Commentary / Union

The Union and malaise

Photo credit: Paul Rudderow

Malaise: (noun) a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify

Somehow, the loss to the Galaxy was a disappointment. Despite road trips being unusually difficult in Major League Soccer, despite the Galaxy being a fairly strong team with one of the most dangerous No. 9’s in the league, and despite every media outlet saying beforehand that a draw would be a lucky result, the loss was disappointing. After three straight wins it was a let down to not look competitive in the game even before the ref gifted Zlatan Ibrahimovic a penalty kick.

But it wasn’t a panic. Despite the result Union fans are not looking over the edge of the cliff. There is anger directed at the match officials for their inconsistencies, there’s frustration at what appears to be a continuation of the league’s alleged favoritism of the Galaxy (or against the Union), but there’s no real frustration directed against the team.

The generous interpretation of this is that Union fans don’t blame the Union for this result. The team is playing well when we look at the season as a whole. Granted there have been preventable errors, but no team in any league goes a full season without at least some of those. LA was a disappointment but it’s not the defining moment of the season.

There is, however a less benevolent way to look at it. After ten years, and little success, the fanbase is kind of over it. That isn’t to say people aren’t showing up, and that isn’t to say success doesn’t still bring joy. But look to The River End. Like the rest of the stadium it’s less full than it used to be. While the Sons of Ben have stepped up their tifo game of late, the painted tarps serve to cover empty seats as much as they show the passion of the supporters group. Of course the fans are still there, but they’re visibly (and audibly) less potent than they have been in years past.

It’s hard to blame anyone for losing that fire. We’ve seen the Union play exciting soccer before. We’ve seen them come close to glory and heard them talked about as one of the most exciting teams in the league. But we’ve also seen what has come after that. Every time the Union get a glimpse of the promised land, it all falls apart.

That experience, and the knowledge that disappointment is only a poorly-taken penalty kick away, haunts every Union fan and frankly a lot of Union pundits too. The glacier of disappointing results has rounded the peaks and filled in the valleys, resulting in a “rollercoaster” that feels more like the Cedar Creek Cannonball than Thunderhawk. The entire Union world feels like unsaturated grey, because we know this too shall pass.

From a business perspective, this is a worst possible scenario for the Union. They’ve stepped up their media game this season, getting press releases in the hands and on the pages of non-soccer media around the city. They’re organizing events in the greater Philadelphia area, and they’re finally putting in the work to make a soccer club from Chester into a Philadelphia team. It’s outreach that’s done wonders in other cities, and it could do amazing things in Philadelphia.

But in order for it to work, the Union will need to overcome the malaise the current fanbase is experiencing. New fans won’t be disappointed by the current atmosphere at Talen Energy Stadium, but they won’t be impressed either. And if they start talking to long-term fans about how exciting the team is playing, or (gods help us) a deep US Open Cup run, the malaise could spread from long-term fans to the new ones. And when new fans feel that unease they just stop being fans entirely.

The only cure, the only way out of this funk and to cash in on the marketing money the team is investing is to win. Not succeed, this team has succeeded in a number of things in the past and that’s not enough. They need to win. Luckily in a league as trophy-heavy as MLS there’s a lot of opportunities to win, they just have to do it. An Open Cup. An MLS Cup. Improbably a Supporters Shield. Something, anything to get us out of this malaise.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    I’m definitely still excited for the team. So much so that I’m waiting until after the game Saturday before I drive down to Southeastern Kentucky (10 hours each way) to go pick up my wife who has been helping take care of her sick sister. I could use this as an excuse not to go Saturday but I’m not (although I’m not going to stay 3 more hours for the Steel game.

  2. Winning will solve most problems, patience for it to happen is another thing.

  3. Fair weather fans are the result of fair weather front offices. So if the FO thinks they can say “it’s been a few weeks of a good product” and instantly everyone will come running back, they’re way off base. I live in central PA (2 hours away) AND I STILL CAN’T WATCH THE UNION WITHOUT PAYING FOR A SUBPAR STREAMING SERVICE! I didn’t leave the Union, they left me.

  4. i’ve accepted this FO, the location and the fact that nothing will change. if they (inevitably) dip, i’ll still watch on my OTA signal, if i’m home. if they win, i make the effort to see them like Dallas match (unreal finish, best atmosphere since Zlatan visited).

    get me on a bus, midweek, midday, for a NYRB Open Cup Quarterfinal? nah. partial plan? nah.

    those days are gone.

  5. Cautiously Optimistic

    I am still optimistic about the season and the Unions chances of maybe winning a first round playoff.


    Biggest I don’t see any unbeatable teams in the East.

    Marco is almost an even swap for Borek with maybe a slightly better skills set for scoring. He still has not found his comfort zone with his teammates.

    Wagner has been a good addition at left fullback. Someone who can generate an attack and play pretty good defense.

    Accam apparently has found his mojo . Hoping he keeps it for the entire season.

    Trusty and Elliot working together and learning to understand each others strengths and weaknesses.

    Aaronson showing he can fill in and start at center mid when he is surrounded with supporting players in a formation that compliments his skills set of playmaker.


    Fafa not finishing. Burke playing inconsistently. I Like him, but he does not look quite like the same aggressive around the ball guy in the final third who is unafraid of taking a player on. Maybe its just me.

    Curtin falling back into a defensive posture when facing a team with a better than average attack KC ? Toronto? or an offensive superstar like Ibra. Fortunately not too many teams like that.

    Wild card scenario

    Montiero becomes supersub and scores 8 to 10 goals. The guy can hit a rocket that is usually on frame or Curtain works out a formation where he starts with Marco Bedoya Harris and dare I say Aaranson.

    Aaronson develops into a solid everyday player.

    Oh well I can still dream at this point of the season

  6. John Harris says:

    ” … whose exact cause is difficult to identify.”. The cause is the ownership. That’s easy to diagnose.

  7. “We’ve seen them come close to glory and heard them talked about as one of the most exciting teams in the league.”
    What? When?
    The rest is spot on, attendance declining year over year is a fact. The “success” the team has celebrated doesn’t move the needle. “Best season” ever was last year’s 6th place finish and one-and-done playoff L and traditional USOC Final letdown. Even this site used to be a daily/multi week must visit for many fans and the comments section is a “meh”derers Row of “refs stole it”.
    I’ll have the BLT with extra malaise please.

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