Union

Jim Curtin, Earnie Stewart reflect on bitter end to Union's 2016 season

Jim Curtin, Earnie Stewart reflect on bitter end to Union's 2016 season

With one week to stew over their playoff loss to Toronto FC and a season that slipped away, the Union were left cleaning out their lockers and looking for answers on Wednesday.

“We have something special,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Our group was truly a team in that everybody had to have a good game for us to get results and they all believed that. For a lot of the year, they did it.”

Under normal circumstances, the Union’s season, which culminated in making the playoffs for the first time since 2011, would have been viewed as an overwhelming success. Back in 2015, the club could only dream of the postseason as they stumbled to a near league-worst 10-17-7 record. Instead, it was somewhat bitter.

Union sporting director, Earnie Stewart, believes that grading the club’s season is a matter of perspective.

“Expectations changed over the season,” he said on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium, in the team’s final press availability of the season. “We could have not done well to start the season and finished strong, then everybody would be very positive about it. But it works the other way around.”

The Union did start strong, punching through the U.S. Open Cup early rounds and even reaching the top of the Eastern Conference at one point. The club lost three of five games prior to the Crystal Palace friendly, which they followed by earning just three wins in the next 15 games to end the season.

Curtin admitted that the club didn’t have an answer to why it went on this steady decline. Both Stewart and Curtin denied that it was the midseason departure of Vincent Nogueira or the team’s daily two-a-days. 

“We are examining, trying to pinpoint what it is exactly,” he said. “The harder we search and the more that we look at the data, the analytics, the games, it comes back to a variety of things. Is it losing a player, a drop in confidence, the fact that the schedule gets a little harder? All these little variables do come in.”

The manager, who was delivered a strong vote of confidence by Stewart on Wednesday, even mentioned an unwanted tactical change by his players as the possible culprit. 

“We maybe got a little too direct and weren’t as confident and comfortable on the ball,” he said. “That led to creating fewer chances. It’s a combination of things, different variables that we continue to look at.”

Stewart mentioned that one factor was the club’s inability to score down the stretch, which exposed the team’s young back line to more pressure than it was ready for.

“We were a team that had to play well to score easy goals,” Stewart said, alluding to the Union being shutout three times in their last seven games. “When that happens, it places stress on the back line. In the beginning of the season, we scored a lot of goals.” 

But whatever the issues were, the Union are looking at what they gained. For Stewart, it was vital that his young club, with core players like Keegan Rosenberry, Richie Marquez and Fabian Herbers, experience the ups and downs, heartbreak and heroism of a long MLS season. 

“The good part is that everybody’s been through it now,” he said. “We can only gain from that experience as a young group to be better in the future.”

Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

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Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

CHESTER, Pa. — It’s almost too fitting that Brian Carroll has decided to become a financial planner in Indianapolis.

For the retiring Union midfielder (see story), it’s a perfectly unassuming job for a perfectly unassuming guy. Someone who, without shin guards and cleats, always looked more like a business manager than a pro athlete anyway. An underappreciated, underrated, never-flashy player who was damn good at soccer and leaves the sport as a “pioneer for the game in this country,” according to Union head coach Jim Curtin.

“Having the opportunity to coach him here in Philadelphia, being around him, to work with him, it’s been a real honor for me,” Curtin said Thursday. “Once you reflect back on his career, the trophies that he’s won, the caps he’s received for the U.S. national team — he’s a true professional, a guy who always played the game with a smile on his face but also was kind of a quiet killer on the field.”

Carroll’s pedigree certainly is impressive. Two-time MLS Cup champion. Four straight Supporters’ Shields. Nine straight playoff appearances. Fourth-most MLS appearances in league history. Sixth-most minutes.

But when you stack him up against some other guys on the all-time leaderboard of games played (Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Steve Ralston, even his brother-in-law Chad Marshall), it’s fair to say he doesn’t get the same kind of national recognition. What gives?

“Because he goes about his business in such a quiet way, he isn’t a guy who is loud on the field or loud in the locker room, he’s just a lead-by-example kind of guy, and often those guys don’t get a whole lot of credit,” Curtin said. “[But] he’s a guy who anybody speaks about him in the game has nothing but positive things to say. Everybody has a Brian Carroll story, and they’re all positive. There are not a lot of guys that end their career with that — with not one person that you would ever meet that would say a negative thing about them. He’s been a guy who’s gone about his business the right way — an example of so many young players to learn from in our country.”

