Union's new hire a reunion for Curtin, Tanner after Hoffenheim experience

CHESTER, Pa. — When Jim Curtin was getting his coaching start at the Philadelphia Union's academy, he remembers a German soccer executive visiting YSC Sports to give an engaging presentation that involved ideas, he’d later learn, that “were ahead of their time.”

About six years later, that German – Ernst Tanner – is now Curtin’s boss, unveiled Thursday as the sporting director of the Union team that Curtin now coaches.

“He’s a guy I’m excited to work with and learn from,” Curtin told MLSsoccer.com after Tanner’s introductory press conference at Talen Energy Stadium. “A lot of his methodologies involve a high-pressing style, which I really like. I know we have a lot we can still improve in that regard. I’m anxious to get to work with him and I think it’s a great hire.”

After Tanner made his first of three visits to the Union, Curtin went to Hoffenheim — where Tanner served as sporting director from 2010 to 2012 — to watch the German club’s academy in action. That helped his own career progress to the point where he moved up from the Union academy to become an assistant coach with the first team and then head coach, as a 35-year-old, in 2014.

“I got a lot of ideas from that,” Curtin said. “I learned a ton from that experience there. It’s not a real long relationship [with Tanner] but at least we’ve crossed paths, so it’s not like it’s a completely new face.”

Calling it a “perfect match,” Curtin said he’s eager to work with Tanner on developing Homegrown Players, using new, innovative techniques on the pitch and attacking games aggressively.

At the same time, he knows he has to prove himself to keep his job.

“You’re evaluated every training session, every game, and Ernst has come in and made it very seamless,” Curtin said. “He’s been very open and easy to talk to. That part has been great. When he was out on the field for the first training session today, you always feel like there are things he’s going to look at and watch and try to maybe tweak or make better. We’ll share ideas, learn from each other, and hopefully have success.”

Considering new sporting directors often like to handpick their coaches, it does seem like Curtin’s future could be up in the air after the 2018 season. But the Union head coach has a chance to make a statement by winning the U.S. Open Cup on Sept. 26 after guiding the club to the tournament final for the third time in five years.

A spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs, a target the seventh-place Union continue to chase with a big game vs. sixth-place New England on Saturday (7:30 pm ET | TV and streaming info), couldn’t hurt either.

“Jim’s a good coach,” Tanner told MLSsoccer.com. “What he has done throughout recent years is not that bad. He’s a young coach, he has experienced a lot. I’ve followed his career and I think he has done a good job.”