Tag Archives: Jim Curtin

Where will this season go right?

In my last post, I looked at where the Union could go wrong in 2015. Now, let’s be a little more positive. I think this is the most talented Philadelphia Union team we have ever seen. Where could this season go right for the Union?

1. Nando is the forward we have never had

Up until now, the aging Connor Casey has likely been the best forward in this team’s history (unless you count Seba as a forward). Nando has the potential to seize that title this season. He already has two goals to his name this year.

Let’s take a look at Nando the player. He is big, strong, a hard-worker, and a good finisher who so far seems cunning enough to put himself in good spaces. He is like Jack McInerney that is big and actually puts in effort. His first goal against Colorado is a testament to this work ethic. Jack would have quit on the play far sooner and would not have been in the position to tap in  that rebound.

Last year, one of our biggest issues was that an aging Connor Casey was our only goalscorer on the team. Now, we have a young player who will be a real threat to score. Goals shouldn’t be an issue this year.

2. Chaco has a full year with this team

At his best last year, Chaco was among the league leaders in assists. He brought a level of creativity that we have only ever seen from Roger Torres and Kleberson. In his two games this season, Chaco has been the clear engine of this team that has driven the attack forward.

Importantly, he has a full year with this team and a fresh off-season under his belt. He had fitness concerns last, but it is worth noting that he came to Philly in the middle of the Argentinian season. He didn’t have a true off-season break last year.

If Chaco stays healthy and Curtin starts him, expect big things from the Argentinian #10.

3. Jim Curtin is the manager we need

Piotr Nowak understood tactics, but he was too flexible. His only consistency was his lack of consistency. New players started every week in a different tactical set up.

On the flip side, John Hackworth was as rigid and stubborn as they come. Hack refused to change his formation when it didn’t work, and he persisted in using the same players until it was clear to everyone that it wasn’t working. I still can’t get out of my mind the horror of watching both Michael Farfan and Keon Daniel attempt to play the #10 role.

Further, Hack constantly outsmarted himself and attempted to play people out of position. Amobi was not a center back. Keon and Michael were not 10’s. Wheeler certainly was not a center back. Wenger was not a forward. The constant experiments caused needless problems for this team.

Jim Curtin looks like he will be the happy mix of the two. He has a formation he prefers in a 4-2-3-1. However, he has worked in the 4-4-2 and shows a willingness to adapt if his plans aren’t working. Instead of persisting with the ineffectual 4-4-2 against Colorado, he replaced the injured Sapong with Chaco and switched to a five man midfield.

Plus, much of Curtin’s early success consisted of putting players in their natural positions where they could succeed. Maurice Edu was the lone exception, but you can make the case he would make a better center back than defensive midfielder. Regardless, the point is moot as Mo is back in the midfield.

If Curtin continues to bring the best of Nowak and Hackworth, he should have success this year.

4. We have depth!

Two major issues sunk this team last year: the lack of a goal scorer and the lack of depth. This was most evident in the Open Cup Final last year when Seattle was able to bring players like Obafemi Martins off the bench while we brought on Pedro Ribeiro.

The new signings have pushed some players to the bench while new acquisitions have given us some new bench options. Instead of bringing on Pedro Ribeiro or Brian Brown off the bench to put up top when we need a goal, we will be bringing Connor Casey, CJ Sapong, and Dzenan Catic.

Part of this will hinge upon how well we bring along our youth. Zach Pfeffer and Jimmy McLaughlin would be fantastic sparks off the bench. One provides a like for like sub for Chaco, and the other brings us a natural winger who runs at defenders and plays with aggression and tenacity. Both provide roles we did not have last year.

If we use our depth appropriately, we should not have the same level of burn out and the same ineffectiveness when chasing a game that we saw last year.

5. There are more playoff spots

This is slightly cheap on my part, but one extra playoff spot clearly improves our chances of finally returning to the playoffs.


What say you Union fans? Did I miss anything? What else will go right with this team?

Where will this season go wrong?

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With the season still young, I thought it might be worth predicting how the Union will fare this year. This is the first part of a two-part article where I predict what could go wrong for this team and what could go right. If we crash and burn this season, I listed a few factors that may play a big role in our demise.

1. The dreaded 4-4-2

Jim Curtin toyed with the formation during the preseason, and he ended up employing it during Week One. Frankly speaking, we are not set up to play a 4-4-2.

Who goes in the central midfield? Vincent and Mo? Alright then, but where is your creativity? Vince isn’t a #10 as the Rapids game proved. Do you go with Chaco and Mo? Where does Vince play then? Chaco and Vince? Who is supposed to do the defensive duties then? The 5’7″ and 134 pound Vince?

