Jesse Marsch knows a thing or two about Jim Curtin, the New York Red Bulls head coach having been a teammate of Curtin’s during two stops in MLS during their playing days. Now Curtin and Marsch will square-off on Sunday at Talon Energy Park, a nationally televised match that pits two of the best young coaches in the league.
Last year in his first year with the Red Bulls, Marsch oversaw a team that won the Supporters Shield for best record in the league and was within a game of MLS Cup; doing so with the lowest payroll in MLS. Now Curtin in his third year with the Union has his team exceeding all expectations and in second place in the Eastern Conference table. He might well be the front-runner for MLS Coach of the Year as he has the Union pointed towards what would be just their second ever playoff appearance in franchise history.
Together in Chicago, Marsch and Curtin would win two U.S. Open Cups and one Supporters Shield as the team never failed to make the playoffs every season they spent together on the roster. They were one of the best teams in MLS history under head coach Bob Bradley, who would go on to coach Chivas USA to their first playoff appearance and then the United States national team in the 2010 World Cup.
Marsch was a veteran on that Fire team when Curtin arrived as a draft pick in 2001 but early on he saw flashes of a future in coaching for Marsch
“Jim liked to coach kids when he was young so he coached with a lot of the youth clubs in the area so coaching was something he was interested in,” Marsch said.
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“We played a lot of years together, tried to mentor him at different stages of his career. He was a reliable centerback for me, a smart guy. I knew that whether he wanted to stay in the youth game or whatever level he wanted to pursue coaching, he’d be successful. He’s done a nice job with the team this year.”
The Union have struggled in recent years and in 2014 after the club sacked head coach John Hackworth it was Curtin who was named interim head coach. Ironically, Marsch was a candidate for the job and interviewed for the vacancy, a position that Curtin eventually made his own after the team made a run in the U.S. Open Cup and was in the mix for the playoffs late in the year.
Among one of the lower payrolls in MLS and without a true, marquee player, Marsch noted that “Philly is better this year, we respect the team they are.”
They already have eight wins this year, an accomplishment considering that the franchise record for victories in a season is 12 set in 2011. The team is also into the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup, beating the Red Bulls to advance in the tournament.
Part of that stems from Curtin’s growth as a head coach in what is now his second full season as head coach.
“He was a smart player, he can see the game well. We were on a lot of winning teams, it was partly the culture of the team, partly the culture of the leaders,” Marsch said. “We learned from the players, good people. I know he’s probably tried to instill the value system we had, whether it was at Chivas into his team. All of us as coaches draw on our past experiences to make our teams good.”