Photo: Michael Long
“How’s the Union doing?”
The unconverted in my life often ask me this question, knowing it’s an easy way to make conversation with the guy who devotes an inordinate amount of his time and energy to a team they’re aware of, but don’t know much about. In years past, I could always answer easily:
2010— “Off to a decent start. We’re just happy to have a team.”
2011— “Fantastic! Bring on the playoffs.”
2012— “I don’t want to talk about it. Bartender, I’ll tell YOU when I’ve had enough.”
This year, I don’t quite know what to say. On paper, the Union has 15 out of 30 possible points, with a 4-3-3 record. They stand at fifth in the Eastern Conference, with more points than the bottom half of the West to boot.
I have seen victories, several of them. I have seen goals from an emerging power duo that is the envy of the league. I have inhaled the bomb-smoke in the River End like a lost soul in an opium den, greedily and with pleasure.
The level of personal, subjective, barely definable and entirely unquantifiable satisfaction myself and many others feel in the parts of our souls that feed on Blue and Gold glory doesn’t reflect the stats. The ratio of measurable success to arousal, emotional and otherwise, is off. Somehow, this year doesn’t inspire in a way commensurate with the season’s achievements.
The season so far
The first few wins of the season were roundly and correctly criticized as “ugly” victories that came through a combination of luck and boring but effective play. Social media has run thick with gripes about the haplessness of the midfield. The term “pretenders” has been raised repeatedly in reference to Philly’s place in the conference, albeit usually with a question mark.
The most exciting game at PPL may have been last week’s draw against Seattle.The match was a relative thriller, including two instances of a particularly blind squirrel finding a brace of exceptional nuts. While the goals were worth cheering for, they still came from someone whose overall game left some fans wishing he hadn’t scored them since they cemented his controversial status as a starter. Also, the goals were in a draw with Seattle, which considering their form this year is a travesty.
Then came Saturday’s game against the Fire, one which completely inverted the normal relationship between a team’s results and a fan’s elation.
The Union won. Full stop. But as wonderful as it was to watch a Philly squad that is “SO TALENTED,” in the incessantly repeated words of Kyle Martino, take home 3 points, it didn’t feel like what the scoreboard said it was, a victory.
It felt like yet another stroke of luck, defined by two key moments. One was defensive, in which Zac MacMath managed to block Chicago’s best chance with his glutes while facing the other way. The other was offensive, with Jac Mac again displaying the combination of confidence and opportunism that has rescued many a terrible game.The whole clash essentially came down to two asses; the one that happened to be in the way of Chicago’s goal, and the one from which ours was pulled.
Maybe the novelty of the team’s existence skewed the excitement levels for the first few years. Maybe last year’s pageantry of ass-clownery skewed it again, in the other direction. Maybe Philadelphia fans really are the perennially unpleasable mob of armchair quarterbacks that even Santa Claus must famously live in terror of.
That, or maybe the Union isn’t doing as well as the casual observer might think they are. Maybe the only thing between the most optimistic fans and a hard dose of reality has as much to do with serendipity and woeful opposition as it does with determination, solid defense, and a pair of decent strikers.
Maybe what ain’t broke shouldn’t be fixed, unless it is.