Can Union Soccer save summer 2021 in Philadelphia?
This is a dark time in Philadelphia. The excitement many of us thought would roll well into July has abruptly died out in mid-June with the Sixers’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Only a few days later, the Phillies proved once again they will be anything but contenders this season. It seems a void has been left in the Philly sports landscape until football begins. However, that is not entirely true. There is a potential savior right here in Philadelphia. A team that could not only salvage the city’s summer but may even turn it into one we’ll never forget. That team, of course, is the Philadelphia Union.
The Union have always been a team many in Philly have only sorta known and kinda loved. Of course, the Sons of Ben and other Union diehards are excluded. They have been on the hype train long before it even got on the tracks. At the same time, I don’t think it’s crazy to say the average Philly sports fan is not tuning into every game and keeping up with the latest transfer moves and youth academy prospects. Myself included.
As the dog days of summer approach, however, there’s a good chance of that changing. Why? Because the Philadelphia Union are finally good at a time when the other four major sports in the city are floundering. The Sixers were eliminated in the second round, the Phillies are simply horrendous, and the Eagles are deep in the off-season flirting with the idea of a rebuild.
Enter the Philadelphia Union, the scrappy Major League Soccer club established by fans BEFORE there was even a team announced. Talk about Philly fans at their finest, and there’s none better than the Sons of Ben.
It took the club time to establish a foothold in Philly, especially when they posted several losing seasons in a row and choked in three straight cup finals. The Union were excellent last season under manager Jim Curtin, winning the Supporters Shield (trophy) for the best regular-season record in MLS, but COVID-19 was far more important than finding your new favorite team to watch.
I genuinely believe the Union are poised to make 2021 the Summer of Soccer here in Philadelphia, and here’s how they will win the hearts and minds of Philly fans, diehard and casual alike.
The team is damn good.
Starting off plain and simple, the team is really, really good. The Union had the best record in MLS last year, which actually counts as a trophy in soccer. This season the Union are as competitive as ever, despite losing a few key pieces, and the goal on their mind now is continental glory.
They are in the semi-finals of the Concacaf Champions League, facing the best teams in all of North America. The Union have got a real chance to win it all, too.
They’re also unbeaten in their last seven in MLS, defeating defending champions Columbus Crew at Subaru Park last night 1-0.
They play with a Philly mentality.
When many Americans think of soccer, they think of overpaid douchebags rolling around on the ground, and they are 100% correct in that assessment. However, if you watch the NBA, there’s arguably more of that these days. Plus, that whiny crap is limited more to Western Europe and Brazil. Soccer in much of the Americas is definitely a contact sport.
The Union don’t shy away from the physicality in MLS; they embrace it. A lot of us in Philadelphia have perceived a lack of effort from our athletes. The Flyers were flat to end the year, Doc Rivers and the Sixers looked like they would rather be in Cancun than a Game 7, and the Phillies suck despite having good players.
The Union have come out this year playing even harder with less talent than last season. The reward? Winning, especially against more talented opponents. When the team traveled for Concacaf matches, they knew it’d be even more brutal than MLS, yet they came out and dominated supposedly superior competition.
Imagine watching a team that doesn’t fold to lesser squads. That’s what we’ve got here in the Union.
While much of the roster is foreign, the Union have one of the best academy programs in all of MLS. That means there’s now a direct Philly guy to professional soccer player pipeline.
We’ve got two former Union studs over in Europe in Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson, the latter of whom’s younger brother Paxten is on the Union and cooking grown men at age 17.
Having a team linked to the city through locally-scouted academy products is something other American sports lack, and the Union have that in spades. Why root for Philly guys on other teams when they can play in front of their home crowd?
With COVID gone, the Union sold out Subaru Park last night. There were 18 thousand-plus screaming fans in attendance to watch them defeat the defending champs. Plus, they have fun songs too.
You’re telling me I can slug beers, watch some hometown kids win games, and sing some tunes with the boys? How is this not something I do on the regular??
There’s palpable electricity in the air at Subaru Park, and the energy in that building has grown more and more with each passing season. I mean, just look at a packed house and tell me it’s not beautiful.
There are so many things to love about the Union that I feel the vast majority of the city, myself included, has been missing out on. Is it the best on-field product in the world in terms of pure talent or skill? Absolutely not. But it’s an entertaining brand of soccer I think Philadelphians would love to watch.
Tickets are only 40 dollars, parking is cheap, the stadium is on the water, and Bimbo Bakeries gives out free bread after home games (at least they did at the last game I attended). Combine that level of accessibility with winning, and you get fans. Simply put.
We all should throw our support behind this team. Of course, the Union have to earn it just like any other team in Philly. However, I have no doubt they will do just that in Summer 2021.
Mandatory Credit: Dr. Drew M. Smith, MD