Commentary / The Overlap / Union

The Overlap: Fatigue

Photo: Ruairi Rossi

I am a parent, as I am sure many of the folks reading this are. As parents, we all know that, when children are young, there is a period where parents get little sleep. Infants, of course, wake every couple of hours at the start, to feed and get a new diaper. Some kids are colicky and struggle with sleep more than others. Depending on the child, this can last a short time or a long time but, eventually, every kid starts to sleep through the night.

After infancy, though, different sorts of sleep issues can emerge, with children discovering the fears associated with being alone in the dark, with bad dreams, with nighttime anxiety. The things that all of us deal with are harder for the littlest of us, and learning to cope with it can take work.

My oldest, who is nine and a half, has always struggled with sleep. I won’t get into details, but he was never able to develop that ability to sleep through the night, instead waking multiple times a night and then needing a parent’s assistance to fall back asleep. It wasn’t until this past spring, when his desire to attend sleep-away camp for the first time became so strong, that he was able to conquer his overnight anxiety and sleep through the night without my or my wife’s help. He still often wakes in the night, but is now able to get himself back to bed and asleep without assistance.

For those of you not able to understand the significance of this, let me lay it out for you.

Those of you with children remember the interrupted sleep and what it does to you. Days become a blur, one’s ability to manage one’s emotions hangs by a thread, your memory gets shot, and you are tired all the time. Simple tasks can feel insurmountable. Driving becomes hazardous. Working a job and parenting often feels like more than you can manage. What should we have for dinner? Please don’t ask me any questions; I have no idea. Young parents survive this period because it is ultimately temporary.

My wife and I lived that way for more than nine years.

Since our son’s remarkable success, our life has changed dramatically, but in ways that aren’t visible to other people. We’re happier. We’re more capable. We can manage the work of our lives in ways that we couldn’t before. I’ve put it this way to friends: I haven’t had the capacity to be my best self for nearly a decade. All the energy I had was directed into my most basic needs and those of my family. But now I’ve finally regained some extra bandwidth and it’s wonderful.

I bring all this up because I can’t help thinking about it when I contemplate the Union’s current struggles—not to mention my own issues with attention and energy for their plight.

It’s well documented: last season, the Union played a total of 38 games, which got them to the CCL semifinals and MLS Cup. This season, they passed 38 games weeks ago—they are currently at 45. For comparison, FC Cincinnati just won the Supporters’ Shield after playing 39 games. Orlando City, the form team of the conference right now, has played 37 total. St. Louis is atop the West, having played 36 games. The fatigue of playing so many games in such a condensed span of time goes a long way toward understanding everything dogging the Union right now.

None of this is meant to be excuse-making. Perhaps there were ways to build a deeper roster or manage the one the Union have in order to navigate this season better. Then again, maybe not: LAFC, the other team in MLS with a similar number of games played to the Union (and with the polar opposite approach, financially), just lost at home to RSL and haven’t scored in four straight.

Sleep deprivation and physical fatigue are not the same, of course, but there are similarities. I imagine there are Union players getting frustrated that their bodies are not following their minds’ commands in the expected way. Touches are that few percentage points worse. Offensive ideas come to their minds that few milliseconds slower. Defensive reactions are similarly delayed.

Not to mention managing the emotional load. These players have played more than a season already. Last year, there was a way to mentally scaffold the shape of the season to build up toward the payoff of the playoffs and ultimately MLS Cup. This year, with multiple tournaments and so many additional games, the season has been splintered and finding an emotional through-line has been impossible. As a fan, I have certainly found it difficult to maintain my attention as the season entered late summer. Leagues Cup was an interesting diversion but, with so many games since it ended, trying to keep motivated and interested in every game has not been possible. I recently straight-up forgot about the Charlotte game. I don’t mean I forgot to watch it. I mean I watched it and then promptly forgot it ever happened. This past weekend, I had tickets to the orchestra, so wasn’t able to watch the Columbus game live. Usually, I would watch the replay at my earliest opportunity, making sure not to spoil the result. This time? I just checked the score and went to bed (a good point on the road, by the way, even if another draw is disappointing).