Even if he might not always get league-wide attention, anyone who ever played with Carroll certainly knows what he’s all about. Five years ago, then-Union teammate Danny Califf said he was “one of the most underrated guys in the league, and he has been for a long time,” before adding: “He’s happy to sit back and be in the playoffs and win championships — and let everyone else talk about the other guys that don’t.” Two years later, when Carroll was the team’s captain, Amobi Okugo revealed that everyone called him “The Iron Man.” 

But for Carroll, always a picture of humility, none of that stuff ever really mattered. And if he did fly under the radar, that's just fine with him, too.

“I think I have some athletic ability, thank goodness, but I’m not the fastest, the tallest or the strongest,” said Carroll, who remarkably was never shown a red card in any of the 370 games he played. “What I brought was consistency, work ethic and fulfilling my role to the best of my ability and me doing that enabled other guys to fulfill their roles and succeed at their roles. I’m happy and thankful that I was able to lead my team to some trophies, whether it be Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup.”

It’s a testament to his work ethic that the 36-year-old defensive midfielder continued to play at a high level as recently as last season. And although his playing time completely dried up this year, he holds no ill will toward the Union about that. If anything, he’s enjoyed the chance to step into a new role that’s involved coaching up his younger teammates at practice.

“I knew coming in these past couple of years my role was gonna change and be more supportive, still helping to lead,” he said. “One thing leads to another last year and I was a little bit more involved than what was planned. Then this year, it just kind of went according to plan — supporting the guys and helping them out in any way I can.”

Because of how he filled that role, many people speculated that he would transition directly into coaching or into a front office job. But while Carroll said he explored that path, he said the best thing for him to do with his family right now is to move to Indianapolis, where his wife is from.  

Of course, that could always change.

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Curtin said. “I know he’s moving into the financial world. I’m hoping he’s not sitting in a cubicle but if he is sitting in a cubicle, the door’s always open to come back here on the field to be a coach because he has so much more to give.”

He still has a little more to give as a player, too. Although he hasn’t played all season, Curtin said Carroll will likely play in Sunday’s 2017 finale vs. Orlando City SC — for his 371st and final MLS appearance.

“I think it’s important for him to get on the field, so we will find a way to make that happen,” Curtin said. “I kind of half-joked about starting him and seeing how long he could possibly last being out a lot this year. But he’s been sharp in training the past couple of weeks, so it’s great. 

“He’s an experienced guy, so no matter where you put him on the field, he deserves for our fans to give him a proper send-off. And I know they will.”

Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

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Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

Keegan Rosenberry’s nightmare season has come to an end. 

The second-year right back, who has floated in and out of favor with Union manager Jim Curtin throughout the 2017 campaign, has been suspended for the final game of the regular season on Sunday against Orlando City, for what Curtin deemed “unprofessional” behavior on social media.

“His activity on social media prior to kickoff was inappropriate,” Curtin said. “It’s something that won’t be tolerated. It's a decision that he made, one that he’ll be held accountable for. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful to the guys in the locker room.” 

Shortly before the Union’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire last Sunday, in which he wasn’t tapped to start, Rosenberry tweeted a photo of himself on the bench with an unhappy look on his face and the headline, “(Need some caption help)”. The image, which also included defender Richie Marquez, was viewed as a veiled comment on his lack of playing time. 

It’s since been deleted.

“He’s a great young player that I think will learn from this,” Curtin continued. “But as professionals, we are held to a standard. To do that right before kickoff is not something [Union sporting director Earnie Stewart] and I will tolerate.”

It’s been a rough year for Rosenberry, who, after playing every minute of the regular season in 2016, was benched in favor of a more defensively stout Ray Gaddis after the Union’s first six games. The 23-year-old 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up only managed five more starts and eight appearances following his early-season struggles. 

Although he made a five-game comeback through August and September, an ankle injury knocked him back out. He finished the season with one assist and four shots.

Now, he’ll miss the finale.