The Union's 3-2 win at New England this past Saturday wasn't just a statement of the team's intent to mount a charge toward the playoffs. It was also a statement about the man leading that charge: manager Jim Curtin.
As new sporting director Ernst Tanner takes the reins, everything at the Union is up for judging. Owner Jay Sugarman made it clear when Earnie Stewart left that the next sporting director would have the authority to choose his coach. As such, Curtin is auditioning for his future.
Curtin admits often that as a young coach, he doesn't know everything about soccer, and makes mistakes as he learns. But it's been clear for some time that he has steadfast support in his locker room.
"Even though he's still learning all the tactical work … a lot of it comes down to managing the different players, the different personalities," Union midfielder and captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "There's a lot of guys that can be headaches to me, to him, to whatever, but you've just got to know how to deal with it. Jim does a great job of doing that, and credit to him and his staff."
The way Curtin's players fought back to win Saturday after giving up the lead early in the second half was the latest proof of the team's cohesion.
"It's important that we look to help each other out, and that we look to play for our coach, because our success is his success and his success is our success," said winger Fafa Picault, who scored Saturday's winning goal from the penalty spot.
Picault has been around the block enough — six clubs across four countries, plus a U.S. national team cameo — to know how to judge a locker room's chemistry.
"I have a good relationship with him, and a good dialogue. I know he's someone I can speak to," he said of Curtin. "It's important to have a coach like that. It has not always been the case in my career."
Bedoya can likely say the same thing. He has played for six clubs across five countries, and three U.S. national team coaches.
"He's not the most fiery guy — he's definitely not like I can be, even though I'd like him to be fiery sometimes — but it speaks volumes about him," Bedoya said. "Even in this team, there are a lot of egos. Guys are prideful, guys who aren't playing, guys who are playing, and this and that. It's more than just X's and O's."