Earnie Stewart

Earnie Stewart denies report Union received European offers for Andre Blake

usa-andre-blake-union.jpg
USA Today Images

Earnie Stewart denies report Union received European offers for Andre Blake

Since Andre Blake emerged as a game-changing goalkeeper for the Union in 2016, he’s been considered the club’s top candidate to graduate to European soccer, via either transfer or sale.

But on Wednesday, Union management threw cold water on any reported interest.

“What does it help us as a club, if there was an offer, to say absolutely nothing?” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said to the media on Wednesday, when asked if the club is keeping quiet about any movement surrounding Blake. “If you want to sell a player, you throw it out there and get as much interest as you can. I can only look in my email box, my telephone and that hasn’t happened.”

The topic of Blake to Europe sparked questions early in the week when it was reported by Goal.com that the 26-year-old goalkeeper was a subject of interest from English Premier League clubs, Crystal Palace and Brighton. But the multi-million dollar deal never materialized as a result of Jamaica’s low FIFA ranking, which blocked United Kingdom work permit availability.

Union manager Jim Curtin wasn’t impressed with the widely circulated report.

“It’s kind of a non-story because there haven't been any formal offers made to us,” Curtin said. “Different things come up, agents come up with different ideas to benefit their players. Nothing concrete came from the clubs that were listed. Nothing to them. It’s talk.”

Stewart also shrugged off the notion that Blake was being seriously targeted.

“There has been no offer so it’s hard to comment on that,” he said. “It happens a lot, there’s a lot of rumors out there about a player moving. In this case, it’s not the case.”

Blake, who is coming off one of his best outings of the season — an eight-save shutout of New York Red Bulls — is out of contract after the 2017 season, but is bound by a team option which the club will activate for the 2018 campaign. If he’s not moved, the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, who helped propel Jamaica to the 2017 Gold Cup final, will be happily welcomed back to the Union.

Blake is 18-25-17 in his career as Union starter with 16 shutouts.

“I can only look how we view Dre,” Stewart said. “Dre is an import part of our group and he’s been tremendous. I can’t look at other club's philosophy and how they go about their transfers. We’re very happy with Dre and we’d love to keep him longer.”

Whether they move Blake or not, the struggling Union are expected to have an active offseason. But if they decide to do so, selling Blake, along with the added resources from both the league and Union owner Jay Sugarman, could provide Stewart enough financial ammunition to significantly alter his roster.

“We want some difference makers,” Stewart said. “You have to go out and spend money because good players are never free.”

Jim Curtin on Union's attempt to jump-start Derrick Jones: 'We want more'

uspresswire-union-derrick-jones.jpg
USA Today Images

Jim Curtin on Union's attempt to jump-start Derrick Jones: 'We want more'

With captain Alejandro Bedoya suspended for Saturday’s match against Minnesota United, the Union handed an opportunity to midfielder Derrick Jones.

“He and Warren (Creavalle) will be the two vying for that position to replace Alejandro Bedoya,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It’s big shoes to fill but two guys I’m confident can do it.”

All Jones had to do was take it. Curtin laid out the player's path to the starting XI, a spot Jones hasn’t seen since July 6. First, the 20-year-old needed to join the Union’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel for their match against Orlando City B. Second, he needed to perform well.

Curtin wasn’t convinced of the latter after the 1-1 draw in Florida.

“He had an OK game,” the coach said. 

It was an unconvincing effort in what has been an unconvincing second half of the season for Jones. After losing his starting job five games into 2017, and suffering a concussion midway through the year, the physically dominant midfielder has been a mediocre version of the player the Union saw early in the season.

“We had a good talk with Derrick to try and get him going again,” said Curtin, talking about himself and sporting director Earnie Stewart. “We’re seeing decent performances with the Bethlehem Steel, decent performances in training but we want more. We want more of the Derrick we saw at the early stages of the year.”

One of the Union's most promising homegrown players, Jones hasn’t been bad, just not dynamic and certainly not dominant, which the club wants to see from its better players at the lower levels. 

Curtin believes that Jones may have simply hit a wall.

“You get past the midway point of the year, with the younger players, there’s a tendency to maybe have a step back,” Curtin said. “The grind, the length of training, doing it each and every day, that’s what it takes to be a true professional. It’s something that he’s still learning and something that he’s worked towards.” 

Yet, even with the lackluster grade, Jones is up against Creavalle to start at the No. 8 spot for the Union on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Because when it comes down to it, the struggling Union are in need of a youth movement as they hang onto an 8-12-7 record and sit three points from the Eastern Conference basement. 

“The conversation that he’s had with Earnie, with myself, with the two of us, I think he has shown an improvement,” Curtin said. “Now, he’s a guy that is in the discussion for the starting 11 against Minnesota.” 

