The Call Up

Jim Curtin on Philadelphia's MLS Cup prospects and their biggest challengers

What's the path to MLS Cup 2021 for Eastern Conference teams?

However it might traverse, it's bound to run through the New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin proclaimed on the latest episode of The Call Up.

“I think New England’s the team to beat in our conference,” Curtin told co-hosts Susannah Collins and Jillian Sakovits. “Bruce Arena, again, he's such a winner. Look, there's great coaches all throughout this league, but it does speak to the importance of experience in MLS and knowing this league.”

New England enters the weekend with 33 points from 16 matches, which has them atop the Eastern Conference standings and Supporters’ Shield race. Of course, the Revolution also bounced the Union from the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs last November, souring a year in which Philadelphia won the Supporters’ Shield, their first major trophy as a club.

For Philadelphia to change the narrative, Curtin expects his side to take further strides forward. They’re fourth in the East and have largely coped well after selling Best XI homegrowns Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie to Europe, though aren’t quite as lethal as the reigning MLS Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year would like.

"Right now, I think we're a good team," he said. "We're not a great team yet, and that's okay. I'm alright with that. We're right at about the midway point. I think we can compete and we can play with anybody right now, but we're not the finished product."

Curtin also feels the playoff picture can change at a moment’s notice, especially with such little crossover between the East and West this year. Only eight points separate the teams ranked two to nine in the East right now. That's created an intense dynamic, Curtin stressed.

"More than ever, it's really, really tight after the top teams in each conference. You're a win out of second place and you're a loss from being out of the playoffs," Curtin said. "Part of that, and the thing that doesn't get brought up, we don't get to play the West Coast teams anymore. It's sad. I miss the trips to Vancouver and to LA. But what happens with that now is that we're taking points from each other every week. There's no ability to separate, so it's going to come down to the wire."

Listen to more of Curtin's interview and the latest around MLS in this week's episode of The Call Up.