Player moves key to Union resurgence

Posted: July 19, 2014

Jim Curtin was in the middle of telling a story after the Union's Major League Soccer win over the New York Red Bulls when suddenly he lost his train of thought.

"Like I told you Wednesday," he began. "Wait, today is Wednesday. It's all a blur."

That's how it has been in the little more than a month since Curtin took over as interim manager.

The Union have played eight games since Curtin assumed the role. Saturday's game at the Chicago Fire will be the third time they have played twice in the same week.

In the middle of the frenetic schedule, the Union have staged a modest revival. They are 5-2-1 in all competitions and 2-1-1 in MLS play. That has been good enough to bring the Union to within one point of the final playoff spot in the weaker Eastern Conference.

"Did we dig a hole early in the year? Yes, we did," Curtin said. "But we're going to fight our way out. We're right in the mix. Fortunately, nobody's really running away with the East right now."

Curtin has made three key personnel decisions that have set him apart him from his predecessor, John Hackworth, and have contributed to the recent stabilization:

He moved Maurice Edu to center back. The Union have been trying to find a solution in central defense for two seasons. Their imported talent - Bakary Soumare and Austin Berry - did not pan out. Neither did their experiment of converting forward Aaron Wheeler.

Curtin, a rookie manager, took the bold step of asking Edu, his most prominent and skilled player, to drop from the midfield. Edu has become so valuable as a defender, Curtin kept him there Wednesday despite missing three starting midfielders.

He inserted Ethan White into the lineup. The young defender made 13 starts with D.C. United last season, but Hackworth never played him. Curtin has paired him with Edu for the last two games, and White has not only played solid defensively but has also shown an unexpected dimension.

"Ethan was a beast," Curtin said. "He's an incredible athlete; he'll win everything in the air, he'll win the individual duels one on one. But his . . . long-range passing that sets up attacks for us has been a very, very pleasant surprise."

He let Conor Casey roam free. Curtin consistently has deployed the veteran forward as a lone striker, and Casey has responded by scoring six goals in his last six MLS games. Equally important is the hands-off approach he has taken with the often-dinged-up 32-year-old.

"He knows his body so well that during the week, if it's 'Conor, take two, three days off just to be ready for game day,' that's our relationship right now," Curtin said. "He brings it every game, though."


tmcmanus@phillynews.com

@ByTimMcManus

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