So . . . what?

I don’t know, honestly. I don’t think this season is already over. It will be very interesting to see how the rest of the teams in the league, now having played a full season’s worth of games, manage the added load as we head into the postseason. The Union and LAFC may very well find second winds (third winds?) and find a way to roar through the playoffs while everyone else starts to feel the grind.

For fans, I give you permission not to care so hard right now. No matter what happens this season, next year will be different. These players, some of whom have been under-performing, will likely bounce back, maybe sooner than we think. This season, will the Union get up to second place? Will they finally get over the hump and win MLS Cup? Who knows! I don’t want to suggest that it doesn’t matter. But, considering the reality of the season to date, it would be unfair to the team and to ourselves to have the same level of expectation for the denouement of 2023 as we had at the beginning.

Because this team is tired. I know what that’s like.


  1. PaulContinuum22 says:

    Cincinnati, St. Louis, etal have the same overlap. They keep winning. ESPN’s power rankings for this week came out today with this little zinger: “They (the Union) also failed to display the truly excellent top form that has been fleeting this season. If they’re going to upend the teams above them in a stacked East, they need to find that extra gear.”

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      No, they have played significantly fewer games than the Union. Six and nine fewer games in the same amount of time is a big difference.

      • This is the difference that those who say ‘teams in the English Championship play 46 regular season matches plus Cups’ fail to realize. EVERY team in the league will play a minimum of 48 matches – it’s a level playing field. Yes, a deep Cup run can add matches but teams fighting for promotion to the Premier League aren’t usually making those runs.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    One small correction. Last season’s 38 games did not include CCL. That was 2021 when they played 47 games including CCL, regular season, and playoffs. (OK, 46 games plus one game with the backups due to COVID.) There was no Open Cup in 2021 so that didn’t add anything. They finished 2nd in the conference that year behind record setting New England and it was a freak occurrence that kept them from a chance at playing for the cup that year.
    That being said, if you want to avoid sleep issues due to young kids, I’ll recommend my path to fatherhood. Three weeks after I got married my (step)daughter turned 30. No issues with diapers or the kids waking up in the middle of the night for me.

  3. Evildunk99 says:

    I think (hope) some of the rest that the team has had in recent weeks will payoff when it counts in the playoffs.

    Fresh-ish legs:
    Glesnes (cautiously held out past few), Martinez (cautiously held out + yellow accum), Bedoya (missed most of the summer), Carranza (concussion, yellow card accum), Gazdag (missed a couple due to injury), Sullivan (largely used as a sub, should be fresh).
    Probably feeling the strain of the season:
    Blake, Elliott, Uhre, Mcglynn, Bueno (didn’t play much early on, but racked up many consecutive starts since), Donovan (double time with UII).
    Mystery: Baribo (not sure what his fitness actually is), Harriel & Mbaizo (alternate starts frequently)
    Severely injured: Flach
    It would be nice if we could get a multi-goal win to give some players like Rafanello and a couple others some run.

  4. el Pachyderm says:

    This brings back memories…
    We had four kids in five years… I was the primary caregiver when they were young (5,3,2,1) and worked night shift Fri-Sat-Sun in a hospital. On Mondays I’d sometimes treat the kids to McDonalds in the morning- so burnt and fatigued from a collective 12-15 hours of rest in that three day stretch turned five year sentence… the lady behind the talking box at the drive through would ask “do you want chocolate milk or apple juice” and me cooked like the Big Breakfast sausage patty, asking—- “could you repeat the question.”
    I feel for the Union in a way. I’ve been tough on them this season.. maybe unrightfully. Ultimately they are in survival mode the way you were, I was … in my own instance after McDonalds breakfast of putting all four kids into the bedroom and laying myself across the chasm of bedroom door on the floor to pass out for 90 minutes in an effort to not feel so bad the remainder of the day- catching them crawling over me trying to escape.
    Those were the days. Maybe these are the days too.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      I was a stay at home dad with my kids until a year ago when they were both finally in school. It was awesome but also the hardest thing I have ever done. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but it wore me out.

