A View from Afar

Union fans are in the middle of a great story

Photo: 215pix

Every story has a beginning and an end.

The middle is where the challenge lies.

Great writers frame epic tales with something called the try-fail cycle in these middle sections.

You try.

You fail.

You try again in a new way.

You fail.

You persist.

You overcome.

Many classic epics feature this, with every try and failure progressing the story in new and interesting ways, because they reflect the most compelling success stories from real life.

(Spoiler alert.)

In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker repeatedly fails in his early efforts to use the Force before he truly trusts in the power and succeeds in the end.

In The Lord of the Rings, when all seems lost, there is Samwise Gamgee refusing to give up and saving the day.

In The Princess Bride, we see the Man in Black fail three times before he finally succeeds in winning back his true love, while the swordsman Inigo Montoya fails not once, not twice, not even three times, but nine times in his efforts to gain vengeance for his father’s death.

The more difficult the challenge and more valiant the effort to succeed, the more satisfying that success will finally be in the end.

Sports provide great, real life try-fail cycles.

Fans raise their hopes every year, watching their teams try for the title, and for most, it ends in failure. After all, only one team wins the championship.

Chicago Cubs fans watched their team fail every year for 108 seasons. Generations lived and died without ever seeing a championship. That’s why their reactions to last year’s World Series win were so euphoric.

Similarly memorable were the reactions of Phillies fans when the team won the World Series in 2008. Remember the parties throughout the city? The overturned cars in northeast Philly? It wasn’t merely that the Phillies had tried and failed so many times. All four of the city’s major professional teams had failed for 25 straight years. It made the victory that much more satisfying.

Philadelphia Union remain in the midst of that try-fail cycle.

At times, this can frustrate, because you see the trying and the failing, but you don’t yet see what comes after that. And it lasts years, often decades.

But one day, you finally achieve that success.

And it’s so much sweeter because of all the failures required to get there.

Failure is just one step on the path to success.

Sure, it requires some patience. A lot of patience, really, because that one step gets repeated over and over again.

But it’s the path there that makes it all worth it.

At the end of The Princess Bride, after Montoya has finally achieved his lifelong goal, he is a changed man, but something is missing. “I have been in the revenge business so long,” Montoya says, “now that it’s over, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.”

So it can be with sports. After you win it all, what comes after pales next to what came before.

It’s the journey to success that we love in sports. The pitfalls and failures, the trying and trying again, the falling down and getting back up to dust yourself off – This is sports.

Some day, when the Union are champions, you’ll remember now. You’ll see all the fair weather fans and smile knowingly, because you earned your Union street cred by sticking with the team through it all.

And that was just the first eight years. It was a damn roller coaster.

But …

There’s Keegan Rosenberry, the local kid who becomes a national team star.

Andre Blake, Jamaica’s miracle shot-stopper in the 2022 World Cup.

The stoppage time winner in the last game of the season to make the playoffs.

And you get to see all-time leading U.S. goalscorer Christian Pulisic suit up for the Union in 2031, when they reach the Club World Cup for the first time. You spot Le Toux, his wife and their children in the stands cheering on the team, and you cheer on as some kid from West Philly scores the game-winning goal.

Sure, those last things are the ending I just wrote. So what?

The Union will write their own ending.

You’re still in the middle of the story. Stick with it. Chances are it’s a great story.


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    Quiet days here in Philly Blog Land::
    What I have come to find in professional sports, particularly salary cap driven leagues, is the shear difficulty in maintaining excellence year after year.
    Right now MLS is a Labile League — as are many other (parity centered socialisms for the ultra wealthy Capitalist Owners) sports where a 12-4 NFL team or MLS semifinalist one season is relegated (pun intended) to the bottom of the standings the next.
    People can scoff all they want at the New England Patriots near 15 years of excellence, but in today’s day of young millionaires, players ‘leaving to get theirs’, over priced free agents that somehow lose the drive to be ‘great’ front offices looking to manage quick fixes, a few things seem to be evident:
    1. Drafting well is hugely important in draft led leagues -see those same New England Patriots and Golden State Warriors (who incidentally were terrible at this for decades)
    2. A farm-system capable of building players in house that keeps youth pipelining through. SF Giants, St Louis Cardinals
    3. Most important to all this: A Vision, Philosophy and Plan that supersedes everything across the entire organization.
    4. Bringing in high impact payers that by into the collective VPP completely.
    Union are in the middle days and while many have little interest in the youth pipeline is is imminently important to producing quality seasons year after year after year… which then hopefully frees up cash to spend on other players.

  2. I think Chicago fans have it much better right now. Unless our FO makes similar moves our story will not be great.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    This is a simple explanation of why I renew my season’s tickets every year. When the Union win, I want to be sitting in the seat I’ve been in since 2010.

  4. If we go 108 seasons without an MLS Cup, there’s no way I’m re-DOOPing for the 2119 season.

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