The Philadelphia Union missed a great opportunity this year. No, I’m not referring to a spot in the playoffs or a chance to bring the MLS Cup to a championship starved city. The opportunity I speak of was the chance to further expand the fan base of the first truly grassroots MLS franchise. In a year where the 76ers tried to go "Winless for Wiggins" and the Phillies are taking another step towards the NL East basement, the Union had a unique chance to convince some of those fans to spend their hard earned money on tickets at scenic PPL Park.
During the off-season it seemed as though the Union would be able to accomplish this task due to the high profile signings of Vincent Nogueira, Cristian Maidana and Maurice Edu. The buzz and excitement around the team was something not felt since the team went on an improbable playoff run in 2011. Many fans could already see the possibility of an MLS Cup run in the near future and imaginations ran wild with thoughts of a quality midfield crisply passing its way to a championship. This future is still a possible one, even if it seems unlikely at this juncture.
I, like many other fans, am disappointed in the lackluster play, confusing line-ups and overall turmoil that seem to have surrounded the franchise. This season, which once had so much promise, seems over before it ever really began. And therein lies the true disappointment of this season, the first real chance for the team to endear itself to the people of the Delaware Valley. Now this opportunity was far from a guarantee due to the fickle nature of the Philadelphia sports fan and the fact that soccer has yet to be truly embraced in the United States. But it was an opportunity nonetheless that has, for now, slipped through the fingers of the Philadelphia Union.
Please understand I do not need for the Union to be recognized by the "average sports fan" or discussed ad nauseum on sports radio to be validated in my support of the team. But like many fans that have fallen in love with this team and found a sense of family among fellow supporters, I want the team and league as a whole to realize its true potential. That being said, there is still time for the Union to save face this year, even if a playoff spot is unlikely. But the team had a rare opportunity to endear itself to the average person that may be on the fence about soccer. But in sports and in life, opportunities are often missed, the people and teams we love disappoint and we must look to the future for new chances to show Philadelphia why 3,000 people scream their lungs out for 90 minutes every Saturday, why this team is so unique and how the average person can find family and lasting friendship in a team that is unique and unlike any other franchise in Major League Soccer.