Philadelphia Union: Jim Curtin, Forever Learning

May 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin signs an autograph for a young fan after a victory against the D.C. United at Talen Energy Stadium. The Union won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
May 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin signs an autograph for a young fan after a victory against the D.C. United at Talen Energy Stadium. The Union won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Last season, Philadelphia Union Head coach Jim Curtin was on the hot seat, but this year he has righted the ship.

When Earnie Stewart took control of football operations for the Philadelphia Union it wouldn’t have been a surprise for him to let Jim Curtin go on the heels of a disappointing season. Last year the Union finished 10-12-12.

There were issues with Curtin’s substitution policy (or lack thereof) as well as the general style of play that the team would adopt. Those are growing pains for the youngest coach in the league as he works to build his coaching philosophy. Before Earnie Stewart joined the team, he met with all the coaches and technical staffers to get a read on how he’d like to move in personnel decisions.

It would have been easy for Stewart to let Curtin go and bring in “his guys” but he saw something in Curtin that he liked. Curtin is a young coach who’s eager to learn and can also be molded to fit Stewart’s system. If Stewart brought in a new coach he would have to convince them to buy into his system and hope that they would work well in it.

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With a young coach, there isn’t a buying in period, Stewart could say, “I’d like the team to play this way. Can you do it?” And Curtin would be judged on his abilities to fit that system. As Stewart’s first season winds down it’s safe to say that Curtin has passed that test.

While he still has some issues with substitutions (recently not using them) Curtin has gotten much better at commuting his technical directions to the squad on the pitch. At times the pressing system has been beautiful and it should only get better next year as everyone becomes more comfortable with it.

Curtin is also growing as a coach in other ways. Being the youngest coach in the league he has a long way to go in his coaching career. Starting out young means that Curtin has time to grow into his role and become one of the premier coaches in US Soccer as a whole. He sees this opportunity and has taken advantage of the coaching courses that the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) offers.

For a quick breakdown, there are seven levels of the USSF coaching ladder with the top level being at MLS. To progress up those levels you must take and pass coaching courses earning badges along the way. Think about it as the Boy Scouts with a little more added in. Just because you’ve reached the top level doesn’t mean that these courses are done, however.

USSF is always developing new courses to further the knowledge of American coaches to compete on a global scale. About a year ago a new pro license course was unveiled. According to a release by the Philadelphia Union website,

"The Pro License was created by US Soccer in efforts to educate candidates in becoming more competent and successful in executing tasks as a professional coach. It is the highest level of coaching licenses in America."

Curtin along with some other MLS coaches embarked on the journey for this license. The course consists of webinars, small meetings, and club visits in order to educate coaches on the ways that they can better improve. Wim Van Zwam is the leader of the course and he’s had a very successful career within the ranks of Ajax. With MLS predominantly being a development league at this point, it’s important to learn the Dutch way of player development and Ajax have one of the best youth academies across the globe.

With the Philadelphia Union opening their new training center and doubling down on young talent this is a move that could pay dividends not just for Curtin, but also for the Union in the long term. Van Zwam observes Curtin’s actions when he comes for team visits to discuss how he can handle things differently and make adjustments. Van Zwam has said that Curtin has really responded well to the course throughout the last several months and is applying great techniques.

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In December, Curtin will make his final presentation to determine if he passes the course and earns his pro license which would be another milestone in a promising coaching career. It’s clear that Curtin is growing as a coach and this course will only push him to the next level. That he can balance this course and coaching the Union at the same time is quite the impressive feat.

It’s even more impressive that Curtin has been able to pull this off while reaching new heights with the Philadelphia Union. The team will likely make their second playoff appearance and the foundation is set for the future. With Curtin at the helm, the future looks to be in good hands.