Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin: US men's national team should be aiming to win World Cup in 2026

Jim Curtin - Philadelphia Union - October 3, 2020

Head coach Jim Curtin and the Philadelphia Union are currently basking in the glow of their first-ever major trophy with their 2-0 Supporters' Shield-clinching triumph over the New England Revolution on Decision Day presented by AT&T, with their sights now set on making a run at MLS Cup.

Before that journey gets started though, Curtin stopped by to chat with the Extratime crew for a lengthy discussion on the Union's magical season, the coach's thoughts on the progression of soccer in the US, and the future of talented Homegrown midfielder Brenden Aaronson.

In regards to the US men's national team, Curtin said he understands the restlessness fans feel about the program at times, but added that he tries to look at the bigger picture. Philadelphia are one example of an MLS team that has become highly proficient at developing domestic talent, and when you look around the world, Curtin said he takes great optimism in seeing the expanding group of players featuring for world-class teams in Europe.

"I know everybody in the US soccer culture hates the word patience but, man, we need a little bit more, right?" Curtin said. "We need to step back and look and go, we're doing a pretty decent job. I know we get frustrated sometimes if the national team loses or doesn't have success. But man, I step back and look at it now and I say I never thought soccer would grow to the popularity that it has in this country in my lifetime. If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be consistently talking with Philly sports talk radio and them actually mentioning the Union and talking about strategy on it, I would have said you're crazy. 

"If you would have told me if I walked out my door into the city right now and kids would be wearing Union jerseys, [Alejandro] Bedoya jerseys and Andre Blake jerseys, I never thought that would be the case. So, it's grown a ton. You can turn on the Bundesliga and you see young Americans out there, not just on the bench of teams, but impacting games in big ways. So I really think it's going better than maybe sometimes we all think."

Watch: Jim Curtin's full interview on Extratime

With that in mind, Curtin said he feels as though the US isn't that far off from fielding a team that could make legitimate noise at a World Cup.

"2026 is kind of the benchmark, in my eyes," he said of the World Cup that will be jointly hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico. "I think that by that time we should all want and aspire to really be not just getting past the first round, but really competing for the World Cup. Which sounds crazy, and people are probably going to laugh at me and say I'm an idiot. But I believe that's not that crazy, in our home country our aspirations by then should be that. To see it grow now in the country, to see the academies improve, it's been really fun to watch. The young players, the young talent here, it's undeniable, we have great American players. And we have great coaches, too."

Curtin also talked about his own future aspirations, and whether he could see himself following a similar path to former New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch, who is currently manning the sidelines for Austrian side RB Salzburg to positive early returns. Marsch won the league and qualified for UEFA Champions League in his first season in charge, which Curtin said has been a trailblazing accomplishment for American coaches.

"I think everybody wants to test themselves at the highest level," Curtin said. "Jesse is a pioneer for our league, I speak with him quite often, and what he's doing over there — he's kind of blazing a new path and it's so impressive what he's doing and leading a group.

"It's not easy what he's doing over there. He's a guy I carpooled with in Chicago and I wanted to be like, I aspired to be as good as him. He wanted to win every day in training. I was lucky to be around him and Chris Armas and they put their arm around me and I learned so much from them. So yeah, the next logical step would be to try to follow in his footsteps. I also recognize just how hard it is to get a job in Europe, for sure. But I'd be lying if I said I don't want to try to test myself at the highest level.

"I want to win another trophy here in Philadelphia, for sure. I want to try to keep this environment going where we're turning out good young American players. And look, if I could coach at the Union for the rest of my life, I'd be incredibly happy and honored to do that. But certainly I'd like to test myself against some of the best in Europe as well."

Finally, the coach said he's greatly looking forward to seeing how Aaronson fares under Marsch, as the 19-year-old playmaker is headed to RB Salzburg after the sides agreed on a transfer earlier this season. Curtin said he sees Aaronson's style as a perfect fit under Marsch, adding that he believes the quality on the Salzburg roster should only serve to elevate Aaronson's game.

"When you look at the fit for Salzburg, the amount that Brenden runs and works on the defensive side of the ball is incredible," he said. "So you put some of the talent that Jesse has at Salzburg and the forwards that will run in behind, Brenden will be able to take his game to another level. He'll stand even more because of the quality they have at Salzburg."

Check out the full interview above and be sure to check out Monday's show in its entirety, featuring the inside story of how the Union got a helping hand from Captain America in order to lift the Shield.