Why the USMNT should hire Jim Curtin: A strong voice for youth players, long-term head coach prospect & deeply knowledgeable about U.S. Soccer's oddities

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Jim Curtin rain Philadelphia Union 2023
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The Philadelphia Union head coach has said he wants to work with the USMNT - and he's proven that he would make a positive addition to the staff.

Jim Curtin's pointed comments about this month's U20 World Cup put him in the national spotlight for at least the third time this year, after he had previously entered himself into the U.S. men's national team coaching ring in February and sparked discussion with his thoughts on Ted Lasso in March. The 43-year-old has positioned himself as a leading voice in the U.S. Soccer landscape, often giving refreshingly honest takes.

His U20 remarks were typically bold and impressive; he chastised MLS organizations he could one day want to work for after they announced they wouldn't release players for the U.S. cause at the tournament. He took a stand on a cause that mattered to him, even if it upset people.

“Think about the kids - and I’m getting fired up - this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they may never get back again,” Curtin told reporters as part of a wide-ranging interview. “To prevent them from playing in a U20 World Cup? I’m sorry, I don’t agree with it.”

Curtin, of course, is known as a player development guru in Philadelphia, where one of the best academies in MLS continues to mint stars. The Union have finished top three in the Eastern Conference in each of the past four seasons largely because of their formula for turning raw homegrown talent into next-level game-changers. They don't compete financially with the biggest spenders, and yet they are usually right there near the top of the standings.

The manager's club success in punching above his weight, connecting with young players and providing an assured voice both inside and outside the locker room would make him a good fit for the USMNT as it races to discover its best identity before the 2026 World Cup. He doesn't need to be the main man, though one day you can see him embarking on that road. There's little doubt that if the call came to work as an assistant - perhaps under Jesse Marsch - he would take it in a heartbeat.

“Of course I’d love to coach the national team if that’s what you’re asking,” Curtin said on The Crack Podcast. “But I said this before and I mean what I say when I say it, whoever they choose, if they choose Jose Mourinho, if they choose [Carlo] Ancelotti, if they choose Jesse Marsch, I would also be their assistant. That’s how important I think this World Cup is.”

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  1. What is the current USMNT coaching situation?
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    What is the current USMNT coaching situation?

    The USMNT has not had a permanent head coach since Gregg Berhalter's contract was not renewed at the end of 2022. Because of an investigation into Berhalter and the family of winger Gio Reyna, and the exits of sporting director Earnie Stewart and general manager Brian McBride, U.S. Soccer has been forced to lean on Anthony Hudson for an extended interim stint. It is not expected that Hudson will be in serious contention for the full-time job.

    Instead, ex-Leeds manager Jesse Marsch appears to be the frontrunner, his case bolstered by the recent appointment of ally Matt Crocker as the new sporting director. There is talk that a deal could come together before the Gold Cup this summer.

    Curtin has also been speculated to be in the mix for the top USMNT position, however he is more likely to land a spot as a high-ranking assistant. He is in the final year of his current contract with the Union, and the latest reporting from the Philadelphia Inquirer suggests no new agreement has come together. Marsch reportedly would welcome Curtin to his war room going into the 2026 World Cup.

  2. Youth development expertise
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    Youth development expertise

    Brenden Aaronson is the biggest name to have come through the Union's academy while Curtin has been involved in the organization, but there are several big-name players who have emerged with more on the way. Paxten Aaronson is now at Eintracht Frankfurt, while defenders Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie have also recently gone overseas. Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan are still in Philadelphia but look on track to earn moves to another league when they're ready.

    Curtin is far from the only person to assist in developing the club's players, but he got his start in the organization working in the academy and has used that as the foundation of his coaching approach. There was pressure to achieve results - particularly for a club that holds a special meaning to him - but he's surpassed most expectations while learning he can help lift fellow coaches as well.

    "I was given a chance to mess up," he told The Athletic of his rise with the Union. "Not many pro coaches get a chance to mess up. I made some mistakes. I didn’t know how to handle the media. I was trying to do everything. I didn’t want to delegate anything. It was my first time coaching, it’s my city, my hometown, I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was setting up cones. I was making sure things were organized.

    "Now I’ve realized that if you surround yourself with good people, and you can start to trust them and delegate things, you can say 'holy sh*t, (former Union assistant coach) Pat Noonan runs that better than I do.' At that point you can sit back and start to evaluate. When you’re running everything in a session sometimes you don’t even realize who is playing well, because you’re so focused on it. It was a game changer for me to realize I could delegate that way."

    His work helping others grow in Philadelphia has helped create a structure that new academy players can follow. It's the type of culture the USMNT would do well to cement, too.

    “Having these young guys see us homegrowns that have made it, graduating in front of them, I think it’s a big deal for them," Paxten Aaronson said of how players in the Union's youth set-up view him. "It for sure is going to give them inspiration and motivation.”

