Philadelphia Union

Giving Thanks: Jim Curtin is ushering in a new era of leadership for Union

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It’s Thanksgiving, and Union fans know one person they need to give thanks for, and that is the main man himself, Jim Curtin. When Curtin was the interim head coach halfway through the 2014 season. He did well enough to win the head coaching job at the end of that season and has gotten incrementally better every season for his eight years with the Union. Now Curtin is ushering in a new era of leadership in Philadelphia and it’s paying dividends.

Tactical Deep Dive
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych

A new era of leadership under Curtin

Jim Curtin’s early years were riddled with rigid practices on the pitch, as he grew into his coaching style he adapted to become one that lets the sports science and his staff help him make decisions. Gone are the days when Curtin would lean on his gut alone to make decisions. Now he’s much more open to input to make the team better. This is leading to a bright future for this Union team. Curtin progressed from an interim coach to MLS Coach of the Year for a Supporters Shield winning team. The progression has been a joy to watch for Union fans.

A less rigid approach

Back when Jim Curtin started he was very much a new coach who was set in his ways. His teams played a 4-2-3-1 formation and there was very little room for improvisation and little resources given to Curtin for his team. This was the end of the Nick Sakiewicz era and the entirety of the Ernie Stewart era. Essentially this played out to be the first five years of Jim Curtin’s tenure as Union coach. It wasn’t until Ernst Tanner came in that Curtin was comfortable enough to try new things. This is when he became less rigid, and now we’ve seen the willingness to change his team on the fly in games of consequence.

Over the past three seasons, Curtin was able to use the tactical subs he had and formation changes to totally change games. In 2019 it was changing from a 4-4-2 diamond to a 4-2-3-1. Ilsinho would come on and week havoc on teams with the width provided from the 4-2-3-1. This change was also utilized in 2020 but that year the super-sub was Anthony Fontana. Now, in 2021 the Union utilize a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation and switch things up to a 4-4-2 diamond with Sergio Santos or Cry Burke being the super-sub.

This formula has helped the Union progress to win their first-ever playoff match, win their first trophy, and now host two playoff matches in the 2021 playoffs. The move to being a less rigid coach has made this team a force in the eastern conference and all of MLS. Utilizing his staff’s input is another way Curtin is ushering in a new era of leadership.

Input from his staff

Curtin used to be that “trust his gut” type of manager. If that was the case in this most recent playoff game that would mean that Ilsinho would have come on instead of Jesus Bueno. Instead of just trusting his gut, Curtin listened to his staff that mentioned a two-way midfielder might make more of an impact in the game. Curtin trusted his team, put Bueno in, and the new midfielder helped recycle the ball that led to Glesnes’ thunder strike. This is a trend that could make this team go to the next level in terms of leadership.

In the early years, Curtin probably would have trusted his gut more than his assistants and gone with the player he wanted to sub in. Now, the rapport is strong enough, and Curtin’s ego is checked enough that his assistants can help him make the best calls to win a must-win game.

Jim has always been an approachable manager for his players and assistants. The difference is, now he knows that the choices made by the team can be better than the choices of an individual. If Curtin can continue to lean on his staff when they have good ideas and be less rigid in terms of his in-game management, then the Union could have a really bright future with a coach who has instilled a culture of trust, fluidity, and winning!

The future is bright

Jim Curtin recently said that he has ambitions to coach in Europe if the right job comes calling. He didn’t say that that would be happening anytime soon, but this will be the eventual end to the Jim Curtin era in Philadelphia. Curtin being a native Philadelphian has helped his connection to this team, and he’ll take that “F around and find out” attitude to his next job too, but for now, the future looks bright and fans should be oh-so thankful for what he has turned this team into.

The future is most definitely bright with the foundation that Curtin has laid with sporting director Ernst Tanner. He has his team raring to go on their first-ever playoff run which would be the next progression and milestone for the club. Whether Curtin stays for the remainder of his current contract or leaves for a European club before that, this team is set for years to come. The Union has an identity thanks to Curtin’s tenure, and that identity is one that is on the cusp of making a deep run in the MLS playoffs.

Be thankful for Jim Curtin. He took a job to coach his hometown club and turned it from a bottom-feeder to a contender for trophies in his eight years with the Union. Hopefully, this is just the start to what he and this Union side can do for years to come as this new era of leadership blossoms.

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Doop on Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych

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Philadelphia Union Editor of Soccer Content

A passion for the beautiful game drives me.

Twitter: @Tim_Lovenguth

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