Commentary / Union

The four agreements of union fandom

Photo: Daniel Studio

Union fans are searching for answers. In a season that began with such promise and has gone so quickly sour, those who have invested their time, money, and emotions in the Boys in Blue are beginning to look elsewhere for what the seats of Talen Energy Stadium can no longer provide. Whether they’re showing up in pews for a bible study on the teachings of The Book of Earnest, or in queues for a practicum on brief and breezy finality at The Cliff of Union Despair, the followers are restless.

Part of what is so unsettling for Union fans that they perceive the Union to be very different than what the Union perceive themselves to be. “Faith in the group” and “trust in the process” are certainly cogent management theories, and as long-term blue prints for an organization, they should be valued by fanbases in every sport. But they are rendered useless in the face of consistent and repeated failure.

In order to fully convey what type of team Union fans would like to support, perhaps the duty is on the fans, even as a last resort, to give working instructions for operation back to the team. Using a book called “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, famous in self-help circles and popularized by Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady (he didn’t get upset about Deflategate because of this book… it’s that impactful), Union fans can give their team a rubric for salvaging their relationship.

Agreement #1: Be impeccable with your word

While the Union seem to be more transparent this season than perhaps any before, they still have a glaring communication issue: the team has written a narrative about who they want to be that hasn’t manifested itself in who they actually are. In support of this narrative, which claims that the Union are a savvy, Moneyball-playing championship contender, the Union were busy rebuilding their roster for the better. However, of the players brought to Philadelphia in the winter, only one, Haris Medunjanin, has proven himself to be an every day starter when the entire squad is healthy. Meanwhile, the worst of them has been little more than a footnote at Bethlehem Steel. Together, the group has lacked chemistry and resolve.

The Union must be clear in their vision, as well as their successes and failures in pursuit of that vision.

Agreement #2: Don’t take anything personally

Criticism of sporting organizations is a topic that consumes every major media market in the United States. Turn on your local sports radio station, “sports shouting” shows like Around the Horn, or any miscellaneous blog dedicated to fixing the local sports team and the theme will be some variation on the same theme: the owners don’t spend enough money, the coaches and front office don’t know what they’re doing, and the players aren’t good enough.

All clichés aside, these are essentially the only relevant criticisms of failing teams (imperfect jerseys and imperfect stadiums are valid, but not nearly as important) and are precisely the criticisms Union fans have of their team. The owners do not spend enough money, and relegation-level positioning in revenue and operating income further support that data. The coaches and front office, as unified as they might be, are sticking to a plan that has produced exactly zero wins since Hilary Clinton had a firewall and an 81.4% chance of winning the 2016 Presidential Election, according to Nate Silver. The players, given soccer’s extremely high correlation between money spent on salaries and on-field team success, are not good enough, with team spending ranking near the bottom of Grant Wahl’s Ambition Rankings.

The Union must invest more in the tangible elements of on-field success: better players.

Agreement #3: Don’t make assumptions

Most Union fans were soccer fans first, Union fans second. In America, this is almost always the case given the overwhelming participation in youth soccer and the young age and relative instability of Major League Soccer. For an organization teetering on irrelevancy in its league and its own market, this is a paramount problem: Union fans have “old flames” that they can run back to when they don’t feel heard, fulfilled, or valued by their local professional franchise. Whether that be their old standby rec-league team, their gang of gnarled Premier League pub pals, or that cute girl in Dortmund jersey who can correctly pronounce “Pulisic,” Union fans have options. People with options don’t have to keep dating the team that doesn’t love them back, no matter how many bribes of puppies or tacos they may offer (though, for enough tacos, I’m willing to prove this theory wrong).

The Union must not assume that their geographic proximity or cache of cultural value is substantial enough for fans to remain engaged through a product that is currently substandard.

