Calling all soccer fans; the 2016 MLS season starts this week! If you have yet to take in American soccer you should start now, especially in Philadelphia. This will be the Union’s 7th season, and while they are not one of the best teams in the league, they have been built to be competitive for 2016. If you’re like many Philly sports fans, you know the feeling of following teams that are given no chance to succeed. Philly sports teams take on the role of underdog; think Rocky. This is exactly how the Union are portrayed. They are ranked in the bottom five of all 20 teams, and if they get out of the bottom five at the end of the season then it is seen as an accomplishment. So why should we care about this mediocre team? Because they fight!
This team is compiled of players who are overlooked. They try their hardest to give the passionate sports fans something to cheer about. Over the past two years this Union team has been the closest Philadelphia sports team to a championship; losing in final of the U.S. Open Cup in 2014 and 2015. This team does not quit. They want to prove that The Union are a Philly sports team that should be taken as seriously as the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers, and Flyers. I witnessed this drive first hand last year after a tough loss.
Last August I was able to go onto the field to meet some players after a game the team needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. I watched as all the players greeted the fans. Newcomer at the time, Tranquillo Barnetta, approached each fan and apologized to them. He had been with the team for a little more than a month, and embodied what Philadelphia was all about. He was all in for the Union. He came to me and apologized. “I’m sorry we could not do better for you” he said. I tapped him on the shoulder, and said to him “keep your head up high; keep doing what you’re doing, and we will all celebrate together when the team succeeds.” He smiled, and walked towards the locker room. Tranquillo is now one of the major leaders of the team.
This Union team is a quintessential Philadelphia sports team. They are the underdogs of the league, and have added new quality players before the start of this 2016 season. On paper, this Union team can compete with any other team in the league. I am confidant in predicting that the Union will not finish in the bottom five teams of the league, which doesn’t sound like much, but is something the “experts” will not do. This teams passion for the game and the fans Philadelphia, combined with the newly added talent, is enough to project this team to be competitive in the eastern conference playoff race. Only time will tell if this “David” of a team actually beats some of the “Goliath’s” of the league.
The season starts March 6th with an away game a giants a fierce Dallas team, that the Union usually struggle against. If the Union can get started on the front foot, and pick up a win on the road in Dallas to start the season, then we know that this Rocky-esc underdog has made a huge leap forward. We’ll know after this coming weekend, and can overreact about the huge win to start the season. However, if the team loses, then we can be the stereotypical Philadelphia fans, and talk about how this team is doomed from the start. It’s exciting that the 2016 season is only a few days away, then all the speculation can stop, and the team can speak by it’s play on the field.