Commentary / The Overlap / Union

The Overlap: Becoming a one-team fan

Photo: Paul Rudderow

My memories are hazy but I can only assume that my love of soccer was sparked, or at least fanned, by the 1994 World Cup.

I remember watching it with avid interest and there’s no other explanation I can come up with for why shy, introverted, preteen me decided he wanted to play modified soccer at school. Team sports were not my thing, and yet.

Shortly after, my first football love came on the scene—the Rochester Rhinos. Playing in what was then the A-League, they were founded in 1996 and won the first of three league titles in 1998, followed by the US Open Cup in 1999, still the only non-MLS team to win it since MLS’s inception. This was at a time when I had no real access to soccer on television and the internet barely existed, so I took what was in front of me and loved it.

After heading to college in the fall of 2000, I found myself on my college team with guys who followed Euro soccer. In 2001, with unfettered internet access and my discovery of ESPN’s UK football coverage,  I decided I needed a Premier League team to follow. I knew enough about things to know that I did not want to follow Manchester United—too much like the Yankees, the perpetual winners with more money than anybody else. My roommate kind of followed Chelsea, so they were out.

I looked at the list on the day before the season began and saw Arsenal listed first. Cool name, I thought, and started reading about the team. I soon fell deeply in soccer-love with Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Arsene Wenger, and all the rest. Often second-best, sometimes top, they fit the profile I was looking for and, better yet, they were stylish, playing the best football in England.

I started hoovering up everything I could find about Arsenal, following every match. This was mostly via text (shoutout to Arseblog, still the best Arsenal-related content on the internet), because watching games was still quite difficult to do in the US at the time. But I got lucky. Arsenal won the league and the FA Cup that year. I was all in.

By the time of the 2003–2004 season, when Arsenal went the entire league season without a loss, Arsenal was part of who I was as a person. Watching and loving that team was one of my true passions and I was spoiled by them. Even as they missed out on the Champions League trophy in 2006 (if only Henry had finished that chance or Jens not gone mad) and the league in 2008 (if only Eduardo hadn’t had his leg broken), it wasn’t hard for me to maintain my passion.

I went to pubs at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday. I learned every way there was to watch a soccer game via the internet. Bittorrent was my friend. Illegal streams. NBC Sports eventually gave us a minimum viable product for watching without a cable subscription. I had my team and it was good.

Of course, in 2010, another team entered my life. The Union were born and I reveled in the chance to support a club from the start. I was a founding member and season ticket holder in the River End. I read this site every day. I started the All Three Points podcast with my great, great friend, Chris Gibbons. I still watched every Arsenal game but Philly became team 1B (or 1A, depending on the day). Arsenal were well into their slow decline, at this point, even as players like Cesc Fabregas continued to light up my heart. And even though Philly struggled so much in those years, it wasn’t hard to find the energy to care.

In 2014, I had my first child. This didn’t really dent my footie fandom much. Babies are a lot of work but you can hold a baby and watch a soccer game at the same time.

By 2018, I’d had kid number two, Arsenal were puttering along, winning the FA Cup once in a while but being otherwise uninspiring, as the Wenger years came to a close, and the Union were showing signs of real improvement. I found myself more engaged than ever with the Union and less pulled by Arsenal. I didn’t need to watch every game, especially if the score got spoiled before I could put my kids to bed. I still read the news, I followed the results, but it didn’t hold the same urgency as before.

I can hear you asking: why are you telling us this long story? Of course your interest in a team waxes and wanes as they are more or less successful. That’s natural.

Well, fast-forward to today.

The Union are one of the top teams in MLS, winners of a Supporters’ Shield and the finest MLS Cup losers ever.

Meanwhile, Arsenal are defying the oil-money logic, top of the league, with an effervescent young team full of likable players playing some of the best football in the EPL. The coach is a former Arsenal player who clearly loves the club and wants to do great things there.

This is great! Both my teams are at the top.

And yet I find myself strangely detached from what is happening up in N5. I can’t tell you the last time I actually watched an entire Arsenal game from start to finish. I still read Arseblog many days, follow the games on Twitter as they happen, or read about them after, but, when Arsenal went down 2–0 to Bournemouth this weekend, I didn’t despair as the title challenge faded before my eyes. Nor did I rejoice when Arsenal scored a 97th-minute winner to show they might just be a team of destiny. My attachment, though still there, is muted.

If anything, I feel a lot of FOMO—how I wish I could still be in the trenches, emotionally, with my fellow Gooners, as this incredible season moves into the final stages. But in the last few years, between parenting, the pandemic, personal loss, and every other challenge, I subconsciously metered my emotional investments. There are only so many things outside of my family that I can allow to control my emotions.

Living and dying with one team is hard enough, but two? It’s too much.

And somewhere along the line, I made a choice, without even really realizing it. I chose the Union.