Agreement #4: Always do your best

For most of its sporting history, Philadelphia was a blue-collar town that rewarded grit, hustle, and a certain “je ne sais quoi” of crassness (see: Chuck Bednarik, Lenny Dykstra, Charles Barkley, or Conor Casey, or hear any of them pronounce “je ne sais quoi”). Philadelphia media still talks about it, Jim Curtin still talks about it, and Union fans lament that valuing these intangibles is a binary to devaluing other things, most specifically talent. Though every inch of the “Philly Tough” narrative might be a cliché today, the overarching theme of this collection of character traits is this: do your job like your life and team depended on it, and like someone is right behind you trying to take it from you. Effort is a difficult thing to quantify, but there have been enough moments in this young season where the team’s body language and subsequent final push has been unmistakably negative or altogether nonexistent.

The Union must not only play smart, assertive soccer, they must also play for their team and their teammates like the badge is important to them.

Agreement #5: Be skeptical, but learn to listen

(The author’s son, Don Jose Ruiz, added a fifth agreement in the sequel to his father’s work and it fits well with the task at hand.)

“If a coach starts listening to the fans, he ends up sitting next to them.” Jim Curtin is a Philadelphia kid who reads Philadelphia soccer websites, this one included. He’s said as much over the years, so he has some insight into comprehending his team’s predicament from the inside and (at least in part) from the outside. With both of those things in mind, it’s understandable then that he and the Union organization are reluctant to stray from their formational mantra of 4-2-3-1, viewing the team’s poor results as a bump in a very long road. However, despite some ineffective tweaks against New York City FC and some whispers of Starting XI changes at training this week, the longer the team keeps heading down the same road with the same results, regardless of whether or not Curtin remains the coach, the smaller the crowd will be that is there to greet him at the end of the road should things get better.

The Union must do more to embrace the fact that their fans have strong opinions, many of which are informed and in the team’s best interest.


It’s unclear if any of these things will be sufficient to save the Union’s 2017 season or to bring fans back into a place of trust, even in total. Right now, though, things need to change in Chester before it’s too late.


  1. I agree about them overestimating the loyalty of the fans, especially the ones attending the games. I was at the last two games. The Portland match had lots of empty seats and NYCFC even less. Ernie hasn’t seen the stadium half full yet. But if they are down a goal or two at halftime Saturday, he will.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Work commitments have caused me to no longer be able to attend games so I watch… sometimes only with one eye but always, the game is on and one thing has become more and more clear the last three seasons.
      …more and more of that UNION emblem is visible… just as the sea eats away the shore.
      This is irrefutable.

  2. Good read, Chris.

    I think the main cause for disappointment is that most of us expected this club to build on last season and not completely regress. We hoped Ernie’s signings this summer were shrewd, but it looks like they were haphazard. It’s hard not to be angry at the whole organization and quit. But I’m trapped in a way. I can’t just go become a die-hard Portland fan or NYCFC fan. It’s the home club or bust. The Union are the only real game in town.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    This is exceptional work.
    I am truly impressed with this website. There was a time not long ago of upheaval and change and to be honest I fretted things could go sideways for this place. Not the case. PSP is actually better. From the many The One has grown stronger.
    Kudos to the author of this article. Kudos to the authors of other articles of the ever emerging present. Kudos to each and every one of you for taking the time, the initiative and the clear remarkable thinking and bringing it here.
    I considered helping and chose to stay on the sidelines doing what I do… visiting daily, multiple times, stirring up the conversation in a respectful yet forthright manner- putting in the work. This I feel is my role. Some of you bite. Some of you keep me in the corner I’ve painted. Some of you, I surmise, ignore the thoughts altogether. Some just probably think, Isn’t that nice and get on with the day. No worries.
    I tip my hat to you all. All. Well done.
    now back to the regularly scheduled programming.

    • Well yeah, for sure, El P has had a great week. Good guy in the locker room. Room is very tight. We have belief in our commenters. So, yeah, obviously, Montreal is in this week. Tough to play against, they have talent in Piatti so El P will have to make comments factoring in their style of play. We like to snark out of the back, counter attack their arguments. But he’s a guy we believe in, puts in his commentary every week. For sure, he’s a pro/rel guy, but we think he can fit a single entity fandom. For sure.

  4. I liked this article but I don’t think it’s true that the Union have kept the same 11 as much as is stated on here. We have have multiple people start at ST, RW #10, #8, and RCB. That’s a decent amount of shuffle for this early in the season, especially in a league where there is usually a very clear cut top 13 or so players on any team.

