CHESTER, Pa. – One week has passed since the Philadelphia Union’s crushing loss in the US Open Cup final, but head coach Jim Curtin still thinks about the game often.
And he suspects that will be the case for a while.
“The Open Cup is the hardest loss of my career, personally,” Curtin said following Wednesday’s training session. “People have asked me, ‘Have you gotten over the game yet?’ I’ll never get over that game for the rest of my life.”
Of course, as the team’s coach, he knows he still has to try to push his players past the USOC disappointment and finish the season strong – a prospect made even more difficult by the fact that they were eliminated from the playoff contention with Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Toronto.
Throw in the firing of CEO Nick Sakiewicz on Friday, and it’s been an absolutely crazy past week for the Union, who have two games left in 2015 before they’ll once again look to regroup in the offseason.
“It’s devastating,” Curtin said. “It’s a tough week. You have the opportunity for your first trophy, and that would’ve been a real positive. Obviously the decisions that were made by [owner Jay Sugarman] to part ways with Nick – I’m grateful for the opportunity that Nick gave me but, at the same time, we do have to move forward. The game doesn’t stop. The season doesn’t stop.”
While being mathematically eliminated from the postseason race over the weekend also stung, Curtin admitted that his team’s playoff hopes have been remote for much of the season, ever since they started with a 1-7-3 record.
Still, he knows that doesn’t make the realization of the Union missing out on the playoffs for the fifth time in six years of existence any easier for Philly’s fans.
“We dug too deep of a hole early,” Curtin said. “We had a couple of decent patches but over the course of the 34 games, we didn’t do enough to be playing when the games matter.
“It’s been too long, obviously, to not be in the playoffs. There’s no excuse for it. We came up short, and we have to regroup and retool and get ready to finish the last two games and get ready for 2016.”
There certainly will be a lot of offseason questions for Curtin and the rest of the technical staff to address. And, in many ways, the final two games of the season – a road clash vs. the Red Bulls on Oct. 18 followed by their regular-season finale vs. Orlando on Oct. 25 – will be an audition for some players heading into next year, with Curtin telling them they can “be a little more selfish.”
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Over the last couple of days in practice, though, he hasn’t seen any selfishness from his players. In fact, he’s been wowed by their tremendous resolve in the wake of so much disappointment.
“To their credit they’ve been excellent,” Curtin said. “The guys still come out and train hard for me. The players all fight and give me everything they have. And at the same time, I love each and every one of them too. That part, we’re fine with.
“But it’s tough to get over not bringing that trophy that we think could have at least changed the outlook of the season and pushed things forward in a positive way.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.