Fans' View

Fans’ View: Apathy creeps in

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

I jumped on the season ticket list for the Union almost immediately when Philadelphia was granted an MLS franchise for the 2010 season, and despite a few changes in seat location, I have been there for 8 years now. I still love the game. I’ve coached, I play men’s league soccer whenever possible, I enjoy watching Premier League matches (Everton being my go-to) and random MLS matches, I spend an unusually large amount of my time watching my son train and play, and I am fairly sure that half my wardrobe is soccer related at this point.

Yet, this year I find myself in new territory with the Union. This season just feels different for me – my passion has waned a bit, and apathy has moved into the place once occupied by a steady flow of optimism and hope (check out my last 3½ years of PSP posts…a Twitter commenter once decided that I must “s— rainbows”).

Don’t get me wrong. I still wear Union gear. I don’t make as many games as I once did, largely due to my kids’ calendars, but I very much enjoy the game day experience and will be there whenever I can. Tailgating is still a passion. Talen Energy Stadium is still a great place to watch a match, and food, drink, and overall amenities surrounding game day are probably the best they’ve ever been.

But I’ve admittedly lost my some of my edge. Road games used to be appointment viewing for me, but I now find myself forgetting to set the DVR. Wins aren’t quite as fulfilling as they once were, though on the flip side, losses don’t sting quite so much. While it’s still fun to take friends and family to a game, this organization may have finally pushed me to a state of relative indifference.

What is it that finally has me feeling apathetic? Here are a few thoughts:

    1. Continued Mediocrity – Nearly eight seasons in now, we’re likely looking at six non-playoff seasons and only two playoff seasons (one where we limped over the finish line as the sixth seed). Despite admirable efforts and progress on the youth/academy side, there’s nothing to suggest that the big club will get over the hump anytime soon.
    2. Lack of identity – The best teams, and in particular the best of the mid-to-low level teams on the MLS salary scale (e.g. Sporting KC, FC Dallas) have established identities and players entrenched enough to execute on the team’s preferred identities. The Union seem to have some concepts of how they want to play (defense first, build from the back, higher pressure), but they lack the right personnel to fully execute and the desire to consider alternate approaches that may be a better fit.
    3. So streaky We looked to be one of the worst teams out of the gate, then had one of the top records in the league for a stretch from late spring to the beginning of the summer. We comfortably dispatched Columbus 3-0, firing on all cylinders, then turned around and fell flat against New England. Good times just don’t feel believable or sustainable. Just as we’re about to catch the pesky roadrunner, an anvil falls off a cliff and lands on our heads.
    4. We hardly knew ya – Save for Sebastian LeToux, who was unceremoniously traded twice, how many true impact players have even been here for more than a couple years? Vincent Nogueira and Tranquillo Barnetta, both class players and among my favorites to watch, returned home and left holes that the Union struggled to fill (and still haven’t in the case of Barnetta). Maurice Edu looked to be one of the top CBs in the league and the potential answer at the no. 6 midfield slot before injuries likely ended his time here. Proven players bowing out early combine with very mixed results on player acquisitions (for every Sapong, Bedoya, and Onyewu, there seems to be a Simpson, Alberg, or Ilsinho who just don’t pan out as expected). The result for me at least is a constant feeling of starting over and tempered expectations. Hoping your perennially rebuilt team can finish sixth in an 11 team conference isn’t the pinnacle of ambition. A quiet summer transfer window as our team falls out of contention further amplifies this feeling.
    5. Maybe it’s just me – Changes at work and in my personal life have drawn time and energy in other directions. My son’s calendar is much more interesting and certainly fuller than mine, and I love every minute of that. My daughter’s will likely get there in the next year or two. These changes are inherently good, but they have made me a little less fanatical in my Union fandom.