  5. You clearly put a lot of work into this article, Chris. Great job. Great writing. All excellent points.

  6. Zizouisgod says:

    Great post, Chris.

    #3 should be a major worry for the Union. If you’re a soccer fan living in the US, you have tons of viewing options available each weekend in order to get your fix without having to support the Union. If this poor run continues, even STHs will stop showing up at Talen and once you lose a customer, it’s really hard to get them back.

  7. #3……exactly, hmmmmm this is a tough one……that Dortmund match I missed this morning that I recorded or the Union at 7:30…….

  8. To point #1…
    As a big Sixers guy, I know allllll about “Trust the Process”. What the Sixers are learning is that, even more importantly than the fans trusting the process, the fans need to trust the man behind the process. Sam Hinkie, for all of his faults, was transparent with the fans and backed up his words with actions. He said what he was going to do and he did it. When they replaced him with Bryan f’n Colangelo many fans stopped trusting the process because he wasn’t transparent and his actions (and track record) weren’t matching his words.
    Earnie Stewart has not engendered the trust that Hinkie was able to. Why? His actions aren’t matching his words. For all of his talk of building the academy and building with youth, the majority of his moves have been for older players. Ilsinho is 31. Bedoya is 29. Medunjanin is 32. Simpson is 28. Pontius will be 30 next month. In fact, of the 11 players who have played over 180 minutes this season, only 4 are under 28. In 3 years, most of the guys we see now will be on the wrong side of their prime years. And don’t even get me started on the 2018 first for Charlie Davies debacle…
    Earnie talks about the long game, but the Union players playing right now are in their win-now years. It’s that inability to reconcile the words with the actions that is at the heart of this. If we were watching Wijnaldum make killer mistakes, we could excuse it in the name of experience. If we were watching Fafa disappear for long stretches on the left wing, we could excuse it as learning how to work into the flow of the game. If we were watching Epps dribbling the ball into traffic and losing it, we could excuse it as learning what works and what doesn’t at this level. With Fabinho, Pontius, and Ilsinho, it’s just depressing.
    Let your actions match your words Earnie.

  9. Chris Gibbons says:

    I truly appreciate the feedback from everyone. Thank you.

  10. The Triple Whammy

    Poor Personnel Moves. …..Incompitent Coaching…… Untimely Injuries….

    I Will only watch dvr games now until Curtin is fired and Ernie actually makes a good move and gets The #10 they should have acquired shortly after Barnetta left. If that means selling Blake for cash and getting a quality not too old # 10 and a couple of 1st round draft choices do it now! Blake is going to bolt as soon as he can. Get some value for him now while his stock is still relatively high.

    Sugarman has got to find other partners with deeper pockets or this cycle of mediocrity continues. I think Ernie missed the boat this year by underestimating Barnettas importance and overestimating what the big Serb would do for this team. it has not worked. Goals are down Wins are down. Possession in the middle of the field maybe slightly better but the attack is just awful. The Union are also even slower up the middle from the midfield line back to Blake. Yarros injury and Edus reinjury has not helped either. Onyewu is too slow and may be injured The Union has had to resort to a rookie as centerback. On the upside the EAGLES may contend with some luck. Most of my favorite Union players are elsewhere or retired. Le Toux, Califf, Mondragon, Jack Mac, Valdez, Mapp, Harvey, Macmath, Salinas, Orasco/ Fiscal, Williams.

    • Same dude, Union matches sit on the dvr until my kids wake me up in the middle of the night…….then I sit for two hours contemplating wtf I just saw……….

  11. What is their style of play? Why cant they get to the endline and cross the ball. Stop crossing the ball at the 25 yard mark. No one is in the box yet. Why go into a defensive shell and give them attacking chances? If it wasn’t for a penalty kick, which Almost didn’t go in, this game was a loss. At times they have good combination play. TO MUCH STANDING AND WAITING, MORE MOVEMENT, CREATE SPACE. We learned that stuff in U-12 ball. COME ON U!!!!!!!!!!!! Very frustrated Section 105 fan

Leave a Reply

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