Where does Chaco fit in this formation? Playing him centrally forces out either Vincent or Mo. He doesn’t have the speed to play wide nor the disciple to stay wide and not drift centrally. You have to choose to either sit one of your best players or give up having a true defensive midfielder and risk being overrun in midfield.

Speaking of being overrun in midfield, the 4-4-2 fell out of fashion for a reason. It simply can’t compete with a 5 man midfield found in formations like a 4-2-3-1/4-5-1/4-3-3. Many MLS teams have made the switch to the 5 man midfield, the Union included. Returning to a 4-4-2 would see us give up even more of the possession in favor of praying for a counter goal. Honestly, it’s just too risky of a formation, and we don’t have the personnel for it.

2. Jim Curtin doesn’t develop quickly enough as a manager

It’s no secret that Jim is the youngest and least experienced manager in the league. How badly will this lack of experience affect the team? What’s been worrying two weeks into the season is his hesitancy to use subs. Why did it take him so long to bring players on against Colorado? I personally hate only giving a player 10-15 minutes to make an impact in the game. It gives them very little time to fit themselves into the tempo of the match.

Another issue will be squad rotation. Last year, he ran this team into the ground by the end of the season by relying on a small group of players. It’s too early to truly assess his squad rotation skills, but I am still worried. Why hasn’t someone like Jimmy McLaughlin made the bench over someone like Fred? We can’t rely on playing two wingers all year. We need to use what depth we have while giving the youngsters crucial minutes to develop.

3. Age catches up to Le Toux

While Seba may no longer be the star of this team, he is still a very important player. He has notched at least seven assists in each of his Union seasons and at least 11 goals in three of his four seasons here. He is still expected to be a big contributor for this team.

Now, what if age catches up to Seba? Who will pick up the slack and generate those assists and goals? Outside of Wenger, we only have Danny Cruz, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Eric Ayuk Mbi out wide. We all know Cruz is a hustle player who won’t set the world on fire. As for Jimmy, I am a big fan of his, but the coaching staff has done a poor job working him into the team. He is very unlikely to make an immediate impact. Finally, we have Eric. I doubt that we can expect a young player coming from Thailand to be an instant impact player. Harrisburg seems more likely for him.

So if Seba can’t replicate his form, who do we replace him with?

4. The Defense

It’s no secret that the defense ships away goals in the dying minutes of games. We have seen many collapses over the past few years, with the Columbus game at the end of last year being the best example. Can the defense turn this around?

What could be a worry is that we have a new member of the back line which requires us to once again develop chemistry.  However, Vitoria may not be the only issue. Ethan White is still an unknown quantity. I do like him, but there is still a risk that he may not be the starter we need.

The fullbacks raise issues as well. Ray is still not a left back. Playing him on the left continues to stunt his game. On the opposite side, Sheanon has truly regressed from the form of his first two seasons that had some of us mentioning national team potential. For me, the biggest issue is a poor work ethic. He often gets caught out of position and lightly jogs back. This puts unnecessary pressure on Ethan to cover for Sheanon’s lapses. This leaves us with a player who doesn’t put in the defensive effort and who can’t cross well consistently. All that leaves him with is a long throw-in which never works anyway. Plus, the way he slowly saunters to the ball slows down any counter opportunities.

Until we get a left back and the center back proven definitely proves itself, the defense will continue to be one big question mark for this team.


Here we have it Union fans. If we crash and burn again this season, here are what I consider to be the likely reasons. Did I miss anything? What do you think could be an issue this season?

Why Rene Meulensteen?

 

Once again, the name Rene Meulensteen has resurfaced. Kevin Kinkead, one of the best Union journalists, has reported Rene will be the next manager:

 

Though many fans initially called for an international manager search when Hack was fired, Jim Curtin has obviously done a fantastic job with this team. I’d expect this appointment to split the fanbase. Personally, I am incredibly excited by this move, and I think Rene will be a fantastic addition to this team. That being said, let’s look once again at Rene Meulensteen as a manager candidate and the pros and cons of his potential appointment.

Pros

  • Meulensteen is a big believer in youth development: Rene spent a good amount of time working with the youth teams at Man U. While he is popularly credited with helping to develop Ronaldo*, he still has players like Tom Cleverly and Danny Welbeck under his belt. While the two have been the laughing-stocks of Man U, they are both quality premier league players. In his short stint at Fulham, Rene began the work of replacing the old, complacent players with young prospects. He clearly has a strong belief in incorporating young players.

