Of all the questions to ask the Union this winter, one in particular stands out.
What, exactly, is the pressure on them to succeed? Especially since MLS doesn’t have relegation?
That absence is well-known, especially to players and coaches who come here from abroad. It’s hotly debated among fans.
But whatever one’s stance on the subject, this much is certain: It doesn’t exist right now. So the pressure has to come from somewhere else.
Earnie Stewart is in charge of building it at the Union.
“Internal pressure, when it comes to [being] between these walls … you want to win every single game,” he said. “So that already puts automatic pressure in what you want to do. I’m pretty sure all the athletes that we have here, all the coaches that we have here, have internal pressure on themselves to win as many games as possible.”
There is also pressure from outside the walls. One form of it comes from fans who aim their ire at manager Jim Curtin.
Stewart has learned in his time here that Philadelphia sports fans often put heat on coaches above everyone else.
He told a story of attending an Eagles game where Doug Pederson — whose analytical approach Stewart admires — chose to go for it on fourth down. The play failed.
Stewart watched as a few fans in front of him went from applauding Pederson before the play to berating him after it.
“He goes from hero to zero in five seconds, like it was the dumbest call ever made in the history of football,” Stewart said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Whoa.'”
The Eagles ended up winning the game, so those fans went home happy.
“But God forbid they lose the game and that gets highlighted, and you’re sitting at home and have a different perspective,” Stewart said.
Had Stewart been in the stands in years past, he might have seen Curtin in front of him. The Oreland native is a diehard Eagles fan, and used to be one of the cynics.
“I look back on how I was when I was not in the know of what’s really going on, in the big picture of things, that you couldn’t see outside of the negativity,” he said. “That’s a real part of any fan base.”
Stewart doesn’t see soccer as a coach’s game like football or basketball. He sees it as a player’s game. His coach only gets three substitutions in 90 minutes of action, and no timeouts to set up plays on a board.
Because of that, Stewart judges Curtin on work done during the week as a whole. He likes what he sees, especially when it comes to Curtin’s relationship with his players.
“When he says things, you see a reaction,” Stewart said. “We say we’re a development club, so that’s what I expect from Jim: to make sure that he portrays the way we want to play. And I see that on the field every single day.”
That’s why Stewart continues to back Curtin, and shows no signs of changing his mind.