CHESTER, Pa. – Jim Curtin was at a playground with his kids Tuesday when his phone started buzzing like crazy with people congratulating him on being named the permanent manager of the Philadelphia Union.
This came as a surprise to Curtin, who had heard nothing of the sort. And a day later, he opened his normally scheduled weekly press conference by attempting to clear the air.
“I am still the interim manager,” Curtin said. “I’d say more so than any other city, in Philadelphia respect isn’t given; it’s earned. I get that part. I agree with that part. I’m still fighting to have that interim tag dropped.”
Curtin then turned his attention to Saturday’s nationally televised showdown vs. D.C. United at RFK Stadium (3 pm ET, NBC Sports, stream on NBCSports.com) – a game he knows could prove critical for him to officially be named the club’s long-term manager.
The Union are currently two points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with five games left to play.
That the team is that close to qualifying for the postseason is in large part due to Curtin, who’s 9-3-6 in all competitions since taking over for John Hackworth in early June.
“Jim has been a huge reason that we’re in a place where we can actually make the playoffs,” full back Sheanon Williams said. “I think he’s done a great job. And I know that everybody in the locker room is hoping he gets [the manager job] in the long-term.”
Curtin has certainly pushed many right buttons since taking over, including unleashing the full potential of Sebastien Le Toux and Andrew Wenger by giving them more defined offensive roles and allowing Cristian Maidana to run the attack from the central midfield. The longtime MLS defender also helped stabilize Philly’s defense by putting Maurice Edu at center back for a stretch of games, unchaining Ethan White from the bench, pushing hard to bring Carlos Valdes back from loan, and settling on Williams and Ray Gaddis as the starting fullbacks.
“I think he’s really up front with all the guys on where they stand and what he wants from the team, and I think that’s gone a long way with the guys,” Williams said. “When he puts you out there, you know exactly what you’re supposed to do and how you’re supposed to do it. That makes a big difference for us.”
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Curtin’s toughness, honed from growing up in the Philadelphia area, is another big reason why the Union are closing in a playoff spot – and Curtin, perhaps, is closing in on the full-time managerial position with his hometown club.
“He’s tough on you but as a player you respect him because you know he has your best interest at heart,” Gaddis said. “He has a tough attitude and I think that rubs off on the players. I guess it’s a cliché to say he’s Philly tough. But I definitely think that’s trickling down to the players, trying to get a result by any means and having that type of demeanor no matter what.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.