A View from Afar / Commentary

The Union a good team? Perish the thought

Photo: Earl Gardner

“Is this your new normal, Union fans? Dare you indulge your hopes instead of your fears? The Power Rankings Politburo’s opinion is that yes, you should dare. Philly’s got the pieces to compete throughout the entire season.” MLSsoccer.com, Power Rankings, placing the Union at No. 5 this week.

The fools.

They see one brilliant free kick and think the team has made it.

One stretch of four good matches, and suddenly there’s a good soccer team in Philadelphia Chester.

One excellent bit of scouting and coaching by a technical staff finally at appropriate size and with appropriate duties, and suddenly all is well.

One new superstar goalkeeper, and now all the goalie jokes are behind us.

Little do these outsiders know. The fools.

Perhaps they know, theoretically, what it is like to follow a losing team in a town historically full of them.

But they simply cannot know what it feels like when your teams not only use the tried and tested ways to blow games, but they find new and inventive ways to do it too, sort of like this:

That, my dear friends, is the danger of hope. Full body trust fall fail.

Philadelphians know better.

Philadelphia Union fans shall not succumb to such foolishness. (Again.)

There is a place for burnt-out, soul-crushed cynics, and it is Philadelphia, where the good folks keep the light on late for these poor souls still mumbling about Allen Iverson, Mitch Williams, Randall Cunningham, and some guy named Mickey Jones Brunson.

And for those of you telling us to lighten up because Villanova just won the NCAA basketball tournament in historic fashion, let us remind you that Nova is a Main Line school for rich kids and scholarship athletes, so we just don’t care. (Sorry, Jim Curtin.) Come talk to us when Temple, La Salle, Drexel or St. Joseph’s win it (which will be never).

You outsiders can take your optimism and shove it, right along with your tourism-glamorized cheese steak fixation. (We all know the Italian roast pork sandwich is Philly’s best. For those who don’t, it’s time to catch up.)

True, let’s concede that Tranquillo Barnetta’s 90th minute free kick winner is probably the best goal we’ve ever seen by a Union player.


Yes, Andre Blake is becoming the MLS version of the Human Highlight Reel, pulling off game-changing saves almost weekly now, such as his stoppage time stunner this past Friday against Orlando.

[gfycat data_id=”BitterTepidDiscus” data_autoplay=false data_controls=false data_title=true]

Sure, the midfield has been good, and they even have a sixth midfielder playing right back who’s really fun to watch with the ball. (And a seventh at left back, but who’s counting?)

And yeah, this team is near the top of the standings.

But we are five games into the season. Five? Yes, five!

Five games does not a season make.

Hope? You want to talk to me about hope? This is just the sports gods’ clever way of setting up Philadelphia fans yet again for another kidney punch.

Nobody cares that the Union look like a good team.

Nobody cares that the Union are awfully fun to watch right now.

Nobody cares —

Wait a second.

Wait, there’s fun involved?

And entertaining soccer?

Late game-winners?

Stoppage time heroics?

Well. Hmmm… OK then.

So, you’re telling me there are still tickets available for the next game?


  1. The Cliff of Union Despair is lonely, please don’t rub it in.
    …and as good as Quillo’s goal was, I still think Kleberson’s was better, if only for the chance to yell “Why has he been bench-warming, you idiots?” at the coaching staff.
    I actually look forward to the next game…

  2. Earl Gardner says:

    Hope is for suckers

  3. the cynicism of a Philadelphia Sports fan is earned. EARNED. Treasured. Valued above ALL other emotions, reasoning as a sense of duty and obligation to guard against ourselves against the nature of the franchise of which we have NO control…. and therein lies the fundamental problem, specifically as it relates to the game of soccer. Pragmatist told me I need to lighten up though… 🙂
    coming from a guy who for two full years argued and lobbied and typed over and over and over about the need for a sporting director with a vision philosophy and plan and the need for patience to see it to fruition yet still finds energy and need to belabor and argue on behalf of the need for this game to change radically both locally and nationally.
    “suns coming up and I’m rolling over…..but I’m holding on… waiting all night waiting and I said I’m sorry waiting all night waiting all night… sail on sail on…. so far away so far away far away so far away….”

