Commentary

It’s all just talk from the Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Philadelphia Union talk a lot about their fans.

Nick Sakiewicz says he wants to make a team the fans can be proud of. John Hackworth said he wanted his “Philly tough” team to reflect their fans. Jim Curtin says he wants to bring home a trophy for the fans. To a man, the players say they love playing at home for their fans. They say all the right things.

The 2014 season, which came crashing to an appropriately disastrous end on Saturday, will be a season where all that talk was revealed to be empty words.

There’s not much to say about this collapse that hasn’t already been said. The Mbolhi howler may be the lasting memory of the Chicago game, but more disheartening than that was the utter ineptitude of the 88 minutes that preceded it. The collapse on Saturday seemed preordained, as if the Union fully intended to throw their hard work away in the blink of an eye. Most teams would see a closing stretch on their home ground as a gift, ready to be used. The Union instead treated it as a great burden, one that proved far too heavy.

Let me stop here to say something about Rais Mbolhi. That was, unquestionably, the worst distribution I’ve ever seen from a goalkeeper at that point in a match, more like forgetting to hold down the A button in FIFA 15 than any real-life match.

But he’s not the reason this team’s not going to the playoffs. They’re not going to the playoffs because Brian Carroll couldn’t play defense in the final minute in the opener against Portland. They’re not going to the playoffs because they couldn’t score a goal against Houston in two full matches at home. They’re not going to the playoffs because they allowed nine goals in consecutive games against New England and L.A., couldn’t hold a two-goal lead against Colorado or Columbus, generally played terribly for all of May, et cetera, et cetera.

This has been a collective failure of players and coaches, and Mbolhi deserves but a small slice of that flavorless failure pie.

Fundamentally, this team hasn’t played well since the Toronto home-and-home series. Too many tired legs, too many must-win games, too little depth in the squad. Conor Casey being reduced to a shell of himself, Fred and Fabinho seeing major minutes, and the untimely benching of Amobi Okugo, the player who, above all others, demonstrated his commitment to the words his leaders preached.

It’s tough to argue that Jim Curtin deserves the permanent manager job after such a pathetic stretch of play.

It’s even tougher to argue that Nick Sakiewicz should have any say in roster construction after the team he cobbled together (along with Hackworth) failed in the most ironic way possible.

It will be a long offseason for the Union, that’s for sure. Fans are angry and disappointed, and rightfully so. Because for a team that’s talked a lot about their fans, they don’t seem to understand what their fans want.

What the fans want is a team that will grow with them, meeting their loyalty and patience with coherence and determination on the pitch. A team where the local kid, signed at age 15, will slowly become a regular part of the squad. Where the team’s draft picks, after years invested in their growth, are treated with respect. Where the team matches the commitment of their words with their commitment on the field.

That’s not what we have here.

For three straight years, ever since the 2011 playoff run, the fans have been treated to a team that’s been hard to love. Never sure when your favorite player — Le Toux, Mondragon, Califf, McInerney, MacMath — will be run out of town. Watching player after player — Adu, Soumare, Torres, Kleberson, Berry — end up marginalized, frustrated, and disposed of for no return. And, most importantly, never seeing a team that’s ready to play, whether the fault of poor tactics or terrible substitutions or incomprehensible late-game meltdowns.

The Union have a long offseason ahead of them, and much will be said of the comings and goings of players and coaches.

But all of that is talk, and there has been enough talk from this club.

Does this team truly understand its fans?

The proof won’t come until the next time this team kicks a ball in anger, after a long and dark winter in Philadelphia.

20 Comments

  1. S.A.K.I.E.W.I.C.Z. PERIOD!!!

  2. James lockerbie says:

    Best post ever!

  3. Mic drop. Superiorly done.

  4. This could not be said better

  5. Well said in every sense. The Union organization have become a group of snake oil salesmen. Selling us on a product that doesn’t exist.

  6. Well done Peter! Thank you for speaking up on behalf of the fans. The fans who renew their season tickets based on the “talk” you addressed here. I hope Sakiewicz reads this and takes it to heart. Another season like this year and he’ll have protesting fans at the gates and an empty supporters section. I love this team, but hate how its managed. This season can simply be summarized as heartbreaking.

