Amid coaching search, Jim Curtin retools Union

Interim manager Jim Curtin led the Union to a 3-1 win in his MLS debut against New England.
Interim manager Jim Curtin led the Union to a 3-1 win in his MLS debut against New England. (MICHAEL WIRTZ / Staff)
Posted: July 04, 2014

Meeting your prospective replacement can be an odd occurrence.

But for Union interim manager Jim Curtin, it's been a common one.

As Curtin runs the team, chief executive officer and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz is interviewing potential coaches.

"I know the guys who are coming in to interview," Curtin said. "I have met with a bunch of them."

He said some of the candidates are friends, others are former teammates, and some are players he competed against.

"I am fine with the process," Curtin said.

Formerly an assistant, Curtin replaced John Hackworth on June 10. The Union were 3-7-6 upon the dismissal of Hackworth.

Because of the World Cup break, the Union have played only one Major League Soccer game under Curtin, a 3-1 win Saturday at New England.

It was not only a huge win against a New England team that had beaten the Union twice this year, but it also vaulted Curtin's squad to within one point of the fifth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

With 17 games remaining, the Union are very much in the postseason picture despite such a disappointing first half of the season.

Curtin hasn't hidden his ambition to have the interim tag removed.

"Obviously, you want to be the head coach, and I am not going to sit here and say, 'Give it to somebody else,' " Curtin said. "The good thing is I am part of the process."

One of his first moves was switching standout midfielder Maurice Edu to center back and moving center back Amobi Okugo to the midfield.

It may not be permanent, but the pairing started in the U.S. Open Cup, which is a tournament outside of MLS games. And it continued in the win against New England.

Curtin had a simple reason for his decision.

"We were giving up too many goals," he said.

Under Hackworth, the Union allowed 27 goals in 16 games.

Curtin has also shortened practices. He understands how players can wear down.

"For the most part, he has it short and sharp and get to the point and get rested," Okugo said about Curtin's practices.

While the Union make a final playoff push, Sakiewicz vowed that he won't hurry the coaching search.

"We are in good hands with Jim Curtin," Sakiewicz said. "We will be diligent in the search process, and I've been blown away by the quantity and quality of candidates."

For now, Curtin is doing his best to make Sakiewicz's decision as difficult as possible by bringing relevance to a season that not too long ago seemed lost.

Vying for Valdes

The Union could soon have a different look that has nothing to do with a new manager.

The team is pursuing Carlos Valdes, who was a key defender for the Union in 2011 and 2012. He helped the Union earn their only playoff berth, in 2011, and was named to the 2012 MLS all-star team.

Valdes has appeared in one game during the World Cup for Colombia, which plays Brazil Friday in a quarterfinal. Since leaving the Union, he has been competing for the Argentine club San Lorenzo.

"We think we made a very positive offer and aggressive offer to get him back here," Curtin said. "He is a guy in the long term that we want in a Philadelphia Union jersey."

Sakiewicz said the Union also have been scouting players to sign during the secondary transfer window, which begins July 15. This is the time MLS teams can request the transfer certificate of a player under contract to another country.


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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