For Pete's Sake

The Union’s short leash

Photo: Earl Gardner

For a stadium about 50 percent full on Saturday, the boos at the final whistle sounded out long and loud.

In a vacuum, that might be a surprise.

The Union had, after all, come from behind to salvage a point against San Jose Earthquakes. They created more shots and chances, had the better of the play — the Union controlled the match, almost from beginning to end.

It’s only four games into a brand new season, and thanks to the vagaries of the early-season schedule the Union have yet to benefit from a consistent string of matches. There are genuine reasons to believe patience might reap rewards.

Union fans, though, are tired of waiting.

With good reason, too. Philadelphia has been, over their last three full campaigns, a bottom-of-the-barrel MLS side, barely averaging over a point per game during that span. At a certain point, the same excuses are going to wear thin.

It is, as the great Yogi Berra said, “deja vu all over again.”

A squad in the doldrums

This week’s result caused me to do a little digging into the Union’s record over the past three-plus seasons.

In those 106 matches, the Union have pulled down 126 points. That’s 1.19 points per game.

The figure looks even uglier if you pull out the hot stretch to start the 2016 campaign, a 6-3-5 start that saw the Union near the top of the Eastern Conference. The departure of metronomic midfielder Vincent Nogueira derailed that campaign.

Since Nogueira left, the Union have played 58 matches in MLS, and won just 17 of them. They’ve earned 66 points in that span, or about 1.14 points per game.

Without the somewhat magical start of that 2016 campaign, where the team went 6-3-5, and the Union have managed just 1.12 points per game since the start of the 2015 season.

One could quibble with my choice to take out that hot start, but it’s just 14 matches out of 106, and it’s a considerable outlier (at 1.64 points per game) from the rest of the Union’s schedule over the last three-plus seasons.

Besides, keeping it in — 1.19 points per game — is really not that much better. Can a team averaging 1.19 points per game make the playoffs? History says… no.

In the three seasons where MLS has had six playoff spots per conference, the lowest PPG to make the playoff was Philadelphia’s 2016 run, at 1.24. And that’s an outlier, with the other five cutoffs being 1.35, 1.35, 1.44, 1.47, and 1.5 points per game.

It’s not like the Union haven’t tried over these past three-plus years. That time period includes two different men holding the “technical director” role in Nick Sakiewicz and Earnie Stewart.

The club has brought in international talent like Tranquillo Barnetta, Haris Medunjanin, Borek Dockal, and Alejandro Bedoya. They’ve developed one of the best goalies in MLS. Players from the Union Academy have flashed over the past two seasons, and combined with Bethlehem Steel (in its third season) and improved facilities (the practice fields opened three years ago), the club’s infrastructure is theoretically better.

The results on the pitch remain unchanged.

Excuses, sound or not, are still excuses

Now, it’s early in this campaign, and there are reasons the team might not be clicking. The schedule has been a problem, and the weather has been brisk.

The Union’s biggest offseason acquisition — Dockal— joined a week before the season, and their other splash-the-cash addition — David Accam — seems on a different wavelength from the Czech international.

Fafa Picault picked a bad time to get suspended, and his return brought a new dimension to the Union attack.

The back line, too young to buy a beer if you average their ages, has been good. Maybe they’re not world-beaters, but they’ve played well beyond their years.

Though it might be unfair, frustration is settling in just the same, with the Union yet to pick up a win since their season opener.

Bedoya, memorably, called it “crap to tie a game” on Saturday. “To not get anything out of it — same as last week against Colorado […] it’s not good enough.”

When I heard that line on Saturday, it rang familiar to me. It’s not the first time we’ve heard something like that from Bedoya.

After the Union lost a 2-0 lead in the final moments against Atlanta last season, Bedoya said “It feels like crap. Honestly, it’s so frustrating.”

After the Union blew a 3-0 lead in similar fashion against Montreal, Bedoya called his feeling “pure frustration […] it’s hard to stomach. This team deserves a lot better; the fans deserve a lot better.”

The fans do deserve better. And they’re showing it with their pocketbooks. Saturday’s announced attendance of 14,795 was the lowest of any league match at Talen Energy Stadium since at least 2014.

