For the first time since early in his tenure as Union manager, Jim Curtin finally has some job security.
After coaching for the last few years on one-season extensions to his original 2015 contract, Curtin received a two-year contract from sporting director Ernst Tanner, it was announced at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
“After roughly half a year into the season now and doing extraordinarily well, I think Jim deserved this,” Tanner said. “He’s a great coach: good on the field, a great leader in the locker room … so I’m very happy to continue.”
Curtin has been at the helm since June 2014, when John Hackworth was fired. The Oreland native and Villanova product was an assistant and replaced him. After Curtin guided the Union to that year’s U.S. Open Cup final, then-Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz removed the interim tag.
“It’s been a very good partnership with Ernst and myself that continues to grow,” Curtin said. “I think the players put a really good product on the field that the fans can be proud of. I owe a lot to them … I am very grateful for the opportunity to coach my hometown team and again, the work won’t stop until we lift our first trophy.”
Since then, the Union have reached two more Open Cup finals (2015 and last year) and made the playoffs twice (2016 and last year). Curtin has coached in 186 games across all competitions, with a record of 72 wins, 75 losses and 39 ties.
Four of those losses stand out: the two Open Cup finals and two playoff appearances. The Union have yet to win a trophy or a playoff game and haven’t hosted a playoff game since 2011. That burns at Curtin, and he admits it often.
Curtin’s tactical acumen hasn’t always been ideal, and he has said so over time. His rosters haven’t always been ideal either, and that’s not his fault.
Even his critics have admitted, though, that he has improved. In particular, Tanner has given Curtin the flexibility to experiment and diversify the playbook. That has paid off, as the Union have played well in multiple formations this year. Being in first place in the Eastern Conference has done a lot to give the club confidence in its direction under Curtin.
“Jim basically has the right attitude,” Tanner said. “I have to like what I see on the field, and what I see in our total environment, and the way he’s guiding not only the team, but his staff in addition, the way he shows cooperation — he’s open to everybody here, he listens, and we can discuss openly what we are seeing on the field.”
Just as important, and in some ways even more so, is Curtin’s strong reputation in the locker room.
“He’s such a likable guy, great coach, even better person,” captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “Under his leadership, I think we’ve been improving. We play the best style of soccer that this club has ever seen … He’s a guy that’s liked by everybody on the team, I’m sure everybody in the front office as well. He treats everybody with the same respect, and I’m just happy for him.”
Teenage academy products and seasoned international veterans speak equally highly of him. That matters a lot. Tactical coaching can also come from the rest of the staff and does so at the Union. Tanner sets the tone, and assistant coach Pat Noonan is regarded around MLS as a rising star.