Photo: Michael Long

“How’s the Union doing?”

The unconverted in my life often ask me this question, knowing it’s an easy way to make conversation with the guy who devotes an inordinate amount of his time and energy to a team they’re aware of, but don’t know much about. In years past, I could always answer easily:

2010— “Off to a decent start. We’re just happy to have a team.”

2011— “Fantastic! Bring on the playoffs.”

2012— “I don’t want to talk about it. Bartender, I’ll tell YOU when I’ve had enough.”

This year, I don’t quite know what to say. On paper, the Union has 15 out of 30 possible points, with a 4-3-3 record. They stand at fifth in the Eastern Conference, with more points than the bottom half of the West to boot.

I have seen victories, several of them. I have seen goals from an emerging power duo that is the envy of the league. I have inhaled the bomb-smoke in the River End like a lost soul in an opium den, greedily and with pleasure.

And yet…

The level of personal, subjective, barely definable and entirely unquantifiable satisfaction myself and many others feel in the parts of our souls that feed on Blue and Gold glory doesn’t reflect the stats. The ratio of measurable success to arousal, emotional and otherwise, is off. Somehow, this year doesn’t inspire in a way commensurate with the season’s achievements.

The season so far

The first few wins of the season were roundly and correctly criticized as “ugly” victories that came through a combination of luck and boring but effective play. Social media has run thick with gripes about the haplessness of the midfield. The term “pretenders” has been raised repeatedly in reference to Philly’s place in the conference, albeit usually with a question mark.

The most exciting game at PPL may have been last week’s draw against Seattle.The match was a relative thriller, including two instances of a particularly blind squirrel finding a brace of exceptional nuts. While the goals were worth cheering for, they still came from someone whose overall game left some fans wishing he hadn’t scored them since they cemented his controversial status as a starter. Also, the goals were in a draw with Seattle, which considering their form this year is a travesty.

Then came Saturday’s game against the Fire, one which completely inverted the normal relationship between a team’s results and a fan’s elation.

The Union won. Full stop. But as wonderful as it was to watch a Philly squad that is “SO TALENTED,” in the incessantly repeated words of Kyle Martino, take home 3 points, it didn’t feel like what the scoreboard said it was, a victory.

It felt like yet another stroke of luck, defined by two key moments. One was defensive, in which Zac MacMath managed to block Chicago’s best chance with his glutes while facing the other way. The other was offensive, with Jac Mac again displaying the combination of confidence and opportunism that has rescued many a terrible game.The whole clash essentially came down to two asses; the one that happened to be in the way of Chicago’s goal, and the one from which ours was pulled.

Moving forward

Maybe the novelty of the team’s existence skewed the excitement levels for the first few years. Maybe last year’s pageantry of ass-clownery skewed it again, in the other direction. Maybe Philadelphia fans really are the perennially unpleasable mob of armchair quarterbacks that even Santa Claus must famously live in terror of.

That, or maybe the Union isn’t doing as well as the casual observer might think they are. Maybe the only thing between the most optimistic fans and a hard dose of reality has as much to do with serendipity and woeful opposition as it does with determination, solid defense, and a pair of decent strikers.

Maybe what ain’t broke shouldn’t be fixed, unless it is.


  1. I thought coming into the season, goal was to make play-offs, knew it will be a struggle to do that. So sitting 5th at this point is where they should be, they are not a top team in the East.

  2. Sean Doyle says:

    {Time for a shameless plug}

    If you’ve lost that DOOPing feeling, come on up to Reading and check out one of our games. U.S. Open Cup match tonight, next league game on Sunday and a potential second round USOC match with Harrisburg (and we all know how most of you feel about the Islanders and their fans) next Tuesday.

  3. Conor, you are a most excellent writer. The ass-paragraph is genius.

    Regarding substance: on the one hand, the U have stolen two road games in which they were pretty clearly outplayed (Colorado, Chicago). But on the other hand, they drew 2 home games they really should’ve won via superior play (Toronto) and equal play with officiating travesty (Seattle).

