Commentary

Four thoughts for Friday

Photo by Paul Rudderow

Most writers have a trove of ideas that never see the light of day.

Those ideas stay buried because they’re not interesting enough, not fully formed, or not quite in the writer’s wheelhouse. They’re not bad per se, just not quite right.

Here are some ideas from that trove worth talking about – but maybe in 150 words instead of 1,000 – while the team takes their international break.

Analytics are awesome and they kill everything

Baseball is dying because there are only strike outs and home runs anymore – no rallies, no bloop singles, just all or nothing all the time.

Basketball is boring because there are only three point shots and dunks – no baseline fades, no hand-checked, backing-in, 15 foot turn-around jumpers, just chuck it or slam it.

Club soccer is a shell of its former self because The Beautiful Game has become merely a maelstrom of gegenpressing, possession-doesn’t-matter chaos – no tiki-taka, no build up, no Pirlo? No party, just traps and transitions (a fascinating read on the diversion between club and country should be part of the reader’s weekend agenda).

Statistics are fascinating, and innovation happens when good data is applied to inefficiencies all over the world. Just as each of these statistical innovations ushered in a new era in their respective sports, they simultaneously ushered out fans of prior eras who couldn’t find beauty in the data.

“This record sounds better on vinyl,” he said while standing on his lawn and shaking his fist at a barking dog.

The Union are a champion because of analytics in their style of play and in their acquisition of players. They’ve scored some beautiful goals, and yet sometimes their games still look like a thread from @Crap90sFootball.

“They were more interesting when they were bad…,” lamented whatever youthful subculture usurped the hipsters.

The Supporter’s Shield debacle – revisited (briefly)

Yours truly held off on writing a piece about this case study in poor decision-making for one reason: the jinx.

The Union were firmly in the hunt for a league title when news dropped that the Supporter’s Shield Foundation decided to cancel the Supporter’s Shield. Posting a negative piece about the decision was certainly top of mind, but seemed less like a useful outlet and more like a great opportunity to write oneself into the lore of City-wide jinxes.

…from the Curse of Billy Penn to the Jinx of PSP…

So, though the @all3points Twitter handle was ablaze about the indignity, it was two other writers at Philly Soccer Page who bravely chose to summarize the events – one like a journalist, the other with a reverse-jinx angle that was pithy and on-point.

The truly tone-deaf move by the Foundation was instantly and roundly criticized by coaches, players, and the remaining 99.999% of non-Foundation fans. That seemingly no one in American soccer outside of the Foundation themselves had heard of the Foundation in the first place made the decision all the more angering (and that a three-white-man panel made a unilateral decision that affected the livelihoods of players in a league that is majority minority wasn’t lost on many, especially given last summer’s sea change of activism and awareness).

They know what’s best for everyone, after all…

The Foundation changed their course in a few days time (after bucket loads of scathing public coercion), the Union won the Shield in the end, and all soccer fans were given a lesson in how stewardship differs from ownership: the Shield does not belong to anyone, nor is it the property of any supporters group; is it owned by all fans and is a part of the fabric of the league. As such, there is no decision to be made as to whether or not to award it in any given year.

The whole thing was kind of Super League-y actually.

And yet, the Foundation got together again in 2021 to decide that the shield should be awarded this year too.

Luck is not the word you’re looking for

The Union are not “lucky” to have Andre Blake.

Though to read the comments section on the average MLS website (including this one, though as this piece is being crafted on the shores of Lake Wobegon, it’s clear Philly Soccer Page’s commenters are all above average), one would believe that to be true. Instead, they are deliberately responsible for Andre Blake: trading up to draft him, nurturing him to a Goalkeeper of the Year Award (2016), supporting him through one of the worst seasons in MLS goalkeeping history (2019), and ultimately being rewarded for their work with another Best Of trophy to go with the team’s success (2020).

“Luck” has nothing to do with it. When the team wanted elevn good players for their starting side, they started with an elite goalkeeper.

It’s not luck when a great striker hits side-netting because he’s trying to find an inch of weakness in Blake’s masonry. It’s not luck when teams become increasingly frustrated as shot after shot goes directly to the Jamaican, who is so well-positioned he doesn’t have to move. It’s not luck when an entire ethos of a franchise can be successfully constructed around the idea that the other team just probably won’t score.

Andre Blake was good when the Union made a move for him, and he’s great now because they continue to invest in his development.

It’s not luck and the Union are not lucky. They’re getting exactly what they paid for.

Burning garbage is not better than “keeping it from ending up in a landfill”

Flyers were handed out by members of the Chester community to fans en route to Subaru Park on May 30th. The match was part of the league’s Earth Day celebration and the Union announced their broad sustainability goals in anticipation of the fixture, including claims about trash from the stadium and that it wouldn’t end up in a landfill. However, these flyers suggested the Union’s attempts at sustainability fell far short of ideal: they were misleading at best, and downright greenwashing at worst.

“Greenwashing” is the term used to describe when a company talks a lot about its sustainability efforts – which then turn out to be exaggerations, deceits, or outright lies.

Union fans were left to wonder: who was telling the truth?

Kenny Cooper of WHYY.org had a follow-on story confirming the worst: the Union’s “no landfill” trash was actually just being driven down the street to a trash incinerator in Chester and burned for energy – not a landfill, but certainly not good for the environment.

