This is something I’ve been waiting to write for almost 6 months. An idea popped into my head in September. The NFL was in full swing, NHL and NBA were about to start-up, and the Phillies were all but finished. The Union’s season was winding down, and they were backing into the final playoff spot in the eastern conference. After the season ended, and the playoff lose to Toronto ensued, my thought was starting to manifest. As sad as I was the Union were done, I looked at the atmosphere of the other Philly sports teams. For the most part, each other team still playing had a core of young talent, and a passion to propel Philadelphia to greatness. This same hunger I saw in the Union’s play in 2016. Taking in the state of every major Philadelphia sports team, my mind jumped to an far-out conclusion about what every Philly fan wants; championships. So what was this idea/thought/revelation? It’s this: The Philadelphia Union could be the next Philly team to win a championship.
I know, I know. This is a town that loves its Eagles, Sixers, Flyers and Phillies. All of them showed glimpses of hope for a better future in their past/current seasons. But there are key aspects that can prove why the Union are the closest to being the next Philly team to win a championship. Let’s take a look at them, and then we’ll look at the chances the other teams have.
Three chances in one year:
The Union play for three different championships every year. The Supporters Shield is awarded to the best team in Major league Soccer thought the entire regular season. The US Open Cup is a single elimination tournament that takes place from March to September. The Union will have to win five in a row in that competition to win that championship. The MLS Cup is won after the top six teams from the MLS season compete in a playoff system.
The Union’s chances for the supporters shield is slim, but you never know what can happen over the course of a season. They are a consistent team in the US Open Cup since Jim Curtin has been coach, so they could make another Cup run this summer. The Union have been consistently projected as either getting the last eastern conference playoff spot, or the just missing, but again their season starts tomorrow, and we’ll see how they do during the season.
The Union’s three chances to win a championship is unprecedented; it doesn’t happen in any other major league sport in America. Which is one reason why the Union could win a championship before other Philly teams.
Front office that has priorities straight:
Another reason is a front office that has its priorities in order. sporting director Earnie Stewart is doing all he can to build a contender without breaking the bank. This has led to owner Jay Sugarman opening his pocketbook more often when the team needs the finances. Before Stewart, Sugarman was hesitant to shell out cash for the team. The old regime, made silly moves (like signing a keeper, when the team had an established starter and had just drafted another). Now smart moves are being made, which could propel the Union to their first championship.
Built to win now?:
Because of these smart moves, the Union have depth at all positions. This is the first time in club history where they are three deep in every position. Over the past four years, the Union’s lack of depth has cost them dearly, especially in big games. In both US Open Cup finals they played in, they lost either in extra time, or on penalties. The 2014 game against Seattle Sounders, saw Union subs who play out of position because of lack of depth. Where as, Seattle brought in quality players as subs to finish the Union. Now the Union have quality players to come in off the bench. So if they can get far in any of the three competitions, their depth can help bail them out!
The Union have the best chance to be the next Philly championship; because, they have three chances a year, a front office willing to get what the team needs to succeed and have depth across the board. Let’s look at the other Philly teams, starting with the Eagles.
Wentz or bust:
The Eagles are still rebuilding from the Chip Kelly era, and one of the reasons they aren’t ready to win the next Philly championship is because they are putting too much on the shoulders of their new messiah. Carson Wentz’s rookie season saw the Eagles rely too much on the youngster. When the Eagles were competing for a playoff spot early in the season, When Wentz did well he was praised as the next Peyton Manning; when he played like a rookie Wentz was roasted for his poor decision-making. He is a young quarterback! He can’t be seen as messiah one week and pariah another. Like it or not, as Wentz goes the Eagles go. If they get Wentz someone to throw to, and address other pressing areas the Eagles will do better.
Overpaying for overrated “stars”?:
The Eagles have a knack for overpaying for “star” players. These players tend to be overrated and fall flat when they put on the green and black. To be fair, most of these acquisitions were during the Chip Kelly era, but shades of that are still around today. With rumors of the Eagles going after free agents Alshon Jeffery, Jamaal Charles and Darrelle Revis. All of these players will cost the team a leg and a foot, and won’t necessarily fix their problems. This shade of the past, could hurt this promising team if they get any of these three expensive aging “superstars”.
A WR and CB are needed:
That being said about overpaying for a “superstar”, the Eagles do need a number one wide receiver and cornerback to be a contender. Who will they get? Will they overpay? I think the Eagles need to look to the Union to get their right person. They need to play moneyball to get the most bang-for-their-buck. If the Eagles can do this, they’ll be contenders, but they don’t look like Super Bowl contenders just yet.
The Eagles Wentz or bust attitude, coupling with overpaying for “superstars” that won’t necessarily impact their play, and still needing two important positions filled to start contending makes them less likely to win a championship before the Union. Now on to the hardwood!
