The MLS crew at The Athletic does an anonymous survey of MLS executives each year.
Coming off a season in which the Union lost the title game on penalty kicks, the execs chose Philly as the favorite to win both MLS Cup and the Supporter’s Shield, but one of those guys went on to slander the team anyway, saying this:
“The thing is, they’re not even that f—ing good,” one executive said. “It kind of hurts me to pick them. All they do is kick the s— out of you. They’re always ready to play, that’s great, that’s good coaching, all that stuff. But they’re just not great. They have a way of doing things and they’re consistent, but it’s not like the quality is amazing. So it hurts me to pick them, but they’ve kind of earned it.”
Weird quote, yeah? The guy alternates between griping and begrudgingly giving credit.
What he’s actually describing, however, is everything you want in a team. You want hard-working, blue collar grinders that are well-prepared, well-coached, and ready to kick the shit out of you (both literally and figuratively). You don’t necessarily need superstar players with individual quality, you need a cohesive unit that understands and executes a smart system. That’s what the Union are. This is a Moneyball-inspired franchise that consistently fields teams which wind up being greater than the sum of their parts.
But even then, if you broke out the starting lineup and looked at each player in a vacuum, the Union have the league’s best goalkeeper, the reigning defender of the year, the best left back, an MVP candidate #10, and a top-five d-mid with 14 appearances for Venezuela. They’re captained by a veteran United States international who played in a World Cup. The front three combined for 49 goals and 15 assists, and two of those dudes came here from European teams that do not suck. This is not some patchwork group of overachieving scrubs, we’re talking legit players one through eleven, with a roster bolstered by local kids who came through the academy.
The Union don’t need any motivation, because they’re grounded and focused dudes to begin with. There are no divas on this roster. But I’d still print out that executive’s quote and tape it to every locker. It just shows that even though people recognize how good the Union are, they don’t REALLY want to give them credit.
“No one likes us,” blah blah, yadda yadda.