Interim coach Curtin lays out new plan for Union

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Interim coach Curtin lays out new plan for Union

Beginning his tenure as Union interim manager with a 3-7-6 record, Jim Curtin has a hill to climb to guide his club toward respectability in 2014.

And according to the coach, that’s not just the goal, it's the expectation.

“The results haven’t been there this year,” said Curtin, who was introduced as the team’s interim manager on Thursday. “We all know that. We only have three wins in 16 games, so the results haven’t been here. But the resources are here to win.”

Curtin’s first order of business is to guide the Union through the Open Cup, which begins on June 17 against the Harrisburg City Islanders. He hopes a strong run in the tournament helps set the Union in a winning direction.

“To put it simply, we’ve had a bunch of very good players have poor first halves of the season,” Curtin said. “We have 18 games left, that’s the good news. We have 18 games to get this ship right. We have the U.S. Open Cup, which we’re going to take very seriously. This club needs a trophy. There’s only two that you can lift, and that’s one of them, so we’re going to take that very seriously.”

Curtin’s plan to turn the Union around starts with three parts. The top point of emphasis will be fixing the Union’s leaky defense by improving focus and upgrading the little areas.

“So far this year, we’ve come up a little bit short on the defensive side,” he said. “To give up the amount of goals we have at home is unacceptable. To give up three goals and five goals can’t happen. No one’s harder on themselves than the players in this locker room. The message is that we have to get stuff right in front of the goal, on attacking restarts, defending restarts, we need to improve on that.”

After fixing fundamentals, Curtin’s second goal is to gain some chemistry with a consistent defensive lineup. No more shifting Sheanon Williams, Austin Berry, Fabinho and Ray Gaddis, off and on the field.

“There hasn’t been continuity,” Curtin said. “We’ve played different guys, and whether it was injuries or different situations that came up, we haven’t had a four that has been playing together, and that’s what it takes. You have to play with each other game in and game out and get used to each other and have a chance. The idea would be to pick a four and go with them, not have it be that we’re juggling game to game.”

The third part is a complete team reset.

“I’ve talked to every player so far on the team,” Curtin said. “They’re excited. Any time that there’s a coaching change, everybody feels that they get a new chance, which is true. I’m going to open this up and say, ‘Every guy has a new crack.’ Obviously, I’ve seen them and I’m familiar with them, but at the same time, I’m going to try to put that behind me and really open up for competition. Because a little bit of fear, a little bit of motivation for the guys that have been consistently in the lineup is a good thing. I think it’s a great motivator. Fear is a good motivator.”

After addressing his plan, Curtin took on his interim tag, stating that he wants to make it a tough decision for team executives to replace him. But immediately after, Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz made it clear the club is shopping for a full-time manager, though the decision will not be rushed.

Either way, Curtin is focused on one thing.

“A lot of the guys that are going to be interviewed are my friends, that I’ve played with in the league and I know them personally and that’s just the way it is,” he said. “Again, I don’t care if I’m fourth in command, third in command, second in command or first in command. I care about winning in this city.”

'I've never seen that' - Rare violation works in Union's favor vs. Colorado

'I've never seen that' - Rare violation works in Union's favor vs. Colorado

CHESTER, Pa. -- The situation was growing dire for the Union.

With the game tied at one in the second half and facing a Colorado Rapids team that happily parked the defensive bus in order to grind out an ugly draw, the Union got a break when Rapids forward Caleb Calvert received a red-card ejection for entering the field illegally.

Five minutes later, the Union claimed the 2-1 lead and eventual victory (see game story).

“I’ve never seen that to be honest with you,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Where you reenter the field like a sneak attack from behind the goal. You knew something was wrong with it when you saw it, just the eyeball test. But the laws of the game, that’s a violation.”

How it all happened was unique. In the 69th minute, Calvert went down injured on the Union goal line and remained there, writhing in pain. Not buying his injury, referee Jose Carlos Rivero went over to the player, held a conversation and immediately threw up the yellow card for dissent.

“The second yellow and yellows in that quick succession,” Curtin said, “it was probably in the referee's mind that something verbal was said and he was upset.”

With a warning on his name and with a trainer now at his side, Calvert, who scored his first MLS goal in the 15th minute but was unavailable to the media after the match, got to his feet and left the playing field behind the Union goal. Confused as to whether he could or couldn’t reenter the match, the 20-year-old forward hesitated briefly before sneaking back onto the field.

