Jim Curtin has some peace of mind after signing a two-year extension to coach the Philadelphia Union, but the task at hand is far from complete.
The Union look to maintain their hold on the Eastern Conference lead Saturday night when they face Real Salt Lake on the road.
Curtin, who has the Union (10-6-5) on track to qualify for the playoffs for the third time in four years, has the team off to its best start in club history after 21 matches. The all-time franchise leader in wins with 64 after being named interim coach in June 2014, Curtin agreed to a two-year extension through 2021 on Wednesday after proving he could co-exist with club sporting director Ernst Tanner last year.
“I don’t want this to sound like we’ve accomplished anything yet this year because there’s still a lot of work to do,” Curtin said at the news conference announcing the extension. “Now, you’re seeing a lot of real positive things happen with the group. Old guys, young guys coming together, so from that standpoint I’m happy with where we’re at, but I don’t want this to be a feeling that now we’re going to take our foot off the gas. Still a lot to achieve and a lot to work on.”
Philadelphia took four of a possible six points of a home-and-home series with Orlando City but scrambled to a 2-2 draw Sunday, salvaging a point on Kacper Pryzbylko’s 90th-minute goal. Marco Fabian scored the other goal, but the defensive breakdowns that led to both Orlando goals gnawed at Curtin.
“I think we got a lesson against Orlando, thinking that it was just going to be a nice, comfortable victory,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.” “We’re not going to just run away with this thing. We have a lot of really good teams chasing us, so every point’s going to matter.”
Curtin will have to make do without injured midfielder Jamiro Monteiro but is hopeful fellow playmaker Ilsinho will return after sitting out Sunday. He would likely partner with 18-year-old Brendan Aaronson, who will play in the MLS Homegrown Game along with Union keeper Matt Freese during All-Star weekend festivities.
Real Salt Lake (8-2-9) is just below the cut line for the playoffs in the Western Conference, entering this weekend’s play one point behind Houston for the seventh and final spot. Real were thwarted in their bid for a third straight victory last Saturday, losing 1-0 at San Jose and spoiling keeper Nick Rimando’s 500th MLS appearance.
RSL broke down defensively on a corner kick in second-half stoppage time as the Earthquakes’ Danny Hoesen scored from inside the six-yard box. It ended a 355-minute shutout streak for Rimando, and the loss also featured a yellow card to striker Sebastian Saucedo, who will sit out this contest due to an accumulation of cautions.
“The message is this should hurt. It should hurt because we deserved a point out of that,” coach Mike Petke said. “Look at Saucedo’s opportunity, (Nick) Besler’s opportunity, (Marcelo) Silva’s header. Of course, San Jose had opportunities, don’t get me wrong. This one should hurt. If it doesn’t, then they don’t deserve to be out here.
“Whether you lose 4-0 or whatever, it better hurt, and I know it does hurt them. Six points of a possible nine in the last eight days, we’ll be happy with that. It’s not a bad week.”
Last year, the Union recorded their first win in 11 all-time matches between the teams (1-6-4) with a 4-1 victory at home as Ilsinho and Borek Dockal each had a goal and an assist. Philadelphia is 0-2-3 all-time at Rio Tinto Stadium and has been outscored 11-6 in those matches.
(Jim Curtin photo courtesy Sirius XM FC 157 official Twitter account)