CHESTER, PA -- Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin knows what being part of an MLS Cup is like.
Long before he was the two-time Coach of the Year for the Union, Curtin was a center back on one of the most successful Major League Soccer teams of the early 2000s. He won the Supporters' Shield and two U.S. Open Cups with the Chicago Fire.
Curtin started the 2003 MLS Cup for the Fire against the San Jose Earthquakes, which was the last time two No. 1 seeds faced off in MLS Cup.
Curtin is using that experience to help the Union ease into a week in which more attention will be placed on the club.
“I was 23 years old and we were the big favorite in the game," Curtin said on Tuesday. "You think to yourself after the game ends that I’ll be back here again. I just talked about cherishing the moment of being there because you might never get back there again. We also recognize that we should enjoy the experience as well."
Philadelphia has not played in MLS Cup, but the club has been involved in some high-stakes games over the last few years that Curtin believes will help the Union find their footing on Saturday at Banc of California Stadium.
“Everybody talks and judges you on finals, but I still think there’s high pressure games that they all have played in," Curtin said. "Champions League elimination games are big pressure games. Semifinals are big pressure game. They have that under their belt. A lot of playoff wins now and a feeling we can beat any team."
Most importantly for Saturday's circumstances, the Union have played inside the Black-and-Gold cauldron and come away with two draws in their short history against LAFC.
“It is rare that the two best teams get to a final," Curtin said. "I think you also have the two best fan bases. LAFC’s fans are no joke. It’s an intimidating place. It’s not soccer moms and dads. It’s a real tough place to go. I know our fans will travel well."
The Union announced themselves on the national stage on March 8, 2020, when they played to a 3-3 draw with LAFC. Jakob Glesnes scored the first of his wonder goals and Brenden Aaronson announced his arrival on the big stage in that contest.
The two sides battled to a 2-2 draw on May 7 earlier this year to continue the budding rivalry between the two clubs.
“I think we’ve played some really epic games against them," Curtin said. "If you look across the sidelines, there are a lot of guys that I respect. I played John Thorrington in Chicago. Ante Razov was a teammate in Chicago as well. Oka Nikolov had some years here. There’s a lot of familiar faces over there and we have a ton of respect for what they’ve done and what they’ve built. I read some headlines where it’s an instance of built-versus-bought. We’ll embrace our side of things and do our best to lift a trophy."
The billing for Saturday's MLS Cup final will be massive because of the stature of both teams, and if the first two meetings in Los Angeles are a preview of things to come, we could see one of the best finals in recent memory.