If there’s anyone in North Carolina soccer who can relate to what it’s like to replace Alex Ferguson, it’s Jason Curtis.
Curtis doesn’t manage a club at the Premiership level, like Manchester United, though Red Devils fans might prefer him as their coach at this stage of a togh season. However, Curtis knows what its like to follow a legend.
Curtis served on the staff of longtime Tigers head coach Ron Benson for 16 years before taking over the Chapel Hill program. He understood Benson’s direction was as much about being counselor and mentor than a tactical coach.
Both coaches also were fans of Manchester United of England’s Barclays Premier League. They watched Man U’s Ferguson manage the Red Devils to 13 Premier League championships.
Benson coached for 34 years, winning 695 games in boys’ and girls’ soccer, and ended with a 3A state championship for the girls’ team in May.
Like Benson, Ferguson went out on top, retiring after leading Manchester United to the top of the BPL table in 2013.
Ferguson’s replacement, David Moyes, quickly became the most targeted man in England. United failed to live up to the standards of their previous boss and finished in fifth place.
Moyes was fired after all of 10 months.
The lesson is clear: replacing a legend can be a thankless task.
It’s one challenge, however, that Curtis isn’t backing away from.
“Coach Benson is only a phone call away,” said Curtis after Chapel Hill defeated Carrboro 1-0 on Wednesday night at Jaguar Stadium.
In fact, the two traded text messages on Tuesday after Man U’s embarrassing 3-1 loss to the third-tier Milton Dons in the English League Cup, the soccer equivalent of the New York Yankees losing to the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon.
“We’re just trying to keep things rolling,” said Curtis. “We still have much of the same staff. Ron doesn’t come to practice, but I learned the right way to do things through him.”
Against Carrboro, Sam Linker ended a scoreless struggle when he kicked the ball into an empty net following a stellar cross by midfielder John Walden with 15:06 remaining in regulation.
Linker nearly scored earlier in the second half following a pass by Duncan Davis, but missed the net wide right.
“We’ve been working on that in training,” said Curtis, who is in his 17th year of teaching at Chapel Hill.
“Just get the ball down deep and get someone take a run at the back post. Hopefully, he’ll be there for the tap in. We don’t really score many of them in practice, but we got one tonight.”
The Jaguars nearly tied the game with 2:01 remaining, but midfielder Jake Zinn hit the outside of the net with a right-footed shot.
Tiger goalkeepers Hugh Kelly and Lu Lue combined on Chapel Hill’s second clean sheet in two games. Kelly had three saves, Lue two. Each team had 18 shots.
Carrboro goalkeeper Richard Cato played the entire 80 minutes, making five saves.
“It’s always fun to come over here and play Carrboro,” said Curtis. “They’re well coached and rivals. Always love playing over here.
“They had a couple of chances to quality chances that they didn’t finish. It could have gone either way.”
Chapel Hill (2-0-0) was to play New Hanover on Friday in a match played too late for today’s Chapel Hill News, which had early deadlines for the Labor Day weekend.
Wednesday’s match was part of a grueling start to the season for Carrboro (2-2-0), which played four games in the season’s opening eight days. A Friday match at Franklinton would make that five games in 10 days.
The Jaguars played Wednesday without senior midfielder James Carpenter, who was sick.
“We should have definitely had a couple of goals throughout the game,” said Carrboro coach Jared Drexler. “Right now, we’re finding where we are. We’re starting to find some chemistry in the midfield. We’re improving.
“I was very pleased with the effort tonight, but at the end of the day, when you lose it feels empty.”