Fans' View

Fans’ View: When it all comes together

Photo: Michael Long

Chemistry class was never my thing. But I continue to be fascinated by the impact of chemistry in determining success in team sports. There is no greater joy for me as a fan than seeing a talented group of athletes coming together to achieve collective success above and beyond what the “experts” felt was possible. You can keep your Evil Empire, Manchester United, and the current iteration of the Miami Heat – give me the ’93 Phillies every time.

Love for the Underdog

Just to give some background on where I’m coming from, my favorite movie of all time is, hands down, “Hoosiers.” I’ve made dozens of trips to Lake Placid, NY in the last 30 years, and every single time, I make sure to spend some quality time in Herb Brooks Arena. I’m obsessed with the Miracle on Ice story, and always make sure I soak in the good vibes that surely are still lingering in that arena. I graduated from one of the all-time great Cinderella schools – The University of Richmond (Spiders!).

When it comes to soccer, along with our Philadelphia Union, I’m an avid fan of Everton. While they have a lengthy history in top-flight English football, and have displayed a much more attractive playing style under Roberto Martinez this season, they are still widely known as that hard working team that regularly punches above its weight.

Building chemistry

What does any of this have to do with the Union?

As team rosters and coaches turn over, so does the team dynamic. In 2010, the inaugural season brought an interesting mix of castoffs from other teams and young faces. While often overmatched that first season, I was thrilled to have a team, to see Seba’s tireless energy and finishing, or to see Danny Califf banging bodies on our backline. The team clearly embraced the fans, and my family quickly found the postgame walk around the field to applaud the Union faithful to be one of our favorite parts of the game day experience. There’s a special connection between Union players and fans that you just don’t get from Philly’s other four professional teams.

The fall

That dynamic continued throughout the great 2011 playoff season, but things shifted quickly in 2012. While a great young core was developing, fan favorites were chased out of town, and ill-fitting additions were brought in at significant salaries.

One common exchange between my wife, son, and I was how half the roster seemed to head straight for the locker room post-game, skipping out on that post game recognition of the fans that we had really grown to love. It may be a minor detail to some, and one that has no direct bearing on wins and losses, but I can’t help but think that this was just one small example of a 2012 locker room that was disjointed — lacking in cohesion and team chemistry.

The payoff?

With the addition of Jeff Parke and Conor Casey, the return of Seba, and the continued emergence of leaders like Sheanon Williams and Amobi Okugo, the 2013 team seemed to gel and bring back that “Philly tough” spirit Coach Hackworth likes. A team with well documented roster gaps fought, played a team concept that maximized their abilities, and stayed in the playoff picture most of the season as a result.

The young group at the core of this roster genuinely seems committed to building something special here, and they genuinely seem to like each other. Add in a surprising infusion of new talent this offseason, who genuinely seem excited to be here, and expectations clearly are elevated early this season.

It will surely take some time for a new center back pairing to gel, and for a revamped midfield to be fully in synch, but we’ve already seen an exciting glimpse of what this 2014 edition of the U is capable of delivering. I can’t wait for that moment when things click and this team takes us on a ride. Like each of the last four seasons, my family (now a foursome) will be there supporting the Union win, lose, or tie.

And as always, we’ll be on our feet after the stands thin out to applaud our team when they take that walk around PPL Park.

10 Comments

  1. Barb Ellis says:

    Your passion for the game of soccer is obvious from this article. It has already been passed on to Justin,your 5 year old who has some serious soccer skills of his own. Well done!

  2. The Black Hand says:

    Nice job, Scott!

  3. Eileen N. says:

    Scott, you are right about chemistry, very insightful. Wonderful article. And yes we are proud of our teams.

  4. Thanks! It was a fun one to write, and I’m looking forward to the next one already. On a side note, I noticed that I was genuinely obsessed with the word ‘genuinely’ – 3 times in one paragraph has to be some kind of record.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    If they do get it together, this team can win MLS Cup. I’m serious. Hopefully we have some late fall soccer at PPL!!

    • I agree Wolfpack. I think there’s enough talent and depth on the roster to contend. Scoring is a concern, but they have guys on the roster who have proven they can do it in the past. I’m optimistic that things will click soon. I’d love to see some playoff soccer again!

  6. Great article. The bond between fans and players has always been one of my favorite parts of being a Union fan. Danny Califf always took time to come over to section 111 and high five the kids. When I went to the meet and greet I made sure to tell some of the newer players that the kids (and moms) really appreciate it when they take a moment to come over. Whether its after a game, at an appearance or at the river cup last year, most of the players are truly gracious in talking to the fans.

  7. james lockerbie says:

    Funny you should mention the river cup. My family and I were sitting directly behind the F.O. Letoux came over to say to Nick and the gang. I waived letoux over for my kids to get his autograph, when suddenly my daughter yells LETOUX and the line was up to the suites in a slip second. He went threw half the line before he started over to help Lahoud and the Sons of ben team. It was a great afternoon at PPL Park.

  8. Ricky Schroeder says:

    Mr. Ellis,

    I found your article to be very insightful and pasisoante. I am not a huge soccer fan, but maybe i just might be afer reading this! Go Eagles! oh wait, wrong futball!

    The Ricker!

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