Closing Thoughts

Priorities shift, though I’m still getting my arms around why this season feels so much different for me. I’ve been a Philadelphia sports fan for many years now, and the Union remain the biggest piece of that. I still love this team, but what will it take to fight off this feeling that’s so painfully neutral? I’m counting on this organization to get me excited about what could be again.

 

 

 

40 Comments

  1. I’d be very worried if I were the Union this offseason. They might lose a lot of current season ticket holders.

    • My season ticket neighbor and I are actively attempting to downgrade our seats. I don’t know if I could ever give them up entirely; having missed over half the home games this season I still adore the opportunity and luxury of having ST.

  2. Good points, important article. Life will always change but I think even in the worst of times the great majority of us readers will support this club. ‘Till I die.

  3. The Union have offered free tickets to three games remaining this season if you purchase a full season plan for next year. I told them it was insulting. Who wants to see this failing team play more this season?

    • I’m actually excited for all of the remaining home matches with the exception of Montreal because our opponents all have a bunch of guys I’m excited to see play.

  4. Nice job Scott.
    .
    Just how much mediocrity can one fan base take? From the start, this season seemed over to me. The lack of a real #10 seemed such a glaring hole, it was hard for me to fathom why Stewart didn’t fill the spot. The season starts, Bedoya is pressed into service in a position not to his strength, and the mediocrity abounds. Curtin eventually comes forth with the idea that the plan was to have Alberg be the #10, but his lack of fitness ruled that out as an option. I am not alone in wondering why this was the plan in the first place. It’s not his strength to be a creator, as he has proven since given the chance after being fit. So who’s misconstrued idea was this in the first place, and why? The Union continuously try to fit square pegs in round holes. After 8 years, I think we’ve all seen enough of that too. For me it’s just disheartening. For as much as Stewart was supposed to come in and change things to make them more professional, it still hasn’t worked out that way. So why should Union fans be hopeful? Why should we care more than just a modest interest? I can’t find a valid answer to give.

    • Alberg was always the plan for the #10 – until he wasn’t and Bedoya had to take over.
      .
      So, going back to your question, why wasn’t Stewart immediately looking for a back-up/replacement for him? Especially by this point, Ernie should absolutely be held accountable for not bringing someone in during this window.

  5. mine’s been more gradual. went from season tix, never missing a home match > giving team ultimatum to win just one match in sept (they did, SKC, 2013), leaving a match in disgust before final whistle (’14) > canceling season tix > attending half home matches + the USOC matches (including NYRB) through to final in ’15 > fewer matches in ’16 > content watching from home, often on delay. gone to a handful of matches, with the means and time to more but not the will.

    life and priorities have changed, but i still watch a lot of soccer across all domestic leagues, premiere & other european, and this team. i care enough to know the roster, read the (more oft depressing) news and dream of competence.

  6. Mediocre would be making the playoffs half the time . . . especially in a league where 60% of the teams now make it by “The two sweetest words in the English language de- fault”.
    .
    Calling the Union mediocre is an insult to the mediocre!

  7. Spring City Phil says:

    Good Article, I myself went from never missing a Union home game to only going to Reading Utd. games…I’m not paying those prices for a bad MLS product, I’d rather spend the money on my kids interests.

  8. Adam Schorr says:

    You’re not the only one, this was posted over on the Union subreddit yesterday: https://www.reddit.com/r/PhillyUnion/comments/6qriox/is_anyone_else_struggling_to_care_about_the_team/
    .
    I’m sure you can figure out which comment there is mine pretty easily. Not gonna rehash it all here, but the short version is that it’s basically been two years since our last meaningful game that we had a chance to win, and about five years since there’s been something to actually, truly get excited about. Patience and optimism only go so far.

  9. this season the feeling for me went from each season having its own circumstantial mediocrity (which is easier to look past or forgive) to a dawning feeling of futility. i think that futile feeling will go away if they sign a 10 but who knows

    • Agreed. I’m having a harder time chalking this one up to bad luck, or things outside or control. It’s just not good enough. There are a few nice individual seasons (sapong,bedoya, blake,medunjanin,Elliott, and onyewu),but the overall product just isn’t working. It seems like bad roster construction are the main culprit.

