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Putting the Union into a Philadelphia context

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It's easy to throw the Philadelphia Union into the overall sports landscape, but is it an accurate measuring stick?

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Forget about the mistakes of the Sixers that have left them moribund in the crawlspace beneath the NBA's Eastern Conference. Forget about the mistakes of the Flyers, who are now entering their fourth decade without sipping from Lord Stanley's Cup. Forget about the Phillies, who were once good but look to be the Sixers of MLB in the years to come. Forget about the Eagles, who haven't won a Super Bowl ever and haven't won an NFL Championship since your grandparents were your age.

Forget everything you know about Philadelphia sports.

This is different.

The Philadelphia Union aren't any of these teams. To compare them to one another is fruitless and counterproductive. This is still a relatively new team in a relatively new league. The other Philadelphia franchises, they have a long history of incompetence and buffoonery. The stories are legendary. No need to repeat them here - we all know them by (broken) heart. The Union are different though.

Now I'm not one who thinks everything is great with the team. I'm not one who is merely happy with just having a team, nor am I happy with making the playoffs in only one of the club's five seasons. There are a lot of things that need to be fixed with this club. But this club is brand new. It doesn't have the 40 years of baggage that the Flyers do or the over 50 years of baggage the Eagles do.

Just remember, less than a decade ago this was all nothing more than a logo and a few guys in a bar.

Since those guys in the bar took their logo and idea and were able to make enough noise to get a team here, a stadium has been built. A youth development network has been built. A one-of-a-kind (at least in the United States) full-time youth academy has been built. A practice facility has (finally) been built. Think about that for a minute. Think about all of the capital that has been invested and is continuing to be invested right now as you read this article into this club. Everything costs money. It's easy to focus solely on player salaries - most clubs do. Most clubs already have all of these other (non-personnel related) things in place.

It is for instance inherently unfair to compare the Union to the Seattle Sounders, who joined MLS only one year before the Union did. The Seattle Sounders (as they are now) have been around since the 1990's. The infrastructure was already in place by the time the club played its first match in 2009. The Union didn't have a 15 year head start - they've been playing catch-up with the rest of the league since day one. Also, remember Seattle hasn't won an MLS Cup either. Neither New England, FC Dallas, nor the New York Red Bulls have won it either and they've been around since 1996. It's also worth mentioning that Toronto FC, the Portland Timbers, the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Montreal Impact have also all never won an MLS Cup (or Supporter's Shield for that matter).

The Union need to forge their own destiny in MLS and in Philadelphia.

The Union are a small market club, and in order to win they will have to act like a small market club. The city (and certainly the club) doesn't have the prestige of New York or Los Angeles and won't be able to spend like Seattle or Toronto. I know that first assertion will rankle a good many readers, but just because you really want something to be true doesn't mean it is true. Again, forget about the comparisons to the other four major sports - they don't work here. With football, you have one country producing all of the talent and the word's top league here in the United States. Since Philadelphia is widely known throughout the US, it's a big market in the NFL. The NHL, MLB, and increasingly NBA are slightly different. The top league is still here in the US (and Canada), and most of the players still come from the US (and Canada) however you do see an influx of foreign talent from a handful of countries. Still, Philadelphia is a major market among the US and Canada, so of course (just like with the NFL) the talent wants to come here to play.

Soccer isn't like any of these at all. The United States doesn't have the top league in the world - It's falls far behind the world's top leagues. There is also a worldwide player's market, since people play soccer in every country on every continent throughout the entire world. A lot of these places don't know about Philadelphia. People in most other foreign countries know New York. They know Los Angeles and Washington D.C. They know Toronto and Montreal in Canada. Some may know Boston or Seattle, but most don't know Philadelphia. No one is just going to just want to come here no matter how good our fans or food are. The anonymity on the world's stage coupled with the owners not being able to throw unlimited amounts of money at players is what defines us as a small market. And since the club is a small market club, it is going to have to follow the path laid down by Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City - look for players who are undervalued by their current club, be judicious with your DP signings, and look to build your roster from within. It's a sustainable method that will help us compete with the big money teams like Seattle and the LA Galaxy. It's not a case of if you can't beat 'em, join 'em (look at how well the "Big Bloody Deal" worked for TFC). This club is going to have to outsmart the other clubs. I'm not guaranteeing they will, but I am saying that this is the club's only path to prosperity (unless some Russian oligarch buys the club or something equally as improbable).

Let's be patient. Imagine how sweet it'll be having gone through all of the growing pains and lifting a trophy before any of the other teams do.