Union coach Jim Curtin looks ahead after setback: "Every point matters now"

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin refused to hit the panic button and urged his players to regroup quickly following a deflating 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Fire.

Despite dominating the Fire with 58.1 percent of the possession, significantly moreso in the second half as they chased the game, the Union found Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson in imperious form as the home side scored a much-needed victory to keep their slim hopes of reaching the playoffs alive.

Time and again, the visitors found no way past the commanding Johnson, who produced four top-drawer saves to keep out goal-bound efforts from Chris Pontius and Tranquillo Barnetta in particular, and deny the Union a fourth win in five outings.

The visitors were undone by an unfortunate Roland Alberg own goal in the 22nd minute and subsequent strikes from Michael de Leeuw and Arturo Alvarez in the second half. However, with six games remaining, Curtin’s side remains on solid footing in the playoff race, currently sitting in fourth place in the East with 40 points and an 11-10-7 record.

“Tough night for us,” the Union head coach admitted. “It was a little strange at the start to concede an own goal, but we still created a few chances at the beginning of the game. I thought Sean Johnson made some really big saves and all the little half-chances we created just wasn’t enough on the night. We weren’t sharp enough, we’ll have to regroup quickly and get prepared for Montreal.

“Every point matters now down the stretch. We’re still in a good spot, but we need to have a real good response after a disappointing performance.”

Philadelphia were without starting goalkeeper Andre Blake and USMNT starter Alejandro Bedoya because of international duty, while center back Joshua Yaro was absent due to the recent passing of his mother.

Curtin, however, refused to blame those absences for the defeat.

“Andre and Alejandro certainly make us better and Josh being absent, it hurts, but at the same time we have a deep squad,” he said. “Everybody needs to step up in these moments and for the most part this year we have. It’s just a little bit of a letdown tonight. We’re missing some guys, they’re missing some guys, and they beat us on the night and deserved the three points.”

One player who did his best to step in was goalkeeper John McCarthy, who made his first start of the season and produced some nice saves in between the concession of three goals, which he probably could have done little about.

“I thought John was fine,” Curtin said. “I thought the goals that we gave up were, the first one’s flukey, the own goal’s difficult. The second one comes off a really good chance from which Sean Johnson makes a really good save and they come down, nothing he can do on that. And the third one, we’re just pushing and leave our backline a little bit hung out to dry. John was fine, decent performance, but when we don’t get points nobody’s happy.”

Of course, the Union know those feelings can change with a good final stretch run, starting with a crucial home game vs. Montreal next Saturday.

“We have three at home, three on the road, no easy games left,” Curtin said. “I don’t think there are any easy games — tonight’s an example of that. The table, you can kind of throw it out the window at this stage because anybody in this league can beat anybody if you’re not ready to go.

“It was a difficult night for us. We had chances, we didn’t take them well, and Chicago punished us.”