Commentary

Not the bad or the ugly

Photo: Earl Gardner

The season is over. Much has been said about what a disappointment it was; I won’t disagree with any of that. This team should have been able to rack up more than 42 points in 34 games, and the frustrating ways that many of those points were dropped will linger long in the memory of Philadelphia Union fans.

But, for just a few moments, I don’t want to dwell on what might have been.

I want to think about the moments and the people from this season that, through the long dark of winter without soccer, will remind me why I love this team, and why we persevere as fans despite our patience being rewarded by failure.

So, in no particular order, here are my seven favorite things about the 2014 Philadelphia Union…

Brian Brown’s salutes

Half the fun of a goal scored is a good goal celebration — full of passion and enthusiasm for team and fans — and this incarnation of the Union has been largely bereft of good celebrators. Conor Casey and Vincent Nogueira are more of the stoic and/or angry type of scorer, while the usually excitable Sebastien Le Toux — who can forget his classic “flash mob” celebration — was more subdued than years past (save one glorious ascent into the River End). Leave it to the Jamaican rookie to pull off the most memorable celebrations of the year, a salute after each of his goals. The first, directed at Jim Curtin, in recognition of the faith of his manager; the second, directed at the fans, in recognition of their passion even though the team was eliminated. Brown may not be a great striker yet, but he sure knows how to celebrate — and Sporting will never, ever want to see him again.

Chaco and Nogs

No one knew much about the Union’s foreign imports entering the year; after a full season of football, we know plenty about their quality. Cristian Maidana battled injury, fitness, and bad positional fits to still finish in the top five in MLS in assists, and in the top five of posting cute pictures of his kids on Instagram. And there aren’t enough words to describe the immense qualities of the diminutive Nogueira, who brought composure and ball skills like no Union player before him — and scored perhaps the goal of the year via a supersonic blast against New England.

Zac MacMath, penalty hero

Lost in the goalkeeping controversies at the end of the season was Zac MacMath’s tremendous start to the campaign. Never known as a great penalty-stopper, MacMath came up with three huge saves early in the season, including one against reigning MVP Mike Magee to preserve a draw against Chicago. None, though, were bigger than the two shootout saves against FC Dallas, which sent the Union to their first-ever US Open Cup final. Wherever MacMath plays next year, I’ll remember the sight of the lime-green goalkeeper being swarmed by his teammates, celebrating that most famous win of the year.

Three in ten against Vancouver

At halftime at PPL Park, trailing 2-0 to the Whitecaps after a wretched shift, I remarked to my seatmates that we were about to witness the last half of the John Hackworth era. I was right — but the Union made it interesting nonetheless. Down 2-0, the boys in blue pulled together three goals in ten minutes, including a full-field counter-attack finished by Le Toux, to set PPL Park rocking. The less said about the 81st minute penalty allowed, the better, but those ten minutes were a shot of energy in an otherwise moribund stretch.

Mo Edu, the coolest guy on the field

I’ll admit, I didn’t know what to expect from the U.S. international when he joined the Union from Stoke in the offseason. Not only did Edu prove to be a great representative of the team off the field — and the most stylish gentleman on Instagram — but he also was the smoothest player on it. At both centerback and defensive midfield, Mo made even the most complicated plays seem effortless, occasionally making opponents look downright foolish as they tried and failed to win the ball off him.

Andrew Wenger discovers his purpose

For the entirety of his career, Andrew Wenger has been followed by one nagging criticism — no one knew what his best position would be. And after a bumpy start to his time with the Union, Wenger found a home on the left wing. His game isn’t entirely polished yet, but Wenger grew into his strength, speed, and technical ability and became nearly impossible to defend at times. Wenger put in a shift of utter destruction in the San Jose game, picking up two goals and generally terrorizing the Earthquakes backline. Like the rest of the team, the Lancaster native cooled down at the end of the season, but there’s something to build on here. At the very least, Wenger will no longer be known as “that guy who we traded Jack McInerney for.”

