The Union announced Wednesday that manager Jim Curtin has earned a two-year contract extension, seven months after helping the club win its first trophy. His deal will now run through the 2023 season, having originally been set to expire at the end of this year.
Curtin got the job initially on an interim basis seven years ago, having been an assistant coach for the previous year and a half. The interim tag was removed in November 2014. Before becoming an assistant, he coached Union youth teams since the club’s first season, 2010.
He’s now the second-longest-tenured manager in MLS, behind Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes (13 years), who hails from Delran.
Though he was often booed by fans early in his career, Curtin’s teams have made the playoffs four times and the U.S. Open Cup final three times. Last season was his crowning achievement: the best regular-season record in MLS, which earned the Supporters’ Shield, the team’s first trophy. Curtin was named coach of the year in a landslide vote of players, coaches, club executives and media.
“Without the struggles, without the learning what it’s like to be booed by an entire stadium — at certain moments of it, I think that makes you eager to grow, eager to learn,” Curtin said. “Without the hard moments, I don’t think any team, any player individually, or coach, has any success or learns and grows without the hard times as well.”
The trophy earned the Union a berth in this year’s Concacaf Champions League, and the Union have made an impressive run to the semifinals. They will face Mexican superpower Club América on Aug. 12 at Mexico City’s legendary Estadio Azteca and Sept. 15 at Subaru Park. (Unfortunately for the Union’s Jewish fans, that’s the night Yom Kippur starts.)
This year has also started well in the MLS regular season. The Union entered the league’s June break in second place in the Eastern Conference, one win behind first-place New England.
Curtin has proved as adept at coaching big-time foreign acquisitions as he has at coaching young products of the team’s youth academy. Among the best examples of the latter is Medford’s Brenden Aaronson, whom Curtin met when Aaronson was 10. A decade later, the Union sold him to Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg for $6 million — at the time, the largest transfer fee for an American product of a MLS youth academy.
“I really enjoyed, and I will enjoy, the collaboration with Jim, as he is just a great coach,” Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said. “We mainly think about what he’s doing during a game from the tactical perspective, but there is a lot behind [the scenes] … You need to guide, in particular, these young people we are having in our sport. You need to teach them, you need to go ahead, you need to be a role model.”
Tanner added that he “could name 20 other items and Jim is fantastic in every one.”
Away from the field, Curtin has been an ideal ambassador for a team that struggles to get respect and attention on the Philadelphia sports scene. He was born in Oreland, attended Bishop McDevitt and Villanova, and is as passionate about the Eagles, Sixers and other local teams as the sports-talk radio hosts who occasionally have him on.
You might also see him around the neighborhood in Queen Village, where he lives with his wife and three kids. You might even see him at the kids’ soccer practices the morning after a Union game.
Curtin undoubtedly earned the right to keep the job. And if he keeps winning, you’ll likely see his name linked to even bigger ones — including in Europe. Foreign clubs know Curtin is close with Jesse Marsch, whose success at Red Bull Salzburg earned him a promotion to German power RB Leipzig.
“Philadelphia is home for me, I think everybody knows that,” Curtin said. “I think I’ll know when my time here is done, I think the game tells you that. But right now it’s telling me, and I think that we owe it to the fans and some of our new young signings, that there’s still more work to be done here.“
He admitted that his mind wanders from time to time, dreaming just like anyone who grew up watching big games on glamorous foreign stages. But there’s no shame in that, just as there was no shame in the Union selling Aaronson and Mark McKenzie to big teams across the Atlantic. Those moves are part of why those players are big parts of the U.S. men’s national team.
“Longer-term, would I love to coach a national team somewhere in Concacaf, would I love the opportunity to coach in Europe? Absolutely,” Curtin said. “That is a dream someday. We always want to push ourselves and go to the highest level. … For the moment, and for at least these next two seasons, I want to be here in Philadelphia and I want to try to lift trophies.”