This Philadelphia Union Postseason has Less Juice than a Desiccated Grapefruit
The Philadelphia Union begin their playoff campaign on Saturday, but no one seems to care. Not even Union fans.
It’s a bit of a head scratcher, considering that the team is the defending Eastern Conference champion and went to MLS Cup just one year ago. They enter as the #4 seed and have a wealth of big-game experience to lean on. The roster is full of grizzled vets who have been here before. Surely you’d think that would do something for fans, but in surveying supporters, you sense that this postseason campaign has less juice than a grapefruit that was put in a Cuisinart juicer and completely smushed.
The question is “why?” Why does nobody seem to care? A combination of my own thoughts and fan crowd sourcing, here’s a list of reasons:
- The season was a total slog. It started in February and they played a franchise-record 48 games across four competitions. That doesn’t even include seven preseason games in Florida.
- The matches were moved from PHL17 to Apple TV, so casuals who paid attention last year just don’t seem to be paying attention now.
- The Phillies and Eagles both took over in September and October.
- The perceived handling of the Kai Wagner and Alejandro Bedoya situations created some bad vibes.
- We’ve already watched this team hit the ceiling twice this season, losing in the Champions League semifinal and Leagues Cup semifinal.
- Team has been dealing with injuries and the post-Leagues Cup slate was filled with uninspired draws.
- Offense has not been clicking recently.
- Some tactical weariness with Jim Curtin going back and forth between the 4-4-2 and three-man backline.
- General inability to upgrade the roster after last season’s incredible run.
- Completely shitting the bed while playing scared against Lionel Messi at home. That really bothered a lot of people.
To expand on some of these bullets, the overall fatigue is real. These guys have been playing since February, which was eight months ago. Now you’re asking them to dive into a postseason that idiotically begins with a three-game series spread out over the course of 15 days. The Union host New England in Game 1 on Saturday, then have to wait until November 8th to play Game 2. If the series goes to three games, they come back to Philadelphia on the 12th. It’s a total joke. The league expanded the playoffs to nine teams in each conference and created a schedule that results in MLS Cup being played on December 9th. If you take into account that the first preseason game was in January, we’re talking about the possibility of a start-to-finish campaign that ran 11 total months. It’s too much. The season is too long and stuffed with games that just don’t matter.
Then you have the field of play, where recent results were just sort of meh.
Sure, they went unbeaten for eight straight, and only lost again in the season finale, but included in that run were six draws, which really killed off the ability to gain ground and secure better seeding. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t have outpaced one of Columbus or Orlando to snag the 3rd seed. Landing the #4 spot puts them on the same side of the bracket as Supporters Shield winner FC Cincinnati, which is where you don’t want to be.
It feels Negadelphia to write all of this, but it is what it is. The Union hit the ceiling twice this season, once in the Champions League and once in the Leagues Cup. And both times, they didn’t just lose,they got played off the pitch entirely, which I think had a massive impact on fan psyche. Twice Union supporters have been crushed this year, and it’s one thing to bounce back that first time, but the second time is a difficult ask. The Eagles are rolling, the Phillies just went to the NLCS, and vacation season is long over. It’s getting colder and the kids are back in school. Buzz can quickly fade when fans (and media) with finite time and attention have to focus it elsewhere.
The good thing is that everyone in Philly sports has ADHD, and our focus switches on a whim. To that point, the Union can change everything with a good showing on Saturday. Come out on the front foot and be assertive. Play the game we know you can play. Get stuck the fuck in and give the crowd something to cheer for.