Fans' View / Season Reviews / Union

Fans’ View: A fan’s report card on the Union experience in 2017

Another lackluster season is in the books for this six-year season ticket holder, and it’s time to take stock of my support for the Union.

Did I get a good value for my dollar? What do I need to see happen moving forward to continue to support this club?

On field product: D-

Missing the playoffs should warrant a failing grade. The only reason I’m giving a pass here is that the team did what they’re expected to do at home. Moreover, they actually played some attractive soccer in front of their home fans. While the club will advertise that this was their best season for home performances, it’s prudent to remember that their 1.94 PPG average was just above the league average of 1.91. In addition, a +15 goal differential was about mid-table.

The team’s away form was atrocious. The rest of the league averaged 20% of their total wins on the road, while the Union could only muster 6%. Nine points from 17 away games plops them into 20th place in the league. Averaging less than a goal per game was evidence of a game plan and effort that made them nearly unwatchable on television.

Ownership: D-

Review the team salaries, and then look at the end of season results.

The top four clubs: Toronto, NYCFC, Chicago and Atlanta, have the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 8th salary budgets in the league respectively.

Throughout the league it’s clear that the quality of the roster is the single biggest predictor of final results. There are very few exceptions.

Truthfully, we don’t have much to go on from Jay Sugarman.

We heard earlier in the year that Earnie Stewart has never been denied money for a player he wanted. Really? If that’s the case, then why are we shooting so low?

When considering how much I’m willing to pay to support this club, I need to hear more from Sugarman.

Does he have any ambition to compete in this league or is he happy doing the bare minimum to put out a subpar product and watch his franchise investment continue to climb? I fear it is the latter.

If true, the only hope is that the Ponzi-scheme of huge expansion franchise fees in MLS will eventually be exhausted, the valuations will drop, and a more ambitious owner may take control of the Union. Either that or … relegation.

Business management: C

Going to a Union game is still a mostly positive experience. I have always been very happy with the help given by the Fan Services office when it comes to my season ticket account. It is fairly easy to add seats or transfer tickets.

That being said, it is hard for me to argue that others should purchase season tickets. I have not felt much of a value in being a season ticket holder. It seems that I could just as easily get cheap tickets for individual games if I chose, and whether it is my fault or the club’s, I have never been able to take advantage of an exclusive STM perk.

My family was less excited about attending matches this year, and we missed more than any previous year.

The food is good. The parking is bad. There’s a nice view of the river. What else is there to say?

Soccer management: B-

The good: Medujnanin, Bedoya, Onyewu, Picault and Elliott were all good moves at modest cost.

The bad: Davies and Simpson are obviously disappointing and costly. I would have preferred to see Blake sold at what probably was the peak of his value after the Gold Cup in a season that we were never destined to make the playoffs.

It’s hard to honestly evaluate Stewart and his player management team (which I assume consists of Chris Albright and…?). The feeling is certainly that they have significant restraints. It has to be a very difficult situation where every move has to be perfect. You’re either going to overpay for an older player with a proven track record, or you’re going to take a risk on a young player that might not pan out. This is where Simpson and Davies seem like very poor choices. As established players, they were more of a known quantity and we clearly overpaid for them.

If Stewart continues to be cash-strapped, I’d prefer to see him take financial risks on young players with potential. This off-season will be very telling about the ambition of the ownership and, if given a bigger war chest, will be a real test for Stewart’s worth.

Coaching: C+

First of all, I’m in the camp that believes “players win games, coaches lose them, and refs ruin them.” Coaches for the most part don’t dramatically affect results over a season. There is plenty of research that concludes you either have to be one of the best or one of the worst coaches in the world to make a significant shift in results from what would be expected based on player quality.

That being said, the Union have the 12th highest payroll in the league and finished 16th overall. That is underperforming, but only slightly. Regardless of coaching, they are set up to be a playoff bubble team.

