Could the Philadelphia Union become the Leicester City of MLS?

New England Revolution v Philadelphia Union
CHESTER, PA – MARCH 20: Sebastien Le Toux #9, Fabian Herbers #11 and Chris Pontius #13 of Philadelphia Union celebrate Le Toux’s goal against the New England Revolution at Talen Energy Stadium on March 20, 2016 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Union won 3-0. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

History was made in the soccer world this past week. when Leicester City FC won the Barclays Premier League. Leicester is a small city in the middle of England, and their football (soccer) team has not been relevant in a very long time. Leicester have been close to relegation in the English Premier League the past two years, and were given  5000/1 odds of winning the league this season. So they’re a small city, and a regularly sub-par club in England’s biggest league, except for this year. They won the Premier League with two weeks to spare this season, and were consistently getting good/great results against the bigger teams all year. That, coupled with the usually great teams coughing up results, propelled the Foxes to lifting the Premier League Trophy this past Saturday in front of their home fans. This Leicester City story has gotten many MLS fans asking this question: Is there going to be a cinderella team, like Leicester City, in MLS this year?

The Philadelphia Union could be the MLS equivalent of Leicester City in 2016. To be clear, the Union could easily come nowhere close to accomplishing what Leicester did. However, there are some interesting similarities between the two teams that could make the comparison justifiable. To start with, both the English side and the Union had grim odds to win the whole thing before the season started and went on to enjoy surprisingly successful beginnings to their seasons. Both have also historically been overlooked.

Before the Premier League season started, Leicester City had a 5000/1 chance to win the league. They overcame these vast odds, and showed the world that miracles can indeed happen. One Leicester City fan is being rewarded for faith in the club. According to the Ladbrokes betting company, and CBS sports, one fan bet $72 on Leicester to win it all. That fan cashed in big time; racking in $106,000!

The Philadelphia Union also had steep odds before this current MLS season started Albeit, they weren’t as steep as Leicester’s. The Union were tied for the worst odds to win MLS cup with 60/1. So if a Union fan was so bold as to bet $100, and they won the whole thing, that lucky fan would receive $5,000! The odds for the Union aren’t in the same window as Leicester’s money wise, but if the Union do win it all it shows that a team that was perceived as one of the worst before the season would end up on top of the league. Both of these teams started their seasons ready to prove the bookmakers wrong.      

In Leicester’s first eight games they had 15 points, and were up at the top half of the table. They started hot, and surprised a lot of people in their strong beginning of the 2015/2016 season. in their first eight games the Union have amassed 13 points, and are in contention for first place in the Eastern conference. This team has looked dominant in many of their games thus far in the season, and have only really dropped points because of silly decisions. This Philadelphia team could have at least six more points on their total, and could have a solid grip on the East if these silly mistakes did not occur.

Both of these teams showed hot starts in their first eight games. It is important for a championship team to show championship quality out of the gate, but not as important as it is to play up to championship quality at the end of the year. Philadelphia look very good but need to continue their good form throughout the year, as Leicester did, to be considered Leicester’s equal. They can continue their good form, and get further motivation from being overlooked.

Both of these teams are overlooked in their leagues, and it is mostly due to both teams underwhelming play. Last year Leicester City was close to losing Premier League eligibility. They were one of the worst clubs in the league, and just barley stayed above the red line to come back to the Premier League for the 2015-2016 season. Leicester came back this season and righted their past wrongs with consistent play throughout this current season. The team clicked, and the results kept coming for Leicester. Philadelphia’s past years are eerily similar to Leicester’s. They were the 19th placed team out of twenty teams in MLS last year. They struggled early found a bit of form though the summer, and then wilted late in the 2015 season. This season so far they have erased all of their past negative results. The 2016 Union team is new; there is something different, and special about the group. The same things were said about Leicester back in the fall months, so could this different/special feeling be a telling sign of the Union’s 2016 success?

Then, there’s the philosophical change. Ranieri stepped into the hot seat and brought with him a new idea about how to build a winning team. One of Europe’s most reputable managers, Ranieri was able to assemble a squad for a fraction of the price that giants such as Manchester United spend so carelessly. Okazaki, Huth, Kante, Fuchs..all names that are now wearing a Premier League medal around their necks were brought in for less than Manchester City spent on Nicholas Otamendi..in fact, it’s almost half of that amount.

Earnie Stewart took on some heavy responsibilities when he accepted the role of “Director of Soccer” and is yet to disappoint. A new vision, a new system and players that are perhaps undervalued by many have all been fundamental in the Union’s early success. With an emphasis on the youth and development to try to compete against the likes of NYCFC and LA Galaxy who can afford these big names such as Villa and Gerrard, the Union have “Moneyballed” their way in a very similar to fashion for the Champions of England.

Obviously, only time will tell if the Union live up to the Leicester’s legacy. Looking at both teams, you can see the commonalities of this years Philadelphia Union and this years Leicester City team. If you are an MLS fan and a Premier League fan, and are looking for an MLS equivalent to Leicester, then look at the similarities that Philadelphia and Leicester have; Grim/steep odds to win the whole thing before the season started, surprising beginnings to their seasons, and the fact that they both are historically overlooked. These similarities should persuade you to say that Philly is, so far at least, is the American Leicester City.     

Photo credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

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