A View from Afar / Union

Philadelphia Union, the team for the world’s moment

Featured photo: Paul Rudderow

Ten years ago, Vice President Joe Biden and his granddaughter Natalie welcomed Philadelphia Union into the world with the first kick at the club’s first home game.

Now, days after the Philadelphia region gave the world a massive gift by playing a crucial role in electing Biden president, the Union have won their first trophy. 

You couldn’t make this up.

If the universe likes poetic symmetry as much as fans do, the Union will be visiting the White House with the Supporters’ Shield they won on Sunday in Chester. And Biden, the kid from Scranton, the good former senator from Delaware, will welcome them as the new president of the United States of America.

This team, of all teams. 

This team, from the place where America was born, named for the union that forged it, whose logo and motto draw from Ben Franklin’s famed Join or Die cartoon calling for unity amid strife.

This team, once beleaguered and dysfunctional, now winners representing a gloriously unfashionable city with gloriously unfashionable players. 

“Good things happen in Philadelphia, first and foremost,” Union veteran Ray Gaddis said during the team’s on-field celebration. “Let’s keep it real.”

Everyone knew what Gaddis was referring to: The current president’s infamous “Bad things happen in Philadelphia” comment, taken as a badge of honor in a way only Philadelphians can.

Gaddis flipped the line on its head, as we’d expect from him. No player has played more minutes for the Union in team history. None has been so repeatedly underestimated and then proved himself as often, a selfless servant for the cause of his team. This son of a U.S. military veteran, who lives his religious faith, tucks his shirt like it’s 1960, and has been a vocal leader in MLS players’ support of Black Lives Matter — Gaddis defies the ways that people label each other in the social media age. Instead, he stands as a throwback to another time and an ideal of what the Union have become on and off the field:

Philadelphia soccer legend Walter Bahr, Vice President Joe Biden, and his granddaughter, Natalie Biden. (Credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

A good person, who tries to do right and never gives up.

This Union team has embodied that spirit, matching the character of their home region, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, unafraid to voice their thoughts. They have called for gun control in the wake of mass shootings, made powerful statements about police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and played some ridiculously entertaining soccer to go with it. From outspoken captain Alejandro Bedoya and local-boy-made-good head coach Jim Curtin to homegrown stars Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson, this team reflects their region through and through.

And is there anything more of the moment than a Caribbean immigrant consigned to visa purgatory finally returning to help his team win a trophy with game-securing goals in two of his last three games? Well played, Cory Burke.

There are some who argue the Supporters’ Shield is less significant than the MLS Cup, for though it rewards the league’s best record, it does not count the postseason. They’re wrong, particularly this year, and not just because this bizarre pandemic season has put some awful teams in the playoffs.

It’s because of our moment in history. 

Philadelphia gave something to the world this past week. Now the universe is giving back. 

These have been dark times, and there remains much to set right, but in a moment when we needed it most, we’ve relearned a lesson worth remembering.

Sometimes, the good guys win.

14 Comments

  1. Oh my God, Dan.
    This is beautiful. Well done!

  2. Tears of joy. I can’t put into words how proud I am of this team and how proud I am to be a Philadelphia Union fan – not just for the shield, but also for how the players have stepped up an spoken out. Making a difference in the community and issues that are important to them (and to me).

    My only moment of sadness was not being able to run across Lot A and give Ed a big bear hug. It will have to wait until we meet again.

  3. Beautiful Dan. Just beautiful. Glad you have shown up more often lately. Hope you and your family are well and enjoying the silverware.

  4. Brilliantly written. What an amazing journey we’ve been on. Here’s hoping it ends with the Cup!

  5. John O'Donnell says:

    I don’t think the Whitehouse comes with the Supporters’Shield win….that’s the MLS Cup winner.

    • True. That’s why it requires a little bit of the universe and smart politics for it to actually happen.

      Or an MLS Cup.

  6. This article is the reason I look to PSP as the premier local coverage of soccer and oft times life in general. Another badge of honor for Philly is to have this independent, volunteer driven voice in the world of soccer. Thanks to all the writers, editors, contributors and tech people who make this happen.

    You are able to put into words the feelings that so many of us have and give expression to the the joy we feel now as well as the misery we have previously experienced. Thanks again to all involved.

    Proud to be a Patreon and I’d invite all of the other readers who have not yet done so to help support this great institution.

  7. Brilliant, Dan! Started to cry reading this!! Thank you for an excellent piece!

  8. Next summer will be 50 years since I attended my first sporting event, a baseball game on a soccer field, uh I mean at Yankee Stadium. I have been a fan of several teams that are not generally liked in Philly (Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets, Washington Redskins, New York Rangers) but have to say that this team is by far the most cohesive TEAM I have ever rooted for where it truly is about the crest on the front and not the name on the back. The closest thing I can remember was the 1987 Redskins who went on to win the Super Bowl after being the only team with no one crossing the picket line and playing in the replacement games.
    .
    While winning the Supporters Shield doesn’t quite feel like the 1994 Stanley Cup (or probably like Eagles fans felt when their team won the Super Bowl), it felt pretty special being there and watching that team celebrate.

  9. Beautifully written piece, Dan.

    And I must say that, even though I was in attendance at that first-ever home game in 2010, I did not remember that Biden was there. The irony is truly remarkable. If you tried to put it in a novel, I would’ve said it was too cheesy.

    What a week it’s been!

  10. el Pachyderm says:

    Raymond. Gaddis. RIng. of. Honor.

  11. I appreciate all of the articles that appear on PSP, but there is the rare moment where I say to myself, “Damn, I wish I had written that one!”
    .
    Spot on, Dan.

  12. Thanks for all the nice comments. I’m simply thankful I got the opportunity to write this. This is my favorite piece to have ever written for PSP.

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