Last night, I watched Columbus Crew SC demolish the Philadelphia Union 4-1 in Ohio. It wasn't even the worst loss of the night in MLS numerically, as Real Salt Lake were pummeled 4-0 on the road against the New England Revolution. But RSL were missing a slew of starters and depth players and they aren't really used to the whole "losing badly" routine at this point.
The Union, on the other hand? Hoo boy. While it's unclear how the Montreal Impact will do in MLS this season, since they've barely played in the league, they at least are in the midst of a CONCACAF Champions League final and heading into the second leg with a real chance of taking the title. Even if they lose every MLS game this season, they'll still have a successful season in many ways.
Philadelphia are staring down six more months of weak defense and an uncreative attack, by the looks of it, however. Sure, they could pull a D.C. United in 2013 or even a Philadelphia Union in 2014 and make the final or win the U.S. Open Cup. But morale is dropping like a rock.
It wasn't always like this, of course. I remember the heady days of 2011, when Faryd Mondragon was the starting goalkeeper, when Peter Nowak hadn't sent the team hurtling toward dysfunction yet, before Danny Califf was traded to Chivas USA, which seemed to break Union fans' hearts more than seemed possible, and before Sebastien Le Toux was traded away, though he eventually made his return.
All of that has soured, which is too bad. Since Nowak was fired (and later sued the team) in 2012, assistant John Hackworth was named interim and then permanent head coach, then was fired himself in the middle of the 2014 season. His assistant, former Chivas USA defender Jim Curtin, a local Philadelphian, was named interim and then permanent head coach.
The Union haven't made the MLS playoffs since 2011. Their final position has gotten better each season, but that's small consolation when the playoffs are the minimum benchmark for any kind of success in this league.
It's tough. I know the feeling, as good 'ol Chivas USA (remember them?) didn't make the playoffs 2010-14. Then the team died.
There's a weird existential tension that came out of the folding of CUSA. Would I rather have a team to watch right now than no team? Unquestionably, I want a team. What if that team was terrible, and I had to watch loss after loss pile up, something I basically did the past five years? Hmm.
Deep down, I'd still rather have a team to watch and root for, warts and all. I wouldn't want them to be bad, but having no team is truly bleak.
Still, Union fans are mightily depressed right now. I tweeted out last night the following while watching the game:
Union fullbacks have all been really bad this season. #CLBvPHI— Alicia Rodriguez (@soccermusings) April 26, 2015
No cheap shots, no general comment on the condition of the club, which seems to be a maddening combination of over-involved at the top and underfunded, just analysis on the play of the team.
I got a deluge of negative responses from Union supporters, not at what I wrote but for the failure of the club to arrest the ongoing slide.
There was frustration. There was pity. There was a sense of "You don't know what we're going through right now! It's the worst!" There comes a point when otherwise rational people tune you out because you won't totally ape their talking points.
I've been there, though most of what I dealt with was more along the lines of beating back the torrents of hate directed at Chivas USA, deserved or not. But I'm sure there were times when someone was trying to have a discussion with me and I effectively put my fingers in my ears and yelled, "LALALA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU! MY TEAM IS JUST THE WORST!"
Watching your team lose again and again, and fail to really provide any resistance to opponents takes a real toll mentally and emotionally. I think there may be rough times ahead for the Union, and that genuinely makes me sad.
But Philadelphia has a team. That may be unfair, but it's true. They can't be much fun to watch right now, and I sympathize. But they have a stadium that looks great, one I'd love to visit one day and see the Union play in person. They have a good group of fans, and it seems clear they will be making their displeasure heard if the poor results continue. It seems like a long season is ahead of you, but if nothing else, you've got a friend here on the West Coast.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!