A View from Afar / Commentary

Don’t panic, Union fans! (Or, panic.)


I learned this lesson from a book I read some years ago, a book purchased in part because of the large, friendly letters on the book cover that said, “DON’T PANIC,” and in part because it was on sale at a slightly lower price than its rather encyclopedic competitor.

(I also learned to carry a towel, of course, because a towel is one of the most useful things for anyone who finds himself in a difficult situation, for a variety of reasons ranging from esoteric to absolutely logical and which will not be laid out here, lest you forget your purpose for arriving at this page.)

This lesson would be well-served for anyone following Philadelphia Union, including those people who run Philadelphia Union (although one could easily make the argument that the latter collection of individuals should have begun panicking long ago — and maybe they did).

Don’t panic.

After all, you can always save your panicking for later, once all doubt has been removed about the horrible fate that is about to confront you, and you can fully let loose without any concern that someone will say you are panicking too early.

Why you might be panicking

So let’s consider the premise of panicking now, if you are a Philadelphia Union fan.

Preseason has started. You see cellar-dweller clubs Montreal and Chicago making quality signing after quality signing. New England is lining up Juan Agudelo for an attack so talented that Diego Fagundez spent much of last season’s second half on the bench. Orlando and NYC FC are building pretty interesting rosters. True, you have no idea what to make of the New York Red Bulls, other than that Mike Petke is so much cooler than Ali Curtis and that the team needs to be sold. But then you remember the Columbus Crew made a bunch of quality signings in November and later robbed Colorado of Chris Klute, so you’re worried again. Then there’s Toronto, who seem to be evolving beyond the “throw lots of money at big names” phase into the “throw lots of money at potentially great and complimentary players in their prime and then build an actual team around them” phase. Plus, D.C. United is better than you.

Meanwhile, your team — that would be Philadelphia — has made few signings, none of which is the big signing you’ve been led to believe that your team needs (a top-tier striker or starter-quality, true left back), and you still have no idea who will start at either center back position or defensive midfield. (Maurice Edu will start somewhere, to be sure.)

It’s about now that perhaps you recall the poor track record of MLS signings who do not join teams until long after training camp was over, and you begin devising a list that includes all sorts of big and famous names like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and other less famous and rather smaller names that you don’t include on the list because you forgot them after they got cut.

Alas. That’s actually a rather convincing case to panic, isn’t it?

You can always panic later

No. You have time. As one smart fan put it, you can still panic later.

Because you remember that your club still has players named Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana manning the midfield, flanked by two other players named Andrew Wenger and Sebastien Le Toux, and all four of these players demonstrated last season that they can be among the league’s best in their roles when healthy and deployed in the right spots.

Your team also has two good right backs, although you are still faced with the conundrum that, despite Philadelphia’s best efforts to the contrary, a team only deploys one player at a time in this right back position. It is rather much like a soccer team only deploys one goalkeeper at a time, although in Philadelphia, this last point is fairly up for question.

And, believe it or not, your team does have some potentially impressive talent at center back, provided that Austin Berry has suitably armed himself with an effective towel and a suit of armor to protect from every injury possible and Richie Marquez can take the next step from minor league stud to major league pro. There’s also that guy named Ethan White, who played fairly well last year but has, sadly, a tendency to (yes) panic with the ball at his feet.

But … goals?

But what striker will score the goals?

Now is when you come back to that decision over whether to panic or not.

You look down in front of you and see a big, red button that looks something like this:


Do you press it?

Right now, you must have faith in Conor Casey, who has scored an impressive 18 goals the last two years but just three of them on dates before May 31 or after Sept. 6, a pattern that resembles an old car entirely too much: He takes a while to get started, hums along perfectly once he gets in gear, and then breaks down after being driven too much. Similarly, one must believe in C.J. Sapong, a talented player who nonetheless has never hit double digits in goals for a season. Second round draft pick Dzenan Catic sounds like a potential steal in the draft, but MLS draft picks are such a crapshoot that you might get better odds laying bets on the end of the world — the dolphins know more than they let on, so consult them first — than you would betting on individual MLS draft picks experiencing success in professional soccer.

Even so, these are not bad players.

You might even have a really good goalkeeper.

(Again, don’t panic at the mere mention of the word “goalkeeper.” It’s just a word. The Union don’t plan to sign any more of them. Oh, wait. They do. Still, don’t panic. It’s actually rather rational to have a backup goalkeeper who won’t get called up for international duty — you know, like Zac MacMath, except not Zac MacMath — and if it’s the reigning USL PRO rookie of the year who also happens to be a Philadelphia-area product — that would be LaSalle University’s John McCarthy — then even better, so go ahead, sign him, and please, for the love of God, assign him the jersey number 42.)

Trust, logic, and the question of when to panic

In the end though, it comes down to this:

Do you trust that, when Jim Curtin says that reinforcements are on the way, they actually are?

Here, based on what Union fans are saying lately, the answer seems to be yes and no.

As one fan put it, there’s a trust that Curtin is telling the truth, as he believes it.  Curtin seems to lack a filter between his brain and his mouth, which often leads to honest words falling out and which also is exactly how a true Philly guy should be.

