After hatching from his egg, and before his first official game as Philadelphia Union mascot, Phang sat down with Adam Cann to discuss his love of soccer, why he enjoys making children happy, and how it felt to meet Alejandro Bedoya.
Adam: Phang, thank you so much for joining me today. So tell me why you fell in love with soccer originally. I hear that it has always been your dream to play the sport.
Phang: HISSSSSSSSS. HISS HISS HISS HISSSSSSSS.
Snake Whisperer: Thanks for having me, Adam Cann. It’s an honor to be able to discuss the beautiful game with you. When I first saw children kicking a soccer ball around outside Talen Energy Stadium, I was worried they were kicking an egg that may have belonged to one of my aunts or a cousin or someone. Once my parents calmed me down, I became curious about the sport. I learned that snakes are actually quite prevalent in the game. For instance, both Adrian Ilie and Darko Pancev are known as “Cobra,” which I’m sure you know is a kind of snake.
Adam: Yes, I know.
Snake Whisperer: Good. I was just clarifying, I didn’t mean to offend.
Adam: None taken.
Snake Whisperer: None what?
Adam: Offense. No offense taken. I wasn’t offended.
Phang: HISSSS HISSS HISS HISS HISSSSSSSSSSS
Snake Whisperer: Ah... I see. Sorry, I was only re-born six days ago so I don’t grok all your human idioms yet. So there are players with snake names and then you have Luis Suarez, who I believe is a distant relative, or at least bites like one. Then you have our very own Ilsinho, who has mastered the swift and deadly move I taught him, which is known as “the snake.”
Adam: Where did you find all these soccer facts? How do you do research?
Phang: HISSSSSS HISSSS HISS HISSS HISSSS
Snake Whisperer: Great question, Adam Cann. Unlike you, I did not have the internet or Wikipedia as a resource, but there is a local snake library with quite a collection of soccer titles — the turtles are so jealous. I grabbed a few books that looked promising – Inverting The Pyramid, Das Reboot, the novelization of The Big Green, you know, the classics – and began my studies. I began attending local youth soccer tournaments and once I saw the joy soccer brings to children I knew I had to find a way to play the game with them.
Adam: What was it about soccer that so captured you?
Phang: HISSSSS HISSSS HISS HISS HISSSSSSS HISS. HISS.
Snake Whisperer: To be quite honest, I come from a competitive family, but I also have a deep and abiding love of the STEM [ed. note: Snakes That Eggs Made] disciplines. So it was the geometry of the game that initially caught my attention. You see, soccer is a dynamic sport in which each team can build many shapes around the ball as they seek to both attack and defend.
You probably noticed, for example, that when Philadelphia Union attack up the right, they create a series of triangles between Borek Dockal, Ale Bedoya, Keegan Rosenberry and, most recently, CJ Sapong. These are extremely difficult to defend because, by their nature, they provide the ball carrier with multiple passing options and force opponents to move out of position to block passing lanes, something that, ironically, can open a lane into the center. I’m not afraid to say that, like Arrigo Sacchi and Maurizio Sarri, I believe triangles are absolutely essential to a dynamic attack and I anticipate teaching this philosophy to the many children I’ll meet in the coming months.
Adam: It sounds like you enjoy good possession soccer, then.
Snake Whisperer: As my bird friends might say, don’t pigeonhole me Adam Cann! I am a devotee of the sport in all its myriad forms. I have a particular love for the Union’s possession-based style of play because it’s a fittingly Philly style that’s very near to my literally cold-blooded heart, but, unlike some other reptiles I could name, I do not elevate the Pep Guardiolas or Louis van Gaals of the world to some high, warm rock. I would be just as satisfied settled in front of Jose Mourinho’s organized counterattack or Tony Pulis’ ugly defensive lines as I would if, say, Marcelo Bielsa’s quite impressive Leeds were to be televised near my home.
Adam: And where is your home?
Snake Whisperer: Whoa, that’s kind of personal. Do you ask that to all your interviewees or just the snakes?
Adam: You’re right, I apologize.
Snake Whisperer: I’m just messing with you, Canny. Can I call you Canny? Rin Tin Cann? Your head actually resembles a Cann-telope, if I may say so.
Adam: Canny’s fine.
Phang: HISSSSSSSSSS HISS HISS HISSSSS HISS HISS
Snake Whisperer: Listen Cannelini Bean, you saw my most recent home. Or I should say my most recent home away from home: The giant golden egg I hatched from not one week ago. But before that I lived close to the stadium, and I found my arrangements perfectly suited to both my reptilian and mammalian habits. On gamedays I slithered over to the plaza to try and join in with the kids playing soccer on the grass. Now I just walk over; I don’t know if you know this Cann of Green Gables, but legs are awesome.
Adam: I’m glad to hear that. So when you hatched, you met Ale…
Phang: HISSSSSSSSS HISS HISS HISS HISS HISSSSSS HISS HISS HISSSSSSSSSSSS.
Snake Whisperer: Actually, I’d love to talk footy a little more.
