By now, the footage of the exchange of words between Philadelphia's Jim Curtin and Atlanta counterpart Gabriel Heinze has been widely circulated, starting on the field near the end of the match, and continuing after the postgame whistle and into Curtin's press conference. The Philly coach said Heinze refused to shake his hand after the game, which ended with Philadelphia advancing through to the CCL Semifinals by a 4-1 aggregate score line. The root of Heinze's discontent appeared to be a feeling that the Union had been wasting time and faking injuries, a contention that Curtin has denied.
"He’s an incredible coach. He’s an incredible player, but you can still be also a sore loser and be an a------ at the end of the game,” Curtin said after the match. “I still think there’s a right way. I think you should shake hands like men after the game. He’ll probably have something to say now that I’ve said that. But again, I’m not going to just sit here and take it anymore.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Philadelphia Union vs. Atlanta United FC | May 05, 2021
Curtin was then asked about the exchange again during his Thursday media availability ahead of Philadelphia's clash with Chicago Fire FC on Saturday (1 pm ET | ESPN+).
"Obviously it got kind of blown up with the confrontation with the Atlanta coach," he said. "I said what I said, it’s in the past. It’s still what I believe, and I’d say today again. And yeah, look, from the league perspective, a lot of people, I’ll just say a lot of people at very high levels have reached out and agreed with what I said. There’s gonna always be the Atlanta fans that don’t agree with what I said. But that's, again, you can’t make everybody happy. You have to speak your mind and stick up for your players and your team and what we’re about. We’ll move on from that, it’s in the past."
So, what does Heinze think of all this? The Atlanta coach had yet to give a response, but was naturally asked on his Friday video call. The first-year boss for the Fives Stripes maintained that his points of contention were not due to sour grapes over the result of the series, but did say that he apologized if Curtin felt disrespected or slighted regarding the postgame non-handshake.
"First of all, if I have something to say, I’ll look that person in the eyes and say it," Heinze said through a translator. "I don’t need the press to send messages to anyone. Regarding the issue about not knowing how to lose, I know both situations perfectly well. I’ve won and I’ve lost a lot. Clearly [Curtin] doesn’t know me. Regarding not shaking his hand, I was lucky enough to have a mother and father who taught me about respect. If he felt that way, I’d like to apologize to him. I congratulate him because he has done incredibly well in advancing to the next round. I wish him and his team the very best."
It seems like that should put a wrap on the situation for now, but it all certainly has added some juice to the dynamic between two clubs expected to challenge for superiority in the Eastern Conference. The sides meet next at Mercedez-Benz Stadium on June 20.