In the end, Jim Curtin’s fate will rest in the hands of Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner.
But for some of the team’s most important players, bringing Curtin back as head coach in 2019 should be an easy call. One of the longest-tenured head coaches in MLS, Curtin's contract came to end when the Union lost 3-1 at New York City FC in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs on Wednesday.
“He did an amazing job,” veteran defensive midfielder Haris Medunjanin said on a conference call Friday. “We achieved the most points in club history. He controlled us every game. He told us what we need to do. He showed he’s a good coach and can be the leader of this team.”
At 33, Medunjanin — who just wrapped up his second season in Philly and earlier this year had his option picked up for 2019 — is one of the club’s oldest players. But he was particularly impressed with how well Curtin integrated the youngsters into the lineup, particularly the Homegrown center back pairing of Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie.
“With the young kids, to give them the opportunity means he believed in them and that he likes to take the risk and that he believes he can win with them,” Medunjanin said. “I think to be that confident says a lot.”
The way Curtin deals with his players, on an off the field, also stood out to Medunjanin, who’s played for eight different clubs during a 15-year professional career.
“He’s always telling me honest things,” Medunjanin said. “If he’s not happy, he’ll tell me. I like that.”
Goalkeeper Andre Blake agreed with that assessment.
“He’s a great coach,” said Blake, who was first given the starting job late in Curtin’s first full season, in 2015. “I’ve been with him my entire pro career. He takes care of his players. I think he’s got a great relationship with us all.”
Of course, Blake understands it’s still a business. When asked what kind of voice the players might have in the decision to renew Curtin’s contract, the goalkeeper said he had no idea.
“I know I’ll be back for sure so right now I just have to focus on that and to make sure I’m ready,” he said. “Whether it’s Jim or whatever the case may be, we have to be ready to work and to give 100 percent and to go make the playoffs again and make a run.”
Since taking over in the middle of the 2014 campaign, Curtin has led the Union to the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2016 and 2018 but they failed to get out of the Knockout Round both times. He also guided three separate runs to the U.S. Open Cup final (2014, 2015, 2018), all of which Philly lost.
“I have a lot of respect for Jim,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “I think he’s done a fantastic job. I don’t think he gets enough credit.”