Coaching wasn’t always the path for Jim Curtin. In fact, even playing professional soccer was never a sure thing for Curtin.
Originally from Oreland, Pa., Curtin is another member of the Philadelphia Union who has local ties.
“My journey started like so many young soccer players, around the age of four or five years old, playing locally in Philadelphia and in the suburbs,” Curtin said. “ I worked my way through a lot of hours on the training field, battled in the backyard with my brother. My parents drove me all over the country, sacrificing a lot. I played through high school and worked my way to a college scholarship.”
When Curtin decided to go to Villanova University as a center back, he had no idea what the future was going to hold. He just wanted to play soccer in college, graduate with a degree, and make enough money to support a family.
It turns out that at 6-feet-4 and the ability to possess a great defensive feel for the game, Curtin would go on to star for Villanova in the coming years. During his four years at college, Curtin was a recipient of multiple awards, both from the school and from the BIG East Conference.
In 1997, Curtin was named the BIG East Rookie of the Year, followed by a selection to the first team All-BIG East squad in 1999 and 2000. Additionally, in 2000 Curtin was also named the Philadelphia Soccer Seven Player of the Year. Villanova also voted him as the team’s most valuable player three years in a row.
Despite all of the accolades, however, Curtin’s future as a professional athlete in the MLS was still in doubt. Because of Villanova’s relative obscurity as a soccer team and Curtin not being viewed as athletic enough to play the pro game, his draft stock fell heavily.
For Curtin though, playing in the MLS was still more of a dream than a reality. He wasn’t able to watch the draft since it wasn’t being broadcast on television so he did something that your average college senior doesn’t really do.
He went to class.
“At that stage of the journey, I was literally sitting in a finance class in Villanova when I found out I was selected so there wasn’t a lot of big to-do like there is now on ESPN,” said Curtin. “I was at the point in my journey when I had to make a big decision. I chose to take the risk and go down to preseason with them in Florida and I ended up making the team.”
Curtin was selected in the third round, so making the team as a late draft pick was a very good sign for him and the team. He ended up staying with the Chicago Fire for seven years, making over 200 starts for the team while helping them win the U.S. Open Cup in 2003 and 2006. He was also selected as an MLS All-Star in 2004 and won the March of Dimes/Comcast Athlete of the Year in 2005.
After seven years with the Fire, Curtin was traded to Chivas USA in 2008, where he played for three seasons before retiring.
By this point, however, the coaching bug had bit him. Hard.
“It wasn’t even at the end of my career that I decided I wanted to be a coach,” Curtin said. “I knew probably as my second year as a player in Chicago. Bob Bradley was our coach there, at the time, and he created an environment where we all challenged each other day in and day out. If you look at that old roster, there are like 15 or 16 guys now that are coaching in the league.”
He started back at his alma-mater in February of 2010, eventually working his way over to be the director of curriculum development over at YSC Sports in Wayne, the Union’s youth academy. Finally, in November of 2012, Curtin was named an assistant coach for the Union. He stayed in that capacity for two years before being named the interim head coach in the middle of 2014 after the club decided to part ways with then head coach John Hackworth.
Curtin then finished the year 7-5-6 record after the club had a poor start to the season. Due to the team’s turn around under his coaching, the Union decided to make his interim title his official title, naming him the head coach in late 2014.
For Curtin’s part though, after he was named the interim, his future was never in doubt.
“I got an opportunity as the interim, I took a hold of it and I didn’t want to give it away,” said Curtin. “It was an honor to be the head coach in my hometown. This is where I’m from. It means a lot to me, its special. Giving back and mentoring young players was something that was always close to me, and giving them some knowledge, some tutelage, to take from the game and grow, and then start their journey as players as well.”
This story is part of AAA’s “Start Your Journey” campaign, an effort – in partnership with the Union – to help celebrate families’ journeys in support of their young athletes…the long road trips, all-weekend tournaments, and the special bonds that are formed from the extensive time on the road. Each month, the Philadelphia Union and AAA will select an individual within its soccer network to develop a feature story on their path to success in association with the game of soccer. Additionally, fans are encouraged to share their own stories via social media using #ShareYourJourney.