Union sporting director Earnie Stewart gave manager Jim Curtin another vote of confidence on Tuesday, and while he acknowledged that Saturday’s 2-0 loss at FC Dallas looked pretty bad, Stewart’s endorsement seemed to be sincere.
“My job is to look at it in a broader perspective, and take out single games,” he said. “What we’re asking of players, the data that we get back and the numbers that we have, are for a lot of parts, pretty darn good.”
Of course, there’s one number that looks very bad: the number of goals. The Union have been shut out four times through six games this season. Stewart didn’t avoid that, because he couldn’t.
“It’s really simple: you have to put the ball in the back of the net,” he said. “That’s something that we need to work on.”
Curtin said after Saturday’s game that “it’s a challenge right now to keep the guys positive.” Stewart was asked what he made of that. He put the onus on the players to push through a mental block.
“Obviously after a game, you have to take everything [said] with a grain of salt,” Stewart said. “When you get into these positions constantly and you don’t capitalize on that, it kind of wears on you and you’ve got to watch out … then confidence starts [to drop], and that’s not where you want to go to.”
Asked whether he still has confidence in Curtin, Stewart said: “Yes.”
Stewart doesn’t like using the word “luck,” but in this instance, he felt it appropriate.
“You’ve got to get into positions to create your own luck,” he said. “We didn’t create chances [against Dallas], and in the end, you don’t deserve to win, [but] for the most part we’ve been doing that really well.”
Stewart said he wants to “downplay” the hype around the Czech-born Designated Player.
“You have this ‘DP’ branding and then you’re supposed to come in and do everything at one time. It doesn’t work that way. It’s simple as that,” Stewart said.
But it does work that way. Expansion club Los Angeles FC’s big DPs, forwards Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, have a combined nine goals and seven assists this year. Minnesota United’s Darwin Quintero has played just two games for the team, but scored a goal in his first and had an assist in his second. Those are just a few of many examples.
Stewart ultimately knows this.
“We try to bring somebody in for the qualities that he has and everybody can see those qualities,” Stewart said. “But in the end, that’s just the way soccer is – it needs to translate to scoring goals and winning games.”
Stewart is a believer in a system-based approach to soccer. It’s why the Union deploy the same tactical plan from their youth teams up to the MLS squad. But in an era when global soccer and MLS coaches are becoming more flexible, might the Union be too predictable? Stewart doesn’t think so.
“An individual in a system will determine the outcome of a game,” Stewart said. “We make so much of changes and all that kind of stuff. I don’t believe in that. I’ve never believed in that. So I’m not going to start believing in it because somebody wants change because you’ve lost a game. … Teams that do not too well, they change all kinds of things, and in the end what happens in Europe is they get relegated. Changing coaches, changing systems, changing players, it usually leads to absolutely nothing.”
But he didn’t fully dismiss the effect that some changes here and there can have.
“If you play with Ilsinho on the outside instead of Fafa Picault, it’s different,” he said. “That’s where the nuances are, and that’s something for the coaching staff to make decisions on.”
That was as close as Stewart came to turning up the heat on the bench.