It’s amazing how many times a person’s life can come full circle.
For Jim Curtin, in many ways his already has.
Now he’s just reaping the benefits of the path he forged along the way.
Curtin, 34, who enjoyed a 10-year career in Major League Soccer – much of those seasons with Chicago – will be honored by the Fire on Saturday, commemorating eight seasons (2001-08) of dominant defense, a trait that made him an MLS All-Star in 2004. On Saturday, Curtin will sign a one-day contract and retire as a Fire player.
“It’s a great thing,” Curtin told philadelphiaunion.com. “It was great to know that the club I started with and gave me an opportunity in this game will officially be the one that I finish with. It is great for closure and is a good finality for me. I will always be remembered as a Fire player, so that is something that again that really means a lot to me.”
Want to talk full circle…
Curtin, a stud at local program Villanova was selected by Chicago as a third round pick in the 2001 MLS SuperDraft, becoming the first Wildcat to be drafted by an MLS team. Though a fierce competitor, Curtin still had to battle for a spot on the Fire roster, playing behind another Fire legend: current Union assistant coach Mike Sorber.
“I do think I was a little bit of an underdog, I mean if you look back I was a third round draft pick and lot of guys [picked in those late rounds that year] did not survive,” said Curtin. “I was fortunate enough to get on with a very good group of guys and a really good team. It was only 18-man rosters back then, 10 teams so there were only 180 guys in the league – it was tough to get a job. I was lucky enough to battle through preseason.”
A battle fused with a bit of timely luck. Enter Sorber’s role.
“Funny tidbit, the reason I made the roster – probably as the 18th guy that year – was because Mike Sorber actually retired that preseason. So I joke with Sorber every time I see him that our careers have kind of followed each other. We are here together [in Philadelphia] but I will admit that was a big reason for me getting in and starting my career with Chicago and being able to have a successful one.”
Luck aside, Curtin’s tangibles: size, good feet and a physical nature that rivals most NFL linebackers were the qualities that landed him not only a spot on the Fire’s roster, but ultimately were the reasons he became endeared by Fire fans.
“I remember one of the first games I played in college, Jim was playing for Villanova and he was just a tough, tough guy,” said Union team coordinator Josh Gros. Gros, who played against Curtin first at Rutgers before becoming Eastern Conference rivals as a member of D.C. United, recalled a player that was bound for bigger things. “Coming out of high school and going to play against a guy like Jim who is 6’6 and just a physical presence; I will just remember him always dominating the game on defense.”
But ask Curtin and he’ll tell you that it was the similarities in where he came from and the type of town Chicago is that made it a perfect fit.
“I felt they embraced me because they saw me as a blue collar player,” said Curtin. “I’m a guy who would do anything for the team to win; Chicago like Philly is a blue collar city, so it was a match from day one.”
Local boy makes good
You could make the argument that Curtin was one of the players that paved the way for the Philadelphia-based player to be a recognized commodity in Major League Soccer. Philadelphia Soccer Six schools in addition to a host of high schools in the region have produced a plethora of talent that has had successful careers in the League.
Former MLS and U.S. national teamer Chris Albright is one of those players. Albright spent much of his formative years playing alongside Curtin on area club teams. Another full circle moment: Curtin played for Albright’s uncle; former Villanova head coach Larry Sullivan.
“We started playing together when we were about 16-years-old on a team called Council Rock Dynamo that was sort of formed as one of the non-Delco teams,” explained Albright. “We grew up playing club ball together. He was a handful on the field to go against just cause of his size, but he obviously had not just the size but the skill on the ball to turn it into a really long and successful career in MLS. He is a Philly guy, so naturally I’m happy for all of his success.”
Fast forward to today and you’ll find the “Philly guy” in his hometown to assist the hometown franchise compete for an MLS crown.
As a player, it was the one honor Curtin never got a chance to win.
As a coach, it’s his main goal.
“I had a good 10 year run, but like a lot of pro athletes, your career does not end on your own terms,” Curtin said who ended his MLS campaign playing two seasons for Chivas USA. “So I moved back to Philly and even talked about possibly playing in Philadelphia, but things did not work out. Instead of being down about it, I saw it more as looking back a great opportunity to start my coaching career at a young age. I was thrown in at age 30 to some great experiences to coach [youth clubs and the Union Academy players] that were offered to me Richie Graham [founder of YSC Sports, the Union’s youth academy arm]. I got in with the academy there and had an accelerated learning [into coaching] and I am grateful for that. “
“You get to these places in this game and if you stay connected and work hard good things tend to happen. I do not see it as a bad thing that my career ended a little early than I would have liked, because it opened up another avenue.”
And another opportunity to have life for Jim Curtin come full circle.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org