Commentary / Union

Making the playoffs is an achievement. Enjoy it.

Photo: Earl Gardner

“What if tomorrow bring
Sorrow or anything
Other than joy?

What if be wintery chill,
Rain storms or summer’s thrill?

Tomorrow’s the future still!
This is today.

Tomorrow’s the future still,
this is today.”

“Sans Souci,” Columbia College alma mater, first verse

I understand the impulse to look past tonight’s playoff game to the offseason. Trust me, I’ve been as disgusted with the Union’s performance as anyone over the last two months.

Yet it seems misplaced to me to treat tonight’s game — something that few predicted at the start of the year, something happening for only the second time in the Union’s short, star-crossed history — as an event not even worth paying attention to, in favor of speculating about the next iteration of the Union.

Do I think the Union are going to get killed tonight? It’s certainly more likely than not. Toronto is playing at home, beat the Union twice in the last two months, and has the best player in MLS and the captain of the USMNT on their team.

Meanwhile, the Union have looked like the soccer equivalent of a chicken with its head cut off for the last two months.

But there’s a funny thing about chickens with their heads cut off. Sometimes they stay alive.

Last year, I watched a fascinating documentary on Netflix called The Natural History of the Chicken. The movie tells the story of different chickens from history, which is exactly as insane a premise as it sounds. Seriously, go watch this thing.

Anyway, one of the stories is about a chicken who accidentally gets his head cut off. (Or maybe it was intentional. I don’t know, I’m not a chicken.) Despite lacking a head, the chicken stayed alive. And what a life it lived! For eighteen months after its untimely decapitation, Mike the Headless Chicken stayed alive and became one of the most famous chickens in the world.

The Union are like Mike the Headless Chicken. There is no question that their form has been dreadful over the last two months, even worse than my form at any type of structured dancing. You might even suggest that the absence of Vincent Nogueira has left this team headless for the last four months.

But they’re not dead. They’re not. Rail about the goofy rules of MLS however much you want, but they’re the rules, and we knew about them from the first day of the season. In the preseason roundtable, six of the nine PSP writers surveyed (including yours truly!) believed that this team would not make the playoffs. And yet here they are for the first time in half a decade, just 90 minutes of soccer away from one more match at Talen Energy Stadium.

If they can stay alive, if they can capture even a bit of magic, anything is possible. Remember, the Union’s last point of the season came against Toronto at BMO Field, in a game they probably should have won! Beating Toronto is not outside the realm of possibility.

The offseason, like every offseason, will be interesting. I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one does. But it doesn’t matter yet, because the 2016 Union have at least one more game to play. Are Union fans so tortured that we can’t even enjoy an opportunity when we get it?

I went to college at Columbia, home of one of the worst football teams in the history of football. Since I started undergrad, that team has won exactly 12 games in seven years, set against 54 losses. It’s a painful experience almost every week to sit through this poor squad getting destroyed by the likes of St. Francis University or Cornell. The Lions have not won the Ivy League in 55 years, a streak that does not seem like it’s going to end in my lifetime.

But there’s a couplet in the college alma mater, written at the turn of  the century, that I always think about at the beginning of each game: “Though we tomorrow die / this is today.” It reminds me that, at least in sports, there is always hope. Always.

This iteration of the Union will die and the future will come. And with it will come change, players leaving the Union and players joining, coaches coming and going, the name of the stadium by the river mutating to match the corporate entity holding the naming rights.

That’s for tomorrow, though. The Union aren’t dead. This is today. Today, there’s a soccer game on a field in Canada.

Maybe it’s one last toast to a roller coaster of a season.

But it might instead be the start of something special.


  1. In 2008 everybody in the Delaware Valley knows Hell froze over.
    Before that joyous event, the best boys soccer team in the Inter Ac came to play the second best at the second best’s field. And in the middle twenty minutes of the first half the second best’s striker scored a natural hat trick. Second became first; first became second. The world turned upside down.
    The day of the parade now-first visited now-second at second’s home field and went down 1-4 by the end of the first half. Now-first nonetheless won that day 5-4, effectively winning the league with one game to play.
    Such events are memorable because they are rare. More often than not form holds.
    But not always.

  2. Telling a Philadelphian to enjoy it and be positive is like telling my wife to relax.
    Not gonna happen

  3. Lucky Striker says:

    I’m just impressed somebody was willing to reveal he watched a broadcast on the life of chickens………

  4. The question is: Is this team Mike the Headless chicken who survives or just a headless chicken that has no will to live? I hope that they live on, but only way I see that happening is with the players coming together and playing free, giving everything they have because there is no tomorrow.

  5. Couldn’t I just do the usual and stew in a mixture of doubt, anxiety and loathing?

  6. Before this season started I hoped for playoffs and nothing more. Anything out of tonight or future games in this campaign is a delight. The disgruntled masses are shortsighted. We can’t buy so we must build. Endure!

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Well said Truth: “We can’t buy so we must build” This is the Philadelphia Union. Last time I checked Rome wasn’t built in a day. As I said in another comment… Let’s just watch, and cheer, and hope.

    • I don’t understand the idea of reaching the playoffs as a goal for fans of sports teams, especially soccer. Ok maybe, hopefullly, it gives you another joyous evening watching the team you support, maybe it places your team among the ranks of ‘better teams’ within the league. We’ll find out tonight if either of these happen.

      Personally I haven’t enjoyed watching the Union play in a while. I dont expect to enjoy tonights match either but I’ll go to the pub and watch and cheer with the crew and hope to be wrong. At least I hope for a few moments of beauty and magic from the blue and gold to leave me with a desire to see more of that next season. Because thats why I watch soccer. More so than wins, or points, or certainly playoff appearances. And the Union just dont offer much in that regard.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Hard to argue with but they are still our team. And I believe they will be better. And they will play the style of soccer we all crave.

  7. Steve the downer says:

    Rooting for what can only be described as a poor product the past few months is what I do as a fan.
    Do I have any glimmer of hope that the team will win, meh, maybe 1 percent, but the team has been awful since Nogs left and Bedoya just looks as confused as every other big name signing at the poor quality of most of the team.
    The team is not a good team, the last few months they have not been fun to watch, and if they don’t lose by 2 goals or more tonight it will be a moral victory.

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