  5. Sorry, I don’t buy it.

    Curtin and Tanner KNEW how many matches we would play this year… they demanded it, frankly, chasing the ‘we’re winning everything’ to make up for last year.

    NOT buying any of it.

    We’ll see tonight if we back it all up vs Atlanta… or just more Poop. MUST WIN!

    And if the Philadelphia region buys ANY Continental Tires, shame on YOU ALL. I have had enough of THAT commercial. You all know what I mean….

    • Deez Nuggs says:

      I do know the commercial you mean. And I find it incredibly rude to play it before and during every single Union game.

    • I wholeheartedly agree with you. It’s pretty frustrating that we traded away Freese and then loaned out Perea in a season where the workload was known to be intense. I really don’t believe that Curtin has used squad rotation with any efficiency at all this year. Plus the Union received an extra allocation for qualifying for the Champions League and didn’t seem to put that to good use along with all the funds that the Union received from the sale of players in a season where they were supposedly so close to winning the MLS Cup. Relying on Bedoya to be a starter is ridiculous. Also, Sullivan should have gotten a run of starts over Uhre lately. Uhre has not been productive in quite a while now.

      • Perea has looked pretty good recently. Wondering if, after NYCFC is eliminated, does that mean his loan is over, could we bring him back for the playoffs? Or am I dreaming? He must be in good shape. Could be handy to have?

    • How do we reconcile these sentiments (which I get) with the fact that other teams in the league with the same workloads are also struggling? LAFC has — what? — three times the budget spend? And yet they have won 2 of the last 8 games. Did they also fail to plan? Have you taken note of the way our injuries have escalated this season? Is that not a direct line to overuse?
      Again, I get the “they could have planned”, but its important to realize the team exists within restrictions. Cap at the number of players on a roster. Cap of DPs. Cap of salary. Cap of Sugerman’s $$ target. Number of games scheduled. The world outside is out of their control. We may be at the limits of what we can manage without a change to the system around the league.

      • Jeremy Lane says:

        This is my feeling. I’m sure the team could have done better, because there are always mistakes made. But, holistically, it may not be possible under current rules to build a team that can be competitive across so many games and competitions.

      • Deez Nuggs says:

        Either way, it’s a long way we’ve come to be frustrated about a season like this. Consider, the Union’s first EVER playoff win was 4 years ago. F-O-U-R.

  6. The mental fatigue is as significant a factor as physical. (Which is also true of parenthood.) How do you ‘get up’ for a Wednesday night match in Columbus Ohio, the results of which are not likely to mean a whole lot. You’re also dealing with the still tangible, bitter losses — so close you could taste it — of MLS Cup, and semifinals in the CCL and League’s Cup. The boys have been through an emotional wringer.

    Best case scenario is they enter the playoffs energized by the opportunity of another run at the cup. I think they have as good a chance as any other team of making a run.

  7. Andy Muenz says:

    Glesnes is in the starting Xi against Atlanta. Martinez and Flach are on the bench.

  8. Our three kids are off and on their own! But the earily years were rough. Our youngest was 3 months old and my job took me on a 2.5 /3hr way. Did that daily drive for only 14 weeks but after a long hot day that drive just killed ya!…then up and back to it the next day! So I think there is mental and physical consequences to the fatigue. Of course there could have been better decisions made, different players used or what have you…but we got what we got. I won’t blame anyone on this site for the thought that being tired is just an excuse. We all have our opinions and thoughts on how things are handled or not handled. I do think that fatigue is a factor in how the players heal, and the staff picks a line up. And sure we have seen a lot of players in consecutive matches so we think players are rested when in fact they could be playing because the depth guy is hurt. No matter how we see the season so far, it is certainly far and away better than 5/6 seasons ago. Saturday is the final home game and I am looking forward to seeing a home playoff game, and maybe a run at the cup! 5/6 seasons ago that was not possible!

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