Semantics, semanitcs…

Chester residents were understandably mad, as even a “clean” trash incinerator is still a literal burning pile of garbage in their city. They were also right to point out that the “not in my backyard” solution to garbage (and so many other unmentionable problems of the modern world) seems to always be solved in the backyards of poor communities (Camden has an incinerator too, as does Conshocken, with its own spotty record).

It’s not a coincidence if it keeps happening.

15 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    Not happy to hear about the last one. I mean if you’re going to burn the trash, should you ship it to Harrison, NJ first? Seriously, though, hopefully they will keep working to find a better way to dispose of the trash to limit the amount of pollution as much as possible.
    .
    Unrelated to any of the thoughts in this article, but a question that has been on my mind for awhile (and probably not worth a whole article):
    .
    If the Union can only win one trophy in 2021, which would people prefer, CCL or MLS Cup (I’m assuming that Supporters Shield and Open Cup would be 3rd and 4th on the list)?

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      CCL for me. Would be an absolutely shocking outcome to everyone involved, would put them in the Club World Cup, would absolutely overshadow any domestic trophy they could win. (Darn, I sound like a Super League owner right now……)

  2. ¿Porque no los dos?

  3. Tim Jones says:

    The first sports playoff to determine an overall champion had to be baseball’s “World Series.” To be eligible for the playoff the team had to have been the best over the course of a six-month season.
    .
    Sustained excellence over time was the qualification criterion.
    .
    Philosophically, I find determining championships via post-season playoffs deeply flawed, because the method devalues the original principle, sustained excellence over time.
    .
    1. Supporters Shiled. 2. Concacaf Champions League, because it is trans national in scope. 3. MLS Cup. 4. U. S. Open Cup.
    .
    I thrilled to the Flyers riding Bernie Parent’s magic as much as did every other Philly sports fan. But one hot player is not the same thing as 18 or 20 working together to produce sustained excellence for eight months.
    .
    Excellence across a full season should be valued the most.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Baseball is the epitome of a sport where a long season and a playoff series require two completely different skills, given that I position is significantly more important than the others and that you need 4 or 5 starting pitchers to get through a regular season but only 2 to get through the post season which essentially means that depth at that position is punished rather than rewarded.
      .
      That being said, in the Union’s case, I would rank Champions League ahead of Supporters Shield this season simply because they have already won the latter. I would also rank it ahead of MLS Cup because no MLS team has won it in 20 years.

  4. el Pachyderm says:

    Chris. Again, excellent inventive and thoughtful commentary. Your addition to the PSP writers pantheon has been a blessing.
    .
    Appreciate the thoughts on double edged sword of analytics… so much truth. Reminds me of a closing to one of my posts a while back to a Lane piece…. ”The Union are definitely not bad. They are ugly.”
    .
    Aesthetics matter.
    .
    I went to a Phillies game a few weeks back and was bored senseless. No steals. No hit and runs. Just shift. ground Out. or Home run. And it took 3.5 hours to do it yet nothing actually happened.
    .
    I love Embiid because he harkens back to a simpler inside the paint game. Hakeem smoothness and fade aways. It’s lovely. The mid range game otherwise is dead because analytics says it should be. Course now a days so much of what was the mid range game of the NBA is still there it’s just extended out to the three point line- a la Doncic step back three point shot he’s perfected.
    .
    I don’t know. You either live in the world of words or the world of numbers. Personally, I’m a word guy. Qualitative. It’s been a reluctant begrudging of everything coming down to data sets. Course (again) I’m a nearly 50 yr old elephant and likely crotchety.

  5. analytics kills baseball not by the shift, but agents telling players don’t listen to your manager, you will get paid more by swinging harder. But people would still watch if the game was back to 2 hours long.

    Burning trash can be clean, but you have to spend the money to do it right. And while trash incinerators are in poor neighborhoods, so are power plants. A trash incinerator is a power plant with an alternate source of fuel.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      The argument I’m making isn’t about the plants themselves, but about the attempted misdirection.

      With respect to them being clean however, all is relative: less particulate matter than coal, more than nuclear, still adding smog to the air. Regarding location, and if they are in fact clean, why isn’t there an incinerator in Wayne or Haddonfield instead or Chester and Camden?

      • They really need to burn hot to reduce all of the various pollutants. Plastic, after all, is just processed oil – a hydrocarbon. The pollutants come from it burning incompletely or from other things reacting in the process. Most of that can be overcome by getting it hotter. And the byproducts don’t have the downsides of nuclear fission (which is why fusion will be the gamechanger and thorium salts should have been the go to choice for fission).

        Regarding location – it’s all about property values. Right or wrong. You put customer facing businesses where they’ll benefit from it and industrial ventures somewhere else. If the Union’s investment in Chester had raised the property values across the board, you wouldn’t have the same industrial investments.

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        The “right or wrong” part of your statement is the most important. It’s wrong if you’re poor and part of your community’s health outcomes are tied to the decisions someone else makes about the quality of the air you breathe.

        The research on burning trash is pretty straight forward: it pollutes at roughly the same amount as a coal plant, and ~80% of incinerators are in poor neighborhoods. Plastic doesn’t make up more than 15% of the material burned in this country.

        The Union being in Chester has little to do with the city’s state of affairs. Residents there are angry because the team is claiming an environmental victory that looks like a smoke stack in a poor neighborhood.

        …maybe this actually did warrant a full article.

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