By John Langan
If I was told last winter that the Union would be fighting for a playoff spot in the final weekend of the season, I would have been very happy. So I’m holding on to that happy thought to obtain solace, for what might have been.
Although we are on the outside looking in once again, my personal Union season was a good one… certainly better than 2012! I entered this season with some optimism… the Novak scourge purged, Letoux returned, and interested to see what Hack could do with a full season.
We only have six Founding Members left of our friendly group in section 110. The family in front of us, and Nate and John behind us either upgraded or failed to renew. Each season, I look forward to rekindling friendships with Ken on my right (who travels from Reading for each match), and the Malloy Family on my left. I have a great time talking to eight year-old Declan Malloy, whose enthusiasm and joy for the game I will never match. Any highlight this season has to include him… talking about our Premier League Fantasy teams, his annoyance with the kids behind us talking and not paying attention to the match, and his discovery of the real use for the foam souvenir yellow/red card – wiping up his Dad’s spilled beer. Kid… I know your Mom was hoarding those chocolate chip cookies last month, so I’ll hook you up next season!
My Personal 2013 Highlights…
The opening match of the season was a great day… at the Sons of Ben tailgate and the match with a big group of family and friends is always great – immortalized in a group photo by the fantabulous Earl Gardner! Letoux’s opening goal on his return was fitting, and never hinted at the playmaking role he was going to assume throughout the year.
The Saint Patty’s Weekend match started with some fantastic corned beef and cabbage, continued through hail (that’s right… hail!), and ended with a McInerney late game winner.
In May, I attended my first of two amazingly candid Chalk Talk sessions with Union assistant coach Brendan Burke. That afternoon I heard some shocking things ("We think Keon Daniel is the most talented player on the squad."), and some great insight into how the staff plans for an opponent. Interesting to hear Burke talk about how they think Danny Cruz should have a great game against an older, slower Seattle back, and then watch him score two second half goals in less than a minute. Might have been the loudest I’ve heard PPL all year.
The 3-0 win over NYRB in June was, by far, the sweetest feeling of the season. An indication of what could be?
I always circle the Premier League bonus match on my schedule, and the Stoke City game was terrific. Yeah, they’re not Chelsea, but seeing these guys up close after only watching them on TV is always a treat. Huth and Shawcross were giants… and according to my son, Peter Crouch moves like a newborn horse! Good one, JL…
I attended two away matches this season… DC United and NYRB. This was my third trip to the RFK rat trap, always a fantastic time! And it what a treat to finally get to Pink Cow Arena, and sit right behind Corey Furlan’s drums. It’s a beautiful venue but it’s only half filled with wannabe supporters… I’ll take PPL Park every time!
I had given up my season tickets for the Toronto FC match in October, but ended up going to the game with my youth soccer club – Academy Sabres in da house!! Strategically placed in the upper corner of section 133 (next to a lone Toronto FC supporter), the boys and Moms got to experience the River End up close. "Boys, you must turn around during the visiting team introductions, and this is the only time you can yell SUCKS!" It was great to be part of their first PPL experience. The Kleberson stoppage time game winner was icing on the cake.
Lots of highlights, so there has to be some lows…
Hack outcoached himself against LA Galaxy. The Union started a very fast lineup that was giving the Galaxy fits. After a 1-1 first half where the Union had the two-time champs on the ropes, slower subs and bad tactics allowed the Galaxy to take advantage and bury us. I was left hoping for better choices in the future…
The Revolution match in August saw the team give up 5 goals for the second time this season. And "give up" is the right way to describe it. The worst teams in the league don’t concede five twice in the same season. No fight in the dog…
Make the playoffs, anything can happen. Going into the final stretch, we knew what we had to do. But anemic efforts against Houston, DC United and Toronto sealed their fate. Even though they beat Toronto, that game showed me that they didn’t have enough talent and drive to get there. Not this season, anyway.
Making the playoffs this year would have been a bad thing. The last thing this team (players and coaches) needed was to think they don’t have a ton of work to do. A playoff berth might have given them that misconception.
Lots of questions in the months ahead… Who’s staying? Who’s going? Each offseason has been anything but predicable. The only thing I’m sure of is that Coach Hackworth will be back, and Chris Albright will not… as a player, anyway.
I’ll be at the MLS Draft again this January, anticipating the next big thing… Like I was when we welcomed Jack Mac and Amobi. I hear that some special plans are in the works for that day.
Four great years now at PPL in the cold, the heat, the sunshine, the rain… and hail! Love the ups and downs, the good and the bad. Bring it on…
You can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the Union.
Until the day I die.