Coaches Corner: Head coach Jim Curtin pleased with team’s effort against one of league’s top clubs

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Below is a full transcript of the post-match press conference from Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin following his team’s monumental 2-0 win against New York City FC Saturday night. Here’s Philly Sports Networks first installment of Coaches Corner.

Jim Curtin applauds the Union fans before Philadelphia’s monumental 2-0 win over NYCFC. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.
Opening statement…

“First and foremost, thank you to the fans tonight. I thought that the atmosphere was electric. It was loud and exciting. An important win for us. In a lot of ways before the game we challenged the group to raise their level. I think we asked a lot out of them against Chicago to get to the Open Cup semi-final. We asked a ton of them on the road. They’re starting to ask a lot of each other which is powerful.

We knew that this game would be against the strongest opponent that we’ve played in quite some time and it would be a real challenge for us to raise our intensity, our focus, our discipline, our pressing. I thought that the guys executed exactly what we asked of them. The players deserve all the credit. Their ability to counter press as soon as we lost the ball, to immediately recover and win it back, in particular in the second half, I think really wore down New York City FC who is a great team. You still have some doubt in your mind with the talent that they have on the field that someone can just pull a play off and punish us but credit to the guys who didn’t give up a lot after a chance or two in the first half.

A complete team effort. We have some momentum now. Still haven’t accomplished anything yet but we’re starting to set ourselves up in a good spot. We’ve preached how we control our own destiny and you never want that slip up in this league because it can change fast.”

On struggling to beat a top team earlier in the season and what changed tonight to get the team to beat a team of high-quality talent…

“The players realize it too and even Haris [Medunjanin] was saying it right before we went out of the tunnel. It was, again, “Let’s see us against a top team. We have to win one of these games against the top clubs.” And we’ve played good against some of the top clubs. We played pretty darn well against Atlanta. We played pretty darn well against Toronto. And now we finally push over that hump and we get a clean sheet against what I think is one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference if not the league.

Couldn’t be prouder of the guys. But yeah to beat the top team I think we’ve done a good job taking care of business against the teams that are in and around us or below us in the standings. To be a special group now, to get a home playoff game … that is ultimately, long-term the goal, you have to win games like this against the top teams. We still have a long way to go, lot of season left. 10 games, 5 at home, 5 away. We have to take points.”

On Borek Dockal, 5 assists in last 5 games…

“Yeah you can see his quality. He is kind of a volume player, the more we get him on the ball, the better we’re going to be. Even if he turns one over, he has great reactions to win it back. His ability to make the final pass or even the pass that leads to the goal… It’s interesting talking with him, he’s incredibly intelligent as a soccer player and he said one of the biggest differences in this league is that he was previously on a team that was dominant in the league – so his chances were always close to goal. And now you’re seeing him make killer passes from 40-50 yards out. He’s done a great job with that.

Really happy with his leadership within the group. He’s a high-quality player and I have nothing but real praise for him and his ability to kind of make our team go. He gets goals, he gets assists. He plays balls that lead to penalty kicks he does everything for us. Really happy for him and he’s more than adjusted to MLS that’s for sure.”

On his team being better equipped to handle fast-paced, high intensity matches…

“We’re going to be brave and we’re going to go for it. I don’t want to have a group – the fans don’t want to have a group, and the players don’t respond well to sitting and putting 10 guys around the ball and letting New York City come and dictate things on our own field.

So, were there some plays in the first 15 minutes where it’s a fine line and they could’ve punished us? Absolutely. But I think it’s better to be proactive in this sport and to trust your two center backs to be 1v1. And it’s scary when it’s David Villa but I thought they were brave in that regard. A couple of times, could they have done a little better with their angles and not get themselves caught in foot races? Absolutely. But overall, I think that you get rewarded when your team is brave.

And the way that our guys passed the ball too, I think there’s something to be said about that too. There’s a couple of sequences – I’m sure someone will clip it out – there’s a sequence in the second half where it almost leads to a goal. There’s 8 or 9 one-touch passes where we made it hard on New York City to chase the ball and they got a little frustrated towards the end of the game.

