U.S. men’s soccer team head coach Dave Sarachan has known Union manager Jim Curtin ever since Curtin played for Sarachan at the Chicago Fire in the early 2000s. The elder coach has seen the younger coach’s evolution, both from up close and afar.
“Jimmy was, first of all, a terrific team guy, and when he showed up to train every day, he was committed — a great pro,” Sarachan said while in Philadelphia on Wednesday for a series of appearances. “When I had him, I would call him more of a quiet guy. He didn’t exude a whole lot of rah-rah stuff. He just went about his business.”
Sarachan said he didn’t recall ever talking with Curtin the player about a desire to coach in the future. But Sarachan wasn’t surprised when Curtin started moving up the ranks, ultimately taking charge of the Union in 2014.
“When he took the position and started getting really into the coaching part, it didn’t surprise me that he’d be a real players’ coach, that they would enjoy playing for Jimmy,” Sarachan said. “He does things in a real professional manner.”
After meeting with the media in the morning, Sarachan met with some fans in the evening. One fan asked what Sarachan’s future plans might be after leaving the national team — and made a none-too-subtle point along the way.
“Do you see yourself coming back to MLS, to a team like Philadelphia, that desperately needs some life?” the fan asked. “We’d be happy to have you.”
Sarachan responded politely.
“That’s very kind of you,” he said. “I know down the road there’s going to be some changes. … I’m confident that wherever I land, whether it’s staying in this position or a different role in U.S. Soccer or going back to MLS, I’ve still got gas in the tank and something to offer.”
Then Sarachan addressed the fan’s true point.
“You’ve got a quality guy in Jimmy Curtin,” he said. “He’s a darn good coach. … I know things haven’t been going great right now. But give him time, because he’s part of the future in terms of young coaches that I think have a real chance to do good things.”
Sarachan is particularly fond of the Union’s youth academy, and he has reason to be. The program has a track record of developing U.S. youth national team prospects. One of them, centerback Auston Trusty, could make his senior team debut this year.
“The Union have one of the best setups in the league,” Sarachan said at a press conference. “I think their youth development program and the setup they have with their academy is fantastic, and I think that’s going to yield good players. … We’re very aware of the good young players in all the markets, including here in Philadelphia.”
But potential doesn’t win games in the present. Talent does. And while the Union’s prospects clearly have talent, right now they have a lot more potential. Sarachan knows this, and spoke bluntly on the subject.
“I’m a much better coach with Christian [Pulisic], and I was a much better coach when I had Landon [Donovan, as an assistant to Bruce Arena with the Los Angeles Galaxy],” Sarachan said. “You need the horses, man.”
It is not a coach’s job to acquire the horses, though. That burden is borne by higher authorities, especially when it comes to writing big checks to sign big players.
Sarachan made that point too, expressing a hope that the Union, “with the ownership group and the vision, that they’re able to help build the best roster they can. And then, if you fail, you fail. If you succeed — if you have good players, you have a better chance of succeeding. But even sometimes that isn’t good enough.”
It wasn’t for Sarachan in 2007, when the Chicago Fire fired him. He is likely to lose his current job later this year too, after the U.S. Soccer Federation hires a general manager for the national team. That person will almost certainly hire a new head coach, likely after the World Cup once big international names become available.
“You work without a net in this business,” Sarachan said. “Every coach eventually gets fired.”
Time will tell whether Curtin suffers the same fate some day.