Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin doesn’t throw words around. So when he said he’s sure that the plan put in place by owner Joe Mansueto, sporting director Georg Heitz and coach Raphael Wicky will bring success to the Fire, it wasn’t something he said simply because of his long playing career in Chicago.
“It’s not a question anymore,” Curtin said. “[The Fire fans] would have my word that this is going to work with this group of coaches and leaders.”
Curtin, who spent seven seasons and won three trophies as a defender with the Fire, has coached the Union since 2014. Philadelphia, which visits the Fire on Saturday, has methodically climbed to the top of MLS thanks to an investment in youth paired with shrewd but mostly unflashy signings.
The Union (0-1-2, 1 point) won the Supporters’ Shield last year and already have advanced to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. They also have sold young stars Brenden Aaronson to Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg and Mark
McKenzie to Belgian club Genk in transactions that could net the team $15 million to $20 million if certain bonuses are met.
There were some hiccups along the way, but Curtin and the Union’s technical staff benefitted from a patient ownership group.
“I’m fortunate that in Philadelphia, we had a plan and a vision,” Curtin said, “which actually I do see right now in Chicago, which is awesome to see, too.”
The Fire’s plan looks similar to the Union’s blueprint.
The Fire (0-1-2, 1 point) have made investments in youth. They also have eschewed big-name signings and have spoken about building something sustainable while
producing talent that eventually could move to Europe.
Whether it will work is unclear — the Fire’s start and 2-0 loss last week to the Red Bulls did nothing to instill faith that the program is on the right track — but Curtin had nothing but praise for Mansueto, Heitz and Wicky.
Curtin said he chatted with Mansueto and Heitz before their teams met in the preseason and came away excited for the Fire. He even noted that Mansueto thanked him for his contributions to the Fire.
“You talk to these two guys, and there’s a clear vision, there’s a clear identity for what they want to be,” Curtin said. ‘‘They want to respect the past but also blaze a new path.”
Curtin was Wicky’s teammate with Chivas USA and visited him when he was leading FC Basel. Curtain was impressed with his methods and likes that Wicky respects and has knowledge of MLS, unlike some coaches whose experience is mostly in other leagues.
It’s clear that Curtin thinks the Fire have the right people in place to wake up a franchise he said “seems like a real sleeping giant.”
“Joe Mansueto is going to win, Georg Heitz is going to win and Rapha Wicky is a winner,” Curtin said. “That’s the best endorsement I can give.”