Yes, I was one of the lucky ones who was able to attend the town hall presentation last night down at Talen Energy Stadium. And after the 2 hour open discussion, I have a new respect for the front office of The Philadelphia Union. I can only imagine Coach Curtin’s initial feeling when he was told he was to line up in front of the firing squad I like to call sports experts, and present to the Union fan base his thoughts on the current state of the club. In our jobs we can call out sick when faced with this pressure, but as the head coach, he would have to stand up and face some of the harshest critics in the country. And he proved why he is our leader.
The night started with a tour of the new training facility, but my wife and I decided to skip that and grab a quick bite. Yes, just the 2 of us. With 2 boys that are active in school, soccer, and baseball, it’s rare that we have an opportunity to go out and eat. We took advantage of this chance. We got down to stadium about 6:45, and parked next to Alejandro Bedoya. You forget that these stars are just average people like us, until you see them out of their uniforms. He walked up and said hello, not like it was something he “had” to do, but because he is a human just like us. I’ll get into the human factor of these players and staff shortly. We then walked up to the club in the stadium and I was actually surprised by how crowded it was. My wife and I walked up to grab a beverage that the team provided, and on our way through the crowd, stopped and said hello to Coach, and the rest of the friendly faces we see down there at games. That’s a special thing about the Union staff. They will treat you like family/friends every time you see them. But that also goes for the whole fan base. Kudos.
At just before 7 pm, the presentation started with Tim McDermott, the CBO of the club kicking off the event. He thanked everyone for coming out, and gave us a brief overview of what to expect that night. Tim touched on the business aspect of the organization and how his goal is to have the place sold out for every game in a 5 year timeline. And I think he will succeed. This man holds a great work ethic and said that he goes to bed every night then wakes up every morning thinking how he can makes things better. And I believe him. Another one of his goals is to have Philly become a 5 sport team. He will then start working to beat number 4, and so on. Now is the time to strike too. With the 5 major sports listed by attendance, the list is as follows. (2016-2016) NFL-68,400. MLB- 30,168. MLS – 21,692. NBA- 17, 841. NHL- 17, 481. Yep, MLS is higher than the NBA and the NHL. So I believe he can move up, and if it is possible, he will get it done.
Earnie Stewart was next, and if you ever get the chance to listen to him talk, do it. You can hear the passion he has for what he does, but he also has a huge heart. Earnie read two bullets from a project they are working on. But the one that caught me was about the vision of the Union. He even said that the vision is Utopia, and that will not happen overnight. That statement will upset some people who need to see results now. But I want this club/organization to grow and stay strong for future generations. And contrary to what some say, they are doing it right. There were no questions at this point, and that was actually good to keep the flow going. He tackled the main question that was lurking in social media when he said “Should we change the system, no.” He has been on the side of a coach that changed things every week. And the results were not good. You need to have these players understand the system you are using so they know when they mess up, and how to get back on track. We learned that he expects the best from all his players and coaches. Effort is non-negotiable. Earnie also told us that Alejandro is the player that embodies the vision of what a player should be. He talked for about 15 minutes, and I feel he could have went longer. The man is passionate in what he does. And I have gained a great understanding and much respect for him.
Jim Curtin was up next. The moment we have been waiting for. He presented a power point that explained how they are developing a culture/identity at the Philadelphia Union. I really do enjoy listening to Jim speak. He comes across as one of the guys, and is not afraid to throw some zingers out, as well as take some ribbing. He said that last week was not their best soccer, but the team rolled up their sleeves and fought for 90 minutes. If that doesn’t symbolize the Philly way, I don’t know what does. Jim also pointed out something that I didn’t realize; we have had a changeover of 17 players in a year. That is a lot. He explained how they started with choosing a style and system of play 1st. Then they looked at who is their true Union player, and build out. But they need to remain consistent. He then showed a video of Dak Prescott “doing the right thing, even when no one is watching”. It was a video of Dak on the bench drinking Gatorade. When he was done with cup, Dak went to throw it in the trash can. He missed. (Cue the Dallas Cowboys jokes). Dak then got up and picked up cup, and placed it in the can. How many professional athletes do that? As he said, they probably have 4 guys on the sideline to pick up trash. But that goes back to doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. I still hate the Cowboys, and so does Jim, but a great lesson learned. He is teaching his players to always do the right thing, to become ambassadors. I also learned that the average age of the team is 26.9 years. These are kids compared to me. Curtin’s energy during the presentation was phenomenal. I also learned the average distance covered at a training session is 6196 meters. That is almost double from last year. The coaching staff wants these players to be able to run for 90 minutes. Staying healthy. The vision is working. And although the results aren’t today, they are just around the corner.