Adam: Oh… alright. Please go on.
Snake Whisperer: It’s just that there was a ton of time in that egg to just read books, listen to podcasts...
Adam: Oh, you listened to my new podcast?
Phang: HISSSSSSS HISS HISS HISS HISSS HISS
Snake Whisperer: Is it called Cannterbury Talks? No? Missed opportunity, Canny. Anyway, I’ve got hot takes, Skip Cannless! Hm, that one didn’t work so well.
For starters, VAR is a net positive for the sport. Matches should be decided by as many correct decisions as humanly, or serpently as I grew up saying, possible. To the full extent possible, both MLS and leagues more generally should strive to ensure decisions made on the field are the correct ones. This is especially important because children should grow up viewing the sport as a fair one even though we all know that life, and US minted coins, are rarely fair.
Second, I think the trend toward high pressing systems and team-based defending is a wonderful development. When I play I like to score goals, of course, but I also take great joy in my defensive responsibilities – this is something I always strive to communicate to the kids I play with. Snakes in the wild have always appreciated innovative defensive techniques like rattles, venom, and squeezing very hard. Defending as a team, is an innovation I fully support in soccer.
Adam: I can see you’re big on innovation. You’re the first snake, after all, to innovate arms and legs, hahahaha!
Snake Whisperer: [Unintelligible whispers with Phang]
Phang: HISSS? HISSSSSSSSSSS!
Snake Whisperer: Phang’s not seeing the joke there…
Adam: Maybe he should innovate a sense of humor?
Phang: HISSSS HISS HISS HISSSSS.
Snake Whisperer: Phang, uh, suggests he could innovate his new-found foot into your…
Adam: I’ll move on. So tell me about meeting Ale Bedoya.
Phang: HISSSSSSS HISSS HISSSS.
Snake Whisperer: Ale! What a wonderful player! And such a nice guy as well, unlike certain reporters. Ale and I got along famously from the start. I love the guy’s work rate and what I feel is his underrated vision and ability to progress the ball through midfield. And of course his versatility! Oh man I could go on about our captain for days! He told me stories of his time in Sweden and France, and I told him about my time in egg. …ahhh good times. Both of us feel as though we have hatched, me literally and Ale figuratively, a new phase of our careers by joining the Union, so we had much to discuss and a ton in common. We made plans to see an art exhibition following the current fixture congestion and I’m really excited for it. I know it’s a passion of his and mine, seeing as how my people have oft been the subject of many a painting. Though usually we’re depicted as demonic and/or evil. It’s a touchy issue in our community, if I’m being honest.
Adam: And have you met the rest of the team yet?
Phang: HISSSSS HISS HISS HISSSSSS HISSSSSSSSSSS
Snake Whisperer: Of course! Do you think I just hatched and sat around waiting for life to come to me? On a side note, sitting is amazing! It’s so great not having to rub your entire body on the ground all the time.
I was particularly excited to meet Richie Marquez as I’ve been considering a tattoo, especially now that I have appendages. I have booked a date with Haris Medunjanin for a table tennis showdown. And here’s a good story for you — two nights ago I defeated Auston Trusty at Fortnite and well, how should I put this…he does not like to lose, especially to a snake! I told him serpents are skilled marksmen with our heads when we attack so he should not be so surprised at my success, but still he called me every name in the book!
We’re all good though. We have another game planned next week and I might let him win to restore his confidence, and I plan on laying down a verse on the next HG Records release. And of course, I’ve made plans with many players to visit youth camps in the coming months.
Adam: Do snakes have any natural rivals in the wild?
Phang: HISSSSSS HISSS HISS HISSSSS
Snake Whisperer: What kind of question is that? Of course we do. All of nature is a competition to dominate life’s pitch. Did you do any research before this interview or did you just think putting on that ridiculous shirt would be enough? I mean you could even just watch, like, Planet Earth or something? It’s on Blu-Ray. The snakes, in particular, look amazing.
Adam: You don’t like my shirt?
Snake Whisperer: I like it more than… I should say, Phang says he likes your shirt significantly more than he likes… your face.
Adam: So he does have a sense of humor, after all.
Phang: HISSSSS HISS HISS HISS HISS HISSSSS
Snake Whisperer: Of course I have a sense of humor! Along with soccer, my first love is making kids happy, and often that means making them laugh. However I’m not sure even a cleat laced with the Bob Hope’s DNA and a lightning strike could make you funny.
Adam: Bob Hope? You’re just full of pop culture references, aren’t you?
Phang: HISSSSSS HISSS HISSSSSSS HISSSS HISSSS HISSSSSSSSS
Snake Whisperer: I’m just here so I don’t get fined.
Adam: What kind of fine does a snake get? Is it a sliding scale?
Phang: [Rolls eyes, leaves abruptly] HISSSSS.
Snake Whisperer: He says he’s going to play soccer with some kids instead of wasting his time with this twaddle. This interview is over.
Adam: But really… Bob Hope??