  10. philthy defense says:

    Thanks for the read. You wrote what I feel. And by the looks, we’re not alone. Wake up front office!

    • I honestly struggled with a topic this week, but couldn’t get past this feeling of being away on vacation last week and barely having any urge to follow the team while away. That’s new for me, so I ran with it. Hoping for a better effort Saturday!

  11. I think part of the reason for your new apathy was that we had new hope in the first place. For the first 6 years or so, we were pretty much the Chicago Cubs of MLS. There wasn’t too much hope that would be championship contenders, and the goal was just to be decent. Various absurdities, primarily The Three “Aks” (Nowak, Hack, and Sak) prevented us from ever having real hopes for the squad.

    That all changed when Earnie Stewart came. Of course, he hadn’t had enough time to influence the team last year, so this was the first season when we could really begin to see what his philosophy could bring. To have this season in particular turn out just like all the others is a particularly stinging and painful kick in the teeth.

    • (Note: I actually quite like John Hackworth — just as a scout and developer of youth talent, not a head coach.)

    • I almost made that it’s own bullet. Expectations were raised with what looked like slightly better engagement from ownership, and Earnie. The initial roster reshaping hasn’t worked. Nice work on medunjanin. Onyewu and Elliott feel like lucky finds, but ill give some credit there I suppose. What else really worked in the last year?

  12. I’m right there with you. I’ve gone from never missing a game (even watching at 3am local time from Moscow) and evangelizing the team to my (blue-collar Eagle-fan) neighbors, to skipping games to play beer pong. And I’ve gone empty-nest, so my calendar has emptied and my disposable income has increased. I still have season tickets, but I’m having trouble justifying renewing, because it’s just not fun anymore.

  13. SK Bartholomew says:

    It’s not you, Scott.

  14. OneManWolfpack says:

    I agree totally with this article. I am a Founding Member and still DVR road games, or watch them live. But this year has felt different. I think this is the first sign of me beginning to double guess full season tickets for next season. As stated, tailgating is fun and seeing a game live is great, but paying the money and seeing the product on the field, are just no longer equal. I am going to really think about any purchase I make for next year. Any person can only take so much of the same CRAP year after year and not begin to question – what am I doing? Knowing me, I will prolly give it 10 years and pull the plug if these team doesn’t show real, actual, tangible, improvement… or get sold to someone who will spend the money it takes to compete. But hey… season 8 is more than half over.

  15. Zizouisgod says:

    Thanks, Scott. Been a STH since the beginning and have come close to not renewing a couple of times in recent years. Absent a miraculous turnaround and finish to this season, 2017 will be the one that finally turns me into a former STH and, candidly, I’m OK with that.

    When I calculated the cost of my 2 season tickets, parking and beverages over the last seven plus years, it was ridiculous and just not worth it.

  16. Matt Thornton says:

    Jim Curtin is a straight shooter, who talks out of both sides of his mouth. “Keegan and Josh are guys for the future.” Ray Gaddis and Oguchi Onyewu continue to start games. I respect what Gooch has done for the club this year, especially on a league min contract, but FFS when does this coach realize that playing guys like Gaddis, Onyewu, and Alberg is crushing the spirit of the fans and the growth of the club, when Keegan, Josh, and Adam could be getting invaluable MLS minutes against the best teams (we have the hardest schedule, don’t we? so challenge the freakin’ kids).

