The Philadelphia Union will make their MLS Cup debut on Saturday after triumphing in the Eastern Conference.
Jim Curtin’s side concluded the regular season in first place with 67 points in 34 games and a record of 19W-5L-10D, before conquering reigning champions New York City FC and FC Cincinnati in the playoffs to reach the coveted final.
After a record-breaking 2022 Major League Soccer season, Curtin hopes to lead this “unique” Union side to their first-ever league trophy.
“This is the best team I’ve ever worked with, and not just because we got to this game. But the way they play on the field. The relationships I have with these players are really close. You can start from the back with an Andre Blake, who I saw drafted into this league and struggle early on to then become the Goalkeeper of the Year and Best 11, all the accolades. He’s the example of what we are, and who we are. What we built, and became stable because of players like him. Sprinkle in Ale Bedoya, and his leadership, finding that player who gives our club that identity,” he said.
“It’s an incredible team that we have, a fun team to watch. We scored the most goals in the league, and conceded the least. We have a way of doing things that is unique, unique to Philadelphia.”
Jim Curtin first joined the Philadelphia Union in 2010, working as an Academy coach. He slowly climbed his way to the first team, before taking the reins in 2014 when replacing Nick Sakiewicz as the interim coach.
Now, eight years later, Curtin remains as head coach. He admitted to implementing a new system based on pillars to guide the Union to success. Whether the team is winning or losing, Curtin has a stable structure to rely on.
“We have three basic pillars that we always look to, winning or losing. We use it to judge ourselves. We want to build from within, which is why you see academy players and coaches coming from within our club. Two: any group of 11 players can beat any superstars or individual talent. And number three: we have to be innovative. Those three things make us who we are, and we stick to them.”
And it’s worked. The team lifted the Eastern Conference final trophy at home in front of thousands of fans at Subaru Park, in a moment Curtin described as “the best” thus far.
“Seeing the guys lift the Eastern Conference final trophy was just the best. There’s big wins all season, and you can feel the energy when you come off the field on the road, in particular, and the bond that everyone has of accomplishing something really hard. But to do it in a playoff game, at home, with a little bit of revenge sprinkled in from the previous season against the reigning champions,” he said with a smile.
“That was the coolest moment so far this season. To not be on the stage with them, and step back to watch them enjoy that. It was special.”
He will now lead the Union to their biggest game yet, in hopes to make team history. But it will be no easy task.
LAFC enters the Cup as favorites, after clinching the Supporters’ Shield under first-year coach Steven Cherundolo. The Black and Gold conquered the LA Galaxy and Austin FC to stand just one game away from their first league title as well.
With both sides hungry for the trophy, the 2022 MLS final is sure to be jam packed with action.