Philadelphia Union boss Jim Curtin calls out "little brother" New York Red Bulls


Tuesday night’s Leagues Cup clash between the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls at Subaru Park ended with familiar scenes: the hosts celebrating a victory, this time via penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw.

That Round-of-16 result gave Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin ample reason to smile postgame, but he also had a bone to pick. After praising Troy Lesesne’s impact as head coach since taking over midseason for the departed Gerhard Struber, Curtin minced no words on RBNY’s overall approach.

“I think Troy is a great young coach and he’s doing an incredible job with his team, I really do. And I think he deserves to be the head coach of that team,” Curtin said.

“But I will say – this has nothing to do with Troy – for a team and a group to be in 21st place [in the league], to talk and run their mouths as much as they do on the field, to be beat here 11 times in a row by us, is something where, yeah, I'm giving bulletin-board material. But I've kind of had enough of it.”

Domination by Philly

Record-wise, a slight correction: Philadelphia are unbeaten in 11 games against the Red Bulls (8W-0L-3D), not losing since a September 2019 match at Red Bull Arena. During that stretch, the Union have also won both Audi MLS Cup Playoffs matches against their Eastern Conference rival.

Still, the point remains: Curtin’s group has dominated, both home and away.

“I still respect them a ton, despite my first line there,” Curtin said. “But all I'm talking [about] there is be a little humble. When you're the little brother and you get beat up a lot, just know how to act.”

Curtin added: “For any young kid and any young player, I think you should have the self-awareness to know when to speak and when to be humble.”

Philadelphia vs. New York matches are often defined by fouls, duels and set pieces. Both teams have press-happy tactics, too. It all contributes to a passing-completion percentage hovering around 65% on Tuesday night, for example, before the Union won 4-3 on PKs.

With wins stacking up, Curtin hammered home the point about co-curriculars that sometimes surface in these Mid-Atlantic battles.

“Credit to my guys for sticking together, pushing, winning again, finding ways to win. I'm proud of them,” said Curtin. “But for all the stuff they have to deal with on the field, off-the-ball nonsense … bench players that come into the game and talk and run their mouths, it's just strange.

“It's something that I'm going to address and I'm going to speak my mind because I'm proud of my group, for the way that they do their talking on the field and have now 11 games in a row, almost five years against Red Bull.”

Rematch awaits

Statements aside, the Union are now three games away from possibly being crowned Leagues Cup champions. They await a quarterfinal on Friday evening (8 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) against Querétaro FC, a Liga MX side they already beat 5-1 in the group stage. Despite that past success, Curtin expects a serious challenge against a team that knocked off the New England Revolution on PKs in their Round-of-16 matchup Monday evening. 

“They're kind of the surprise of the competition, I would say because they have, from what I've heard and read and seen, have had a lot of adversity in terms of player payments and different things going on,” said Curtin. 

“Sometimes the noise from the outside can galvanize a group and I think you're seeing that with Querétaro. You're seeing a team that has grown into the tournament. Yes, we did beat them, but beating a team twice in this quick amount of time is very, very hard to do.”

Now, if the chips fall a certain way, Philadelphia may host Lionel Messi and Inter Miami CF on Aug. 15 in a semifinal. That possibility gets locked in if both the Union win and the Herons defeat quarterfinal opponent Charlotte FC at DRV PNK Stadium on Friday evening (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

“If things align right, I think you guys know what the next game would look like,” said Curtin. “So they could be good too if everybody does their part.”