‘We did some special things:’ Jim Curtin reflects on precipice of 100 MLS wins – Delco Times

CHESTER — Try as you might, you won’t find a coaching story quite like Jim Curtin’s anywhere in MLS.

He was a player first, unlike some of the biggest managers in the league, but not with international status. He had no history with the club he eventually took over, the kind of familiarity bordering on legend in a city usually needed to love and guarantee patience in difficult times.

Yet Curtin is here, in season nine with the Philadelphia Union, of a coaching career that can only be described as successful. Saturday could add another layer of history: his next victory will make him the 13th manager in history to win 100 games in MLS.

“It’s an honor for a lot of people who have believed in me over the years,” Curtin said Tuesday. “It’s a credit to my players. It shows longevity and a plan that was in place and a plan that was followed.

Curtin joins an elite fraternity. He is the third to reach 100 wins last year, along with Columbus’ Caleb Porter and LA Galaxy’s Greg Vanney eclipsing the century milestone at the end of last season. Porter took 256 games, Vanney 233. Last Saturday’s win over Montreal was Curtin’s 246th in charge in MLS. (Curtin scored 100 wins in all competitions last April in the CONCACAF Champions League first leg against Deportivo Saprissa.)

Curtin will become the ninth manager to win 100 games with one club, the late Sigi Schmid having done so with the Galaxy and Seattle. Among those in the group are New England coach Bruce Arena, who last week overtook Schmid as the all-time MLS leader with 241 wins, and Curtin’s mentor Bob Bradley, who won 103 games with the Chicago Fire among five practice stoppages in MLS.

Nine of the 12 managers at the 100-win club have won the MLS Cup a total of 17 times, with Oscar Pareja, Ben Olsen and Steve Nicol the only exceptions. Neither Olsen nor Nicol have won a Supporters’ Shield, which Curtin and Union have done in 2020, despite both winning the US Open Cup.

Curtin fills a rare niche among the dozen bakers. Arena, Schmid and Bradley rose through the college ladder in the pre-MLS era, a path that Porter, as a throwback, later followed. Dominic Kinnear, Frank Yallop and Steve Nicol, all British, used it as an entrance to the United States. Pareja, Olsen, Jason Kreis and Peter Vermes each played for the first clubs they managed.

Curtin doesn’t fit into either of those categories, his connection to the Union being purely geographical, as an Oregon/Villanova graduate who spent 10 years playing for Chicago and Chivas USA. The journey of starting as an Under-17 coach before joining the first team may one day become commonplace, but it hasn’t yet.

Curtin also inherited a situation that required the kind of time that is rare for a first-time head coach and almost unheard of for someone without a sentimental cachet with a fan base. Few coaches would have won with the personnel imposed on Curtin early in his tenure. Organizational changes have given him time to grow, but it takes for granted that he has grown. He survived the transition when Earnie Stewart was hired, proving his worth, then adapted to Ernst Tanner’s style in 2018. Curtin became a better coach under both regimes, flexible and humble enough to incorporate snippets of each one.

Always self-effacing, the closest Curtin will come to sounding his own horn is recognizing that he tried to do his job with kindness, eager to learn and gracious to share lessons with others, as coaches before him have welcomed. and helped. with him.

“When you see guys who tend to stick around longer, I think they tend to do things the right way and treat people the right way,” Curtin said. “So I think somewhere in there I did something to get the element of longevity, which is in professional sports, as we know, not the easiest things these days. That’s something I’m proud of, that’s for sure.

It’s still an adjustment for Curtin, even as the league’s second-longest-serving starting coach, to find himself grouped with Arena and Bradley. Having played for Bradley, the change in status is dissonant. Even among the others, he’s not quite used to seeing them as peers. (To that end, he’s pretty young: Porter and Vanney are 47. Curtin is just 42. Olsen is 44, Kreis 49, Pareja 53, and Vermes 55.)

“I’m from their kind of coaching tree. I think we all fall for it, whether it was Bob or Bruce, the different guys that paved the way,” Curtin said. “It’s a special thing to even be spoken to in the same breath as these guys. It seems a bit surreal to me.

The MLS Cup is obviously the next goal. Union ticked most of the other boxes, with a fan shield, three Open Cup final appearances and a run to the CCL semi-finals. The club has the most points in MLS since the start of 2019, has made the playoffs five of the last six seasons and has several Academy products playing in Europe’s top leagues.

It’s quite a development for a manager who started out winning just 17 of his first 52 league games, who could have been fired at many times. The prevailing logic then was that such a move would not help the club forward in the long term rather than being an illusion of short term action.

Curtin has, on so many occasions, proven how wrong such a move would have been, repaying faith multiple times over. Despite being the first to credit players for his success and realizing that individual accolades are of secondary importance, a round number like 100 is still worth savoring.

“It gives you a bit of a break and makes you think about things and it makes you think about how lucky you are to be in this business,” Curtin said. “When something like that (241 wins) happens for Bruce, and reaching another milestone like 100 wins, it’s special, and it makes you realize that we’ve done some special things.”

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