Next was Bedoya who talked about how he loved being here, and how the deal to bring him to Philadelphia was done. He mentioned how he was impressed by this club the first meeting they had here. Also stated how he couldn’t be happier here. He didn’t say much at this point, but it was a long day for him. But he did go into how he understands the role of team captain and is willing to steer this team into the future. We then went into the questions. I didn’t capture all the questions because some of the fans just gave statements and that wasn’t what this was about.
They first question was about set plays and why they aren’t putting someone out higher so when the ball goes through, we have someone there. Jim and Earnie both answered this. And it kind of humorous at times. The fan wasn’t giving up. They both said the play was designed to be kicked to top of 6yard box. One time Gooch slipped, and the other time was missed kick. But the discussion kept going. Finally we moved on. There were a couple of other questions that were asked, until the big one came up. Why don’t we try and change the formation? Earnie immediately jumped on it. He stated that the one thing that isn’t good is change. I explained his stance on this earlier. But Bedoya also chimed in and answered that people should not get so hung up with formation. This was a great point by Bedoya, and I hope the critics listen. He stated that the 4-2-3-1 formation is just a starting point. It’s what they use to understand their defensive responsibilities during the week. But as he pointed out, and I have said before, you hardly ever stick to the formation once the game starts. Take last week as an example against the Red Bulls. The Union started in a 4-2-3-1, but ended playing more of a 4-1-4-1. It changes every game as you adapt. Brilliant sir.
I’m not going to go through all the questions, but I will highlight some answers and other very interesting points that were made. When asked about Sugarman not spending money, Earnie basically said “I can tell you that he doesn’t spend stupid money.” Proof of that is on the training facility, and training grounds. No argument can be made that they are top notch. When Earnie was asked about his coaching staff, he defended Jim just like he should. Saying it bothers him when everyone boos him, but yet when Stewart walks down to see the practice, no one else is there. How can you criticize the guy when you are not there seeing what he does? I guess that falls on the age old proverb “Walk a mile in my shoes”
One of the highlights from the evening was from Earnie Stewart. One of his thoughts hit him personally, and he had to take a break from finishing his statement. The room was silent for roughly 1 minute while he composed himself. But this moment wasn’t awkward. It proved that this person that we as fans have put our trust in to bring us to an elite status is human. I won’t go into what it was, that is not the point. The point is that this guy who takes heat for his team and coaching staff is like one of us. There are things bigger than soccer. He followed this moment up by telling us that he tells his players to fight through their mistakes and fails, so he would finish the statement, which he did like a champ. Much respect my friend.
So that’s my review. It’s not a complete review, but it is mine. I thank the Union for setting this up, and will tell everyone that ever gets a chance to go to one of these to not hesitate. Rumors are they will broadcast it at a later date. Thank you Tim McDermott for remaining focused, and driven. Your passion and enthusiasm is second to none. Let’s get it done. See you next week. To Earnie Stewart, I am more impressed with you and your vision every time we speak. You are perfect for Philadelphia and we believe in you. Stay the path, it’s the right one. To Jim Curtin; my man. You have thick skin and I’m sure that comes from being from this area. You are a great coach that had to deal with major turnovers, injuries, and one of the toughest fan bases in the world. Yet you do it with style and strength. Do what you do. It will work. To Alejandro; you are what the Union is modeling their future after. Be the captain and tell these young kids how to play the game and how to win. Show them your heart and your desire to win. They will follow you and one day you will be hoisting the cup.