“They told me they were trying to tell him to stay off the field,” Rapids left back Eric Miller said. “But how many people were here tonight? 20,000? 20,000 people and the referee was 60 yards away, it’s gonna be tough to hear him probably.”

Calvert was carded again, this time with Rivero showing red, ejecting the youngster from the game.

“You don’t just quickly send a guy off for two dumb things in a row,” Miller said. “I’m sure he thinks he made the right call.”

Rapids assistant coach and former Union striker Conor Casey was also ejected. Head coach Pablo Mastroeni didn't make himself available to the media after the game.

“It’s tough when a referee has such a massive impact on the outcome of the game,” Miller said.

But the Union feel like the game was decided even before Calvert's ejection. While it did change the contest and made taking the lead with a Haris Medunjanin free kick goal a bit easier, Union attacker Chris Pontius believes C.J. Sapong’s game-tying penalty kick minutes before the incident is what stole momentum.

“I think they were rattled when we got the first goal,” said Pontius, who said he’s never witnessed anything like what happened Saturday. “I don’t think they knew what to do. I think even if they had 11 men, we were still getting another goal.”

Union battle back to beat Rapids for club record 4th-straight win

Union battle back to beat Rapids for club record 4th-straight win

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- With a second-half flurry and some help from referee Jose Carlos Rivero, Haris Medunjanin and the Union overcame a one-goal deficit to take down the Colorado Rapids, 2-1, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

The victory pushes the Union's win streak to a club record four games.

“Confidence is a heck of a thing,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “If you could bottle it up and sell it, you could make a heck of a lot of money. You see a group now that previously when we gave up a goal, we might lay down. We might panic. I don’t think we handled it perfectly, but we did push the game in the second half.” 

Playing their third match in eight days, the now 4-4-4 Union weren’t at their best Saturday against a Rapids team who are sitting dead last in MLS at 2-1-8. 

“Not all wins are going to be pretty,” Union attacker Chris Pontius said. “The first half definitely wasn’t us at all, we weren’t connecting passes, we were a little late with everything and played right into their hands.”

But trailing for the first time in four matches after a Caleb Calvert fast-break goal in the 15th minute, the hosts persisted and began to climb back into the game in the second half.

“I want to speak about the first 45 minutes. It was not us. It was very bad,” Medunjanin said. “We need to know that we can’t play arrogant and think we can easily beat every team. If we don’t fight for every yard, we are nothing.” 

From the right side of Rapids territory, Ilsinho fired a cross into the box that was pounced on by Jay Simpson, who entered for Fafa Picault just three minutes earlier. The forward’s shot hit Kortne Ford, who fell and practically hugged the ball, earning the in-box handball call and penalty kick. 

“We spoke with each other at halftime and we knew we had to stick with each other,” Medunjanin said. “We knew if we scored the first goal, we were going to win this game.” 

C.J. Sapong lined up at the spot and launched a high shot that found that first goal to tie the game at one. It was Sapong’s eighth of the season.

“The guy clearly made a hand ball and we got the PK,” Sapong said. “I tried to keep it on goal and it went in. It gave us a little bit of life.”

Then things got crazy. 

Embellishing an injury in an attempt to waste time, Calvert received a yellow card for dissent and was forced off the field as the trainer was called out. A confused Calvert then reentered the game without permission and received a second yellow and red-card ejection. In protest, former Union striker Conor Casey, now an assistant coach with the Rapids, was ejected in the 70th minute.

“Nothing’s going our way right now,” Rapids’ Eric Miller said. “So I think we’re pretty used to calls like that.”

Up a man, the Union rolled. Alejandro Bedoya suffered a foul just outside the box, allowing Medunjanin to lace the free kick over the Rapids’ defensive wall and inside the right post for the 2-1 Union lead.

“I know I can shoot from there and when I hit the ball, I knew it was going to go in,” Medunjanin said. “We don’t have star players. We need to fight with each other and take the three points with each other, even the bench and everybody out of the squad.” 

Having played Wednesday, the Union shifted their roster to stay fresh. Most notable was the absence of Fabinho, who was replaced in favor of Giliano Wijnaldum, who made his MLS debut. Fabian Herbers also made the start for Pontius on the right side of the midfield but was forced out in the 26th because of a hip injury.

“It was an opportunity for him,” Curtin said of Herbers. “Unfortunately, he could be out for some time.”