By Connor Thomas
The Philadelphia sports scene is bleak right now. The Sixers just went through a monumental playoff collapse. The Eagles are in the midst of a rebuild, with more questions than answers. The Flyers are the most inconsistent team in the history of sports, alternating making and missing the playoffs for the past 10 seasons. The Phillies have an uphill battle to win their division and make the playoffs, which would be their first appearance since 2011. We are currently in one of the darker periods of Philadelphia sports in the history of the city. And yet, there is a 5th team, a potential savior, that plays just down I-95 in Chester. They’re competitive, they’re fun, they’re consistent, they’re local. The sport is not the most popular in this country, and the fan base is dwarfed by the main 4 teams, but if it’s sports happiness you’re looking for, it’s time to turn your attention to the Philadelphia Union.
The Union, while only 13 years old as a franchise, deserves consideration for your attention as a Philadelphia sports fan despite their minimal history. Sure, the other teams in the city are kicking us in the collective bean bag right now, but don’t just run to the Union because they’re the only other show in town. They’ve become hyper competitive as of late, and have earned attention based on their merits alone. First of all, they have the longest tenured coach in Philadelphia in Jim Curtin, who just signed a lengthy extension. Curtin has been impressive during his time as head coach of the Union, winning 107 games, drawing 60, and losing 90. On top of that, he’s a top notch guy, and very entwined with the city of Philadelphia. Of all the coaches in Philadelphia right now, he may very well be the best one.
Something that Curtin has that is reflected in his team is a strong relatability to the city. Unlike the Eagles, Sixers, Phillies, or Flyers, the Union have a much more local contingent of players. This is inherent to the structure of the MLS, where players can be signed to an academy from the area surrounding the team. Towns across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware can lay claim to players currently on the Union, and it brings a special connection to the team that you can’t experience in any other major sport in the area. These guys live in the city, but not in penthouse apartments. They frequent the same bars and restaurants, share the same streets, and live more similar lives to the average Philadelphian than any other collection of pro athletes in the city. It’s an endearing quality that makes the Union that much easier to root for.
More than all previous reasons, though, you should be turning your attention to the Union because they’re good. They’re currently in 3rd place in the MLS’s Eastern Conference, and are coming off a season where they won the Supporter’s Shield for the best regular season record in the league. They are the only MLS team left in the CONCACAF Tournament, which pits them against some of the elite teams in the Americas. And even against elite competition, they’re winning a lot more often than they lose. We can only say that about one of the other teams in the city right now, and that Sixers team just broke our hearts. Soccer may not have your heart as a sports fan, but with the current sports landscape in this city, the Union should absolutely have your attention.