24 March 2010

The Union Forever

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a union!

Billy Bragg, "There Is Power In A Union"

Bragg's chune quoted here indicts evil and greed, while advocating the strength borne of solidarity and faith in brotherhood. The plight of the worker mirrors my plight as a lifelong Philly sports fan, on a familiarity with failure that only comes from defending the merits of Roman Cechmanek. I had tears in my eyes while listening to the 2008 WFC do their thing on that glorious night. I knew what a championship could feel like, but baseball is not really my Bud Light in a plastic bottle. So while I screamed my voice raw during the parade, and managed to sustain a fist-pumping related elbow injury (PRE-JERSEY SHORE) which still pops up to this day, I was never committed to the Phillies, and certainly not during their considerable lean years.

Refusal to acknowledge Comcast's terrorist-like ransoms for their sports channel has deprived me of Flyers coverage, left marooned in the digital wasteland, fighting off pornography and free prizes in search of a reliable illicit stream, if I could even be bothered anymore. I was appalled by the lifeless Flyers crowd at a recent home game against the Maple Laffs. It was so quiet you could hear a puck drop? Sorry, but until I get an editor, these things will keep happening.

Thankfully, my lifelong flirtation with soccer was finally consummated during the wondrously wild soccer orgy known as the Euro 2008 Finals. All the energy I previously spent following the NHL mutated into an obsession with futbol that a junkie would be proud of. Concurrently, the Sons of Ben, a grassroots supporters group based in the Delaware Valley, was seeing their dedication to a dream turn into something tangible. Not just a team, but a new dedicated stadium manifested in Chester, of all places. Surely stirs confidence in miraculous possibilities. Further entries here will extol the heroes whose dedication and irrational zeal forged the belief which has delivered us these riches.

I am excited for our beloved Union franchise in a way that only Borat has been able to express: very excite. If fanaticism carries any romance, we are all about to marry a virgin with none of the mess. I seek to share this gift and preach the Gospel of Zolo. For He so favored the City of Brotherly Love, that he has bestowed upon us the MLS' sixteenth franchise.

I am also prone to delusions of grandeur, wildly generous opinions of hometown talent, and ridiculous, insane expectations. Later, this will be redundant.

On April 10, 2010, Major League Soccer will experience the true class of a top tier sports city. But first:

So much to do
So much to see
So what's wrong with taking the back streets?

"All Star," Smash Mouth, 1999(?)

For the long dormant, but frothing at the mouth - if not frosting their mug - Philadelphia soccer fan, the patient wait for a true cause to support is all but over. There are many balls to be kicked by our players, and there will be many flares set off by yours truly. The bacterial passion has cultured, and all horizons are painted with greatness. The rotten stench of a lingering lockout has dispersed, and relocated back down to the stinky bridge near the South Philly sports complex.

Peter, Peter, Maneater

My personal expectations for the inaugural season are impossibly high, in no small part teased out by the quite-jocular-for-an-Eastern-European manager Peter Nowak's championship success in 1998 as a player with then-expansion side Chicago Fire. (LOL - that is a horrible, horrible name. Red Bulls now seems like a tasteful choice compared to the NY 9/11s. Further digression: that will hopefully be the last mildly pleasant remark regarding NYC in this blog. And it mentioned 9/11, so I don't feel horrible about it.)

Nowak's championship prowess continued in his first year as a manager, leading D.C. United (puke) to the MLS title in 2004. Flashforward six years, and he has the chance to continue his championship form in American soccer in a proper city, with a mayoral integrity second to no city named Washington, D.C.

The country at-large got a glimpse of the Philadelphia spirit during the Superdraft at the top of the new year, with the locals hauling away a rickshaw load of young talent from the Convention Center facility, located within spitting distance of Chinatown. Nowak illuminated FSC's poorly-lit presentation with easy charm.

"What are the biggest challenges of building a team from scratch? Where do you start: with defenders, midfielders, or attackers?"

"I start with the U-8 program..."

And this is how my affinity for Nowak, our very first commander-in-chief, was born. Even as the insipid questions from Fox Soccer Channel's callers-in and on-air talent continued to chip at Nowak's begrudging hospitality, his sharp humor and ambition were on full display at the Superdraft. (What's so super about the Superdraft?)

He is clearly in love with the challenge, and appreciates the fanaticism afforded by his new metropolitan home. Additional superficial impressions include an infectious enthusiasm, as well as the cool demeanor of a benevolent dictator. I imagine a Ken Hitchcock raised on cabbage instead of Tim Horton's.

Nowak has a chance to step into the personality vacuum currently present in the Philadelphia coaching scene. Charlie Manuel has a seemingly bottomless cache of "aw shucks" and simple wisdoms, as well as, most importantly, a ring to be worshiped. Mormon Santa doesn't like sharing anything with anyone. My informal poll of no one suggests that the average Philadelphian would struggle naming the coaches of the professional occupants of the Your Bank Here Center (Actual arena not pictured).

He and the Union will face a relatively weakened battle for attention from the local bigs. The Phillies zeitgeist is perhaps at its most feverish annual pitch, closing in on selling out every single seat before the season's begun. However, the usual preseason Eagles buzz will be more of a dull rattle, given the steadfast maintenance of the unpopular status quo, paired with their completely impotent playoff exit to their most despised foe. I doubt the Union will make much, if any traction on local sports talk radio, but their television deal with 6abc will be very effective towards establishing a respectable place as a legitimate fifth sporting option.

Next up, we will look at our first opposition, and take a deep, deep breath.

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