It has been almost 20 years now since Lew Meehl gave then-Chicago Fire manager Bob Bradley a tip.
Meehl, who was Drexel’s coach at the time, had known Bradley since the latter coached at Princeton in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
There was, Meehl said, a red-haired centerback at Villanova named Jim Curtin. Meehl thought he had some pro potential.
Meehl has been right about a lot of things on the local soccer scene. In addition to a decades-long coaching career at Drexel and Philadelphia Textile, he played for the Atoms’ NASL title-winners in 1973.
He was right about Curtin, too. Bradley drafted Curtin in 2001, and the Oreland native quickly became a stalwart of Fire’s back line.
Along the way, Bradley developed a hunch -- this time on his own. Though Curtin wasn’t always sure of himself as a player, Bradley could tell early on that Curtin had coaching material in him.
Curtin sensed it as well.
“I think probably as early as my second year in the league, I realized I wanted to become a coach just because of the environment that Bob created,” he said.
This Saturday, Bradley and Curtin will be reunited at Talen Energy Stadium when they lead their teams against each other. And as Curtin enjoys his best season as Union manager, it’s fitting that one of his biggest games yet comes against his mentor’s Los Angeles FC juggernaut.
“Jimmy has done an excellent job,” Bradley said Wednesday. “Jim was always a smart player, a really good teammate, a guy who just understood sports and how the chemistry in teams work. And I think he’s been able to put all those things together and provide great leadership, and do an excellent job with the Union.”
Bradley’s coaching tree is one of the biggest in modern American soccer history. In addition to Curtin, some of the famous names include Peter Nowak, Jesse Marsch, Chris Armas, and Eric Wynalda. The tree is still growing, too: Josh Wolff, one of the U.S. men’s national team’s top assistants, will take over MLS expansion team Austin FC when it launches in 2021.
“I’m excited for all these guys, but I really think Jim deserves a lot of credit for the way he’s grown as a coach and the job he’s done,” Bradley said. “Philadelphia has played very well. ... They’re hard to play against. They create chances in different ways.”
Curtin’s Wednesday news conference took place before Bradley spoke, so the former pupil didn’t know what his old teacher would say. But Curtin had plenty of nice things to say about LAFC, MLS’s best team by a long way. And he paid Bradley one of the highest compliments possible when he addressed how he plans to line his team up Saturday night (7:30 p.m., PHL17).
“We’re not going to sit at the top of the 18 [yard box] with all 10 field players,” Curtin said. “We’re going to play. That’s what what’s got us here. It’s what we believe in."