  7. *slow clap*

  8. This is the best summary I have read yet. Well done!

  9. You forgot the owners – lack of investment by the principal owner, Sugarman, and his principal manager, Sak, contributes as well. Goes beyond the players – this season seemed like they tried to add players (Vinny, Chaco, Edu) but as recent games have shown, it obviously wasn’t enough. Midseason reinforcements were hardly that. Half measures yield half results. Must be frustrating to be a player or a coach for this club. Certainly is to be a fan. Look at the plans for the stadium area – that’s on the owners – same with the parking mess, the problems with the City and the lack of a training facility.

  10. Wilkerson McLaser says:

    Great piece. Mid-season I called Sakiewicz a snake, and I think that assessment has been vindicated. Hack may not have been the ideal manager — and neither has Curtin (even if I think he has a lot more upside) — but through three seasons of failure, the lowest common denominator has been Sakiewicz at the helm: always first in line for credit, last to take responsibility.

  11. Unfortunately you hit the nail on the head with this. I wish our team wasn’t managed so poorly but that is the reality of the situation..

    Excellent post of the bitter truth

  12. John O'Donnell says:

    And the lid on the pot of boiling water is about to come off. Sak you’re losing the fan base quickly, as you just don’t understand Philadelphia. It’s time to step down and hirer a GM to run this team. The fans have identified a whipping boy and it’s you. It’s time to be the owner who sits in the box at games and makes deals to get the stadium done right.

  13. Well done, sir.

  14. James Lockerbie says:

    New cheer for the last home game. Nick u make us sick, Nick u make us sick barf sound! rinse and repeat

  15. Maybe we all got what we wished for?
    Halfway thru the season, Rene Meulensteen was the man getting the job. But, popular pressure on websites (we know NS reads them) was to give Jim Curtin a chance. Well, instead of a Champions League winning coach with no MLS experience,we got what we asked for, giving a guy a chance who had MLS experience, but no coaching experience. Sak got a lot wrong, but, for me, listening to the fans was a big one on this call. He had a gut feeling that Meulensteen was the man, and back tracked cos of the ‘bounce’ that JC had.
    Did we get what we pressed for? Maybe

  16. OneManWolfpack says:

    Honestly… Sak would prolly be loved if he would just admit he sucks (I can dream can’t I?) and step back. Ok, not loved, but you get my point.
    .
    Let’s be real, he’s not going anywhere for real… meaning he isn’t selling his stake in the team and leaving town. My point is this: Sak has to step away, and let someone else construct this team. Not only has he proven he can not do it, he is risking his ROI by staying as the public face of this team. And we all know that owners only care about the bottom line.
    .
    Awesome article and comments by the way. LOVE THIS SITE

  17. PD in Wilmington says:

    from where I sit, this is what the FO put together this year (9 starters out of 11–little to no depth). It took the coaching staff the entire season to figure this starting lineup out.

    ——-DP striker——
    –Wenger——-LeToux
    ——–Nogueira——-
    —Okugo—-Maidana—
    -LB–Edu–Valdes-Williams
    ——-M’Bohli———-

    Season ticket holders need to vote with their wallets if they think this is good enough. Personally, I don’t.

    • PD in Wilm- The left back has to be Gaddis, and take out M’Bolhi and insert MacMath. That is the only way they’d be able to afford the DP striker. Honestly they probably wouldn’t even be able to afford Edu, Okugo and a DP Striker if they did drop the Algerian. Not to beat a very dead and decaying horse, but what is the point of keeping the Bimbo sponsorship that no one particularly likes if they are unwilling to spend the money that it brings in. But honestly the greatest issue of this club is not the “strongest XI” they could put out, its the complete lack of depth for 75% of the positions. The reason we couldn’t pull out the USOC win was that we brought on Cruz and Seattle brought on Obafemi Martins. Not to mention didn’t they even play the 2nd leading USOC scorer in Cooper. That is the real difference between the Union and the leagues best, and that also lays squarely on the shoulders of the FO. The club says they are building through youth and the draft yet sell or ignore the young players they obtain. The list goes on and on.
      I do not blame Curtin nor Hackworth for their shorcomings, neither should have ever been in that role in the first place to make those tired & repetitive lineups/subs. There is a reason that Nick Sak has NEVER won silverware in his long MLS career across multiple clubs, the M’Bolhi “no forward issues” signing debocle is just the latest example of his incompetence.
      I know that was rambling and poorly organzied, sorry haha.

  18. Well done!

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