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When Worlds Collide

We were all someone else before 2010.  That is to say, we weren’t Union fans, as there was no Union to speak of.  We watched the EPL and the LLP; a few of us even watched Serie A for some reason.  We all had our teams, our favorite foreign squad for whom we’d drag ourselves out of bed to emote in front of our TVs, usually alone, sometimes in the few pubs dedicated to our way of life.  We loved United or Chelsea or Barca or Inter, and in our minds we morphed the ostracizing of soccer by our culture into a kind of exclusive camaraderie.  We knew that soccer was more than a child’s game or a sponsorship opportunity for the local hardware store; more than an occasional pity-inclusion in the ESPN highlights, and more than a place for suburban dads to pour the pain of their deflated athletic aspirations into their 8 year olds.  But for those of us born and raised in the New World, loving a foreign team was never really, truly…enough.  We didn’t have what die-hard Phillies or Eagles fans had, no matter how much we cared about what happened on Greenwich Mean Time.

Say you were a Man U fan, as I was and still am.  The cold fact in those days was that no matter how loud I cheered, I had never been from Manchester.  Hell, I had never been to Manchester.

So when the Union came along, everything changed.  For me, priorities shifted.  Suddenly there was a team I didn’t have to watch from a different time zone, pouring Guinnesses at 7:30 in the morning and trying to explain to my countrymen who Wayne fucking Rooney is.

Here, in the Union, was a franchise that represented where I came from, that played and practiced within driving distance from my house- a team that didn’t care if I called it “soccer.”  A team, the joy in which I could share with thousands of my own people around me. The Union, before it ever played a single game, meant something to me in a way no EPL side, no matter how brilliant, ever could.  I, like so many of us, was home.

And now the past has come roaring across the Atlantic Ocean.  Manchester United (I know, I know, the Yankees of…whatever), are on their way here to play a friendly against the Union.

Of I course I’ve never stopped supporting ManU.  I’ve just kept them to the side, like a long-adored mistress.  I still watch all the games, as long as they don’t conflict with Philly, which they rarely do.  You can find me at home or in Dark Horse, red-clad as ever, keeping the flame alive and well.

I just tell the Union I’m “working late at the office,” pull my Red Devils scarf out from under my coat, and go.  A man has needs.

So while on the surface, this friendly would appear to be fantastic news, I can’t help but feel some trepidation.  Honestly, it might be a little awkward.  Imagine telling your wife that you’ve been meeting your ex at motels for the last couple of years, and, oh, by the way, she’s coming over for dinner and a friendly game of strip-twister with us and the kids.  Can you iron the table linens?

After everything United and I have been through together- the victories, the losses, the tears, the joy, the Setanta pay-per-view charges, all of it- I have lived with them.  I have loved with them.  I cried into my Ronaldo beach towel when Madrid came calling.  I stopped donating to UNICEF after the last Champion’s league final.   I have woken with a start when dreams about Sir Alex standing on the pitch during injury time tapping his watch have made me realize I was late for work again.  There was a time when United was my everything…but only because it was the only thing.

No matter how much I loved Man U, I knew they could never be “the one.”  I was American.  They were English.  Sure, we had the passion.  We had a lot of great times.  But eventually a man has to take that big step; plant his roots, build the white picket fence, and find the one team he can come home to at night.  His home team.

Now they’re coming here.  And I’m presented with a conflict.  Not a conflict of loyalty- I know who my heart belongs to, and it isn’t United- but with a delicate situation in which I’m not sure how to pay respect to the love that was while continuing to stoke the flames of the love that is. Will Philadelphia fans understand if I want to show United a little affection?

So, on July 21st, when United takes the pitch, I’ll stand with my boys- the ones in blue, as usual.  But when United enters, I will applaud- politely, but loudly.  I will thank them, with heartfelt cheers, for everything they’ve been to so many of us, especially in the absence of anything local.  But Sir Alex and company must understand; what we have is a tawdry, dirty, beautiful but ultimately unfulfillable love, and I must choose my side.  I will proceed to get behind the Philadelphia Union, 1,000%,  as they face the greatest team they will probably ever face, at least until soccer becomes to us what football is to Europeans.

And, United- when it’s all over, you’re getting on that plane. I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of.  Sir Alex, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of one little soccer fan don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.  Someday you’ll understand that.

Now, now.  Here’s looking at you kid.

5 Comments

  1. Enjoyable post. What I found most revealing was there was no mention of MLS being part of your ‘soccer world’ until the Union came along.

  2. It certainly wasn’t! Absent some sentimental reason (like a home team), why would I watch American soccer when I can watch EPL and LLP? That’s like buying a Kia when you can afford a Mercedes.

  3. Jose Pele says:

    The main difference is only in the prestige of being from Europe, but the Galaxy or NY Red Bulls can beat any team from the EPL or LLP.

    • You think the RED BULLS could beat Barca or Chelsea? Maybe LA could put up a good fight, but not beat them. I’m all for debate, but the notion that MLS is on par with those leagues is so ridiculous I can’t believe we’re actually debating it right now. I truly hope MLS develops into a league that top-flight Europeans who don’t already have their best days behind them will want to join- but there’s a reason it’s the other way around right now. Be serious.

      • The Galaxy could beat Burnley and Hull. They could probably beat West Ham and a few other bottom half EPL teams. But any team? Not a chance.

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