As Philadelphia sports fans, we are all too familiar with the pain that comes with a disappointing season. We've seen it time and time again. The Eagles, Sixers, Flyers, and Phillies all have long and storied histories of coming up just short of greatness. Even the Philadelphia Union have managed to earn that reputation in just six years of existence, making the playoffs only once in that time and being the runner up in not one, but two US Open Cups.
We know, perhaps as well as anyone, what it's like to be let down by our teams.
It is for that reason that the so-called "Negadelphia" attitude has taken root in each of our sports souls. We are ever wary of being optimistic about our teams. Ever watchful for the next great downfall, the next epic disappointment that will break our hearts. We use our negativity as a shield against the darkness and depression that follows every time our teams lose a big game. Pessimism is safer. It keeps us from being too vulnerable. It dulls the pain that years of harsh experience have taught us is inevitable.
But this negative attitude has an adverse affect as well. Being negative can sour the sweet taste of victory. Sometimes I think we have all lost the ability to truly enjoy when our team is doing well because we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
So you know what? Screw the other shoe. Screw the fear. Screw the pain. Screw the disappointment. The Union are five games into the season, they have three awesome wins, they're tied for first place in the Eastern Conference. They've got exciting and talented players, and enough depth to weather the long and grueling MLS season. We've got tangible reasons to be excited about this team for the first time in years. I want to enjoy it. I want all of us to enjoy it.
All aboard the hype train, bitches. Cause I'm cutting the brakes.
"You're getting ahead of yourself. It's way too early in the season to get so hyped. Sure, the Union have had some good victories, but there is still a lot of Soccer to be played. It's going to take more than that to get me excited."
I hear you, dear reader. I really do. I have just two words to respond with:
Jokes aside, I honestly think that it is safe to start getting genuinely excited about the team.
Yes, it's only five games into the season, but consider a few things:
1) The Union have yet to field their best XI players.
In the five games this season, the Union have yet to field what I think most everyone would consider to be their "Best XI" players. Maurice Edu, the team's captain and a great on field leader has missed every game. Vincent Nogueira, long the Union's most influential midfielder missed three games. Tranquillo Barnetta, our Swiss Savior, has still yet to get a start. Ilsinho and Roland Alberg have both spent time getting up to fitness and missing game time. Richie Marquez, arguably the best defender on the team, missed the first game of the season against FC Dallas. Even Warren Creavalle, who has played quite well, missed last game due to suspension.
And yet, in spite of all of those absences, the Union have managed to get results. In the past, the Union would have crumpled like a wet paper bag if they were missing three starters in the midfield. But here we are, with the Union sitting pretty atop the Eastern Conference while former juggernauts like the Red Bulls and Columbus Crew SC seem to be unable to tie their shoes.
We've seen it time and time again. The teams that manage to get points in spite of adversity are the teams that do well. Anyone can win at home when everyone on the team is healthy and rested. It's the teams that have the depth to push through hard times that go to the playoffs. The Union are showing that they are one of those teams this season. That alone is reason to get excited.
2) Our schedule before the transfer window looks favorable.
Over the next 13 games, I think the Union have the chance to nab quite a few points, many of them against Eastern Conference opponents.
Based off of the start of the season, I'd say seven of these 13 games are very winnable games. Specifically: Seattle, New York City FC, Orlando, Colorado, Columbus, NYCFC again, and Chicago. The other six games will be tougher, but the tough Western Conference games against LA, San Jose, and Vancouver are all at home, which means the Union will be facing teams who will have traveled across the country and are playing in a hostile environment. I can easily see them stealing points from those teams in those circumstances. The only games I think it's safe to assume they lose are Montreal and Houston away. Montreal is playing very well, and Houston will feature an Andrew Wenger that is just sure to score a hat trick against us. D.C. United... who the hell knows, honestly. That game is a coin flip.
Regardless, if they can manage to win just four of the seven winnable games, steal a win one of the tough match ups and snag four draws while they're at it - the team will go into the summer transfer window with a record of 8-6-4 with a cool 28 points. That's just a 5-4-4 record over 13 games, not exactly lighting the world on fire, and I don't think it's an entirely unreasonable guess based on the schedule. Last year, 28 points 18 games into the season would have put the Union in second place in the east behind only D.C. United.
3) I think it's safe to assume that Earnie Stewart and Jim Curtin are still looking to add a DP striker.
Jim Curtin came out and said many times over the off season that the team was in the market for a striker. It was reported that they were willing to spend up to a million dollars on said striker. Striker depth is probably the most pressing concern on this team, with only two on the roster, and one of them a rookie. In the past, when the team was perorming well, I think it would have been safe to assume that they would rest on their laurels and probably spend what money they had on something frivolous, like, say, an Algerian goalkeeper. But this isn't that team anymore. This is Earnie Stewart's team now, and Earnie doesn't strike me as the kind of guy to rest on his laurels.
Look for the Union to add a striker over the summer transfer window, when more European talent is up for grabs.
So, to review: We've got a team that is getting results in spite of injuries and suspensions, we can reasonably expect them to improve as the team gets healthy and fit and they continue to develop chemistry, they have a pretty favorable schedule up until the summer transfer window where we can expect them to add a top talent at striker.
If that's not enough reason for you to get excited about this team, I don't know what is.