Trusting the process too much:
The Sixers have sat behind the mantra of “trust the process” for years now. While it’s great to build from the ground up is great, there comes a time where you need to ride-or-die with who you have. The Sixers have been in a constant state of tanking to get good draft picks.T his current season has been an anomaly. They have been competitive this season, and right when their season looked to be trending towards the middle of the pack. they trade away Nerlens Noel, and announce that Simmons and Embiid are both out for the rest of the season. The Sixers are close, but need another piece to add to the process.
A superstar guard away?:
The Sixers need a superstar guard. No, they aren’t going to get anyone like Russell Westbrook or James Harden, but they could go after someone who is a scorer. Guess who just so happens to be a free agent this coming offseason? Andrea Iguodala. The ex-Sixer found success with the Golden State Warriors, wining a championship and being finals MVP in the 2014-2015 season. He’s going to have a high price tag. However, if the Sixers want a superstar that knows what it takes to win it all Iggy is the guy to lead with this young team.
Promising young core:
Dario Saric, TJ McConnell, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons is a scary young core to build a team around. Embiid didn’t even play forty games ,but he took the league by storm before another injury setback. Saric has played in every game for the Sixers, and just recently passed Emiid in the rookie of the year projections. The young core paired other role players, and a new superstar guard could have the Sixers poised to make a run. Health will continue to be an issue for this team, but if they can add one superstar to this young hungry team, we could see a very competitive Sixers team!
The Sixers trusting of the process too much, lack of a superstar guard, and their inexperienced young core makes them less likely to win a championship before the Union. Now on to the other team that plays in the Wells Fargo Center.
The Flyers have been inconsistent for a number of years now. It’s so hard to get a read on how the team is doing year-to-year. This season the Flyers started off okay, then had a long win streak, then fell into an abyss. They are still in the running for a wildcard spot but this inconsistency hurts this team. They have put some good results together recently, but the team can’t shed the shades of inconstancy that hang over them. For a stretch they are really good, then they get really bad almost inexplicably.
Missing a star Scorer:
Part of the reason the Flyers have inconstancy problems is because they lack a true star player. The flyers have star players, but they don’t have someone who put’s the team on their back when it is needed. They don’t have a Crosby or Ovechkin. While players like Giroux, Simmonds and Voracek are strong players, they are sometimes absent when the team needs them to step up. When the Flyers go down, there tends to be a flip that switches. It almost seems like they throw in the towel at times. Which is so frustrating, because this team has players who fight their way through games to reflect the toughness of this city. As a team however, they fall short without a star scorer to get them back in the thick of things.
Giroux, Simmonds & Voracek are strong leaders:
The Flyers do have a good leadership core. Giroux, Simmonds and Voracek lead this young team by example. When the going gets tough, these guys stick to the task at hand. They show the young group that they’re down not out. The problem is, that this doesn’t always lead to come from behind wins. However, this leadership core is teaching the young team how to play the game of Hockey. It’s a long tough sport, but if you get down you cannot just give up. These leaders show that, and get on their teammates when needed.
The Flyers inconstancy problems, lack of star scorer to get back into games, and the lack of buying into the leaders efforts makes them less likely to win a championship before the Union.
The Phillies are a beloved team in Philadelphia. Their cherished championships are truly a thing of the past. The old veteran, fan favorites are all gone as well. This team is in full re-vamp mode. They have a young core of players that are tied for the second youngest team in MLB, the average age being 28 years old! This young squad has some power led by 3rd baseman Maikel Franco, but they don’t seem to make a run in the National League right now.
This young group is relatively unproven. Apart from pitcher Clay Buchholz, and outfielder Howie Kendrick, this players on this team haven’t accomplished much in their professional careers. The Phillies unproven group has a bit of an advantage. These young players are hungry to make their names known. Doing that in Philadelphia, could make the Phillies a competing team again. This takes the pressure off this team to just go out and play the game, and try to make a name for themselves.
World Series champ comes to Philly:
The Phillies took a bit of a stride forward bringing in young outfielder Chris Coghlan. Coghlan won the World Series last season with the Chicago Cubs. While he didn’t hit well in the postseason for Chicago, Coghlan will bring his winning prowess to a team that needs it. He brings a veteran presence to a team without many vets. His eight seasons of experience will help teach these younger guys, he can also share stories about how to become a champion. His presence helps the Phillies but wont propel them to title contender this year.
The Phillies young group of players who are unproven, and lack of experienced veterans makes them less likely to win a championship before the Union.
We will see as time plays out if my revelation is correct. The Union look the most ready at the moment to get a championship before every other Philly team. It may be down the road, but I think the next championship parade through Philly will be for the Philadelphia Union! Disagree with me, and my possibly biased prediction? Comment and tell me who you think will win a championship first! Come back to Philly Sports Network for more news on all your Philly sports teams, including news on the start of the 2017 MLS season.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports