It’s Thanksgiving Day and no matter what the team’s official social media platforms are spinning Philadelphia Union fans are left to wait as they have every year of the team’s existence to see if 2018 was a harbinger of better days ahead or another case of single-entity parity breeding false hope.
March feels a long way away doesn’t it?
Before you crank up the volume on “Alice’s Restaurant,” cue up the Thanksgiving play scenes from Addam’s Family Values on YouTube or engage your extended family members in a conversation about forest management, Osama bin Laden or the Saudi crown prince, here are a few things to ponder that we can be thankful for as Union fans this Thanksgiving.
Ilsinho’s Coming Back
I’ve had mixed feelings about Ilsinho since he first joined the Union back in 2016. One minute he’s making a brilliant play only he can make, the next minute he’s dribbling the ball to nowhere or making an ill-advised pass leading to a dangerous counter-attack. While some of his struggles can be blamed on the personnel around him, his partnership with Borek Dockal was a sight to behold this season. The only problem were little injuries that kept the 33-year-old Brazilian off the field far too often. The Union have given him a chance to return to the team, to hopefully get fit and recreate some of the highlight-reel brilliance as a super sub in 2019. On a team that loves to pat itself on the back at every turn for playing young or youngish players, it will be nice to have Ilsinho around for another season.
There was a lot to Ernst Tanner’s remarks during the season-ending press conference he and Jim Curtin had on Monday we’re still trying to unpack and plenty that will carry greater significance once the roster starts to fill out for 2019, but one of the more exciting things Tanner talked about was his desire for the team to be more tactically flexible. How flexible and unpredictable the team will be (he also talked about wanting to make the team more uncomfortable for opponents to play) remains to be seen, but from where we sit now having a less predictable team to write about should be at the very least fun for the media and the diehard fans who like to debate tactical nuances next season.
While Auston Trusty finally getting his chance to become a regular starter in 2018 was expected once the team passed on re-signing Oguchi Onyewu and the rumor about signing a Polish center back went nowhere, Mark McKenzie was expected to spend more time developing with Bethlehem Steel FC behind reigning Rookie of the Year finalist Jack Elliott in the depth chart. In the end, McKenzie ended up splitting time with Elliott and despite some costly mistakes and a couple off performances showed tremendous poise and potential even in games facing some of the league’s toughest-to-mark players. He’s continued that form with the United States U20 team in recent weeks, wearing the captain’s armband when fellow Union defender Matt Real has been out of the lineup, scoring goals and delivering passes like this one to Alex Mendez while anchoring a back line that conceded only twice in eight games en route to a CONCACAF U20 Championship. McKenzie turns 20 in February so if nothing else we can be thankful we don’t have to hear about the “teenage center backs!” anymore.
Talen Energy Stadium
Much was made about the conditions of the pitch at Talen Energy Stadium down the stretch and the number of games the business office booked local high school teams to play on it (all the rain in September had a lot to do with it too, I’m sure), but if we learned anything in the final weeks of the 2018 season as fans of the Philadelphia Union, it’s that 120x75 yard pitches are worth their weight in gold in Major League Soccer. One day we will live in a country where soccer games are no longer played on gridirons or baseball diamonds. Until that day comes, we shouldn’t take for granted Talen Energy Stadium, even if it is a pain in the ass to get to via public transportation.
This isn’t so much Philadelphia Union-related as it is soccer related, but even when things aren’t going well in Chester there isn’t a shortage of high-level soccer in greater Philadelphia. This past year has been particularly hard with the Union losing the Open Cup final again, Reading United falling in overtime in the PDL final, West Chester United losing in the final of the National Amateur Cup and the dour news from Penn FC (on hiatus for a season before moving to D3) and Bethlehem Steel FC (being forced to play home games in Chester in 2019). But one thing it has shown is that as soccer fans in Philadelphia we have plenty of soccer to appreciate and enjoy, whether that’s making a trip to Atlantic City in the summer to see the Aces, catching a Philadelphia Lone Star match in South Philly or even attending a local Development Academy derby between the Union and Continental FC, there is a ton of soccer being played here.
It’s easy sometimes to talk about the Philadelphia Union and soccer in general in terms of what it isn’t by pointing out TV ratings, advertising budgets and local TV news coverage, but one thing that’s often taken for granted is how much coverage the Union do get. From dedicated professionals like Jonathan Tannenwald, Matthew De George, Dave Zeitlin, Joe Tansey, Ryan Bright, Greg Orlandini and he’ll-never-completely-leave-the-beat Kevin Kinkead to our fellow hobbyists like the crew at Philly Soccer Page, Philly Football Daily, Philly Sports Network, MLSFemale, World Sports Show, Talk DOOP with Ryan, Philadelphia Sports Nation and others, there’s an incredible amount of coverage of the blue and gold even if it does lean a little too heavily to one demographic.
If you’ve made it this far, please share what you’re thankful for in the comments below.