  3. Player recruitment
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    Player recruitment

    One of the tasks probably not discussed enough for the USMNT staff is being able to convince young dual-nationals to represent the Stars and Stripes over other nations in contention to play in the World Cup. Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun is a prime example: he's eligible to pick the U.S., England or Nigeria, and the Americans appear close to locking him down to be their star striker of the future.

    Curtin has never taken on this exact responsibility, but he has poached youth players from outside the Philadelphia region for his own club. His connections to young players now playing abroad has also almost certainly given him a positive reputation for potential recruits who ask about him. For example, Brenden and Paxten Aaronson were treated very fairly by the Union in being allowed to leave when they were ready, and that type of gesture will be paid forward. Turns out making difficult, unselfish decisions in the short-term can have productive long-term effects!

    Any USMNT head coach would be fortunate to have Curtin behind the scenes working the phones to bring quality dual-nationals aboard.

  4. Strong voice
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    Strong voice

    While managers aren't required to explain their rationales for every decision, providing brutally honest clarity can sometimes be useful in clearing the air. Gregg Berhalter's opaque answers to questions about Gio Reyna's lack of playing time early in Qatar did not stop questions about the situation. Instead, it prompted Reyna to subsequently mumble a rebuttal to Berhalter's perhaps not entirely true claim that the forward was sidelined with an injury, ramping up toxic chatter even further.

    Then, after the tournament, Berhalter aired the dirty laundry anyway in a private conference, naively thinking his negative comments about Reyna wouldn't get out and reignite the firestorm. While Reyna and his family acted very badly in response, trying to drag the head coach through the mud in an act of retaliation, Berhalter could have handled it all in a more assertive, direct manner.

    The USMNT needs strong leadership and inspiration. It will not boast the talent of France or Argentina, even if its wonderkids fulfill their potential, so it needs to get all the other things spot on. Curtin may not always be correct in his public comments, but he embraces the pulpit. He appears to be an adept communicator.

    On the subject of the U20 World Cup, he has been totally correct. MLS claims to be part of the youth soccer solution with the revamped MLS Next program, and individual clubs have boasted about their willingness to prioritize homegrown talent. Some of it is empty.

    "This transfer speaks to the talent that exists within the club and our philosophy toward developing young players," said then-Fire head coach Ezra Hendrickson when goalkeeper Gaga Slonina signed with Chelsea, less than a year before deciding with the front office that USMNT prospects Chris Brady and Brian Gutierrez would not be permitted to leave for the U20 World Cup this month despite desperately wanting to go. (By the way, it doesn't matter whether they would get playing time or not - the most meaning for from the players' perspective comes from the one-in-a-lifetime chance to go to the prestigious competition and take in the atmosphere, potentially preparing them for life at senior tournaments.)

    It's easy to make vague statements about supporting the desires of young players. It's more difficult to make real sacrifices to put actions behind those words. Curtin is proving a leader here by releasing all of his Union players without question and taking a vocal stand against actions he views as genuinely harmful to U.S. Soccer. It may not be popular with everyone, and the most cynical of observers may claim he's being opportunistic, but taken at face value his conviction in his ideals is respectable.

    Curtin is also not one to take the spotlight away from his best players, at least so far in his career.

    "People always ask about Brenden Aaronson, what did I do to aid his development?" Curtin said to The Athletic. "I didn’t do sh*t. I just said 'go out there and have fun and play.' He was a creative player. In this country we treat players like robots too much and end up producing players who are average at everything."

  5. He cares about the USMNT
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    He cares about the USMNT

    Speaking with intensity about U.S. Soccer also suggests a level of passion for the project that other potential assistant candidates may not possess. One doesn't have to look very hard to see that the USMNT can be a chaotic, frustrating environment. That applies to youth development, internal strife and fan expectations. It would be difficult to succeed in 2026 without full emotional investment in preparation for the tournament.

    It's clear that Curtin doesn't see the USMNT as just another job. Like a college student eager to take any position offered by the company of their dreams, no matter how unglamorous, he just wants to get his foot in the door. Players and fellow coaches notice that kind of enthusiasm and rally around it.

  6. An unwritten succession plan

    An unwritten succession plan

    It would be silly to suggest that Curtin wants to an assistant coach for life after earning so much credit as the Union's top man. He's more likely eyeing his best path towards one day being the USMNT's head coach. When the 2026 World Cup concludes, he will have just turned 46. That's a good age to start a new four-year cycle, and then potentially have the pick of club jobs afterwards if all goes right.

    Marsch, meanwhile, has clearly shown an affection for the European club landscape, intent on eventually proving himself as the first American coach to succeed at the highest level. His stock has nosedived after his Leeds tenure, but a decent 2026 World Cup result could open up possibilities to have another crack at a club from a big-five league. One can clearly see the advantage of passing the USMNT reigns to Curtin at that point, not only getting that shot to prove himself in Europe but also probably getting credit for prepping his friend to take over the Stars and Stripes. The Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes, Curtin true believers might suggest to NFL fans.

    But whether it's Marsch as the chief conductor from the dugout or someone else, Curtin deserves the opportunity to prove himself on the USMNT's staff, perhaps with a succession plan in place for the future.