the best player is I’ve ever played with, it was Peter. He was a guy who was a leader of a team, and he knows how to get results, and he knows how to win. Everywhere he’s been, he has won, and that is something that I look up to and hope to be a part of now.

What does it mean for you, having grown up in the Philadelphia area, to be with the Union?

It’s great. I would have liked to have played on this field, but to do it as a coach now and have these new experiences has been great. This is home for me, Philadelphia is where I’m going to be for the rest of my life. Any time you can give back to kids and help things out with the development of the game, it’s a great opportunity.

You spent a lot of your time in Chicago as a player, but would you have liked to play here if Philadelphia had a team at that time?

Absolutely. It was always my goal, and I think everyone throughout the league knew it. The second Philadelphia got a team, I wanted to be a part of it in some way, shape or form. This is a great way to help out. Philadelphia is a great soccer community, you can see how the fans are here. I would have liked to play here at any moment in my career.

Now, seeing the success that they have had, with the great stadium and the great fans, it’s been awesome to see.

There was a bit of skepticism when the Union were founded about whether they could successfully crack a sports market with four professional teams and seven Division I colleges. Are you surprised by how well the club has done off the field?

I live in Center City now, and you can’t go two blocks without seeing a Union jersey, or a sticker, or a Union bar, or whatever. People have really embraced it. That’s the thing about Philadelphia: it likes a winner, and the fact that they’re winning now is a great thing.

You talked about infiltrating a market with the Eagles, the Phillies, and how great those fans are. I’m one of them. But at the same time, I’ve become a Union fan, because the product they are putting on the field is a good one, and it’s something I believe in.