As I fly from the East Coast to the West Coast to watch the Philadelphia Union take on last year’s expansion side, Seattle Sounders, in their first ever match, I get to thinking about how the season will unfold.
Seattle raised the bar so high for expansion franchises, not only in MLS but across all American sports. The passion for the sport was there from the start and the fan support for the team has proved that.
It’s Philadelphia’s turn now and when they take the field on Thursday, it’ll officially be ‘go time.’ With hundreds of fans making the cross-country trek from the City of Brotherly Love to the Emerald City, we know that the league’s newest team has people behind it.
As far as the team, many aren’t expecting a great deal this season. My colleague Kyle McCarthy suggests in his Eastern Conference Preview that the Union will finish in dead last this season.
Frankly, they haven’t given Kyle or other media representatives many reasons to believe otherwise. Aside from a 5-0 beating of UNC, the Union’s preseason hasn’t been too impressive. Losses to lower division sides, goalless losses I might add, show the cause for concern is legitimate.
Simply put, the team doesn’t have much time to get things right.
Being a Philadelphian, I know that the city is different compared to most other markets in the league. When a new team like the Union comes to town and is welcome as a part of the city’s sports culture, there is a very brief grace period, and usually it won’t extend past training camp.
I mentioned that having the pressure of Seattle’s success on the team’s shoulders may be quite a burden to bear. Unfortunately for the Union, the expectations of Philadelphia fans may be more of a pressing issue than anything else.
Dogged in their fandom, Philadelphia sports fans require greatness. They don’t settle for second best and if that’s what you offer, you’ll hear about it. Only a few hundred may be making the trip out to Seattle for the match, but rest assured, they won’t be quiet for a second. A city built on hard work and sweat, Philadelphia accepts nothing less from its sports teams and that applies to the Union on Thursday.
The good news is the Union have the perfect coach for the job in Peter Nowak. His determination and drive are second to none in the league’s coaching fraternity. If anyone can get every drop out of his players, it’s the Polish team manager.
Winning this first match won’t make or break their season in the eyes of Nowak and the Philly fans, but the game is going to go a long way in proving to both what the Union are made of.