Fans' View

Fans’ View: Crunch time

Photo: Earl Gardner

The air is crisp. There’s color in the trees. It’s fall in Philadelphia and that means gnashing of teeth and stubby fingernails for Philadelphia Union fans. Despite reassurances from the highly respected Mr. Kinkead that the Union will make the playoffs, I’m not so sure. Are they good enough? Of course. Are the odds in their favor? Absolutely.

But…I’m from Philadelphia. From the Eagles “fog bowl,” to a Lindros concussion, to a Nogueira Open Cup post, I’ve come to expect being disappointed when all signs point toward optimism. It’s time to break out your playoff beard, light a gold and blue candle, anoint your CJ Sapong doll with healing oils, and take your Bedoya Box for a cleanse in the Zambezi river. Okay, maybe not that last one.

I have to say though, for all the criticism MLS gets for it’s unbalanced schedule and 12-team playoff structure, they’re doing it right. Remember, it’s all about the money. With such a low playoff bar set, there are so many fans that feel the way we do right now. The end of the season is going to be a nail-biter. Stadiums will be filled. I might even tune in to watch the Revs play. It’s exactly what the league wants and needs. In a league with such parity, a wide open playoff structure keeps our interest even if our team may be mediocre.

Right now, I love that six teams in the East will make it into the playoffs. But it’s certainly no guarantee that we’ll have a spot. The Revs could easily take six points in their last two. Our game against Orlando on Sunday is a perfect trap game, and Red Bull will be looking to go into the playoffs on a high note when we play them in the regular season finale.

There’s so much on the line for the next two games, and it’s not just the name Union literally on the red line for the playoffs. The close of this season will cement the first impression of Earnie’s “Stewartship” of the club. While I love Bedoya and Edu, they unfortunately are not equal replacements for the two most influential players ever to wear the blue and gold, Nogueira and Barnetta.

Will their departures negate all the progress made this year? And what of Curtin? This team is clearly the most talented we’ve seen in it’s short history. Missing the playoffs would be a massive disappointment.

The most important question that will be answered in these next two games is this: Will we be seen as a team on the rise, or one that regressed to the mean?

The Union have played some of the most attractive soccer in the league and have the fourth highest goal tally despite plenty of missed chances. With little expected of them following their late season slump, they are a precisely a team that could easily make a deep run in the playoffs.

They just have to get there.

13 Comments

  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    “But…I’m from Philadelphia. From the Eagles “fog bowl,” to a Lindros concussion, to a Nogueira Open Cup post, I’ve come to expect being disappointed when all signs point toward optimism.”
    .
    As someone who was/is born, raised, and still living in Philadelphia… this is an absolutely awesome and 100% true sentence.
    .
    Great post!

  2. I’ve come to appreciate the playoff structure of MLS. I actually prefer it to the promotion/relegation scheme used elsewhere. One of the arguments for pro/rel is that it adds excitement to the end of the season, by which point there may be only a couple teams battling it out for top of the table. However, a race to see which of the suckiest teams is the least suckiest doesn’t excite me personally. With the MLS playoff structure, most teams have something to play for as the season winds down. The suckier teams are battling it out to get above that red line. And the better teams still have something to play for as they jockey for home field advantage, or a bye in the knockout round. There is plenty of intrigue going into these final weeks of the MLS season.

    • A race to see which of the suckiest teams is the suckiest team—- is so intriguing to me on many levels and I could literally write 2000 words on it but I’m going to try to speak to just two points you raise and ask you for genuine reflection.
      .
      …RE: the bottom teams of any top league … in any given properly structured system of which there are upwards of 400 first teams… to be in the top tier alone means you are one of the best 20 and there is honor in that…. being mid table in these leagues and knocking off the Giant clubs occasionally strengthens a fanbase….so I would choose more carefully the words suckiest teams because you couldn’t be any more wrong.
      .
      RE: the MLS playoff structure vs bottom of table… lets see, for roughly 4-6 teams in the bottom of table, the final 3 games or so they play mean nothing… nothing at all…games for PRIDE as Jason Kries says… meanwhile in these other properly functioning open systems the teams and fans fighting TOGETHER for their right to stay in the top division live and die with each excruciating point won or lost over the final weeks of the season … but hey man…. WORLDVIEW.

      • And in last season’s Premier League, Leicester had wrapped things up with 3 weeks to go. At that point Tottenham and Arsenal had wrapped up Champions League with not much significance to 2nd and 3rd. There were still some questions as to which (and how many depending on the results of the cup final) teams would make the Champions League playoffs and Europa league. There were 3 teams vying for 1 non relegation spot (Aston Villa was already gone). That still left 8 teams from 9-16 with nothing left to play for in the last 3+ weeks.
        .
        Not sure that is such a great thing.

        • Fair argument…
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          There is no question with any professional enterprise there are those teams that are mid dwellers… so for me that is moot for both structures. So let’s say arbitrarily 5 teams are battling for last two playoff spots and 5 teams have Europa League aspirations, one could argue that too is a push.
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          My point is… calling the bottom three teams sucky is just not accurate because the context between the two models is so astoundingly different… whereas… Chicago Fire and Houston just suck… and what’s more may suck next year too.
          .
          .
          T-Bone’s point is almost as off base as some in the media calling Philadelphia Union the MLS version of Leicester City which is mind bending in it ignorance.

          • I don’t think he’s off-base at all. Personally I think the playoffs are a little too watered-down, but I continue to be baffled by the Church of Promotion/Relegation. It’s a custom, fine. There is no reason we have to do that here.

          • Pro/Rel has implications that extend well beyond which teams play in the first division.
            .
            Its not just about 3 teams going up and 3 teams going down.
            .

          • I find myself often reading about this argument again and again. I keep thinking why not have both. Nothing saying you can’t have a playoff structure as well as Pro/Rel. Obviously those in the playoffs are in no danger of relegation zone while those at the bottom still fight for the ability to stay in MLS. Where it seems to be headed the USL league seems to be the obvious lower division right now with the structure. However if there is worry that USL teams are just not strong enough to be in the league why not make every team relegated play a one off or home and away playoff to see who gets the spot in the league. I mean I could see things starting small. Two teams in the relegation playoff. This year for example would be Houston and Chicago Vs NYRB II and Louisville FC.

          • I have several times this season gone to a Union game Saturday evening and then driven up to Lehigh Sunday after noon to watch the Steel. With perfect consistency my first Sunday afternoon observation has been the difference in pace of play between the two leagues.

        • Ols Soccer Coach says:

          agree that mid-table has little to play for aside from pride and a job next season.
          .
          There are some great relegation battles, whch is better than the Phillies finishing the string against the Braves in a “contest” for the first pick in the draft. two seasons ago I think.

  3. As nerve racking as Sunday’s match will be, we’re playing important matches in Oct and it’s been awhile since we’ve had that around here. Feels nice to be going to it rather than trying to decide if I spend the time to go see a meaningless match by my team playing out the string.

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