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      El Pachyderm, you think! You apply higher order thinking skills to problems and you develop logical conclusions. Please do not stop doing so. Sure sometimes you get on a roll and get in a rush. I have read enough of your point of view that I know you forgot the qualifier “non-family” from the dissertation on emotions above.
      Step back a moment and laugh at the absurdities of the life process? Sure! We all need to do that more often. But never cease to apply analyizing, synthesizing and concluding, never!

    • pragmatist says:

      There are no rules that state you have to live in a binary condition: Cynic, or enjoyable. You can both enjoy the games and the sport, while at the same time asking for its improvement…and expecting impending doom, as we have become accustomed in this region.
      Think of the words of the great poet, The Joker: “Why so serious?!” 😉

  4. pragmatist says:

    We are Charlie Brown, telling Lucy we will not try to kick the ball because we know she will pull it away again.
    We won’t try to kick it. We won’t.
    Here we are, lying flat on our backs, yet again.
    I will proceed through this season with cautious optimism, counting every success as a bonus to a building year.

  5. Lucky Striker says:

    Just a matter of time until Garber sells off Blake, Carroll’s legs fall off and Ilson and Pontius join Edu in the ranks of the terminally unavailable.

    You’ll see………

    * just adding my expertise in dashed hopes to Dan’s chunky soup recipe.

  6. I agree with el Packy… The cynicism is earned…possibly even passed down from generation to generation! This has been a great start. My hope is growing,but I am keeping it tempered. So far the changes have been good. I will enjoy it, and keep hope and her sister patience close by my side. Together we will ride out the good times!

    • pragmatist says:

      Not too high, not too low. That is how to be a Philly Sports Fan. Not many achieve that balance, but it is the goal.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Especially considering this is a fan base that discussed at length some thing as inane as Sam Bradford’s particularly loose jersey sleeves.

      If that doesn’t sum us up I know of nothing that will..

  7. Old Soccer Coach says:

    For those overdosing on hope and optimism, may I refer you to the interview Adam Cann did after the first three games with someone whom Adam considers knowledgeable about attempts to develop useful statically analytic tools for interpreting soccer.
    The datum I remember from the interview is that Andre Blake at that point had had eleven diving saves, and that that was five more than Blake’s next closest-in-the-table fellow keeper.
    The over all conclusion was that we have had some good luck, pontius’s right-place, right-time twice in Columbus has not been duplicate, for example. Orlando was missing key players and still took Rosenberry out behind the woodshed with winter and Kaka.
    The positive sustain table change for me is competent depth. In the past, if there has been depth it has be tailored to adjust to the play of the season immediately past., at a time when the standard of play seems to have been improving dramatically. We were always behind the curve. New additions had been good players in MLS three and four years before.

    Now we seem to be on the curve with our depth instead of behind it, so missing Ilsinho, and earlier Barnetta and Nogueira, did not guarantee losses. That’s good. But we dropped winnable points in Chicago, which is not.
    I doubt contending teams will attempt to play us with their benches this season, resting their bell cows as more than one did last year. We are no longer below average. It is too soon to argue that we are above average, I.e., good.
    “A cynic is a frustrated idealist.”

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      sustainable, not sustain table. Sorry.

    • I agree that we are punching a little above our weight so far. Pontius’ goals were indeed fortunate — earned, and very well-taken, but fortunate nonetheless, during a match when we certainly looked no better than our opponents.

      I do not agree about Orlando, however. Sure they were missing some key players, but we were also missing several key players (Edu, Ilsinho, Creavalle). So that doesn’t wash.

      I said pre-season that the team was likely to be greatly improved on offense, but I was worried about a defense which features 2 rookies, a second-year man, and Fabinho. I said that the only way we would outperform this season would be if Andre Blake became the superstar we hoped he might be. So far, my prediction has been borne out in spades.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Never heard the quote a cynic is a frustrated idealist…. boy I feel that one.

  8. The Union have been OK and being OK gets you into first place in a MLS East that has been a home of unloved orphan puppies so far this season.

  9. Did I just read a Shel Silverstein poem or something?

  10. Jesus… can’t we just have 1st place for a week, before the “pump the brakes, this team will falter” articles / comments come? Treat this start like Star Wars: The Force Awakens… don’t dissect it, cause you’ll go nuts… just enjoy that it happened, and know it will spark better things down the line 🙂

    • pragmatist says:

      Amen. Find some joy in current success, but recognize they haven’t won any silverware yet, and there is still work to do.
      But enjoy the present.

  11. Good or lucky? Mirage or reality? Time will tell with the 2016 version of the U, but enjoy the ride for however long it lasts as this is still supposed to be a building year.

