For the past few weeks now, I’ve been brushing off a lot of the positive things I’ve been reading and hearing about the Philadelphia Union.
Maybe it’s because like a lot of Union fans I’m confused by the recent turn of events and just waiting to have my belief crushed by some tragic series of events. This team many of us had convinced ourselves was a dumpster fire of good intentions gone wrong, of players not quite good enough to compete for a title with a head coach we all want to do well but don’t completely trust to get results suddenly cannot be stopped.
Before the NYCFC game, my excuse was that the closest they had come all season to beating a top team was that they didn’t get crushed too bad by Atlanta United playing down two men after the referee ruined the game. Or that they didn’t lose at Red Bull Arena (yes, they beat the Red Bulls in the Open Cup, but success playing most home games in that competition isn’t anything new or unexpected).
Then they went out and beat the pigeons and looked good doing it. Cool, it’s about time they did more than “Overall, happy with the performance, just not the result,” I thought.
But then they went to nation’s capital and got all three points from a streaking (though obviously fatigued) D.C. United team and did so playing the kind of attractive soccer the team has told us has been the intention all along. There’s a system, we’ve been told repeatedly through all of the difficult times, and we just need to be patient to see it all play out.
We didn’t believe it then — and maybe some of you still don’t believe it — but the system and the vision behind it is starting to produce noticeable results even as the guy who continuously pushing the patience narrative while spouting meaningless goal differential stats has moved on to a job in Chicago with the U.S. men’s national team and his successor awaits immigration paperwork to clear.
This, of course, could all be a huge build-up to disappointment.
That’ll be the case for all but one team currently in the playoff picture. But I came to terms with that Wednesday night right around the time Haris Medunjanin was perfectly capturing the current state of the Union with a simple subversive act.
Orange you glad we beat DC? pic.twitter.com/RJlyOkWjpB— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) August 30, 2018
If you aren’t already familiar by now (even if you are, watch it again above) Medunjanin, as captured in the broadcast, coolly and calmly walked over to the D.C. huddle during the second half hydration break and grabbed an orange slice. Aside from the fact that all of us who played youth soccer were immediately transported back to our childhood once the slices came out (anyone else play youth soccer in Mount Laurel?), I dare you not to watch that video and feel the cynical side of your Union fandom just melt away.
My decision Wednesday night was to stop worrying about what might lie around the corner and just enjoy the ride this team is on as long as it lasts. The team isn’t just playing the best it has this season, but possibly the best it has ever played.
Regardless of what happens from here on out, soccer in Philadelphia is fun again, not because of a stolen orange slice but because of the only thing that matters for a soccer club: results. And even if disappointment looks like losing another U.S. Open Cup final and being knocked out of the playoffs, the fact that the Union are entering the month of September above .500 and playing the way they are playing is a reason to set aside debates about payroll and scouting, of designated players and coaching tactics for another time and just enjoy what’s happening for what it is.
Are the Union good? I still don’t really know, but all that matters right now is they are winning.