They’ve heard the same refrain from the Union for years, and they’re not willing to give the Union much benefit of the doubt.

In a vacuum, the players and staff might not think this is totally fair. They might believe they deserve more time to put together a winner.

But, after three-plus years of sub-mediocre soccer, the clock is ticking.

It’s time to impress the faithful, before they tune out entirely.

55 Comments

  1. Chris Gibbons says:

    As the resident Union apologist and corporate mole, just give it time. We have Jim, we have Earnie, and we’re a good value to win MLS Cup this year.

  2. Alternatively, I’d like to see the optimistic article talking about our play style so far this year and how things could be gelling finally.

  3. It’s almost been ten years. It amazes me the league hasn’t stepped in yet. Though they play in Chester, they represent one of the biggest sporting cities in the country. No longer do I attend in hope. I go to games to join in the group cynicism. I go to take in fresh air and see my seat neighbors. The product on the field is hardly worth my attention. I’ll continue to support my club because I can afford to as a single guy with no kids but I don’t blame others who can’t for one second. What’s my alternative? Support a club a plane ride away?
    Edit: And to echo those above me: this team we have now is has best potential yet and I can see that, I truly can.

  4. Richard Saunders says:

    More like this. More pressure needed. They need to join MLS 2. w.e or sell to someone who will.

  5. Great article, but there’s an additional element: The Union are (maybe) treading water at a time when the Eagles have won the Super Bowl, Nova owned the NCAAS, the Sixers are exploding, the Flyers are back in the playoffs and even the Phillies have some life.

    I doubt very much that anything other than a strong and convincing winning season will result in continued boredom and apathy in Chester.

    I agree that it’s amazing MLS hasn’t done more, but given the mess they have made in Columbus and the struggles in Miami, it’s not all that suprising.

  6. el Pachyderm says:

    Funny when Vincent left, some here knew exactly what had occurred.
    .
    others thought, eh, they’ll be fine. he’s just one player.
    .
    I was devastated and generally, this team has sucked since.
    .
    Amobi Okugo.
    Vincent Noguiera.
    .
    Dearly departed(s).
    .
    Just.Play.Well… I remain – as ever, faithful, hopeful and dumbfounded all the same.
    .
    .
    .

    …… UnionGoal Player Rating comment 00:20 4/10/18 – just in case yesterdays news gets buried and you do not return t the post. I am following up one final time…. as it relates to how you engage with me.

    .
    I ask again for you to stop putting the word hate in any sentence that relates to me, my point of view or comments. Most vile of words. There is only fear or love on this planet. Hate resides in fear. Engage me all you want, ignore altogether but respect this request please.
    .
    I’ve asked this before.
    .
    Also, for the record—- just two weeks ago I complimented the RB for being one of best players on the field.

    • I give up. What occurred with Nogueira (who we miss to this day)?

      • I believe you answered your own question inside ().

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        The very unspoken message at the time was that the decent thing to o was to respect the privacy of a man who needed a change, to go home.
        .
        Not everyone thrives being away from home.
        .
        Historians focused on this country call its waves of immigration ‘self-selected’ because not everyone has the ability to thrive in the unfamiliar, the new, and the different.
        .
        Life beyond the pitch has to be good as well.

    • Just to nit pick, love is the opposite of hate. If you have one, you have the other. If you want to say there is only fear and acceptance/understanding, that’d be more accurate. Otherwise, carry you wayward son.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Hate is rooted in fear. Hate is not the opposite of Love. Fear is the opposite of love.
        .
        Feel free to carry forth your understanding.
        .
        Feel free to contemplate deeply on this nuance. It is immutable.
        .
        either way, to carry on is the only way… wayward or not – as you state.

      • No need to contemplate. You are wrong. I understand that. Fear comes from not understanding. Fear comes because there is unknown ( I.E. not understanding). Love is most definitely the opposite of hate. Hate is defined as intense or passionate dislike. Love is defined as an intense feeling of deep affection. Opposites, no? You may have found it defines something else for YOU, but that in no way applies to all, nor does it preclude or supersede the actual true and accurate descriptions defined above. But good luck with defining your own reality.
        .
        As for the Kansas quote, it popped into my head right before posting. Just seemed appropriate. Seems to be proven correct.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Interesting points, All4U, thanks for the thought project, its good to question our deeply held beliefs and understandings.
        .
        ‘true and accurate’… using definitions to describe things beyond words is an interesting argument.
        .
        “true and accurate.” scary words true and accurate. as they presume so much.
        .
        almost as scary as someone saying, ‘You are wrong.’ As for me….
        .
        “I believe with doubt. I doubt and interrupt my doubt with belief.
        Be.
        Beloved threatened world.” -Denise Levertov.
        .
        there is no true and accurate. only love and fear.

