Commentary / Union

Match analysis: Philadelphia Union v. Inter Miami and Portland Timbers

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

What’s a mean way for saying something isn’t subjectively beautiful?

That a house has “a lot of character,” or the bedrooms there are “cozy?” That the other side of a blind date has “a great personality?”

It’s obvious what’s being said in these cases, even without the words themselves being uttered.

The Philadelphia Union continue their multi-season’s long march toward league dominance, amassing points in every venue they visit (and, as has been uttered quite a bit recently, more points than anyone else in Major League Soccer over a long stretch of time). They’re measuring success in that table-based metric and very few traditional others – subjectively beautiful metrics like passing percentage, for example – but league observers are having a hard timing accepting beautiful results when they don’t see a beautiful process during the game.

It’s all subjective of course, but the same observers are struggling because of this divergence to give credit where it’s due.

You’ve got a great smile, you should use it more!

The Union made a statement on Sunday night. They defeated the defending Western Conference champions on the road, in a game that ended at 1am local time, after a draining midweek match just a few days before, and still without their star striker. They were utterly dominant, and didn’t allow a shot on goal until the hosts threw themselves forward in desperation.

It was the kind of victory most franchises would build an entire year around.

And yet, after results in 2022 in New York City, Nashville, Los Angeles, and Montreal (all playoff teams)… the summary over at the mothership? “It’s not the prettiest stuff in the world to watch, but it’s an ethos.”

The Union shut out a team that had just bagged seven goals in a match and two more the match after, and the overarching sentiment was, “They’re ugly, but they have a great personality.”

Dang.

Author’s note: That sentiment was written by a Matt Doyle, someone who actually likes what the Union are doing!

Over at Oregon Live, the loss by the Timbers was qualified by saying they were “short handed,” that the home team “created chances” but were unlucky that the Union “took advantage of the two or three moments that they had.”

Double dang.

National and local, ugly and lucky.

I love how you just don’t care what anyone thinks of you!

“No one likes us, no one likes us, no one likes us, we don’t care

We’re from Philly, filthy Philly, no one likes us, we don’t care”

There are certainly more charming odes to hometowns, but few that encompass their place – in this case, the City of Brotherly Love – quite like this adopted tune (from Millwall FC, a village that has little in common with Philadelphia other than its sense of universal disrespect).

As an aside, I hate this song and always have. I’m proud to be from Philly, and not because of how other people perceive the city.

But truth be told, Philly is, in fact, dirty. Like, super dirty all the time.

It is also a city widely overlooked in the national conversation about being a big market for any sport. It falls squarely on the map for plenty of Americans between “Jersey” and “Washington, DC,” otherwise known as nowhere – Philly is northeastern “fly-over” country. In soccer, it rarely gets mentioned in the conversation about important MLS teams – and if so, only after the other teams with expensive stars get mentioned first.

Here on Another Soccer Podcast, we’re going to talk about Brenner and Shaquiri for days on end, despite the fact that anyone who’s ever watched this league knows they’ll be failures given their cost and consign their teams to mediocrity! Call lines are open…

But the Union are a quintessential Philadelphia team.

A lunch pail team. A brutish team. Given the aforementioned backhanded compliments, “an ugly team with a great personality.” Though they already have their trophy in this iteration of the squad, they’re doing everything they can to also be next in a long line of Filthy, Philadelphian, championship-winning sides.

  • The Stanley Cup-winning Philadelphia Flyers – now many, many decades old in their successes – are still known today as “The Broad Street Bullies.” This monicker was not given to them because of their passing percentage or skating abilities, their frozen joga bonito, but because of a bench-clearing, overtime fight that encapsulated their style. A fight that just so happened to be nestled around hoisting banners in South Philly.
  • The World Champion Phillies were a decent offensive team, but won their silverware because of the league’s best pitcher and the key play of some gritty, also-rans in the line up down the stretch. For every Ryan Howard home run, there was Eric Bruntlett getting minutes and Joe Blanton going yard.
  • The Philadelphia Eagles’ famous teams from the 1980s and early ’90s are remembered for Buddy Ryan’s defense, and they didn’t even win anything (while Donovan McNabb is roundly disregarded as not good enough despite being the best quarterback in franchise history and the Super Bowl champion team from several years ago earned their trophy because of a defensive play as much as an offensive one, in the Divisional Round and the Super Bowl). Heck, the most famous photo of a Philadelphia Eagle is the one where defender Chuck Bednarik nearly killed Frank Gifford – legally, and to win a championship!
Oh my goodness, that haircut makes you look so much younger!

The Union own the league’s best defense, arguably its best defensive midfielder, and a goalkeeper who may write his name as the best ever in the league when it’s all said and done.

Their most talented homegrown is about to move to the Premier League, and the team’s left back may be joining him there shortly.

Their coaching tree is growing, and the first sapling in Cincinnati has the perennial Spoon-winners in a playoff spot a third of the way through the season – not to mention the Head Coach himself and his enviable track record, the team’s award-winning social media members, broadcast crew farm system, and more.

The Union do have a great personality, but they’re also drop dead gorgeous – if only folks would take a minute to get to know them.

7 Comments

  1. Back when I had more free time, I would sometimes watch European matches followed by the Union. Those MLS games were so difficult to appreciate. The pace was slow, the touches seemed so clumsy, and the tactics were naive if they existed at all. That was years ago. On Sunday, I actually caught the second half of city-villa and later saw the whole Union match. MLS has really come a long way. Not only was it a fun game, the bad touches and slips were mostly due to that plastic green surface, not poor talent. Portland is a good team. Philly really schooled them on their own turf. MLS continues to improve, I’d say they are almost equivalent to a second division English or German league now. Who knows how good the Union can get and who knows how good MLS can get? I’ve put my pessimism in the same drawer where I put my cloth masks.

    • I remember when it seemed like MLS teams couldn’t even switch fields with a long ball effectively. No one had the touch to bring the pass down. Those days are thankfully over. The tactical play is a lot better. You won’t get the same quality you’ll see from any Champion’s League side, but why would you? It’s definitely better to watch than it used to be.

  2. ESPN’s rankings are a joke. They’re in love with the 2 biggest markets’ clicks. Otherwise, how is it possible for NYCFC to move into 2nd and LAFC to remain #1 after this week? Hope it helps their web traffic while the Union keep marching towards a Shield and Cup. This time around, ESPN won’t be able to profit from us missing 11 players in a knockout match.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    Great article. For Portland to call the Union lucky is something else. They could not have watched the same game I did. Regardless… it was a good win and getting points this weekend, yes – even if it is a draw (especially since Carranza is out and I would assume Uhre too) – would go a long way over the break, to settle some nerves people might still have.

  4. Evildunk99 says:

    This might be one of my favorite articles ever posted on this site. A+++ ! This should be the social media equivalent of a “pinned post.” There are still a number of casuals who might be curious about the Union, but don’t know context about how they play and where they stack up as a club vs broad MLS. This is a great primer article for anyone in that bucket.

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