My major criteria for judging Jim Curtin are two-fold:

  1. Does he garner the respect of the players, media, fans, etc.?
  2. Is the team playing a style of play that I enjoy watching?

I don’t think anyone can argue that Curtin isn’t a good guy. His openness with the media is a breath of fresh air in pro sports and a quality that I find very important. I couldn’t have been more proud to be a Union fan when I read his quotes about anthem protests in sports. Or when he made the team stay after their game to watch the Special Olympics Unified Team match. He is clearly respected by his players and by any fans that have the pleasure of interacting with him.

As for my second criteria though, my biggest question marks over Curtin revolve around our away form. The team is obviously capable of playing quality soccer and getting decent results at home. The away record was so bad however, that blame has to be placed on the coach. To my non-expert eye, I saw either a game plan that was too conservative or players not playing to their full potential. The only explanation we received for the dismal away record was “I don’t know,” and that is a very poor response. If Curtin can’t find explanations and have a plan to remedy this problem, it would be the only valid reason to consider firing him.

Personally, I badly want to see him succeed, and I hope he stays.

Overall: C-

Overall, it was fairly painful being a Union supporter this year. The only saving grace was seeing some increase in quality at home and few games where they were genuinely fun to watch. Without that, I would have given up completely.

But I’ll leave you with a few lowlights for which I’ll remember this season:

  • Another year has passed in which I was unable to use my loyalty points for a single purpose.
  • On two separate occasions, the club forgot to assign parking attendants to assist with exit from the “premium” Lot F that I paid a hefty sum for, and I waited nearly an hour to just move out of my spot.
  • The most exalted announcement the club could muster in 2017 was the signing of a Chief Tattoo Officer.
  • I couldn’t give away my tickets to the final game of the season.
  • This season makes me beg for relegation.

I do feel like my support for this club is on its last leg. For some reason, I decided to re-DOOP for 2018. Maybe it’s a pipe dream that something will be different next year.

What’s that definition of insanity again?

22 Comments

  1. There’s no question that Curtin is an A+ character guy. He takes responsibility, doesn’t throw players under the bus, is loyal and is a genuine club-first guy. Character, though, doesn’t translate to results.

    Yesterday, I had the good fortune to catch the last half and extra time of the Wolves – Man. City EFL cup match. What a game. Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo entered the Etihad for a match almost everyone was sure they’d lose by 4 goals minimum and through fantastic game planning and some truly courageous performances from Wolves players battled City to a penalty decision and arguably would have won if not for the superhuman efforts of Claudio Bravo, who saved at least three one-on-one goal scoring opportunities for the Wolves. Santo planned for City’s attack masterfully.

    That’s a long anecdote to illustrate my biggest question for Curtin: You know your side is poor on the road. You play open and get eviscerated. You even said on Sunday that you often ask your players to bring knives to a gunfight. So you just send them out there with knives? Why did this team refuse to play for results on the road?

    • He threw Rosenberry under the bus, then took the wheel and reversed over him a few times.

      I’m also not a fan of his faux fight with Kinkead over a non ill-intended question.

    • Literally had the same thought as I watched the same exact match Tuesday. It was a FANTASTIC game plan, and they should have won given just a LITTLE bit more of a quality finish from their attackers. It made me question why the Union hadn’t done the same against teams like Atlanta and Toronto. You know they’re good. You know they’re better in their own homes. So play them like that and respect them. And for god’s sake, leave more than one person back when you’re chasing the game. It does no good to throw 9 men forward if they’re split open with one long pass like a watermelon that’s hit with a tractor trailer.

  2. Old Soccer Coach says:

    very glad to know that leaving early to ease getting out of Lot F is wise. Been doing it most of the year. Thank you, Scott.

    • Yes. It sounds trite to complain about parking, but it is a real issue when you advertise an expensive “upgrade” as quick-in, quick-out and it left unattended. Just a sign of a bigger issue that makes season-ticket members feel like they’re not valued. That is the main issue.