      • Apathy is the opposite of love.
        Hate is just fear with cheese (loneliness some say)

      • I’d like to visit the world you inhabit some day. I just wouldn’t want to live there.

      • All4U, is that directed at me? Or is your rage toward elephant getting unwieldy?
        If it’s the former, I wrote based maybe 50 books I’ve read on the subject. If it’s the latter, please better focus your obsession with him.

      • You’re both wrong. In the immortal words of Master Yoda: Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
        .
        As Union fans, we have clearly reached the Dark Side…

    • They sucked when Nogueria where here too.

      • pragmatist says:

        This seems to go overlooked. They sucked less, but they still sucked.

      • I’d argue they sucked the same. The had 1 hot run with him (which he didn’t even play all the games) but that seemed more to be Blake stopping everything and Pontius scoring every time he touched the ball.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Pragmatist. I’d argue they sucked …. with aesthetic.
        .
        … which for me- art over stats and Ws,Ds or Ls … every time.

      • They were in first place in the Eastern Conference when he left. They most certainly did not suck.

      • he was also here for years before the first few games of one season. A season in which we were starting Tribbett at a CB, Leo Fernandes and Warren Creavalle were getting starts. The reason we were in first is because Blake was being Superman and Pontius couldn’t miss. It’s basically guaranteed they were not staying in first place even if Nogs stayed.
        .
        I’d also argue that the aesthetic el Pachy is saying is falsey remembered. We had Le Toux and Pontius running the wings, Marquez and Tribbett at CB and gave TONS of minutes to bad midfielders. We had Carroll and Creavalle starting together for a couple of games. Yuck.

  7. I cannot fault any follower of this team for being upset, doubtful or cynical. The Union have earned it all. I myself am still at that wait and see stage. I still need the Union to prove something. But I see promise. I’m hopeful, for as much as that has gotten me a kick in the nuts before. What I am not, is fully engaged. I found myself flipping around during the match on Saturday. I felt I wouldn’t miss much. I didn’t. As excited as I am to see Trusty and Real get playing time, there’s still that nagging feeling that the Union just will never be truly competitive. That’s the worst part. That’s what sucks the joy out of the possibilities.

  8. We can debate the merits of play and poor results so far in an admittedly young campaign all we want (and this is more in response to comments than to Pete’s excellent column above), but what MUST alarm anyone paying attention so far is the attendance which has to be alarming. I can’t recall seeing games with that few people in the stands over the last 4 years or so. Only for Open Cup contests. I was at the home opener last year, which was one of the coldest sporting events I’ve ever attended, and there were a lot more butts in seats that night. So it’s not the weather. Those empty seats tell me that a lot of people have already given up on the team.

    • STH know for a fact many people have given up. The revolving butts in neighboring seats is now just part of the fun.

    • Safety John says:

      When I can read Union in the seats while watching a home game on TV that is an issue for the team! Former Season ticket holder, forever a fan of the U, but not going to spend money on a ticket to see this anytime soon without a quality gimmick to draw me there like the campout. They better invest in their marketing department to sell tickets because the product on the field and the coaching are not going to this year.

    • I am actually pleasantly surprised by the attendance statistics. Yes, I said PLEASANTLY surprised.

      I am not a Negadelphian — I didn’t grow up here — and I actually think our current squad shows a good deal of promise. BUT… as an original Union fan since 2010, the unacceptability of this franchise’s performance is undeniable. And after so many years, ownership needs the negative reinforcement of empty seats.

      People should (largely) stay away until there are results. Else there will be no incentive to do better. I am not saying that I will refuse to attend any matches this year, but I will certainly attend fewer than I have in years’ past. Apparently I am not the only one. And a good thing that is.