What does this mean for the Union? We are obviously a team that invested heavily in our youth infrastructure. A great article posted recently by O When the Yanks covered the deep talent we have in our academy. Someone like Sebastian Elney, Darius Madison, Michael Swift, or Mohammad Conde will need to play a role in coming years as Casey is worked out of the starting XI.

A manager with a serious focus on developing youth will be a huge benefit for our team and academy. The fans should no longer have to chant “We want Pfeffer” in order for him to actually play. Hell,  maybe one of these prospects can be our Diego Fagundez, Andy Najar, or Gyasi Zardes. I trust Rene far more than most coaching options to get the best our of our prospects.

* I think contributing Ronaldo to Rene is exaggeration. He obviously played a big hand in his development, but Ronaldo isn’t Ronaldo simply because of Rene.

  • Meulensteen is one of the best technical coaches in the world: Rene emphasizes developing technical skills in his players. He wants to look at the best coaches to replicate what they are doing in their game.  Let’s have Rene explain his views himself:

There are a number of videos online of Rene explaining his youth development strategy and technical development online.

For the Union, this will have an obvious impact with the youth. American players are often derided for being athletes without a soccer brain or without technical ability. The skills Rene emphasizes will offer us a clear advantage in developing talent.

As far as the Union now, I think Danny Cruz and Andrew Wenger would benefit the most. Danny is someone who likes to try the audacious and the bold. Half the time he can produce something brilliant. Half the time he trips over himself or the ball. Rene should be able to tighten up his game and hopefully increase his success rate of his adventurous attacks. Wenger is someone who is big and strong, but he lacks the technique of a typical winger. Anything Rene can offer him should help his game out wide.

  • Meulensteen will be a great mentor for Curtin: In his career, Jim has worked with such illustrious names as Bob Bradley, Preki, Piotr Nowak, and John Hackworth.  Bradley is the only one with much of a resume to his name. If we do hire Rene, Jim gets a seriously talented mind to work under. This is assuming he meant what he said about being back with the Union no matter what. Jim will be able to pick the brain of one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s top assistants. I am critical of Jim not working in the younger players. It’s a trait he picked up from Hack. Hopefully, Jim will pick up some better ideas of youth development and technical training while working with Rene.

Cons

  • What about Curtin?: Early into his interim gig, Jim stated that he will stick with the Union no matter what. I hope this is the case. After his success with this team, teams that need a manager would have to be insane to not give him a ring. He clearly has a bright future in this league. For now, I will take him for his word and assume he stays. That being said, all reports suggest Jim was active in helping Nick with the manager search. By now, there should be an understanding between Rene and Jim of their roles and how they will work together.
  • Meulensteen is unfamiliar with MLS: This is a very fair concern. While some foreign coaches have had success, the majority have shown the inability to adapt to the eccentricities (salary cap, draft, trades, etc.) of this league. A foreign manager needs real support from people who get this league. With Nick and Jim here, I think they will do a fantastic job orienting Rene to the league. Nick has been a part of this league for over a decade and clearly knows the ins and outs of MLS. Jim played his entire career here and now has management experience under his belt. I think Rene will have a smoother transition than most foreign managers.
  • Meulensteen has never had success as a manager: Rene is a career coach who has never had much in the way of success in his managerial gigs. I’ll ignore Anzhi since it was a weird situation where he was fired after two weeks because the owner went broke.

His time at Brondby marked the beginning a decline for the once Danish giants. Considering the team hasn’t won a title since, I am willing to chalk some of the problems up to ownership. You can’t exactly blame him for what’s happening now. Remember, Bill Belichick was a laughing-stock of the NFL after failing in Cleveland. People can learn from their mistakes. His animal story is obviously ridiculous and worrisome, but it happened 8 years ago. Besides, this was a player’s autobiography and likely exaggerated to an extent.

Fulham was an all around weird situation. Previous manager Martin Jol had constructed a really bad, old, overpaid, and lazy team. Tony Pulis maybe the only person alive who could have kept them from being relegated. Rene began the hard job of phasing out the old players for their younger, hungrier counterparts. Rene was fired before he had a chance to get his project off the ground. I’m willing to blame Jol and their owner, Shahid Khan, more than Rene for Fulham’s relegation.

Looking at this history, it seems really unfortunate and unlucky. Brondy was the only experience where he failed due to his own mistakes. I think MLS is a good league for him if he wants a fresh start. This league is much less of an uphill battle compared to signing for a relegation candidate team or taking over for a legendary manager (Michael Laudrup) for a giant of a mid-table league.

 

What do you think? Is Rene the right man for the job, or should we be sticking with Jim? Who is the best man to take this team forward?