    I’ve been a STH since day 1, I love tailgating with friends and family, I have an awesome relationship with the people in my section, and I’m not going to renew next season because this team doesn’t deserve my financial support. I’ve had some of the most fun days in recent (half) memory at PPL Park, and I can still feel the energy from that 2014 USOC Final, taste the defeat from both 2014 and 2015. I consume a ton of MLS outside of the Union too, and for the life of me I can’t figure out the aspirations of this club. Go down EVERY other club (except for maybe DC/NE) and you can see the ambition to win (Toronto, NYCFC, Seattle, Portland), the shrewd roster building and effective coaching (RSL, SKC, Dallas, Houston this year), or systems designed to elicit exciting soccer (NYRB, Cbus, Atlanta) – we have NEVER had that in Philly, and we’ll continue to lack that for as long as we have an owner who can’t spend more than $5mm per year on the whole operation, and a coach whose intransigence in adapting to the league’s advancement puts a product on the field that looks like EFL One. How many more times will Andre Blake or the CB du jour lump a ball into CJ Sapong and hope a play develops?

    So Scott – no, you aren’t the only one. I’m as diehard a Union fan as you’ll find, and I’ve had it with this team.

    • I’m okay with playing the best players, even if it’s a 36 year old CB essentially coming out of retirement. But rotate guys in. And is gaddis really that locked in? Frustrating.

  17. This is so real. I am a huge soccer fan and a STH from the first day the team sold tickets. My kids have literally grown up going to Union matches. More than ever it’s becoming a chore going to games. That’s not how it should be.

    I was never that worried about Union quality vs the EPL or La Liga. But what’s new is I’ve never felt so far from other MLS teams. I look at Atlanta, Toronto, NYCFC, Red Bull, Galaxy and the new LAFC and I wonder how the hell the Union are ever going to play attractive soccer and/or compete.

    It’s going to get worse before it gets better, I fear.

    • I think most of us fear it’s going to get worse before leveling off there, then probably get worse-er sometime after that. If I thought there was a chance it would “get better”, I’d be delighted. This article and comment section has the feel of a wake…for someone nobody liked all that much.

  18. el Pachyderm says:

    Watching Chicago turn things around has been a tough pill to swallow. It highlights the issues quite clearly. I am all for an academy pipeline as I’ve argued extensively. I’m also all for quality on the field. They do not need to be exclusive.
    .

  19. Wilkerson McLaser says:

    Seconded.

  20. Yes, yes, and absolutely yes. I’m a founding season ticket holder, and have really enjoyed having a home MLS team to support. However, there is (and has been for some time) plenty of reason for despair as far as this ‘organization’ is concerned. Seeing the false hope that Earnie and some of his early moves fostered turn into same-old same-old results is the straw breaking the camel’s back. I’ve always had two or three games per year that I couldn’t make, but this year I’ve already missed four; the most recent one was just because I didn’t feel like going down there on a weeknight, which has never before happened absent a conflicting commitment. So I’ve made peace with the idea that I’m no longer cut out to be a full season ticket holder. It’ll be really easy (and cheaper!!) to grab tickets from Stub Hub or elsewhere for the games I choose to attend next season. Sigh.

  21. In their prime, Curtin and Albright were decent depending on the season. What logic suggests they’d know exactly what to look for and how to polish the future all star stones they found, so early in their office careers? Eventually they’ll probably be pretty good, but not without someone coaching them. Eventually Sugarman might be a decent owner, but he’s learning on the job too.
    It’s like lord of the flies soccer management.
    Nice guys I’m sure, but I’m a nice guy too, and I’d venture that the % of my income and the time that I’ve contributed to this team might rival some of them. I buy 6 seats a year and have since day one. I pay cash for parking, and they typically get about $200 in food n beer a game too. I’m a fan dammit!
    I’m a 2007 SOB and loved every minute…until about the time Mondragon left. It started fading then, as the Sak weighed on us all. Now I miss games all the time, including missing some on TV too.

    If I felt that my contribution was respected (coach, owner and even some players) I’d still be a zealot. I want them to win, but even if they lost in a way that showed self respect and they cared about us, I’d still be a die hard. Now…meh. My kids don’t even want to come with me anymore, even when I decide to go. This is really hard these days…

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