  12. der Fussballzuschauer says:

    All goalkeepers know one must be good to be lucky and lucky to be good.

  13. Be the ball.
    Make your future.
    Be (happy).
    … and you want bittersweet – the game (I was at with my dad) where Daryl Dawkins punched Doug Collins and we lost to the Trail Blazers.

  14. Drhammerheel says:

    This may be my favorite string of comments to one of the most spot-on pieces in the whole PSP library.

  15. Josh Lyman: “You like winning, don’t you?”
    Toby Zeigler: “Saves you from having to say ‘Please’.”

  16. Optimism! Cynicism! Pessimism! Anatagonism! Athleticism! Synergism! Baptism! Ventriloquism! Autoeroticism!
    (Waaaaaaait a second…I sense somethin’ just went off the rails…)
    The point is:
    Regardless of the final outcome, this has been SO much more entertaining that the last two years.

  17. Over the wall, ‘pinched’ under the bar, just across the line…GOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL, & then “he got a piece of that, Blake just saved the 3 points”… Yyyeeeeeesssssss… doesn’t get much better than that… UNION – UNION – UNION !!! 9 points in 5 weeks, top of the standings… PRICELESS!!!

  18. Dan, I have a question for you, Adam, and the soccer minds on this board. You have both now referred to Keegan as a midfielder playing right back.
    By calling him a midfielder playing right back, I can’t tell if you are saying that is a good or a bad thing.
    I know he is not near the ability level of names like Nathaniel Clyne, Kyle Walker, or Pablo Zabaleta – but I ask are these midfielders playing right back? I see many similarities Rosenberry’s his attacking play on the right side of the field as these players.
    My perspective on his play has been that he is the exact type of player we need on the field to implement a high pressing, possession style system. So that is a good thing to me … are you saying he should be playing midfield?

    • For me, I’m not yet labeling the “midfielder at right back” thing good or bad. (In fact, I was mostly just being a bit flippant in my column above.) I’ve seen him play five games so far. It’s not a large enough sample size to evaluate that, in my view. I’m impressed with what he can do on (and off) the ball in possession/attack. He has shown definite defensive deficiencies, which you can chalk up to him being a rookie and playing against better players, playing a fairly new position for him (he played most of his college career in center midfield, I believe, until his last year of school), or just not being a good defender. Given time, he’ll improve defensively. Also given time, the league will have more game film to scout him and figure him out. So, wait and see.

      So far, he looks like a great acquisition, and yes, potentially a good type of player to implement a high-pressing, possession-style system. But if a larger sample size reveals that he does in fact often play defense like a spinning turnstile (and it’s not just a few bad moments for a rookie), then you have another conversation to have.

      I don’t speak for Adam here, by the way, though I think his excellent analysis this week on this topic definitely added some shade to something I’d kind of been thinking since before he was drafted. (i.e. Was he being drafted to play right back or center midfield?)

      • Dan, thanks for the response and your perspective. I did read Adam’s excellent analysis earlier this week, which is what led me to the question after you also mentioned it. Thanks again.

  19. If memory serves, the knuckleheads running this site polled us to predict the season and most had this team barely making or missing playoffs, eh? So what is “good?” Blake is stellar and we’re one injury away from No Andrew or No C.J. and no answer for either. Or is “good” celebrating BC’s start – perhaps because he has better midfielders around him so he can just be “BC.”
    Frankly I don’t care to see LeToux start again (very sorry OSC) – we need to know if Leo can play here. I’ll trade a loss – or two – to find out.
    Because I remember your poll. And my mind (barely missing) isn’t changed. About this year. And about Big Ern’s vision. Or P. Or P.

  20. James Lockerbie says:

    O k I know, I am late to the party here. I do recall several past articles and comments observing the fact that the Union have in the past 5 years fit in so well with the Philly sports market. A team ran like a small market team in a big market. The Union raising our hopes only to let us down.

    Well, what if and I know it’s a very big what if, they actually get into the playoffs. What if they stun everyone and win the MLS Cup! O k remember I said it was a VERY BIG “What if” ! Here’s my point what if the Union are just like the other teams in Philly. History would suggest,if they were to win the MLS CUP this year. We would not see another cup, for 25 – 30 years! That would be a long wait for another chance to enjoy another cup.

    So, whatever this is, however far we go this season, I plan on enjoying it!

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