The Sons of Ben at the Open Cup Final

It didn’t end the way the 15,000 in attendance would have liked, but the atmosphere surrounding the U.S. Open Cup Final was truly incredible. The Philly faithful sung their hearts out for one hundred and twenty solid minutes, even when the result turned toward the usurpers from the Pacific Northwest. I am of the belief that, in fandom, suffering builds character. I think it’s a very Philadelphia theory; the other teams in the region have had many opportunities to break our hearts, while the Union are just getting warmed up. The memories of moments like the cup final — and the pain that accompanies it — only serve to strengthen our connection to our team and our fellow fans, continuing to fuel the passions that surround this club. Even when the play on the field lets us down.

6 Comments

  1. Solid list, pretty much tracks my favorite moments of the season as well.
    .
    I would also add the return of Carlos Valdes – he didn’t play all that well (looked to me like he was playing hurt, frankly), but he is a big piece that when healthy and on form is one of the best defenders in the league. It’s huge to have him back for next season.
    .
    Finally, for me nothing tops the pre- and post- games in Lot A with the 700FC crew. Can’t wait to get at it again next season (which amazingly is less than 5 months away!).

  2. One of my favorite moments this season was the Union – NY Cosmos game. The game itself turned into what a good NY – Philly game should be which is heated and spiteful.
    .
    I also liked the fact that prior to the Cosmos game, Gio Savarese was sitting in front of me and my children for the Union Islanders game scouting potential next round matches.
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    It was an honor meeting him.
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    I also very much enjoyed the first game of the season against Portland when after about 60 minutes I looked at my wife and said, ‘where did this team come from?’ No Keon Daniel. No dead midfield. It was: Noguiera. Maidana. Edu. Okugo. It was simply beautiful and filled with such promise. I remember thinking we are going to be good at the end of that game.
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    It was so cool watching us control the pace of the game with accurate, effective, timely and beautiful football. I didn’t even mind the late equalizer. No question in my mind that game was the best the team looked all season — which is funny cause it was the first game of the year on a notoriously small pitch in a fevered near-rabid thrall of Timber Army nut bags- and I know those people personally. Lived in Portland for 4 years. They are very invested in the club as well. I was so hopeful The Union would continue to grow and gel and be a force to be reckoned with but unfortunately that magic slipped away very quickly.
    .
    Leaves me still curious about how it all went the wrong way. Again.

    • Great point Joel. Even with the late equalizer, I remember feeling the same way, that this team could be a real contender. If for nothing else, it was the most beautiful football we’d seen from the Union, and I agree, I’m not sure they ever dominated as much as that first game. Too bad the foreshadowing of inability to finish and giving up late goals turned out to be painfully true.

  3. Peter, as always a great post. You pretty much summed up my planned Fans’ View for this week and said it way better than I could. Glad to see a focus on the positives.

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    It’s a tough one, but Nogs hitting the post in the Open Cup Final will stay with me forever. So close… It was the first, and I will try to make it last, time I yelled out the F word at a game. “He hit the F’N post!”… fortunately no kids heard me.
    .
    Like the vibe of the article. It was a another tough year but there are good things in place. Hopefully the FO can make the right decisions this offseason.

  5. Former Season Ticket Holder Greg says:

    Good list. Nice to have some good to balance out all this negative.

    I still have yet to hit ‘send’ on the email to my ticket rep. It’s not saying anything that hasn’t already been said. I’m certainly upset with what I wrote for something I love. But it’s tough love. I’m not lost forever.
    I mention this because I initially wrote “moments of brilliance” in it but I downgraded that (on the 4th or 5th revision) to “legitimacy.” That might sound harsh but really, for every Toronto home-at-home, there was the Galaxy match. The Crew matches. The early round Open Cup matches. For moments we actually could contend with teams. But we should’ve been doing that all season.
    All I did was temper my excitement for those “brilliant” memories. Unlike missing the playoffs last year, where the future looked to be bright, this year leaves more doubt than I’ve ever felt. We’re the basement dwellers. With Chivas gone, who’s the new laughing stock year over year?

    And I second the return of Valdes. That was a great moment to witness.

    LeToux’s card playing celebration — I just loved that.

    the Open Cup Final lead — that energy I hadn’t felt since the Phils were going to win the Series.

    These moment will be the lasting memories in this forgettable season.

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