Whether the club will actually pull those deals off and sign these players is another matter altogether.

Then again, look at this way:

Carlos Valdes and his ridiculously South American transfer rights situation, which lingers from the Peter Nowak-Diego Gutierrez days like a bad breach-of-contract lawsuit, are probably on their way out on loan again. This is probably a key domino that needs to fall in order to clear salary cap room for another signing.

Once Valdes goes, it should open room for one or two key new arrivals. There is a potentially logical pattern here, regardless of the Union’s track record with logic outside the Hackworth years.

So there is still time. Hit this button instead if you like.

dont-panic-buttonSo long, and thanks for all the fish.


  1. The Union FO will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

    • “When I am king you will be first against the wall”……. Radiohead.
      Magic. Well done.
      A dollar for each time I have thought or ruminated on that lyrics.

      • Thank you, but that’s actually an appropriated quote from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and all the credit belongs to Douglas Adams. Radiohead named the song Paranoid Android after a character from Hitchhiker’s Guide, Marvin the Paranoid Android. Great song. Also a great book series that I highly recommend if you’ve never read it. One of my all-time favorites.

      • Excellent. Got the reference at the end but missed esoteric ones in the beginning. I did know about Marvin but haven’t read the books nor knew the quote was from it. See always something new to learn around these parts.

      • I read Douglas Adams a long, long time ago, and I’m a huge Radiohead fan, but I never made that connection. Thanks for the awesome insight, man!

      • No problem! This right here is one chick who loves her some Radiohead & Douglas Adams, and yet it took me a while to notice the reference, even though it was staring me right in the face.

      • while your reference is much more contemporary and a good one…..I keep thinking of The Who’s timeless line: ” Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”………..whenever I think of this squad. I know its cliched at this point….but hey, I’m old and square.

      • Quality.

  2. The reason to panic? Because again all we have to talk about is what the Union have not done. Why do we have to be “that fan base with this team and this ownership?” Again we are in the unenviable position of looking for any reason to be positive about this organization and not to panic.

  3. i loved each and every reference to the hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy. That said everyday this team makes me need a pan galactic gargle blaster just to keep going.

  4. It would be classic if someone did onsite live reporting down at The Union office for transfer deadline day like in the UK.
    “I think I see some headlights pulling in to lot C. Yes they are definitly headlights. It’s the first sign of activity I’ve seen down here in 17 hours. Wait they’re pulling up to me. This could be it. Two strong athletic men are getting out. One is about 6-4 I assume he could be our new striker, the other slightly smaller . . . I can’t tell if he’s left footed or not, let me watch his gait. Wait wait they are aksing me something. I’m sorry what’s was that? . . . yes I am getting robbed ladies and genteleman, I repeat I am currently being robbed!”

  5. It is amazing the leverage a writer can generate when using parenthetical asides as a fulcrum to lay out an argument as the first portion of the article does.
    I enjoy your work.
    When I think of things regarding our beloved Union I’m reminded of a paradox…. If I had ham I’d make a sandwich if I had bread… in the meantime….just
    ….holding steady at 31,000 feet awaiting word from the tower- I’m not in panic mode – I’m in contemplative cynicism mode with mild arrogance and the right to argue for the sake of arguing-… awaiting word from the tower. Call sign.
    el pachyderm.

    • “contemplative cynicism mode” – I’m stealing that one.

      And I am right there with you regarding the off season. Faith in the plan is earned by past performance, and Union FO have done little to earn mine.

    • Thanks! I knew a girl, this poet, she used parentheses like they were grammatical tools devised solely for her. I think that’s what got me using them, although I don’t come close to what she can do. But it’s cool to hear that it worked in this case. You never know until someone tells you, you know?

  6. Any truth to the rumor that they are going to change the name of the stadium club to Milliways?

  7. I’m close to panic mode. Where have we gotten better when compared to last year? Goalkeeper should be an upgrade, Sapong should be a nice addition, and I’m excited for another year of Wenger settling into a winger role. Then there are a few unknowns as far as what you get from Berry, Pfeffer, and McLaughlin. On the downside, no Okugo, which leaves a gaping hole at CDM (or CB should Edu move up), another year’s worth of wear and tear on Casey, and nothing to suggest right that our bench strength is any better. Overall, it feels like a wash right now, which isn’t great for a team who missed the playoffs. Trying to stay optimistic, but keeping the panic button within reach.

  8. The Black Hand says:

    How deep is the water, under the Commodore Barry?

  9. This reads like an episode of LOST. Well done.
    “Guys…where are we?”

  10. OneManWolfpack says:

    Personally, I’d consider myself to be very concerned, but my next step is full blown panic. Honestly though, I really don’t know what I expect to happen, if something happens at all.
    I, sadly, predict that in a week or two the FO & Curtain will be telling us how hard they tried and how they had X, Y, and Z all lined up but it all somehow fell through…. but that they believe in the group they have, BLAH BLAH BLAH…
    Please someone tell me why I’m wrong…

    • If expected signings do fall through because the FO screws it up (or goes cheap) I wonder if Curtin will toe the party line as meekly as Hackworth did. I hope I don’t get to find out.