I hope beyond hope that Arsenal pull it off. The EPL is a deeply fraught endeavor, with money and politics making messy bedfellows and an utter laughingstock of competitive balance. What started with Roman Abramovich continues tenfold with Todd Boehly, the oil states, and the other absurdly wealthy ownership groups. Arsenal is complicit in that state of affairs, too. Nevertheless, to see the Gunners win would be deeply satisfying. It’s not something I thought I’d see again.

But if they don’t, I’ll be okay. I certainly won’t carry around the awful feeling that stuck to me for weeks after MLS Cup. Because I’ll have more important things on my mind, like getting the chance to feel that awful feeling again, or its opposite, with my real team.


  1. Come on You Boys In Blue. (and COYG!)

  2. Chris Gibbons says:

    I very much feel this, but for Liverpool. The Union have filled up the space and there isn’t any room left for the reds. As a result, any game for any team I can find the time to watch is good enough.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    I was thinking about this article while I was taking my daily walk and I must say that I’m feeling somewhat the opposite about the Union. While I still love them I’m finding it harder and harder to support an MLS team. Over the last few years, MLS has done their best to make their league less fan friendly while simultaneously making its competitive nature more of a joke.
    In 2021, they forced a team with 11 players unavailable for non soccer related reasons to play what was theoretically one of the three most important games of the season AND they charged fans a premium to attend the game despite the home team playing non premium players (including at least one who had not played all season). One would think that the league would be interested in showcasing its best product but obviously that was not the case. At the very least, fans should have been either offered the opportunity to not attend and receive a refund or been refunded the difference between what was charged and the price for a regular game.
    In 2022 MLS reminded us that the tiebreaking procedure for every top flight league in the world isn’t good enough for them thus costing the Union at least one if not two trophies (and remember, the one game played between the two tied teams was a home game for the team winning the tiebreaker).
    In 2023 MLS is turning me off at a record setting pace. First they added a single team thus creating going back to having a schedule where not every team can play exactly one game in any given window. Every other top flight league realizes that it takes an even number of teams to play a game and has an even number in their league.
    MLS insists on having the vast majority of its early season games as night games rather than day games like other leagues have. The only saving grace is that they take the winter off. However, this is still putting profits ahead of the fans.
    On March 25 MLS has a full slate of 14 games scheduled. Most of the top players in the league will likely be unavailable for these games because the entire rest of the world will be observing the FIFA international break. (Remember that the last time the Union lost a regular season home game was when 7 players were missing during an international break when the game was rescheduled due to a CCL semifinal.)
    Yet while the league apparently can’t afford to take time off that weekend, they did find a way to add 3 extra sets of playoff games including a round where a team can lose one and draw two but still move on over the team that beat them.
    My wife and I have spent over $20,000 on Union tickets, parking, and merchandise over the last 13+ years but I’m getting closer and closer to not spending any more.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      I totally get those feelings. MLS certainly isn’t perfect. For me, I prefer the MLS version of competitive balance, flawed as it may be, to that of the top Euro leagues, the EPL especially. As much as we complain about the byzantine rules and financial backflips MLS goes through to do what it wants to do, the way money has warped world soccer is far more discouraging to me. I also see a difference between the Union and MLS per se. That allows me the cognitive space, deserved or not, to be annoyed by MLS while still heavily invested in the Union and the other teams in the competition more generally.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I’m actually OK with MLS having a salary cap (especially given that I graduated high school in 1983 having grown up 20 minutes from Giants Stadium and seeing plenty of games featuring “The Greatest Team Money Could Buy” and watching them ruin the league.
        That being said, I’d much rather the league recruit and promote overseas players like a 26 year old Daniel Gazdag and forget about trying to bring in a 36 year old Lionel Messi.

    • Amen…

      PERSONALLY I wish Philly was a Championship League team or lower.

      Don “Grabmoremoney” is who has caused all you mention above.

      And forgotten is the termination of all local TV rights, despite the Union clearly being the 5 franchise in this market, zero support from the media in this town, and desperately needing that local marketing to continue to increase attendence.

      Did anyone notice Subaru was NOT sold out for the first game… nor were probably 80% of the venues opening weekend.

      Don “Grabmoremoney” is the root cause of real, loyal fans vacating the greedy abusive league.

      Just like the “Reyna’d” USMNT org.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I specifically didn’t mention the TV situation as there were plenty of other things I wanted to cover.
        I believe the game at Subaru was sold out (ignoring things like field level seats and suites) since my stepdaughter wanted to get a ticket and was unable to. I’m sure there were season ticket holders who just didn’t want to sit in the cold which would account for some of the empty seats.

  4. DanielHaus says:

    1994 definitely ignited my love of the game as I’m sure it did for most. High speed internet and p2p streaming only deepened the addiction. Now I love waking up at 7am on the weekends, as long as the games are on lol.

  5. I saw that Fontana signed with PEC zwolle so I checked them out. They are first place in the dutch second division. It appears that none other than Harris Menunjanim is on the team… striker….and they won their last game 13-0

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