Interim coach Curtin lays out new plan for Union


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.”

Union drop season finale, but still clinch playoff spot

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Union drop season finale, but still clinch playoff spot

CHESTER, Pa. -- With little to gain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Union went into Sunday’s match looking for a spark.

Instead, they found more of the same.

Bradley Wright-Phillips continued his scoring dominance over MLS, as the Red Bulls easily dispatched the lifeless Union, 2-0, in the regular season finale at Talen Energy Stadium.

“We are going through a bad patch right now,” Union goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “It’s obvious to everyone, but I still think and I hope the guys think that we can turn this thing around and do well in the playoffs.”

The Union, who have clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2011, enter the postseason riding a seven-game winless run and three-game losing streak. They will face Toronto FC in a one-game playoff at BMO Field on Wednesday or Thursday.

“We’ve had a difficult end to the season,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We’re not happy about it. Having said that, I do want to congratulate the players, although it does have a strange feeling because we’re in a bit of a dip of form.”

They will face Toronto FC in a one-game playoff at BMO Field on Wednesday, while the Red Bulls clinched a first-round bye and the No. 1 seed in the East.

“It’s win or lose or go home,” said Alejandro Bedoya, who wore the captain’s arm band. “Hopefully everybody gets their head on their shoulders and pull their socks up and is in there for the battle.”

With the playoffs practically clinched heading into the match, Curtin selected to start Roland Alberg for Tranquillo Barnetta, Fabian Herbers for C.J. Sapong and Eric Ayuk for Chris Pontius.

But the fresh legs wouldn’t help the Union, as Wright-Phillips notched his 24th goal of the season in the 26th minute. Aurelien Collin split the Union defense with a brilliant pass that broke the MLS leading scorer on a breakaway. Chipping the ball over an aggressive Andre Blake, Wright-Phillips followed up the volley for the 1-0 Red Bulls lead.

“It’s frustrating,” Union center back Ken Tribbett said. “The play he scored was a lack of communication. Some of us stepped, one of us dropped and he was onside by quite a bit when he should have been offside by about five yards. It’s a miscommunication and he punished us.”

Alex Muyl doubled the Red Bulls’ lead in the 57th minute.

Though he didn’t need the scoring effort on Sunday, for the second time in three seasons, Wright-Phillips won the MLS Golden Boot for the most goals, edging out New York City FC’s David Villa. Luis Robles earned the five-save shutout.

“It isn’t everything,” Wright-Phillips said. “Because I’ve won it before and the team didn’t win the MLS Cup. At the end of it, all I had was the Golden Boot. The goals didn’t [matter] for anything unless you win the MLS Cup.”

Union-Red Bulls 5 things: Aim to finish strong against streaking New York

Union-Red Bulls 5 things: Aim to finish strong against streaking New York

Union vs. New York Red Bulls
4 p.m. on TCN 

Having all but officially made the postseason for the first time since 2011, the Union, who are already locked into a first-round road match, could rest players Sunday in the season finale against the New York Red Bulls (15-9-9). But that doesn’t mean the Union (11-13-9) will be mailing it in.

Here are five things to know.

1. Playoff recovery
The Union had hope that last Sunday’s home match against mathematically eliminated Orlando City SC would work as a slump buster, breaking the club’s five-game winless run. 

Instead, with a 2-0 loss, it just extended the Union’s slump to six.

“We had a good meeting with the group, we talked a lot about accountability,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Everybody does have to look in the mirror.”

With their last win coming in late August, the Union seem fresh out of ideas. Passing up the ripe opportunity to gain confidence against Orlando City, the club must now host the best team in the Eastern Conference as a pre-playoff test.

“We shot ourselves in the foot in a big spot and we came up a little short,” said Curtin, whose club flubbed an outside chance to host a first-round game and will be on the road regardless of Sunday’s outcome. “It’s the past, though. We have to look forward to the challenge that Red Bulls will present. They are the perfect team to play in terms of a tuneup, to get up to speed with the tempo of a playoff game. It’ll be good for our guys, we’ll use that to get prepared.”

2. Refreshing the lineup
Because Sunday’s match comes just days before the Union’s midweek postseason game, Curtin could look to rest some starters against the Red Bulls, especially the injured ones.

“There are discussions,” he said. “You have to do what’s best. Maybe it’s a new face, a change or a tweak. We won’t change our formation, we won’t change the style that we play but maybe there’s a new body that comes out on the field and gives us a little bit of a lift.”

But Curtin’s team doesn’t just need a lift, it needs healthy bodies. C.J. Sapong suffered a concussion against Orlando City and will likely sit out Saturday. If he does, Charlie Davies could see a chunk of playing time. Davies has only played 81 minutes in eight games since being acquired by the Union in August.

Tranquillo Barnetta and Chris Pontius are also banged up with lower-body ailments.

“Charlie’s been a little bit sharper each day in training,” Curtin said. “It’s tough to forget that he as recently as a month and a half ago was beating cancer so, the sharpness and the fitness is starting to come back. He wants to start, he wants to play, like any striker does, but we have to be smart about what makes the most sense for the team to get a result this weekend.”

3. Mighty Red Bulls
With the Red Bulls already locked into a first-round playoff bye, claiming the top seed in the East, they could float into Sunday’s match like it’s an exhibition — resting starters and providing minimal effort. 

But while riding an unbeaten streak that dates back to early July, the Red Bulls aren’t likely to pull their foot off the gas just yet.

“It’s a challenging game for us,” Curtin said. “It’ll be a high tempo, playoff atmosphere. With Red Bull already securing their bye, I envision them playing their full-strength lineup because they don’t want to rest guys for two weeks, and then you could have some rust. We expect their best.”

Though the Red Bulls want to keep things moving Sunday, the Union also want to finish the season strong. Although the match doesn’t hold the importance it could have for either club, Curtin’s team, winless since late August, is grasping for anything it can to catapult itself into the postseason with momentum. 

“We want to finish the season the right way for our fans,” Curtin said. “We want to come out with some confidence after the game.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Union: With Sapong hobbled from a concussion, Sunday’s match could put Charlie Davies’ effort on display. The forward, who has been seldom used as he regains conditioning after beating cancer earlier in the year, was acquired by the Union for this exact scenario — providing quality attacking depth.

Red Bulls: Although the match is practically meaningless for the Red Bulls, it could mean something for Bradley Wright-Phillips. The 31-year striker could claim his second golden boot in three seasons. He currently leads MLS with 23 goals — one ahead of David Villa. He has a goal and an assist against the Union this season and 11 goals in his last nine games.

5. This and that
• The Union are 0-1-1 against the Red Bulls this season but did score a win in the U.S. Open Cup round of 16.

• The result of Sunday’s match will leave the Union with one of three postseason road opponents — New York City FC, Montreal Impact and D.C. United. The match will be played the following Wednesday or Thursday.

• With a win on Sunday, the Union would match a club-high in wins with 12 — a record set in 2013.