A View from Afar

The wrath of the soccer gods

Photo: Daniel Studio

“There comes a point where you start just feeling sorry for these guys and their goalkeeping woes. We haven’t reached that point yet. This is funny as hell.”

— Fan comment, MLSsoccer.com story on Philadelphia Union’s most recent goalkeeper signing

The soccer gods apparently have a sense of humor to go with their vengeful streak.

It wasn’t enough to run over Philadelphia Union and leave the carcass on the side of the road.

The soccer gods had to turn the team into American soccer’s most tragic joke. Only Freddy Adu’s career and Pablo Mastroeni’s mustache can compete.

Just when it looked like the goalkeeper fiasco couldn’t get worse, it did.

Rais Mbolhi returned to training last Tuesday. Union fandom replied, “WTF?”

That same day, both of the Union’s other goalkeepers went down with injuries. MLS fandom replied with laughter.

Either Mbolhi secretly went Tonya Harding on them, or there is some seriously bad soccer god juju going on here.

“Now they’re just f*cking with us.”

— Fan comment, MLSsoccer.com story on Philadelphia Union’s most recent goalkeeper signing

Rather than start Mbolhi at Vancouver, Union manager Jim Curtin opted for a backup second division goalkeeper on loan — and a league pool goalkeeper as his backup. This makes perfect sense if Mbolhi secretly hired low-grade mafia hitmen to injure his fellow goalkeepers in a conspiracy to launch himself back into the starting lineup. What if he decides he wants to play striker? (How much would you pay to see him fight Conor Casey? Yeah, me too.) It also makes sense if Mbolhi is a flaming jerk now set for summer transfer, which is essentially the account the Union are putting forth.

The Union then got smoked 3-0 by Vancouver, tying a team record for most losses (4) in a row. The Union can underachieve and play poorly enough on their own. With some vengeful soccer gods helping out, the Union can be unstoppable. It apparently wasn’t enough that:

  1. Andrew Wenger got stopped by one of the best goalkeeping saves of the year and promptly returned to his funk;
  2. Vancouver got away with a foul on Ethan White that allowed a breakaway goal;
  3. Richie Marquez, a rare Union bright spot, received an undeserved red card;
  4. The team was already riddled with injuries.

No, the player of the game for the Union had to be that aforementioned second division backup goalkeeper, Brian Sylvestre.

It’s as if the soccer gods squeezed lemon juice in the wound to remind everyone of Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz’s classic line from 2014, “… now we have three of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer, in my opinion.” Now, the Union have none of them, effectively. Sylvestre is the fifth Union goalkeeper to see action since then.

“To tell you the truth, I’m losing track of the goalies the Union have.”

In reply: “They’re gonna start signing Spinal Tap drummers.”

— Fan comments, MLSsoccer.com story on Philadelphia Union’s most recent goalkeeper signing

So when did it start? Is it truly a goalkeepers curse? What does it stem from?

The soccer gods likely first noticed the Union during the Peter Nowak era, when he began experimenting on his players with Polish water torture — “enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to Dick Cheney and co. — and allegedly trying to pocket transfer fees. Back then, however, the soccer gods had Chivas USA and Toronto FC available, so there were plenty of other dysfunctional MLS teams to mess with.

But then Chivas USA folded and left an opening at the “Tormented by the Soccer Gods for Sins against Soccer” table. The soccer gods needed one more club worthy of a comeuppance.

The Union just had bad timing. They offended the soccer gods at exactly the wrong time.

Had the signing of Mbolhi and controversial September benchings of Amobi Okugo and Zac MacMath happened in any other season, maybe the results would have been just ordinarily bad. You know, the team loses a cup final in extra time and crashes out of playoff contention, Okugo leaves in exchange for 10 rolls of nickels and a Kaka jersey, MacMath departs on a year-long skiing trip, etc., etc.

But it all happened right when the soccer gods needed to replace Chivas. Meanwhile, there was Union management finally closing the book on any pretenses of developing the young players that fans had patiently cheered on for years, and they were slamming that book shut in such memorable fashion.

Yes, the soccer gods had found Chivas USA’s replacement.

“This is what happens when you don’t sign enough goalkeepers.”

“This is almost as funny as the Sons of Ben making a movie about themselves.”*

— Fan comments, MLSsoccer.com story on Philadelphia Union’s most recent goalkeeper signing

So the Union are a joke once again. Nobody in Philadelphia is happy about it.

