Changes are going to occur for the Philadelphia Union during the offseason with new sporting director Ernst Tanner at the helm.
To what degree changes are made is yet to be known, and the biggest question hovering around the franchise is whether head coach Jim Curtin, who is out of contract, will return for the 2019 season.
On Friday, a few of the team’s leaders threw their support behind Curtin despite not knowing how the offseason will go.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with that,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “I have a lot of respect for Jim. I think he’s done a fantastic job. I don’t think he’s got enough credit.”
“He did an amazing job,” Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “We achieved the most points in club history. He controlled us every game, he told us what we need to do. He showed that he’s a good coach and that he can be the leader of this team.”
Curtin’s come under criticism throughout his tenure for his teams not performing in the most important games, including September’s U.S. Open Cup final, the final two games of the regular season and the knockout-round loss to New York City FC on Wednesday.
“It’s fair from Philly fans because they’re so emotional and they want to win the first playoff game in club history, and I want that too,” Bedoya said. “We came up short again. To have to climb out of a hole and concede goals early is tough for any team, especially when you’re playing away. That’s not really Jim’s fault. It comes down to errors from our end and things we can learn from.”
The decision to keep Curtin or let him go comes down to a few factors, but perspective must be used when looking at the situation.
The Union will never be the highest-spending club in Major League Soccer, and if Curtin’s contract isn’t renewed, there could be limited options out on the open market given the budget constraints and impetus to push Homegrown players up to the first team.
Of course, that issue can be paved over by the connections Tanner has throughout the globe from his time in Germany and Austria, and he could convince a managerial prospect to come to Philadelphia based off the playing style he wants to institute.
The case to keep Curtin is strengthened by the success he had with the club despite the restrictions from ownership.
The achievements have been clouded by the disappointing finish to the season, but Curtin was able to guide the Union to the highest point total in club history, a cup final and a playoff berth. In some circles, Curtin should’ve been considered as a Coach of the Year candidate.
On top of the on-field success, Curtin’s developed a strong bond with his players, especially the veterans in the squad.
“I have a lot of respect for Jim and what he’s done and the type of person he is in training and especially off the field,” Bedoya said.
“I worked with him for two years now and when there are some issues, he’s always talked to me and told me the honest things,” Medunjanin said. “If he’s not happy with things, he tells me that and I like that.”
Curtin’s willingness to take risks with young players is also recognized internally. He started first-year centerbacks Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie for the majority of the 2018 campaign.
“I think with the young kids, to give them the opportunity says a lot that he believes in them and he likes to take risks because he believes he can win with them,” Medunjanin said. “That’s also a main thing as a coach that you’re not afraid to put young guys in your team, especially in this kind of position. He did an amazing job with that and I think every coach wants the Homegrowns to be part of the first team.”
Curtin has the support from his players, and despite the outside criticism, Tanner could throw his trust in the manager in order to continue the push forward in the developmental process.
Regardless of what decision Tanner makes, it needs to be made soon in order to develop a new identity or provide continuity in the search for roster upgrades in the offseason.