Daily Doop: All Curtin all the time

Jim Curtin has had quite the past 24 hours. From his name being implicated as the official manager of the Union in numerous reports to his plans for getting back to winning ways against D.C. United this Saturday at RFK Stadium (3 p.m., NBC Sports), to the status of defender Ethan White, there was a lot to discuss in his weekly press conference. In this installment of the Daily Doop, we thought it best to provide a transcript of the 15 minute press conference. If you're a visual person and you'd rather watch the proceedings the presser in its full video form can be found below.

And now, Union interim manager Jim Curtin.

Enjoy. 

Opening Statement

JC: There was some news that was leaked. I just want to clear up everything. I am still the interim manager. I’d say more so than any other city, in Philadelphia, respect isn’t given, it’s earned. I get that part. I agree with that part. I’m still fighting to have the interim tag dropped. I don’t want it to be a distraction to our team. I had a good talk with them this morning and to be honest I was on the playground yesterday with my kids and all of a sudden the phone starts going. Alexi Lalas, Ives [Galarcep], [Taylor] Twellman, and other guys asking questions – congratulating in some regard. Same as you guys, probably you read the article. It’s not true. I’m still the interim coach and I’m working hard to have that removed. My players have done a great job in helping with that. Our main focus, as always, is working hard and getting a result against D.C.

On if the Union have an advantage with D.C. United playing in midweek Champions League match

JC: It is. It always depends on the team they play before you so you always have to look. I’m actually familiar with the Tauro team, I’ve played against them. They’re always a big, strong, very physical team. So that’s good for us. They’ll put up a fight for sure. It’s a game Ben [Olsen] knows how to manage his guys – they have a very deep team. At the end of the day, they have to play some of their guys. So it’s tough workload on a Wednesday. We’ll have fresh legs going into the weekend. We haven’t had many free weeks for a chance to prepare so it’s a positive in that regard. But, any time a team plays in the midweek before is an advantage for sure.  

On Ethan White’s status

JC: Ethan is progressing well. He was jogging around the field so it’s not the thing where he’s completely ruled out by any stretch. We’re cautiously optimistic that he’ll be a guy available for selection.

On Amobi possibly filling in for him at centerback

JC: We lean more toward Amobi in the midfield. A lot of articles have been written on the subject — we read stuff, anyone who says they don’t is a liar — they’re good discussions. I don’t just make these decisions on guys willy nilly, you know? You lose a lot of sleep, you think about every option, you think about the matchups, you think about all these things. I’m high on Amobi Okugo. He knows that, our locker room knows that. He’s been a big part of a lot of our wins. If you project out our record in just league games right now, we’d be on pace for 60 points in the season, which our fans are intelligent to know they’d sign up for that. And Amobi’s been a big part of that. He’ll be called upon again, now, and I would say he is a midfielder – in my mind. That’s where he likes to play best, I think that’s where he is best. The decision that went against him in the Open Cup final was just one that, we’re at home, we’re on our home field, it was a little more of an attacking lineup — it was a risk. I think we’d all agree it was a good game that we played, we brought a lot. I don’t think there’s too much second guessing that can be done on that one. I love hindsight too, you know, I’m a Monday morning quarterback every time the Eagles play, and what they could’ve done different. When you’re making those decisions, they’re tough ones. That one went against Amobi – no question about it. So did Houston. But, when his number’s called, I know he’ll be ready to go.

On how he keeps his team focused with all of the distractions

JC: They’ve been great all year. Whether it’s different people that have come through the locker room and they’ve met, they’ve kept their focus just on the field, and they’ve done a great job with it. They bring it every day in training. If you go to our training sessions now, there’s guys that are laying it all on the line every day that maybe took days off earlier in the year. It’s great to see. We see healthy, healthy competition at every position. I do think that they have grown up a lot recently, whether it’s closing out tight games, protecting our home field. I think we’ve lost one game in our last 11 in the league. We’re tough to play against. Are their going to be breaks? Penalty kicks go your way, penalty kicks don’t go your way — there’s different breaks during the season, but we’re tough to beat. That is a fact. And that’s because I have men.

On what he draws from the first meeting with D.C. United

JC: It was a long time ago. They’re a good team though, they’re in form. We were a different team, they were a different team. [Fabian] Espindola had his little injury after his hot streak, he’s now been suspended a game or two. We expect him to be back, when he’s on his game he’s one of the toughest to deal with in the league. Chris Rolfe, an old teammate of mine, is a handful but now that he’s out with the broken arm he makes them look a little different. [Luis] Silva’s in great form, he’s scoring goals for them from a deep spot, he’s a handful playing underneath the forwards. Again, dangerous team. Eddie Johnson, wild card, too, with the concussion. They’re a team that we respect a ton. It’s a rivalry game — Ben’s a friend of mine, but we both want to get a win, we both know we need three points. They’re looking to win the East, we’re looking to get above the red line, so it’s going to be a war, another Eastern Conference battle.

On how difficult it is to figure out what D.C. will look like

JC: It’s tough. They still have their core guys, it’s going to be Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud in the middle, you know what the center back pairing’s going to look like with [Steven] Birnbaum and [Bobby] Boswell, and I know what those guys are about, what they bring. Sean Franklin. So the core six-to-eight guys are there. Is Eddie Johnson a nice wild card to have getting back? Yes, he is. Espindola, we know what he’s about – he’s a proven goalscorer in our league, a guy that you have to deal with for 90 minutes. He’ll fight and scratch — he’s one of those guys who’s a Carlos Ruiz-type player: you love him when he’s on your team, you hate him when he’s not. He’s a handful and he’s in good form. Rolfe’s the big injury that they’ve had because Chris was having a great year for them. So, hopefully that’s something that we can use to our advantage, to have him missing.