Union's Jim Curtin sees 'light at the end of the tunnel' as lost season nears end

usa-very-sad-jim-curtin.jpg
USA Today Images

Union's Jim Curtin sees 'light at the end of the tunnel' as lost season nears end

CHESTER, Pa. — Jim Curtin is a Philly guy through and through. 

He grew up in the area. He went to college at Villanova. He returned to Philly at the end of his playing career for an outside shot to suit up for the Union, only to take a job with the club’s youth academy. And now, as the Union head coach, he lives in the heart of the city with his wife and three children.

So as another disappointing Union season winds down, with seven games left and the team nearly out of playoff contention, how is the head coach handling some of the boos that have been directed his way recently at Talen Energy Stadium? Or what about when, during a rough patch earlier in the season, questions about his job security hovered around the Philly resident who has said he never wants to leave his hometown.

“Listen, everybody wants to be applauded and appreciated in their job,” Curtin told CSNPhilly.com after a recent practice. “I recognize where we’re at though. When I first took over the job and we had two [U.S.] Open Cup final runs, it was probably 90 percent of the people on board. Everybody was high. There’s been maybe a middle period and now it’s probably at a lower period. And that’s the nature of pro sports. We can talk about a lot of things but the only way we’re gonna win back a Philly fan base is to win.”

Curtin — who, as the franchise’s longest-tenured coach, has been running the show since the middle of the 2014 season — certainly has his share of detractors. And a few of the moves he’s made this season have been questionable, the four-month benching of reigning Rookie of the Year runner-up Keegan Rosenberry probably standing out to some. But given the state of mediocrity that’s presided over the Union since their inception, much of the fan base’s anger seems to be directed toward Jay Sugarman, who’s been the club’s principal owner since the beginning and has never spent the same kind of money as the league’s top teams.

In recent weeks, though, Curtin has been dropping hints that the club is getting ready to open up the wallet a lot more this offseason. And, assuming sporting director Earnie Stewart keeps him around as he’s pledged to do, Curtin is excited to put down the welcome mat for those players and help the club usher in a new direction.

“As hard as this year’s been, we do still see a light at the end of the tunnel,” the Union coach said. “Guys have another year under their belt and we will add some pieces that will come in and be those difference-makers for us next year. I think in a lot of ways, we raised the bar last year by making the playoffs. And I think expectations grew but we weren’t ready to take that next step.” 

Curtin used the word “difference-makers” a few times to describe the kinds of players the Union will acquire in the offseason. That implies players who will command a big salary. Maybe potential All-Stars. Championship-level guys. That’s a good thing. 

But it’s fair to wonder if skepticism and apathy have already set in for fans who might be wondering why those kinds of players didn’t arrive this past offseason to help the Union build off a 2016 season in which they squeaked into the playoffs. 

“We understand our fans are frustrated,” Curtin said. “They want us to be getting wins on the field. Sometimes it’s hard to see good performances in young players that are getting better, getting closer. We recognize when they’re not happy they’re gonna let us know at the end of the day.”

Still, if there is a greater fan erosion happening, Curtin isn’t seeing it. Sure, there are the smattering of the boos and a few more empty seats in the stadium. But as he walks around Philly, he sees a lot more people recognizing him, a lot more people in Union gear, a lot more kids in parks running up to him to play soccer with him and his three kids, ages 9, 7 and 5. 

“It shows the Union brand is really growing,” he said. “You see in playgrounds now kids wearing not only Union jerseys but soccer jerseys of even other MLS teams. The game continues to grow. And I do get recognized a lot walking around the city. I think I get attention more and people feel more comfortable after wins. They come up and say hello and high-five me and ask for pictures.”

Any heckles?

“No heckles,” he said. “Nothing’s been bad. But it is Philly. So I’m smart when I walk around. I do know after a bad loss people that recognize me are probably not too happy with me. But that’s part of the business and what I signed up for.”

Curtin’s point about the league’s and the sport’s popularity growing is a fair one, even if it does sometimes seem like a slow grind in Philly. And if the Union truly do make a few big signings on top of the growing youth foundation they’ve already established, the franchise can potentially make a big leap.

But the Union coach knows that until then, just talking about it isn’t going to do a lick of difference, recalling his nine-year MLS career with the Chicago Fire and then now-defunct Chivas USA as proof.

“Early in my career, I was loved by the fans, by everybody, and then toward the end when things got harder and I got a little older, I wasn’t so loved,” Curtin said. “It’s the reality of pro sports. The only way you can win back that equity in the fan base is to keep your mouth shut and win games. That’s Philadelphia.”