Maybe you saw Antoine Hoppenot earnestly lash out at the most negative elements of the fan base over the weekend.

Some Union fans then lit him up in return.


Hoppenot has been marginalized from the Union this season far more than he deserves — could it hurt to start him once in place of the struggling Wenger? — but he still cares. Good for him.

Hopefully the rest of his team cares as much. Overcoming the wrath of the soccer gods is hard work — almost as hard as overcoming the missteps of the Union front office.

* Note: Filmmaker Jeff Bell made the movie. He’s a childhood friend of SoBs founder Bryan James. No indications he’s a member of the SoBs, but … well, you get the point of the joke.


  1. While I always appreciate a “nod from the gods”, as Tin Cup says or the ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ blues lyrics as means of putting symbols to angst… they are only symbols. My heart knows….
    …this is all self inflicted. This is all self inflicted. This is all self inflicted.
    I’ve been following the pulse very closely these past months, along with many others…and the mood has turned from anger to humor. This is all in an effort to preserve our own minds as a group and individually. It is the stage of grief known as acceptance.
    We can all rail rail skewer skewer skewer skewer as I like to say- and I won’t stop personally, but none of it matters a bit until we stop going to the games and force the owners or the league to act.
    It is so truly disappointed how royally the Philadelphia Union has fucked this up.

    • It’s not ALL self-inflicted. Larceny-esque officiating, a DUI arrest, and injury after injury after injury are not the fault of the Union management or FO. Mind you, 70% of this is self-inflicted, but there is an extra heaping helping of unbelievably bad luck on top of it all.

      Also, while I am no longer particularly supportive of Jim Curtin, I will say the one decision he made that is unquestionably correct is the decision to fire M’Bolhi into the sun. M’Bolhi is clearly just a massive negative presence, and expunging him is the first step toward rebuilding the franchise, both in the locker room and on the balance sheet.

      • For this season maybe yes a run of misfortune but I have argued that misfortune tends to follow the already downtrodden.
        You are looking at the microcosm of this season which is fine while my self infliction arguments are for the macrocosm of The Onions 6 years of rank-ness.
        The injuries of the culture and system are all self inflicted.

      • ScottyMac says:

        Injuries in training under the direction of the team may indeed fall under self inflicted. DUI isn’t some BS soccer God, but a self inflicted moment of stupidity. The Union aren’t hard done by, they’re just woefully incompetent and are demonstrating they have zero business being in the business of soccer.

    • I, for one, am enjoying the emotional roller coaster that is being a soccer supporter and Philadelphia sports fan.

      Mind you, I’m typing this while wiping the tears from my eyes with a blood and beer-soaked towel embroidered with “Don’t Panic”.

  2. So who do you propose to be Pedro Cerrano and get Jobu off our backs?

    • Dan Walsh says:

      “If you no help me now, I say, ‘F*ck you, Jobu. I do it myself.'”

    • John Ling says:

      We need a chicken and some rum first. Sugarman can’t afford those, but he’ll be willing to get you $5 footlong turkey hoagie from Subway and a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20.

  3. the gods smile not on the small-minded … I mean small-market teams. ironic how the recent disfavored squads have all been in larger markets – LA, Toronto, Philadelphia. Maybe Sugarman can move the club to a smaller market, say Oklahoma City (no offense intended) and we can get some visionary ownership whom the gods may tolerate – but funding is no guarantee, as evidenced by Rogers Communications in Toronto. the beach beckons this summer.

  4. The Soccer gods don’t smile on an inept ownership, management/FO and coaching staff. The soccer gods have put an MLS franchise in the Philly region that is being totally mismanaged! Why would the soccer gods smile on that!?

    Sell this Franchise to a competent and financially competitive ownership!!


  5. alicat215 says:

    Sorry, if a player is stupid enough to engage the supporters ( from a Princeton grad????) in shit talking…….than it is not nonsense. He totally deserved to get lit up. If it was Edu, Carroll, or Gaddis it may be different….but this twerp hasn’t seen the pitch all season…..and then he’s going to talk smack to the supporters? Please…….if he’s that dumb…..he deserved all of it.

  6. It’s like everyone in MLS is in on the joke, while the Union chuckle, having no idea why.
    What’s the saying, “If you sit down at the table, look around, and can’t find the sucker, you’re the sucker.”

  7. Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?

  8. murphthesurf says:

    I have been to the stadium more times than AH this season. ..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *