The Call Up

From Pulisic to Aaronson: Jim Curtin on the secret of successful youth development

MLS is exporting young talent in greater numbers, and few people have a better vantage point of that evolution than Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin.

Just last winter, homegrowns Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson, now US men's national team mainstays, departed for Europe on lucrative transfer deals, to Genk and Red Bull Salzburg respectively. The Union have one of the top academies in MLS, and more youngsters on their way.

So, what's the secret sauce? Asked on The Call Up's latest episode, Curtin said the key to that success is often actually out of a club's control.

"The one thing that rings true with all these kids is they have great parents," Curtin said. "I think oftentimes we get in this argument over did Red Bull develop them, did the Galaxy develop this kid, did Chivas in Mexico develop them? Those arguments, okay, sure, we can pick things and say who a better job of development. But really, the parents developed the kids."

Curtin also recalled a story about Pennsylvania native and USMNT star Christian Pulisic when he was just entering his teenage years, long before departing for Borussia Dortmund. His father Mark provided a strong support system, Curtin noted.

"He was clearly better than everybody and was a phenom even at that age, but his dad would let him go get ice cream with the other kids," Curtin said. "He was just a kid who could run around. That part's really important, I think, in development. I think sometimes it gets lost as we sometimes talk about these kids like they're monetary assets or something like that."

Curtin described the Philadelphia area as "a hotbed of talent" that he's lucky to work in, but he's glad that MLS as a whole has truly embraced the #PlayYourKids movement.

"It's great that we've embraced now these years of let's be a developmental league where now top American kids want to get 34 games here in a really competitive league," Curtin said, "and when the time's right for them to move on, we can sell them and turn a profit, which is good for agents, it's good for our league as well."

Listen to more from Curtin and about the latest in MLS on this week's episode of The Call Up.