Really happy with the style of play that the team has kind of embraced. I think the best thing tonight was how quickly we were able to win the ball back when we did make a mistake. Because listen, soccer is a game of mistakes, whether it’s the Premier League, Germany, the Italian League… whatever it is there’s tons of mistakes throughout the course of 90 minutes. How you react to those mistakes is most important and our guys were really up to that tonight to win it back quickly.”

On CJ Sapong playing out wide the last few matches and what he brings to that position…

“The physicality, the ability to win aerial duels, to win flicks, to have Cory [Burke] run in the channel. Ale [Bedoya] ran off of him a bunch. The tackles that he goes into where you could tell New York City guys were kind of limping off the field at the end of the game there. Again, you throw Fafa [Picault] into the mix with this front 3 and you get David [Accam] going a little bit – I thought David was really good tonight as well and created some chances, just [Sean] Johnson makes a great save. But really happy with David as well.

So again, CJ’s ability on the wing – it’s just unorthodox for teams to play against two guys that have that aerial ability but also have really good feet and can kind of hold you up in the wide spot rather than in between the two center backs. It’s actually been good for CJ because he doesn’t have two big 6’5’’ guys hanging on his back all the time now. He can kind of face the play, he can spin a guy and come to the middle. He’s done a really good job with his passing in possession and the guy’s a warrior, he’s a fighter once he’s out there. He knows what MLS is about. He’s been through the battles. Almost had a great goal too.”

On Ilsinho’s performance and his fantastic goal…

“It’s a special play. When you talk about Ilsinho he has an ability – I say it a lot – I can’t coach it, I can’t teach it. It’s all made in the streets of Brazil. It’s made on his own time, just countless hours playing soccer. And he plays with a smile on his face. People forget he was playing pretty darn good before the injury as well and now picks up the injury and has been itching to get back out there. I’d say he more than left a mark on the game in a lot of ways drawing the red card and obviously scoring the second goal which I think was key in that moment. Again, a special player who has the ability on the dribble to make people back pedal.”

On Ilsinho’s resilience and pushing through injury…

“I was worried that the injury that he took, he was going to have to come out because then you’re burning two subs for the same spot and it’s kind of redundant and would’ve been tough. He had the look on his face like ‘I don’t know if I can keep going’ but you give him a little push back out there and tell him you’ll be fine, just let the adrenaline kick in and run it off. And I’d say he looked pretty nimble on the goal so I’m really happy with him.

Time to recover now, hopefully it’s not too serious. We’ll probably get a scan or two on it and see what it is. But again, great performance from him. It’s not easy to come into a game that’s that fast, that high intensity and he more than helped.”

On Jack Elliot and Auston Trusty’s performance against David Villa and Jo Inge Berget…

“They had a lot of different situations to deal with. Obviously, I think New York City scouted us well and they actually started with two strikers which is something that we’ve struggled with. But they adjusted well. Were there some moments where there’s some dummies and some flicks where it’s close with New York City breaking through us? Yes, but the two of them did really well. We actually made New York City change formations about the 35th minute of the first half. They went to just more of a 3-upfront and they did well with that too.

So again, you have to adjust on the fly in games when teams throw different players, different formations at you. But their IQ for guys that are relatively inexperienced is growing. The more these types of games you get under your belt I think is so valuable for guys and I think the future for both of those guys is only going to get better and better. And Mark [McKenzie]’s done a great job for us too.”

On the red card and the confrontation right in front of the bench…

“Yeah it’s difficult. It’s a situation where they obviously had words together no less than a minute and a half before and you know, sometimes players get frustrated with the score or whatever it might be. I haven’t really seen it back, but it looked a little bit malicious and obviously you could tell by our players’ reaction that they were pretty upset by it. These things happen in soccer, so I’ll let the league handle it and move on from there.”

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Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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