Coronavirus / For Pete's Sake

What we’ve lost

Photo: Earl Gardner

If 2020 had gone as planned, we would have gathered on the Philly Soccer Page today to talk about the Philadelphia Union’s nationally televised weekend clash with Atlanta United.

It would have been the Union’s 19th match of the regular season, and it would have been a midseason barometer for a club that entered the year with both high hopes and unanswered questions.

How would a roster reconstructed by Ernst Tanner fare through the first half of the season? Would a stable midfield emerge, paired with a cohesive backline and dangerous scoring options up front—a lineup that could challenge for the top seed in the Eastern Conference? Or would each piece of the the puzzle end up being just out of shape, leading to a sputtering start as Jim Curtin tried to make it all fit together.

After a tantalizing 3-3 draw against LAFC in their second game of the season, Union fans believed that these would be the stories of the summer.

* * * *

At the moment I write these words, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 119,615 people have died in the United States this year as a result of a viral disease known as COVID-19.

That number is almost surely an undercount, and it continues to rise every day as the disease spreads.

I’ve found it easy, too easy, to abstract the impact of the coronavirus, thinking of the reported figures of case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths as numbers.

But they aren’t just numbers. They are—they were—people: our friends and family, members of our community, now no longer with us.

* * * *

The pandemic, as you know, has caused an unprecedented disruption in our daily lives. I need not catalogue every dimension of what’s changed. Suffice to say that you and I now know what “PPE” stands for, how to estimate an invisible six-foot bubble around ourselves, what it’s like to see our cities grind to a halt and our grocery store shelves barren. Whether the world ever returns to the way it was on March 9, the scars of this time will be carried by all of us who have lived through it.

Inch by inch, though, we are returning to something resembling normal, even as the coronavirus continues to linger in our communities. And that means that, four months after the season ground to a halt, the Union will return to action in just over two weeks—in a closed-door, neutral-site tournament in Orlando, Florida.

How do we—do I—think about soccer in a time like this?

Like many people, I have wildly conflicting feelings about the value, wisdom, and practicality of the MLS is Back Tournament. Will MLS be able to keep the players, coaches, staff, and all the others necessary to stage and broadcast matches safe while in Orlando? It’s seemed possible in nations such as Germany and England, whose leagues have returned to action already—but the current conditions are less safe in Florida, where a COVID-19 spike is occurring. And even if it is, is it necessary to play these games at all? Behind closed doors, robbed of much of what makes a soccer game a spectacle, the tournament may be little more than a hollow facsimile of the real thing—the thing we’re missing.

I’m not sure I have good answers to either of those questions. I’m not sure anyone does, really. I’m sure that we’ll explore those answers together in the weeks and months to come.

* * * *

Before we turn to Orlando, though, it’s appropriate to spare a thought for what we’ve lost.

First and foremost, what we’ve lost is life. The thousands of people who have died as a consequence of the virus cannot be replaced and must not be forgotten. If you’re reading this and have lost someone to the virus: my heart breaks for you.

But I should also acknowledge that we—the Philadelphia soccer community—have temporarily lost what brings us together.

The cool April Saturdays and too-hot June Sundays, packing into Talen Energy Stadium Subaru Park to cheer on Alejandro Bedoya, Andre Blake, and the rest of the Union—gone.

Not just the matches themselves, but also the lazy hours pregame drinking a beer (or two) and kicking a ball around in the dusty lots surrounding the stadium.

And not just professional soccer: clubs, rec leagues, colleges and high schools… even pickup games in the park, a fixture of spring and summer in the Delaware Valley.

The twisted logic of the pandemic is that the events that used to bring us together are those that are now the most dangerous.

The absence of soccer from our lives does not compare to the absence of those we love. Nor does it compare to a lost job or the inability to be physically with our friends and family.

But we are allowed to miss it, to feel its absence acutely, to be sad that something which brings us together as regularly as the tides or the seasons is suddenly gone.

And we can all join together in the hope that, one day in the not too distant future, we will all be together again by the banks of the Delaware River.

2 Comments

  1. Chris Gibbons says:

    Our lives orbit a large mass that is packed full of the things we love: family, friends, work, and more. For most of the people who frequent this site, lumped into that mass is a soccer team called the Union. Since they’ve been gone, our orbits have been off course, our seasons changed, our tides out, and the stars by which we measure our lives in an unfamiliar spot in the sky.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    For starters…. I appreciate the tenor of the article. It is appropriate. I also appreciate the sense of loss… be silly to smile and think it’s all okay. I feel for the world rite now.
    .
    Personally though…I tend to focus on what’s been gained or managed—what Jocko has taught me: GOOD.
    .
    I’ve broken bread with my wife & children for almost 120 straight days… after eating together for a couple years maybe once a week. I’ve read books, sat and listened to wind, contemplated and reflected deeply on things imminent and remote and played so much driveway street footy and foot volley in that time I’ve lost count of the hours. We have said good bye to the second half of a soccer season…. with Union Pre Academy … gladly….
    .
    ….winning back time scanning the field around us—orienting control into a new direction with excitement. I haven’t missed an iota of professional sport. Started running trails again and lost some weight. It has been a great slowing down. A correction.

    .

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