CHESTER, Pa. — It was “Fan Appreciation Night” at Talen Energy Stadium, but when Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin took the microphone to address the crowd following Sunday’s regular-season finale, he probably didn’t hear much “appreciation.”
Instead, some boos rained down from the stands as fans took little solace in the fact that the Union secured their first MLS Cup playoff berth in five years.
Instead, the team’s ugly seven-game winless heading streak heading into the postseason, capped by Sunday’s 2-0 shutout loss to the New York Red Bulls, took center stage.
“It’s pro sports so there’s no celebrating when you lose,” Curtin said. “These guys are competitive, they’re hard on themselves. It’s no secret we’ve had a drop in form but we still have a good group.
“I’m self-critical. I look at myself in terms of a million different things you could throw out. The little bounces aren’t going our way. It’s on us to get them fixed with a quick turnaround.”
While Curtin understood why the boos came, he also wanted to make sure to recognize his players for snapping the club’s playoff drought, even though they finished with an 11-14-9 overall record and only beat out the New England Revolution for the sixth and final spot in the East due to the goal-differential tiebreaker.
The Union coach also insisted that his slumping side won’t be an easy out in the playoffs as they prepare to face star-studded Toronto FC in a Knockout Round game Wednesday night (ESPN2, UniMás, TSN2).
“It’s Philadelphia, first and foremost, so booing is popular,” said Curtin, a Philly native. “It’s normal when you don’t win and they’re entitled to boo. It’s difficult for me because I feel bad for the players and the guys that put in such a good year. … If we started horrible and finished strong and we scrape it out at the end, I think it’s a total shift in mindset and everyone’s going nuts today.
“It is what it is. It’s the past now. We can’t change it and we have a ticket to the real season, as I call it. Games are going to be different. It changes a lot.”
The Union will certainly be an underdog in Toronto, especially when you factor in their recent run of form, which includes three straight losses, and the fact that injured captain Maurice Edu won’t be returning this year.
But with their playoff spot all but locked up coming in, Curtin opted not to start a few regulars, including top scorer Chris Pontius and veteran midfielder Brian Carroll — who will be making his 10th playoff appearance — to keep the group fresh.
“I know we have a very good team, a very dangerous team that matches up well against the rest of the Eastern Conference,” Curtin said. “It’s a place where we know they have a lot of talent. It’ll be a difficult task — but one where our goal now is to go on the road and get out fans a home game.”
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, for one, is ready for his first foray into the MLS Cup playoffs and help his new team turn the page.
“It’s win or lose and go home,” said Bedoya, who wore the captain’s armband for the first time Sunday. “We’re away in Toronto, I’m sure they’re going to bring their great crowd, great fans, so it’s going to be a hostile environment. Hopefully everybody gets their head on their shoulders and pulls their socks up and is in there for the battle.”