While there’s still one more regular season match to go - and most likely at least one playoff game - there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not the Philadelphia Union’s season has been a success or failure. Perhaps it’s still too early to tell, although much like this country’s upcoming election I feel like everyone has a strong opinion one way or another. And just like most subjects - this one is complicated with no easy answers.
I feel like this season, even if the Union somehow miss out on the playoffs, has been a success unequaled in this club’s history. This season has seen a club that was an unmitigated disaster at the end of 2015 turn around to being a club that was atop the Eastern Conference for a good portion of the season and still put up a respectable record.
Think back to the end of last season. This was going to be a rebuilding season for the Union. Earnie Stewart was coming in to remake the club in his own vision. Bethlehem Steel FC was little more than a logo, and the Union trained lord knows where. The club had jettisoned a third of its entire roster, and the pickups weren’t exactly inspiring confidence. Chris Pontius? Roland Alberg? This was a club that looked destined for another dismal season.
The season didn’t quite play out that way.
The Union are now on the cusp of making the playoffs for the second time in club history, even having gone winless in their last six games. The club has a brand new training facility that is among the best in the world and a feeder club in Bethlehem Steel FC that serves as the long-awaited link between the Union’s vaunted academy and the first team. BSFC has also produced two Union signatories in Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty. The first team roster still has a few holes, however it is competent and full of players who could start on most any team in MLS. Chris Pontius has been the turnaround story and is nominated for MLS Comeback Player of the Year. Roland Alberg has managed to score nine goals mostly as a bench option. Keegan Rosenberry is in the running for MLS Rookie of the Year, and Fabian Herbers has developed into a decent option on the right as well as at his natural position up top.
The club was able to assert itself as a legitimate threat - a competent team to negate the years of incompetence that preceded it.
Things haven’t been all sunshine and roses. Vincent Nogueira - the cornerstone of the organization and linchpin of the Union’s system left abruptly in the middle of the season. While this blow would have scuttled the playoff chances of most teams, the Union are still a 12 goal differential (in their favor) from clinching a playoff spot. Winning just two out of the last fourteen is bad - there’s no denying that. And while fans have a right to be upset about that, remember in a rebuilding year the Union have been playing with house money. When you’re playing with house money, you can’t lose.
Expectations shifted mid-season when the Union were sitting atop the East and looked unbeatable, however it seems unfair that expectations can shift when the club is doing well but are ironclad when things aren’t going well (or as originally expected, if you will). The expectations from the start of the season have been met and exceeded - something the Union haven’t done for a long time.