  9. I’m still hopeful! It’s not a big enough sample just yet. Very encouraged by the young guys! Many were begging for this and now it’s here! KR seams to be getting out from under the cloud. Again, hopefully it all starts to come together!

  10. John Harris says:

    Optimism for today’s team is fine. Don’t let that cloud your view of history. This is a dysfunctional relationship. Leave it by demanding sale of the organization.
    .
    Seriously… the team failed again to make the rather open playoffs. Their verbal response… we’ll spend more. Their action response… no more spending and bringing in the fewest new plays of any team in the entire league. Entire MLS.
    .
    It’s the ownership.
    It’s always been the ownership.
    Demand sale. Supporters and all media people (what is left of them) must demand sale.

    • Accam is being paid a lot more than Pontius or Alberg was … Im sure DOckal isn’t making the minimum either.

      • We replaced a bunch of mediocre starters/backups (Alberg, Pontius, Edu, etc) with 2 DP level players and a bunch of homegrowns. Of course everyone wishes they were bigger names or we added another DP but it wasn’t a horrible offseason. The owner is holding us back though. We should be a bigger draw than Atlanta or Seattle.

  11. “The Union had, after all, come from behind to salvage a point against San Jose Earthquakes.”

    more like

    The Union had, after all, come from behind to just to lose 2 points.

    Wish wins were worth 5 points so the Union wouldn’t just be happy with a tie.

  12. pragmatist says:

    I always like to wait at least 6 games (yeah, a bit arbitrary) before trying to truly figure out who a team is. I have a few more weeks before I start looking forward to the summer games just to be social. There are signs of a pretty good team out there.
    .
    But, as was our fear, we simply may have been lapped by the field already. If the U hit their potential, is that enough in the modern league? Dunno…but I am hoping that there is a reason to care this summer other than a nice day at the park.

    • If we hit our potential we are a top team. Potential of this team is the backline and Blake comepletey gel limiting goals and Sapong, Accam, Piccult, and Dockal each getting 10-18 goals.

      • This is a silly statement that those four players would account for 72 goals for a team that scored 50 last year.

        Fafa has scored 16 goals. Total. At all professional levels. He’s 27.
        .
        Accam has hit double figures twice, CJ once. Even Curtin states for this team to win on any given night the entire team has to play to and maybe beyond their potential. You’ve got everyone having a career year.
        .
        Hell,this team has only had more than one double digit scorer season. Take full marks if you name them.

      • That’s the potential though. If we get those 4 going (and it’s clear there are going to be chances) then it’s possible. Highly unlikely I agree, but no where near silly. And I said 10-18 which is a range 40-72 and probably would work out closer to 50 between them. And we should be expecting that many goals in my opinion.

  13. Union all time PPG: 1.21
    .
    No need to exclude any good starts. The team has been plain below average from the get go. Not to mention their all time goal differential is -33.
    .
    Offense wasn’t the issue last season, defending was. 2017 was the third best goal scoring season ever for the Union. Ironically the 47 goals allowed was the fourth best in team history as well. When you give up more then a goal per game, you’re not going to win very often.
    .
    This team, as is its’ tradition, is constructed with having to play with the slimmest margin for error.

    • +1. So far the D looks much better last year. Hope that lasts and hope the O starting finishing because they look more dangerous than last year as well. Time will tell though.

  14. I’m curious if the vitriol is as great from our opponents sites when Andre Blake does a head stand and swats away goals with his pinky toe. The Union played well and the SJ Earthquakes goalkeeper played a lights out game. Sure, the finishing could have been a little better. Sure, the final pass was 2 or 3 passes before we lost the ball, but dang that goalkeeper played a great game. The Columbus game was a game for concern. The San Jose game was not. I was at the away game in San Jose last year, and THAT was reason to holler.

  15. Hmm what’s been the constant the last few years? I wonder?

  16. Quaker Shiker says:

    The constant for the last few years would be JIM CURTAIN. I will keep saying it, we need a proven coach. Chris Pontius has been scoring goals out in LA under Sigi Schmid. We need someone who can get the best out of the talent we have. A coach that “sees” the game and adjust our team accordingly. For me, we don’t need to win the Cup, just play the game well and give me a reason to watch.

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