Photo: Michael Long
Ah, the old debate. What is the proper ratio of love and support given to individual players versus that which is given to the team as a monolith? Do we root for the crest on the front, or the name(s) on the back?
That dilemma is brought into stark relief as we see Seba’s chief adjective go from “energetic” to “energy drink” and watch that most revered name become the party-at-the-back to the Red-Bull-hating-business-of-the-front on that North Jersey mullet of a uniform.
This stomach-churning turn of events has me thinking about jerseys, teams, and the players that don one to play on the other. It has me thinking about the jersey with its unifying crest on the front and its individualistic tag on the back.
Season one began with no debate for me. Given the fact that, beyond Danny Calliff, there wasn’t a recognizable name in sight and because I expected half the roster to rapidly turn over, my first Union jersey was a blank-back home kit.
While the Union as a whole would remain the center of my fandom, I couldn’t help but start to focus on some individual players as time wore on, and I learned the names and personalities that made up the squad. It turned out that there were men wearing the shirts. Actual human beings. The starting eleven were not a single organism, but an organization of multiple personalities.
So, through that first year, I was sometimes tempted to fill in that blank. But with what? Seba? Danny? Other Danny?
In the end, I kept it blank, both for the practical reason stated above (re: who would stay and go) but also with the thought that I hadn’t waited my entire adult life for Danny Mwanga to come to town. I had waited for the Union to come.
So, I held fast to my initial belief. No player’s name and number would be added to that shirt.
Others see it differently, of course, and take the leap to honor a specific player. With MLS being such a young league with the attendant fan-friendliness requirements and low (for pro sports) salaries, it is easier to relate to the players. This became pretty clear the first time I saw the salaries listed and realized that, rather than rag on Jordan Harvey, perhaps someone should buy him a sandwich. Anyway, the point is, they are regular folks who make a nice, but not extravagant, living playing the game we all love, and that helps us identify with them. It makes us root for them. It makes us (me included) sometimes teeter away from the crest on the front and fixate on the name(s) on the back.
When the new “Bimbo-Approved” kits came out for season three, I came dangerously close to a Le Toux home and a McInerney away jersey. I suppose some creative cutting and pasting may have corrected that error should it have come to pass. In the end, I chose blanks again.
I do admire certain players.
I do want to identify with them and honor them but I wear the shirt with one name on it: Philadelphia Union.
Excluding adidas and Bimbo, that is.