  3. We must be watching two different teams. Ownership gets a C-? Jeez. A coach with one road win gets a C+? What kind of curve are you using to grade these jokers?

  4. I definitely agree that the impact of coaching is overrated, and indeed there is evidence to demonstrate that. That’s the part of me that says it may not be worth the turmoil to get a new manager.

    And yet, even within the “playoff bubble” range for which we are, as you say, designed, this was on the low end. And there are numerous examples of things where Curtin’s judgment has to be questioned. There was nobody who was taking this team to the MLS Cup final this season. But finishing 10th or 11th in the league instead of 16th should have been possible.

  5. Maybe it’s a pediatrician thing, but I agree with just about everything you wrote. I now have like eleventyjillion loyalty points and I’m not interested in a tattoo.

    • I agree.. been a STH since the beginning and only used my points one year for 20% off coupon at the shop, then the very next week the shop had a 20% sale for everybody… didn’t make me feel very “special”

      • I’ve used mine for several things. Last Sunday we were able to get one of the sling backups they auctioned off. A few weeks ago I was planning on going to the open practice (but had a medical issue which prevented me from going). Last year we won dinner with John McCarthy.
        .
        In addition to the points, there is also the advantage of getting 10% off at the concession stands. My wife and I normally each get at least one bottle of water a game so that ends up saving at least about $20 during the course of the season.

  6. The economics of being a club STH for benefits received is why I didn’t reDoop. I get the loyalty point bids for maxing one account to make it seem equitable, but honestly screw that noise. There should be auctions where I could wager the whole account.
    .
    I couldn’t give away tickets a number of times and still took people to their first MLS game. Parking is so poorly designed that even with the prepaid pass I end up paying $10 to park at the church on 4th street.
    .
    I’ll still go, but I’ll scoop up undermarket stub Hub tix from now on. Maybe I’ll fund that by eBaying my Founders scarves.

    • Look for me at the Church – silver Jeep Grand Cherokee if I still have it next year… Wish you had not mentioned the church; best kept parking secret.

      • I find lot A easy to get out of. Usually it’s about 5 minutes from the time we start the engine until we are on 291 which is a lot quicker than I’ve ever gotten out of the stadium area in South Philly.

      • Best kept secret parking spot = just over the train tracks between a few industrial buildings with the cul de sac with Original Union player jerseys painted in it.

  7. Highlight for me were some of the home games, watching some cracking goals, and the beer deck where I spent a lot of time in the sun. Great view from there to look at other things if the product on the field disappointed.
    .
    Curtin should take the players this weekend to the Unity Cup Semis and see with how much heart and desire these players play. If the Union would play with that much desire then I would have renewed weeks ago; now I am just waiting on what their next steps are.

  8. Good post. I looked back through the schedule to see how many of their home matches that I went to this season. Out of the 19 matches that I had in my STH package (17 MLS, 1 USOC & the Swansea friendly), I attended 10 of them. TEN…that’s a whopping 52% for anyone scoring at home. What was most telling was that there were a few home matches that I struggled to remember whether I attended it in person or not. That kinda sums up the year for me.

    Needless to say, but after 8 seasons, I did not “ReDOOP”. There is no value in being a STH when you can get the same tickets any time that you want them.

  9. I think whether or not people redooped had a lot to do with where their seats are. Everyone near me that I spoke with will be back again next year. We are third row midfield and are afraid that if we didn’t redoop, we would never be able to get seats like those if/when we decided to come back.

    • Just curious, why would you sit in the 3rd row? That’s too close to see the whole field effectively.

      FWIW – I sit at midfield further up and I didn’t renew. My entire row is always empty.

      • Several reasons to sit there (such as we’ve been sitting near the same group of people for 6-8 years), but the biggest is that my wife has issues with her knee that make climbing stairs painful for her.

      • Gotcha, that makes perfect sense.

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