June 7, 2023

Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin brushed off suggestions he needs to test himself in Europe by stating that Major League Soccer could become the “top league in the world” by 2026.

Curtin was speaking to ESPN’s Herculez Gomez ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup final, where his team will take on host LAFC at Los Angeles’ Banc of California Stadium, when he was asked about whether he hopes to one day coach at a higher level.

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“The stadiums, the facilities, the players that are coming here, the coaches that are coming here, why is it so crazy that by 2026 this isn’t the top league in the world,” Curtin said.

The United States, Canada and Mexico will jointly host the World Cup in 2026, which MLS has long touted as a major opportunity to grow the league.

“I’m going to be the guy that’s going to get in trouble for saying this, but what if this is the league,” Curtin added, while noting that he “would love to test myself if it’s the right situation” in Europe.

Curtin, 43, has been Philadelphia Union head coach since 2014, guiding it to a Supporters’ Shield in 2020 and first MLS Cup final this year despite not being one of the league’s big spenders and instead leaning on graduates of the club’s academy.

His next test, though, will come up against an LAFC team that won the Supporters’ Shield ahead of the Union this year and is led by winger Carlos Vela.

The Mexican star was included in the 2022 MLS Best XI after a regular season in which he scored 12 goals and added 11 assists. Vela also had an assist in each of LAFC’s playoff victories this year, against the LA Galaxy and Austin FC.

“The answer to how do you stop Carlos Vela is: You don’t, he’s not stoppable,” Curtin said.

“What you can do with a player that is that talented is you can try to control where he touches the ball in the field. Can you make him play square and backwards because when Carlos faces you up and plays forward and gets on that left foot, the party’s over.”

With home-field advantage and the momentum from securing the 2022 Supporters’ Shield, which they won ahead of Philadelphia due to league tie-breakers on wins, LAFC is widely seen as favorite to lift the trophy on Saturday.

But asked whether LAFC needs to lift the biggest trophy in MLS for this season to be considered a success, first-year head coach Steve Cherundolo insisted its campaign should not be judged on Saturday’s result.

“No, absolutely not,” he told Gomez. “We are Supporters’ Shield champions, a year after not making the playoffs, we’ve made great strides.

“Would it be great to win Saturday? Absolutely and I would love nothing more for LA and our fans but I don’t think it’s fair, because you don’t win one game, to say it wasn’t a successful season.”

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