The Existential Sports Bar – Processing the Union’s big game failures and general sporting disappointment

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

You perch on the edge of the stool, waiting for the bartender to make his way over to you. 8 goals fly in. The old man reaches you and takes your order. As he does so, another goal. A trophy lift. Does it get any better? How could it possibly? Yet it does. While you wait for your drink to arrive, more goals. 3 more trophy lifts. Your drink arrives, and you raise it, half in thanks, half in celebration. “This is great! Where am I, exactly?” The bartender smiles.

Philadelphia Union fans pack Subaru Park for the Leagues Cup semifinal against Inter Miami! The Union fell to Miami 4-1 Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

“Welcome to the Existential Sports Bar.”

The two of you chat for a bit. He speaks English, but his accent switches between German, Portuguese, and Italian, sometimes by the sentence. By the time you swill down the last dregs of your first drink, the future looks impossibly bright. Surely, more trophy lifts are coming. You allow yourself a smile, and hear cheering from…somewhere else. “What was that?”

“This place isn’t exactly one of a kind,” the bartender replies. “For every kick of a ball, like we have here, there’s somewhere with a throw, or a hit.” He leans in, almost conspiratorially. “Some don’t even use a ball at all. And we have bars for each and everyone.” He leans back again with a laugh. “You might say this place is sort of a franchise.”

Only now do you notice that you’re not alone. The place is full, and every single patron is glaring at the bartender. “Sorry, sorry. I meant to say this place is sort of a club.” The atmosphere relaxes instantly.

You can see it now as if the world has opened up before you. There are still goals, but now there are home runs, and touchdowns, and other forms of scoring, always there, always less clear than the goals, but no less impactful for it. At least, not the scores that really matter.

Before you know it they all feel like they matter. Goals, home runs, touchdowns, lasting longer than they have been recently. Meaning more. Enough goals to count for something everywhere in the world-

“Except where you have them.”


“Those goals count for more than anything everywhere in the world except where you have them. You need to be looking at wins,” the bartender explains, patient, gentle. He knows what’s coming. He knows it will hurt.

“But…but we have fewer losses. Shouldn’t that count just as much as wins? Isn’t that why everywhere else uses goal difference?”

“You would think.”

Philadelphia Union players Daniel Gazdag and Kai Wagner celebrate a goal in MLS Cup! Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

You accept the injustice. After all, the real prize is still all to play for. Three prizes in fact, one here, two, possibly three, in other locations in the existential franchise (allowable usage in this case, according to the bartender).

You lose yourself in the wave of euphoria. You can almost feel two trophies in your hands at once. It’s hard to balance hopes and dreams with just enjoying the ride. It creates tension. Everything is tension and then…true euphoria. The glass in your hand becomes a trophy, it fits in your hand as if it were meant to be there.

You drop it as a red dragon rips your heart out.

An orange trash can blips into existence for a moment to stomp on your still-beating heart before disappearing again.

You blink and a day passes in flashes. A green bird strangled by a questionable caricature. A Norwegian frost giant dodging a financial investigator, before kicking a canon into the sun. A brief moment of respite as red traps yellow in a bottle yet again, but your momentary happiness is spoiled a bit by the booing of all the other patrons. For people so fond of tradition, they sure don’t appreciate 10+ years of the same thing every time. You can’t blame them.

You try to take notes as blue and gold stutter to life once again, this time without a red dragon in sight. Blue and gold mirrors your own despondency over the recent past, but they soon move beyond it, finding their rhythm once again.

You don’t.

Even for them, it’s not the same. Everything feels like a pale imitation of the day before, even the distant cheering from elsewhere. Only the energy of the other patrons remains as strong as ever, if not stronger.

More flashes, good and bad. Optimism giving way to a historic slump. Goals starting to flow again. A first home run wrapped in the loving arms of a no-hitter. Blue flipping a coin that lands on its edge, before tilting by millimeters to one side to hand the metric system some measure of revenge; blue grabbing yellow by the hand and pulling it along, leaving red and white shattered in its wake.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, you notice the bartender is a woman now.

A wax figure of black, red, and yellow under a heat lamp, starting off strong and solid but melting away to nothing before you know it. A Spanish dagger coating blue and yellow hearts with red. A pink goat relieving itself on the Rocky statue.

Union Bar
Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi, left, and Philadelphia Union’s Daniel Gazdag, right, share a moment after the Leagues Cup semifinal. Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Your reverie is interrupted by the bartender. “Would you like another drink…” 

You can’t tell if her accent is British or Spanish now. Neither is particularly appealing. Before she can finish her question, you already know your answer. You look at the empty glass in front of you and reach for that small piece of hope inside you, but it has long since curled up and died, victim of red dragons, frost giants, and the like. 

As you start to shake your head no, the bartender finishes her question: “…for the new European season? It’s just starting. Plus, I have the perfect thing to pair with newly signed strikers a little closer to home, whenever their paperwork is completed.” She slides a blue and gold concoction your way.

The hope stirs within you once again.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union