Commentary / The Overlap / Union

The Overlap: Looking to the future

Photo by Marjorie Elzey

How to begin? My last column, which analyzed the demoralizing draw versus the Chicago Fire, had me in as negative a headspace as I can remember in the Ernst Tanner era. While I wasn’t up on the Cliff, it felt as if there was a lot more going wrong than right.

In the week since, the Union played two games and split them, beating Toronto by three goals, then losing to league leaders New England in a game the Union could just have easily won. It’s tempting to look at those games and feel like the good ship Union has been righted, and that it will be smooth sailing from now on. That’s naive. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that my faith in this franchise to get it right is not misplaced. Regardless of what happens in two days’ time, when the Union face mighty Club América in Mexico City, I know this club is on the right track.

Remembering themselves

Toronto is not a good team right now. The coaching situation has been bad since Greg Vanney left, and the roster is old. But coming into the game against the Union, they were on a better run of form. The Union didn’t care, and just ran all over them.

For the first time in weeks, maybe months, the Union remembered themselves and played like the team we know they can be. They played fast and direct when on the ball and in transition, and flew to the ball in packs when on defense. Sergio Santos and José Martínez both had themselves a game, but the transformation wasn’t down to any individual; the whole team looked more alive. I’ll leave it to Chris Gibbons in his match analysis to pull out the whys and wherefores, but when the Union play like that, they are amongst the best in MLS, and worthy competitors for América.

The children are our future

Against New England, Jim Curtin rotated like he’s never rotated before, starting three seventeen-year-olds, and leaving Ale Bedoya, Kacper Przybyłko, and Dániel Gazdag on the bench. The highlight from the game was surely Paxten Aaronson’s golazo, the first goal Matt Turner has allowed from open play in nine games. That goal was an equalizer, but it was only Turner’s exceptional goalkeeping that prevented the Union from taking the lead inside seven minutes, and late in the game Turner and the post saved several Union efforts.

I don’t want to paper over the cracks—the Union made mistakes in this match that cost them points. Olivier Mbaizo and Leon Flach both had brain farts they want to take back and the Union lost ground in the standings because of it. And yet, a team built around three literal children, in a formation the team had never played before, against the best team in MLS right now (albeit one missing its best player), is rueing dropped points away from home. This lineup looked more like a sacrificial offering than a competitive team, but it played like it more than belonged.

Dreams of tomorrow

None of this means much in the context of the next game. Beating up on Toronto and having the homegrowns level up is not predictive for what will happen in Mexico. I can make no claims about what will happen there. Even the best version of the Union would be sorely tested and probably the lesser team. Will the best version even be possible considering the challenges of playing at altitude?

Similarly, just because the kids are all right and the veterans seem like they can play at something approaching their best again doesn’t mean the Union will tear through the remaining MLS schedule and challenge New England for tops in the East, or host a playoff game. But if we take a step back, the last two games have given me so much peace of mind with regards to the direction of the team. What a relief it was to see the first 11 return to what makes Union soccer powerful. And then Jack McGlynn, Quinn Sullivan, and Paxten Aaronson showed us what the next two years of Union soccer could be.

I needed the reminder. I needed the reassurance that, given the long view, The Union Way still works. Last year wasn’t a dream (If fans aren’t in the stands, do the games actually happen?), and it wasn’t dependent on faces no longer with the team. What we have here is something good.

A note about Jamiro Monteiro

One face who’s not exactly gone but may as well be, is Jamiro Monteiro. We know that he’s away from the team as the team works to transfer him back overseas. The word on the street is that he hasn’t been able to see his family for many weeks, due to COVID-related visa issues, which are preventing them from entering the United States.

All I can say about Monteiro is that he will be greatly missed. As a player and as a teammate, he has been exemplary. We fans tend to hold the players on our teams to an unreasonable level of loyalty. But as much as we might wish it were so, players don’t owe us anything. And it’s certainly not “quitting on the team” for Monteiro to need to be with his family during a global pandemic. I can hardly imagine being in his place.

I wish him the absolute best in his life both on and off the field, and I hope he remembers his time in Philadelphia fondly. I, for one, think he will.