    • Wolf that’s exactly what I think will happen as well.

      • We were supposed to get a world class coach too…but we got Curtain. Nice guy, but you know what they say about nice guys….

    • This. You hit the nail on the head. I feel we’re getting nothing, nada, zilch. We are going to war with what we have. If their “money ball” gambit doesn’t result in playoffs this year…..I’m pretty sure this charter member STH will pass on my tix next year. Hate to say it, hate to think it. But many of my friends have already bailed. We shall see

  11. Fire Me. Now. says:

    I believe the Okugo deal was a PanGalactic Gargleblaster. Or maybe two.
    Fire Me. Now!
    Love, Sak

  12. The answer is 42.

  13. Atomic Spartan says:

    Glad to see PSP took my advice. Brilliant article

  14. Excellent article, made me want to reread the book (eh re-watch the movie?)
    The real question is… Are we allowed to panic on 2/1?

    • 2/1 is the start date for panic to build. Mid-month (we’ll say 2/15) is the date that full-fledged panic is allowed. Remember, “After all, you can always save your panicking for later, once all doubt has been removed about the horrible fate that is about to confront you, and you can fully let loose without any concern that someone will say you are panicking too early.”

      That would be “later.”

  15. Dan, thanks for the shot-out. I’m just imagining all of the potential advertising slogans for the 1981 four door, four cylinder, 180 horsepower Conor Casey.

    It’s surprisingly nimble, but not as effective for traveling long distances. It really is the perfect warm weather car to tool around the shore or your neighborhood in.

  16. NYRB signs Sacha Kljestan? The Union sign ????????

  17. Every other team in the league would be envious of our squad numbers if the goalkeepers were #1, 42, and 92.

  18. Instead of thinking like a panicked fan I wanted to try to think like someone in the front office with the financial limitations that they have. I think any moves that are going to happen are going to be based on one or both of the following: 1. How much they get back on potential transfer of Valdes and 2. Which, of what I would imagine to be 2-4 possibilities, striker they sign. This would all directly affect their budget and what they can afford towards other players/positions. I think when/if anything happens we’ll see a long list of things or several things happen right after another. Again, that’s assuming anything comes through at all, so we’ll see.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I suspect that the FO is waiting for the lockout, so the will have ample time to reinforce the club through solid player acquisitions.

      • Strike seems more likely than a lockout from what I keep hearing from the players union.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Thats what I’m getting out of this, as well. My comment was a poor attempt at humor.
        This strike will cripple an already shaky league. I hate to say it, but I’m with the owners on this one. The MLS is not equipped (yet) to absorb the effects that free agency would bring. Financially strapped clubs (us) would never be able to compete with the giant contracts that would arise. We would have a league of 4 competitive teams…the rest would be garbage and never have a chance. We need to preserve some level of parity.

      • There would still be a salary cap in place which to some extent would keep things level. The richest teams could still grossly overpay for DPs, but that would be about it.

  19. Every damn team except San Jose, and Colorado(they are in the process of signing Lucas Pittinari) has been making moves except the Philadelphia Union. If this season starts with this roster than from day one this fan base needs to campaign for new ownership. No more sitting on our hands and being told we are not worthy of more than a 2nd rate, small market, mid to bottom level franchise.

  20. Another great read from Dan!! And the comment session…the PSP readers make it fun and informative as always! Thanks everyone!!

  21. Why panic? Freddy Adu might be coming back to MLS.

  22. Is it possible to panic if you had zero expectations to begin with? Maybe they’ll actually end up signing somebody but Sugarman kicking off the offseason blathering about analytics and youth development didn’t inspire much hope. Sounded like he was trying to sell fans on a lack of resources/ambition actually being a “plan.”

  23. Panic is a relative term. I’m just disappointed that we are relying on a nice guy (Curtin), with ZERO MLS head coaching or player management experience, plus Albright, ditto on the MLS coaching and player management experience, to build this team. Rene? Please…

    And we all know that Nick distanced himself last year from any player decisions, while the parking lots remain unpaved? (I have no idea if they finally paved those lots, I never park there).

    I went to the SuperDraft just to watch our brain trust and how they interacted with the rest of the league. And while many of the other Head Coaches and GMs were talking to other teams (presumably about deals), our guys were buried nose deep in paperwork, never leaving the table but to pee. Then Jay walks in for 5 minutes… 5 minutes, shakes hands, and leaves.

    Not sure what to make of this upcoming season, but one thing is for sure… rookie management has accomplished squat, compared to other Eastern non-playoff squads or expansion teams, and the clock is ticking…

  24. The Black Hand says:

    There’s talk of a striker from Wigan…not too bad, actually. Andy Delort.

  25. UnitedPenn13 says:

    Andy Delort – Substitute forward playing less than 400 minutes this year for 2nd division Wigan Athletic. Played for 5 different clubs in 6 years = marquee forward? Is this a René Meulensteen deal?

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