The countdown has begun for the return of Philadelphia Union soccer for the MLS is Back” Tournament set to kick off on July 8 in Orlando.
For head coach Jim Curtin and his team, the announcement of the World Cup-style tournament means that they have about a month to be ready to take the pitch once again and prepare for a competition format Curtin has had success in, leading his teams to three U.S. Open Cup finals after winning the 2012 Generation adidas Cup in his days coaching in the academy.
While the Union has never won any hardware, they did finish second in the Open Cup in 2014, 2015 and 2018, all under Curtin, who twice hoisted the cup as a player with the Chicago Fire in 2003 and 2006.
“We’ve done well in elimination type of games in that format, we want that to continue,” he said in a Zoom call with the media on Wednesday. “And that’s just a credit to our players who have a way of, when it’s ‘do or die’ and the loser goes home, we have a way of stepping up.”
Curtin’s Open Cup experience has taught him that, in cup competitions, every game matters, because one mistake could be a ticket home. For now, one of his main concerns is his team’s first game back, as he looks to set the tone for Philadelphia’s return in his team’s opening match.
“That first game is so critical, it really sets the tone; winning your first game is huge for not only confidence, but just momentum going through a competition,” he noted.
Looking past the first game, however, Curtin has his eyes on the prize.
“Obviously, the goal is to get over that hump and win that final game,” he said. “This is still an opportunity now, an elimination tournament with the trophy on the line that we want to win.”
However, Curtin knows that winning the tournament comes with something much more valuable than a trophy: exposure.
“A million-plus dollars on the line for the players, that motivates people,” he said. “And so does that Champions League birth, for just how much that means prestige wise and exposure wise for clubs.”
With no other major sporting league with teams in Philadelphia playing during the MLS tournament and NWSL the only domestic pro soccer league starting up before MLS, Curtin sees the tournament as a chance to showcase his team and the league.
“As the sport grows, we need TV exposure,” he said. “So it’s a really great opportunity for us to not only broadcast all of our games in the United States but also abroad… [it’s] only a benefit for MLS as it grows and continues to keep building on the momentum that it already has.”
Curtin and his team now have a challenge in front of them that, while they did not expect, they are ready for. Simply put, “the focus shifts to now preparing for those games in Orlando.”