29 Comments

  1. In Tanner We Trust says:

    So many great points here, nice article. We weren’t even sure about 2020’s team until the best version put a beatdown on the shield leaders at the time, 5-0. There’s absolutely no way we 5-0 Club America. But we’ve seen surprises before in the Curtin-Tanner era. Even if we lose the first leg by 3 or 4, I think this team is going places. It’s a shame we’ll struggle to reach CCL again because I think next year’s team could rival 2020. I look forward to the youth improving, Gazdag growing in chemistry, the new signings being finalized hopefully soon. And as for Monteiro, it’s not goodbye forever. I choose to believe he loved being here, and he’s still in his 20s. Maybe they work out a loan deal, or maybe he wants to come back in a few years. It’s not fun being kept in the dark as fans but in the grand scheme of things, Ernst has a plan. That I will obviously continue to trust. The future is bright, people.

  2. Great article and agree on most points, just have a good feeling about Thursday.

  3. Great piece Jeremy. I really appreciate the last part and think it needed to be said. Jamiro Monteiro owes me nothing. I feel like I owe him a lot. He helped this club procure their first piece of hardware. He gave us guile, grit and panache. He gave his all for this club to make one of it’s dreams come true. I don’t want to be apart of keeping anyone from their family, pandemic or not.
    .
    Thanks to Jamiro. I wish him and his family a speedy reunion and a healthy, happy, fruitful future. You will not be forgotten, but you will be missed. Please come back to us some day.

  4. And the Davos signing has been announced…

  5. Who’s going to wear the 10 if Jamiro exit is finalized?

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      Probably no one this season. I don’t think you can change squad numbers once you are registered with the league for the year.

  6. In Tanner We Trust says:

    Welcome Davo!!!

  7. pragmatist says:

    A welcome article from start to finish. But I very much appreciate your words towards Monteiro. Too often, fans dehumanize athletes and see them as nothing more than pawns for their entertainment. It is incumbent upon us to remember the human beings that are playing this game in front of us, and the struggles that they may be going through, of which we are blissfully unaware.
    .
    He will be missed. But, like you, I wish him well, and I wish that he finds the peace he’s looking for.

  8. Mbaizo is very overrated. I’ve watched him all season lose his mark, turn the ball over and his crosses are terrible. He’s fast for sure but doesn’t have a soccer brain. JM is legit and will
    Be missed BIG TIME. Easily the best midfielder union has ever had. Sorry bedoya…. As far as the kids that’s all well and good but they’re kids and I’ve been sold this bill of good before with Andrew wenger and Fontana and the GK we had before Blake…. The left back that curtain hated… can’t remember his name either. I feel like every 3 years the union are building a young team then end up trading them or they just disappear. I was a FT season tix holder from 2010-2019. I gave it up. Seemed like Groundhog Day every year. They’d struggle early then peak end of May to mid August then fall apart late summer into fall. The U could learn a lot from a disgruntled fan and father of two soccer loving boys.

    • I see your point with M’Baizo. He will hopefully improve and work on his weak areas. I feel like most guys work on improving during the season and it may not show up as fast as we fans like.
      Also I’m sorry you felt compelled to drop your tix. I made some great memories with our kids and friends over the years! No…I’m not challenging your fandom. Just marking an observation. Have a great day!

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        Anybody see the MLS article on underrated players? They list Mbaizo and provide some interesting stats. I’ve been critical of him at times but he’s not Ray defensively and we have to accept that. His workrate is very good and he tries to make an impact on both ends. Give him time.

    • I was a real jerk to you the other day, so I don’t expect this to be received well. That aside, I mean this with all sympathy, gentleness and sincerity . I don’t believe the Union are offering what you are looking for, or maybe believed you bought into. I feel bad that you find yourself in this situation.
      .
      After having spent so much time, money and effort for so long, you have your view of the history of this club. While, not wrong to take such a view, I think, if you viewed it in a different way you’d find more acceptance and maybe start enjoying your fandom again. I’m not telling you how you should feel. Just suggesting it may be better to have fun than be frustrated.
      .
      I hope you come to terms with the team so you can enjoy it again.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        Pretty well said. At the end of the day we’re all human so internet hate on each other is pointless. But I’m definitely getting sick of hearing opinions like this. Union have gotten better every year. This year is the first time in forever they haven’t improved in MLS play and all they’ve done is reach the CCL semis. I’ll take the 2.5 years of Monteiro over the entire Union careers of any Union midfielders we used to sign him. Jose Martinez or Derrick Jones? Easy choice. McKenzie or Trusty? Not even worth explaining further.

      • as someone who has been in a fencing match with you from the beginning (said with respect), I appreciate you have never said this to me -because it would be easy to construe some of my opinions thusly.
        .
        as for JTDelco…I get the frsutration as well but seems misguided for sure. I too am hoping said person can revel all while being critical. If viewed as a human being, the distance this franchise has traveled biopsychosocially is virtually inarguable.
        .
        we all have our warts.

