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How Jim Curtin developed a culture of success and style for the Union – The Philadelphia Inquirer

His relaxed outlook on each season has also aligned with a great deal of success for the club, which almost feels by design.
The more comfortable Jim Curtin was able to be in his role as manager of the Union, the better his team got.
Holistically speaking, the progress was fully across the board.
The early days of Curtin’s rise with the club came with a level of dress to impress at all times that wasn’t always a natural fit for the Oreland native.
Suits, ties, and dress shoes were mandatory, in fact, tailored by the club for coaches to wear as sideline gear. In trying to manage a club still seeking direction, Curtin did so in someone else’s image.
“Rewind to the start,” began Curtin, sitting in the club’s film room earlier this month. “When I first got the job here as the interim coach, I went full suit and was very dressed up and had to worry about suit with tie and combinations with the shirt and always dry cleaning and all that stuff.”
» READ MORE: Jim Curtin knew the Union could be good this year. He didn’t think they’d be this good.
Curtin said it was five years of going that route alongside some superstition of moving away from the suit during periods of success that played a role in the reveal of the Curtin who fans readily find roaming the Union sidelines today. Usually, he’s in Lululemon athletic pants, a signature sweatshirt, and a revolving door of custom sneakers, a majority of them various colors of an all-time classic — the Nike Air Jordan I.
If there is an upside to the horrible two years in which Philadelphia subsisted under a real threat of COVID-19, it was restrictions relaxed at the club, with suit jackets being traded for hoodies and Oxfords being traded in for Nike SB Dunks. Curtin’s shoe game has become so intertwined with Jim Curtin, manager, that it has its own independently-run Instagram page.
“The only good thing in my life that came from the pandemic,” joked Curtin, who estimates he has over 250 pairs of sneakers in his collection. “It was a bubble environment during the [2020 preseason] in Florida, I threw on some Yeezys, but then I decided to go for it and wear a pair of Jordans on the sideline. The league wanted to fine me. Nike came over the top and offered a contract and the rest is history.”
With his Nike deal, Curtin’s shoe game — and in many ways, his style and confidence — were able to flourish. That aligned with his team becoming one of Major League Soccer’s best, representing MLS domestically in the postseason, and on the international stage against other top teams in the Concacaf Champions League, a gateway tournament that leads to a chance to represent North America in the FIFA Club World Cup.
With Curtin taking the initiative to do things more his way, the team advanced in 2021 to a mere game away from claiming the MLS Cup. This week begins another run in the MLS playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
We need to be people … and express ourselves in different ways. Since we’ve started to think like that as a club, we’ve found a tremendous amount of success.”
Inspiration and creation facilitate collaboration. Owner Brian Nadav from Center City boutique Lapstone and Hammer saw Curtin roaming the sidelines and had a creative spark. He consulted with Curtin and a handful of players to design a signature collection for the Union. The collection, on sale on Lapstone’s website, is also available at the Union’s team store at Subaru Park ahead of their Thursday match against Cincinnati (8 p.m., Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes).
Nadav explained that the vision for the collection, featuring a series of T-shirts, sweatshirts, and a signature coaches jacket, had started years earlier — but not without resistance from MLS given a decades-long league partnership with Adidas.
“I don’t want to talk bad about anybody because I appreciate and really am honored at this opportunity,” said Nadav as he unveiled prototypes of the creations, with prices ranging from $40 to $200, inside his Chestnut Street store. “But the league should learn from this as they continue to bubble up into the space of being considered a major sports entity. We pitched them this whole concept back in February. They had it on their desk. I was like, ‘I need four months for production,’ which means we need to be in gear by June-July, starting to move. Believe it or not, we didn’t get final approval from the MLS until September.”
Now, through Lapstone, the Union and MLS have seemingly found a gateway.
“Regardless, we are super thankful for MLS for finally approving us and letting us do our thing,” said Nadav. “And, of course, the Philadelphia Union to share this moment in this season, which is so special. These guys are on a historic run, the No. 1 seed in the East; the sky’s the limit here. So we’re just blessed to be part of this opportunity and ride this wave with them.”
Philly raised Jim Curtin, it’s pretty obvious.
He’s got all the affinities; it’s probably why he feels like a homie to so many people who intrinsically love the club. He’s obsessed with Philly sports teams, and he and his family can be seen roaming blocks in Queen Village and down the Shore each summer.
If you’re a soccer mom or dad in this town, it’s possible you noticed Curtin’s high tops before putting two and two together spotting him on the sidelines of youth soccer matches throughout the region, whether he’s scouting talent or just hanging out at one of his kids’ soccer games.
“My kids keep me young, that’s for sure; they’ll let me know when I’m trying too hard or something just isn’t adding up,” Curtin joked. “It is the one way I can kind of remain cool and have discussions with my players. I’m not hanging out with them anymore because I’m an old guy. But that is kind of the one little common bond we can have. We can all appreciate a nice new sneaker and I’m in the conversations when we’re talking about new [Air] Jordan releases, I’ll walk in and they’ll be like ‘Hey Coach, did you get them?’ It’s a way for me to express myself and let them know you have the freedom to express yourself here.”
Every step of the way in Curtin’s career, from MLS defender of the year to Union Academy coach to first team assistant to now award-winning manager, hasn’t come with a personification of style with which Curtin has been able to ride. But since claiming that freedom for himself and his team, the skies have truly been the limit — and more people are beginning to take notice.
“Look, I’m 43 now, so I’m a dad first, and that’s the most important thing in my life. Bigger than soccer, bigger than sneakers,” said Curtin. “[But in doing my job], this is just a good way to break the ice. When we play, we want to win every time. But we also need to be people off the field as well and express ourselves in different ways. I think since we’ve started to think like that as a club, we’ve found a tremendous amount of success.”


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