Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin knows all about Bob Bradley’s coaching skills

TORONTO — Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin knows Bob Bradley’s ability to work with young players. Once upon a time there was one of them.

Bradley, then Chicago Fire manager, drafted a 21-year-old Curtin in the third round (29th overall) of the 2001 MLS SuperDraft.

“I learned a lot from Bob, as a player. I learned a lot as a coach,” said Curtin, whose league-leading team will face Bradley’s Toronto FC on Saturday at BMO Field. “It’s an honor to coach against him.”

“Bob is an incredible coach. He’s an incredible leader and a winner,” he added.

Curtin is already impressed with what he has seen from Toronto under the 64-year-old Bradley.

“You can see the way they’re playing right now, they’re very dangerous. They’re all really comfortable and good with the ball,” he said. “You see a lot of ideas from Bob and he actually gives young players an opportunity. He’s not high enough as a guy who is willing to give young players a chance.

“He did it in Chicago when I was there as a player with DaMarcus Beasley and Carlos Bocanegra. He believes and trusts young players. There’s no better coach to develop young talent. And you see a lot of good local kids with Toronto, a lot of real potential on the pitch in guys who play big minutes for them.”

Bradley, for his part, remembers Curtin as a “smart player and a really good guy”.

“I’m not surprised to see him move into training and doing really well, because of (of) his understanding of the game…I’m proud of him.”

And Bradley is relishing the chance to test his young team against high-flying Curtin and Philadelphia (5-0-1). Toronto (2-2-2) is undefeated in its last three games (2-0-1) and has won its last two outings at home.

“If you look at the first six games (of Toronto), there were good times. There were some good goals,” Bradley said after practice on Friday.

“There are still things that get better and need work. But the chance now at home to really step up and play a big game against a top team, that’s really important for us. And with that, we need as many guys as possible on their (Saturday) best night.”

Philadelphia, the league’s only undefeated team, plays the weekend atop the Supporters’ Shield standings. The Union have won a franchise-record five times in a row, including four consecutive clean sheets that match a club mark established in 2017.

Curtin’s side haven’t conceded in 418 minutes — since Lassi Lappalainen scored for Montreal in a 2-1 loss March 5 at Olympic Stadium. It’s the longest scoreless streak in MLS this season.

Philadelphia goaltender Andre Blake, whose last appearance at BMO Field was in the March 27 4-0 loss to Jamaica that secured a World Cup berth for Canada’s men, enters the game with an average of goals against stingy 0.33.

Blake has allowed just two goals in 540 minutes this season.

In contrast, Toronto goaltender Alex Bono allows nearly two goals per game, with a 1.83 goals-against average. TFC conceded a goal in a club record 18 consecutive home games, the fourth-longest streak in league history (including the playoffs) and the longest since Kansas City allowed a goal in 23 consecutive home matches in 2002-03.

With 16 points in its first six games, Philadelphia tied the third-best start to a season in MLS history (Sporting KC in 2012 and the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1996 both had 18 points in the same span).

“Guys have confidence right now,” Curtin said. “We recognize that we are in good form, but we still have a lot of things we can improve on and improve on. It’s still very early in the season.”

A win on Sunday and Philadelphia, whose regular-season career record is 147-147-105, can surpass the .500 all-time level. The Union entered the league in 2010, three years after Toronto, whose record is 155-202-132.

Sergio Santos has six goals in six games against Toronto. The Brazilian striker has a total of 18 goals in 69 regular season games in MLS.

Philadelphia is undefeated in three straight games against Toronto (2-0-1) and has lost only one of the last five meetings (3-1-1) between the two. Prior to this run, Toronto was undefeated in 11 straight games against Philadelphia (9-0-2, including the playoffs).

Toronto will be without Mexico international defender Carlos Salcedo, suspended after being shown a red card in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Real Salt Lake.

Winger Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and midfielders Noble Okello and Ralph Priso are injured for Toronto.

Bradley says forward Ayo Akinola, who has been sidelined since last July when he suffered a knee injury playing for Canada at the Gold Cup, would get dressed. However, Bradley has made it clear he plans to be careful with the 22-year-old’s minutes.

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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 15, 2022