      • In all honesty, I was probably a lot closer to JT’s position 4,5,6 years ago, than anything like my current one. I’m all in, lean more Union fanboy, whatever now and that wasn’t the case always. I got a bitter Philly fan core in here somewhere just waiting to get out. I just have a different perspective and different expectations. These changes happened over time by talking with the people here. I’d say el P has had the biggest influence and change, though my part of the branch splits from his a few feet from the trunk. From fighting with el P, Joel, JT, and some others. To bouncing ideas off of Pete, Prag, Tanner and John P. Adding the fuel by reading Tim, Jeremy, Peter and the others along the way. All these things have brought me to where I am. As they say, “Experiences may vary…”.
        .
        When JT left his comment above, I saw he had his points he wanted to make, but also his feeling of being let down. I don’t think anyone wants that feeling from their club. Nor do I think any club wants to make their fans feel that way. But here he is and he’s not alone and that just sucks.

    • John P. O'Donnell says:

      You gave up on the team and they win the shield…. Hmmm.
      Keegan Rosenberry, Austin Trusty & Derrick Jones were sold and they made way for Mark McKenzie and the signing of JamIro Monteiro.
      That’s soccer and produced silverware.
      In one decade this team went from practicing on a city park field to developing two homegrown players contributing to the USMNT that beat Mexico for a trophy.
      .
      The Sixers had how many lottery picks and only two are still on the team. The Eagles got rid of their QB and won the Super Bowl with a backup.
      Kind of sounds like you gave up on the team before the snow stopped and you woke up in the bed with the girl.

      • As the team has improved…the price of tickets has increased. At the end of 2019 the team won a playoff game at home and had many promising young players. In 2020 they won the shield. This season they are in the Semifinals of the CCL.
        .
        Covid changed things drastically for lots of people. I won’t begrudge anyone that has gotten rid of their tickets due to changed financial priorities/situations. To say that the team sucks and hasn’t improved? That’s an opinion not based in facts.

      • salient and true.

  9. Keegan Bradley
    Austin trusty
    Derrick Jones.
    To name a few. A quick goggle and I can find more.
    I’m exhausted…

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Keegan Bradely is an excellent golfer on the PGA Tour. Maybe he has underperformed, but he is making a nice living at it.
      .
      If you mean Keegan Rosenberry, well that’s a different story.
      .

  10. So much of life is 2 steps forward and one step back – sometimes even the opposite.
    As has been said before, I think that the Union surprised management last year with the Shield and this was always supposed to be a rebuilding year after departures. For better or worse, Sugarman is a developer and will develop slowly and steadily.
    Have been a season ticket holder since the beginning, but definitely have questioned why at times over the years.
    Have come to look at attending as a cross between attending Phillies/Eagles/Flyers and my HS kids sporting event. They are pros, but also kids that you have watched come up.
    I like that I can sit 10 rows from the field and that most of the people who go played soccer at some point or have kids really into it.
    Until the USA becomes the premium soccer market in the world, the best will keep leaving. But YSC academy has a full pipeline and as we have seen, the kids coming up are very good.
    Someone who follows YSC closer than me could tell you all the stuff they have won in the last 2 years, but it is pretty damn impressive.
    I’ll be re-upping once again and hope you all enjoy it like I do.

  11. CONCACAF rosters released…. Monteiro really gone…. like Dockal and Nogueria. One of our best players, ever…. home sick…. or is it more like global professionals disliking Curtin’s management style?

    Tawk amongst yerselves!!!
    Linda Richmond

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I have no doubt there could be a definite struggle with the game model…. as it pertains to ‘Miro and the right now…
      .
      …when Nogs was here it was the closest thing to a non-gegenpressing-possession oriented team they have ever had.
      .
      Oh those were the halcyon days… I miss so dearly. God damn they (Noguiera / Barnetta) moved the ball beautifully at times.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      COVID has changed the world. It’s completely understandable if Monteiro’s family can’t get into the US and he wants to see them. That would have nothing to do with the Union or the coaching staff.

    • Homesick…..he hasn’t seen his fam since June too. It’s not Jim or the club really.

    • I also think their is a certain irony that Nogs and JM, our two most talented players….IMHO, got homesick……..

    • Montiero wouldn’t have played tonight regardless. He would have been suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
      .
      Dockal was on loan and his Chinese team wanted too much to buy him outright.
      .
      Player movement and ambition is part of the global game of Football. Teams across the globe lose their best players every year. Next player up. The Union will be alright without Montiero, same as they were without Dockal and Vinny Nogs.

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