Jim Curtin made his name playing for the Chicago Fire, but he is a son of Philadelphia.
Born in Oreland, Pennsylvania, raised in Fort Washington and educated at Bishop McDevitt High School in nearby Wyncotte and Villanova University on the Main Line, he has lived – and died – with the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers.
At 35, he wasn’t even born when the Philadelphia Atoms won the 1973 North American Soccer League championship – the city’s last soccer title. Now as coach, he is in position to help bring a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup to the Philadelphia Union and his hometown.
“First and foremost, I’m a Philly sports fan,” Curtin said. “I’ve lived and breathed Philly sports. To be a coach, to lift the trophy, in front of the Sons of Ben … there are no words to describe what that would be like. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would be like, to hand it over to our fans, being from here.”
Curtin has won the U.S. Open Cup before, in 2003 and 2006 with the Fire. Now he can claim another in his first year as a head coach when Philadelphia hosts the three-time champion Seattle Sounders FC on Tuesday, Sept. 16, at PPL Park in Chester.
“You’ve got to win a final,” said Curtin, who still has the “interim” tag in front of his coaching title since taking over from John Hackworth on June 10. “That’s the biggest hurdle. And the toughest hurdle is to win your first.”
Midfielder Brian Carroll is from Virginia and defender Sheanon Williams is from Boston, but they have been with the team almost since it began play in 2010. They also are aware of the significance of a win for a team that has qualified for the Major League Soccer Playoffs once and reached the Open Cup semifinals two years ago.
“I’ve put in a lot of work here, with other guys,” said the 24-year-old Williams, who joined the team midway through the 2010 season. “We’ve started to win, and have things moving in the right direction. An Open Cup would be a huge step in the right direction.”
For Carroll, who has won MLS Cup titles with both his hometown club of D.C. United and the Columbus Crew, the uniqueness of an Open Cup crown is not to be missed.
“Everybody understands what we have in front of us,” he said. “If you get to this level, you understand that championship opportunities are few and far between, whether it’s in the beginning or the end of your career.
“There are only so many opportunities. The coaches have said it, and good sports fans and soccer fans understand. These opportunities don’t come around that often, so we all have to take advantage of it.”
So far, the Union has capitalized. Philadelphia needed extra time but beat the Harrisburg City Islanders and New York Cosmos in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, followed by the New England Revolution and FC Dallas in the quarterfinals and semifinals. The Union needed penalties to get past FC Dallas.
If Curtin’s hometown status hasn’t been a factor, maybe history has. The Union has worn its black third jersey, introduced this year, in every U.S. Open Cup victory.
The alternate uniform, which mimics the Bethlehem black shirt, white shorts and dark socks, is a testament to the Bethlehem Steel FC teams of the early 1900s. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is about a 90-minute drive north of Philadelphia and the company-sponsored team won five U.S. Open Cup titles between 1915 and 1926.
“It’s not a coincidence that we’ve worn the Bethlehem Steel jersey in every game,” Curtin said. “There’s no question we’re wearing that black jersey in the final. We’ll bring it back.”