Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin addressed the media for the first time ahead of the upcoming MLS season.
Philadelphia's season begins on February 26th as they welcome Eastern Conference rivals Columbus Crew to Subaru Park. The 2023 season will be a tough one with the Union returning to the CONCACAF Champions League, but that is not stopping Curtin from expecting the high standards that his side has achieved over the last five seasons.
With the pre-season about to get underway, the 43-year-old discussed his excitement for the new season while stressing how important the next month will be if his Union team are to be competitive on all fronts.
Looking back at the 2022 season:
2022 was a groundbreaking year for our club. The best year in our club's history. From the individual accolades that we won from the front office awards, the individual player awards, the accolades on the field, what we achieved in getting to our first MLS Cup Final, and winning the Eastern Conference was special.
Excitement for the upcoming year:
I can't wait to get started and get back to work. The guys have come in very fit and sharp, with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and are eager to get going. That's a great starting point.
By our calculations, there are six trophies out there this year, and we will count the Eastern Conference trophy as the defending Eastern Conference champs as one of those. The fans have my word and the players' word that we will go after every trophy that is available. Again, it's always an exciting time of the year. A new season, a fresh start for guys, and I'm really happy that everyone has come in fit and ready to go.
The CONCACAF Champions League:
The Champions League are the biggest games that we can have, especially to start the season. We will have two MLS games under our belt as we go into the Champions League competition, but to get the opportunity to play the top teams in CONCACAF is special. If we play right, to get to play against some of the top Mexican teams is also a real challenge.
The international competitions bring the best out of players, so we're happy to be back in the Champions League. I think we earnt our way back in through a lot of hard work on the field. It shows that the badge is growing, and the more it's visible, the better it is for all of us.
The Importance of a good Pre-Season:
We really got a break with the climate being a little bit more mild than usual here in January, so we were able to train on grass this week, which is really great for the players' muscles and joints, and cutting and changing direction; so that helps us.
As I said, they came in fit, so we can push them even harder earlier than we had anticipated. It's about managing that load. We're going to probably have 50-plus games for the first time in our club's history in a season. It'll probably be 55, and it could even go up to 59 if we go deep in some competitions.
We really need to have a strong pre-season. The good news is that the guys came in sharp, and that makes it easier for our staff to work with.
It took a really great investment from ownership to keep Daniel here because other clubs wanted him in Europe. After you had a season like Daniel had, not just with us but his national team Hungary, a lot of big clubs came knocking on Ernst's [Tanner] door, calling him and wanting Daniel's services. He's a kid that loves it here, which is great to hear. His family enjoys Philadelphia, he likes to play in front of our fans, he likes his teammates, and he's such a young humble kid.
I joked with him on the first day that we have a new player and a brand new number ten, so he now has the weight of that number. He's such a great kid that I don't think he'll put any more pressure on himself. He already does that and performs at a top level.
It is hard to back up a season like he had because it was an incredible year. I told him that maybe if he dyes his hair or maybe gets a mohawk, that more of the press and media will notice how good he is, and maybe we can talk about him, which he should've been in the first place talked about with the MVPs.
The loss of Cory [Burke] is a real one. He's a guy who could score double digits and has done it before, so that's tough to replace. Goals are hard to replace, and we will certainly be searching. Now can a Quinn Sullivan come in and take some of that goal-scoring load, whether that be as a ten or as a second striker? Whatever that might be, I think that's a reality too. The way he's playing in practice already has been impressive. There are some guys that'll have to step up and take some of the load away from the loss of Cory.
I've mentioned before that the centre-back tandem that we have has been amazing, and Brandan Craig has come in also as a third. In this league you need to have at least four good ones, so we're looking in that regard as well. It's a position that is critical to our success because we are brave and play a high backline.
We will always look to improve, but I really like the group that we have here together now. Another defensive depth piece and a good attacking guy off the bench that could change the game is something that we obviously have our eye on.