On whether all the tough games make it easier moving forward

JC: Yeah. I would say they all feel like playoff games, they all have the intensity that it’s a do-or-die, a must win. The mentality of our group’s changed, too. After the Houston tie, the guys were disgusted with it. That was a face that I maybe didn’t see earlier on. And that’s something that they at least realize; there’s accountability within the group, to know that that wasn’t good enough. Sure, we created enough chances to score a goal and win, but we didn’t have the killer instinct that we needed to get it done. We’re a no BS type team. We are what our record says we are. That’s kind of what we’ve kind of believed in and that’s what we’re about. We know going down the stretch in these last games we have to protect homefield, obviously, but we’re going to have to go somewhere difficult and steal points. Obviously, the Columbus series looks big, too, but the focus is on DC on the road. It’s going to a brutal, tough game, but we’ll be ready to go.

On Ethan’s form and what it’s meant

JC: He’s been great, he’s been unbelievable. Everything a guy could ask for out of a center back, he does. To be honest, I don’t think he’s gotten the appreciation that he deserves in the press. I know that the coaches on the other teams in the league that talk to me are as high as can be on him. I’m as high as can be on him. And that’s why, in some ways, the Amobi [Okugo]-Maurice [Edu] discussion — like you could just displace Ethan White — was I think a little disrespectful to him, and a little bit unfair. Because what the kid has done in keeping his mouth shut for six months in not being in the lineup and bringing it everyday, and then putting out the fires that he puts out in the games — in the real games, in the big boy games — has been special. We’re going to miss him a lot. It’s a big injury. We want to obviously get him back before the weekend so we’re missing him in training right now. He’s a guy I can’t say enough about, I’m very high on him. I played the position, I wish I had the attributes that he has as a player. He’s got a little nasty in him – which I like.

On the difficulty of rotating players in the back

JC: They’re good players so they can handle it. If you look at our game against New York, they had the penalty kick which probably isn’t a penalty kick. And then they had the sidefoot from [Thierry] Henry that Zac [MacMath] would tell you he should’ve done better on. Then you fast-forward to Seattle, we handled them for the most part, inches away from winning that game. Then you go to the Houston game. We did not give up a shot on goal. So, the defense is doing a great job, no question about it, whoever I plug in there. I have great players back there, I have great goalkeepers, and they’ve done a phenomenal job. Our attack has been good as well, but the defense has been excellent. Hindsight is a great thing, it’s a good thing in sports. I’m happy with our group, I really am. It’s a fine line though in MLS [between] a week like last week looking perfect versus we’re all disappointed. There’s no more moral victories for us, though. That Seattle game, I feel like that should be the last I talk about it. This club should be done with moral victories. Now it’s time to win a trophy.

On Harrisburg City Islanders reaching the USL PRO championship final

JC: It’s excellent. We’ve had a lot of guys that have logged a lot of minutes there and helped out along the way. Some less than others, but even when they’ve been thrown down there periodically they’ve done well. It’s great game experience for our young guys, for Jimmy McLaughlin to get real games, playoff-type games, and Antoine [Hoppenot] to be doing well for them, and Richard Marquez to be playing great minutes at center back. It’s so valuable for those guys to be getting not only minutes, but playoff minutes in games of consequence where there’s a winner and a loser and the loser goes home. It’s so valuable. Bill Becher’s done a great job with that group. They were an underdog going into the playoffs — much like we might be. They’ve gotten to the final, they put themselves in a final, and I wish them all the best. Hopefully they can pull it off and win it against Preki, my old coach.

On Hoppenot’s time with Harrisburg

JC: He’s been good. The message for Antoine is keep up the work you’ve been doing. I tell our guys in the locker room, I told them as recently as yesterday, someone in this room that hasn’t contributed a ton during this year will score a big goal, will make a big play defensively that gets us into the playoffs. It always happens. It always, always happens. There’ going to be someone who’s not called upon now – just like there’s always a team that no one’s expecting to make the playoff to make it, and there’ll be one that everyone has counted in right now, they’ll drop out. It’s just the way this league goes.

Injury report updates:

JC: No, we’re healthy. Our medical staff does a great job — Paulie [Rushing]Steve [Hudyma], and Kevin Miller have done a great job keeping everybody healthy. We’re fresh. Excited for this push.

Who’s the Union’s biggest rival, DC or New York?

JC: We shouldn’t really like anybody in the Eastern Conference, to be honest. I still think we’re figuring that part out. We haven’t had enough playoff games to have that real bitter rivalry. I’d still put New York there just because of the Philly mindset with New York that goes back a long way – back to the time when we thought we were the second city, the little brother type thing. But, I think that time’s gone. I have tons of New York friends that have come, moved down to Philly now and live here that say it’s better. That’s a whole other discussion but, rivalry wise, I still think its New York just because of how close it is. DC’s, again, another good rival, but you have another New York team coming in. I don’t think we’ve had enough playoff history with anybody to really hate, to really, really have that true Sixers-Celtics, or whatever it might be. We don’t have ours yet. New York is the closest, I guess.

Transcription courtesy of Chris Winkler, Philadelphia Union communications department

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com

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