    Sum that out, and while it may be hard to believe, I think this team merits its current position in the standings — no higher, and no lower.

  4. The quasi crummy feeling that you are getting is due to the style of play. 10 or 15 years ago, Philly soccer fans would be going crazy over their own soccer team in playoff position. Now, we are so exposed to the game at its’ highest level that results just aren’t good enough. I know personally that I appreciate good play as much as results. The FO claims they are building something here, and yes they do have talented young players, but they are not building a style of play or a philosophy. It’s pretty ugly 4-4-2 soccer utilizing players that do not have the skill set to play possesion based, up tempo, attacking soccer.

    This team is like the girl you met from niagra falls down the shore on summer break…. happy you got the result, but so ugly, you cant brag on it to your freinds….

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Funny thing is… I think the ugliness can be fixed with a better lineup. I like the players we have.

      • frankswild says:

        I agree. That is why I feel frustrated; it is mostly my perceived under utilizing of who we do have

  5. scottymac says:

    Probably because of the three other playoff position teams they’ve played, they got smoked by SKC (yeah yeah the first 30 was sublime, they play 90 at this level), RBNY, and beat a Rapids team that was almost pulling the one or two fans in attendance to round out a roster. They’ve got a playoff look, but the NER loss, and some of the draws leave us all very underwhelmed.

    This team (I’m just counting the starting XI, cause Hack doesnt use anyone else really), is broken in the middle. Kleberson looks more and more like a salary dump of Adu, but in that one 11 minute stretch he created more than the other 4 mids had put together. Hack needs to go buy the creative MF he wants, cause he apparently isnt on the roster.

    We’re frustrated because there is obviously an opportunity here to grab a playoff spot. And you know at some point we wont fool TFC, DCU and the other bottom feeders, and those 3s become 1s. I just have zero confidence that Hackworth can manage a pro roster. Frankly, seeing the regression of MacMath & Marfan’s disappearance, I question his youth development credentials as well.

    • Good points, but that makes me question his management skills, not youth development (though here they’re one in the same).
      Marfan: Last year he was a CAM in front of an otherwise miserable midfield. This year he is a winger in an otherwise miserable midfield. A winger, who may have never been told this by his coach based on how incoherent the shape is and how often he wanders into the middle.
      MacMath: Young and prone to mistakes. So let’s play an unremarkable RB at LB and a DMid as a CB!!!! Let’s also loan our Captain and rock at CB away and slot in a brand new (though very good) player at CB as well! Yeah that sounds like a great plan! [/Hackworth] What a mismanagement of the back line. This doesn’t even mention Soumare, where in his case the best bet would have been to train Parke and Soumare at CB alll offseason, and put Okugo at DMid where he would be bette than Carrol. THAT get’s both of these great players on the field at the same time and strengthens our defense.

      • scottymac says:

        What’s funny is, these are inherited issues. We’ve been weak at LB since the Harvey for allocation $ deal. CB depth evaporated with Califf on a west bound flight. We mock Piotr for Profiro “Big Fro” Lopez, but he at least recognized he’d weakened a position and tried to get a player who someone somewhere thought played that position. Hack decided, nah, the LBs on the board arent good, I’ll draft a player from a different role. Then cut him. Which is worse?

        Parke-Soumare with Okugo at CDM seems to be a stronger defensive lineup in front of a shaky young keeper looking to gain confidence.

      • Remember Harvey…

  6. His name was Jordan Harvey… His name was Jordan Harvey..

  7. Well… they suck… that’s why its difficult to get behind them. They just don’t play well, even when they win. We go see the game to be entertained, fist and foremost. So… they really suck.

  8. Southside Johnny says:

    Wow. Should have titled it “Whining”. Repeat after me. “Nothing sucks like losing.” New franchise. Great venue. Rookie coach. Team plays with heart if not polish and has a winning record. Bright young stars developing. Yeah, poor us.

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