Sep 27, 2013, 1:03 PM EDT
We haven’t had a ton about the Union here on the Level in the last two weeks. Partly because the team had a bye last week and partly because my friend and fellow contributor Dave Zeitlin had a baby last week (congrats, Dave!).
There is another reason, however, and it’s related to the one word that describes the Philadelphia Union this season, especially since the middle of July:
The Union — who travel to Sporting Kansas City tonight (8 p.m. / NBC Sports Network) – are boring.
There, I said it.
Along with (and largely because of) the boring play, there is also a lot of losing — or at least not winning. Since the rainy 3-1 win over Chivas USA on July 12, the Union have taken just nine of a possible 27 points in nine league games.
They don’t score goals. They don’t pass well — especially in the final third. They have no flash, no style and no “wow” factor. In the team’s last game — a 1-0 loss at home to Houston — the official boxscore credited the Union with 10 attempts on goal and one shot on target.
Having watched the entire game, both of those numbers seem generous.
Listen (read in Andy Reid voice), there is no realistic, sane, logical Union fan who expected the team to win an MLS Cup this year. In fact, if you had asked me whether the Union would have even a mathematical chance at a playoff spot with five games to go, I would’ve told you that sounded about right — and acceptable.
But what soccer fans want, more than almost anything — often even more than winning — is to be wowed. They want to “oohh and ahh,” jump out of their seats and be entertained.
This is why you’ll hear most Union fans pining for names like Kleberson or Roger Torres. We have no idea how those guys have been playing in training sessions. Clearly, they haven’t been very impressive, considering Kleberson has played 25 total minutes since May and Torres has logged 37 minutes the ENTIRE SEASON. I have no idea if those two guys can help the Union win, and neither do you. John Hackworth clearly doesn’t think so.
But we pine for them because they are shiny red Ferraris on a roster full of beige Honda Accords.
In the little we have seen them, we know these two — more than any of their teammates — have individual skills and “imagination” (one of my favorite soccer buzz words). They may not play defense. They may not pass when they should. They may not stay in the right positions. Hell, they might kick puppies behind closed doors at practice (if that turns out to be true, remember where you heard it first). Hackworth may be totally justified and correct in leaving them on the bench.
When Peter Nowak was in charge, fans begged for a consistent starting lineup (not knowing that Nowak chose his starting XI by whoever gave him life in Candy Crush). With Hackworth, people are tired of the losing, sure. But mostly, they’ve had enough of Keon Daniel (decent, but dull), enough of Michael Farfan (totally lost), and enough of Danny Cruz (incredible effort, very few ball skills). Lately, some of us (read: me) have had enough of Jack McInerney (bad body language, out of sorts).
(Don’t say you’ve had enough of Brian Carroll. Defensive midfielders are supposed to be boring. He’s had a solid year, but has no help in the middle).
It’s likely we’ll see a whole lot of the same in the final five games. And again, it might be justified from a coaching standpoint. Kleberson will likely not be here next year and Torres should demand to be anywhere but here, so it doesn’t make much sense to start playing them now.
Whether the Union sneak into the back end of the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference (possible) or miss out entirely (more likely), the 2013 season — at least on paper — will end somewhere close to where most fans likely expected it to.
But if the Union want to compete in 2014 — and if they want to sell the season tickets they’re desperately trying to push this fall — they need to move for an electric yellow sports car or two, and leave the plain white minivans on the bench.
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