4 Days Away: Questions and Answers for Union Die-Hards, and Newbies Alike

4 Days Away: Questions and Answers for Union Die-Hards, and Newbies Alike

Clearly, I am a soccer fan.

I played the sport (I still pretend to, on occasion), coached and refereed for a few youth teams and watched enough games on TV to have odd cravings for Singha Lager and Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer – popular sideline advertisers in English stadiums.

I love soccer and I want other people to love it, too. But there is one thing I’ll never understand about many soccer fans who want to have their Singha and eat it too.

The same people who complain about a lack of mainstream soccer love – “it’s not on SportsCenter,” “the Inquirer had a 3-inch Union story,” “the game is on a channel I don’t get” – turn their noses up at “newbies” who ask questions about the game or say “field” instead of “pitch.”

You can’t have it both ways. You either want more people to appreciate the game, or you want it to be your cliquey little niche. I prefer the former, which is one of the reasons my three-plus years at PPL Park have been so enjoyable.

Sure, there are plenty of “soccer snobs”  hanging around on the banks of the Delaware. Folks who like to rattle off the current standings in the Dutch Eredivisie, brag about how they’ve “been here from the start” or tell you how you “don’t really understand the game” because you didn’t wake up at 4:45 a.m. to watch the Urawa Reds battle Yokohama in the J-League.

For those people – and soccer-heads who like to analyze formations and pick apart the SuperDraft (that includes me) – there are plenty of Union-specific blogs out there. Here at The Level, we’ll try to continue where @Rev215 left off before his Gareth Bale tattoo got infected (or he had a kid, not sure which). Plenty of smart, nuanced debate about the Union for the die-hards, as well as some light-hearted stuff for those of you who just like to tailgate outside PPL, have a beer (or two) and enjoy a sunny summer afternoon.

So with first kick just a few days away (forecast isn’t looking bad, by the way), here’s a few questions you might overhear on Saturday when the Union host Sporting Kansas City (4 p.m., 6 ABC) – whether it’s a seemingly uneducated ask from a “newbie” or a well-thought-out prediction from a scarf-carrying Son of Ben. We’ve even provided a few stock answers/statements you’re free to use, with or without attribution to The Level.


What happened to Freddy Adu?

John Hackworth happened, that’s what. Hack has made it clear he was not and is not on board with Adu’s game, and the former child prodigy will never suit up for the Union again. But he’s still collecting a BIG paycheck. The team claims to be searching for a way to dump Adu, but it’s much easier said than done.

So the Union are holding him hostage?

Actually, it’s more the other way around. Adu is guaranteed at least $400,000 this year, and, just as any of us would do, he’s not willing to simply ignore than fact and move on. Both sides have been relatively quiet, but Adu seems to be standing pat and waiting for the right opportunity. Given his inflated sense of his own abilities, he might be content to sit tight until Real Madrid comes calling.

Can we talk about something else?

Absolutely. That will be the last Adu reference here on The Level until he is dealt or steps on a field in another shirt. That’s a promise.

Will the 2013 Union be more like the 2012 side that struggled to score goals and win games, or the 2011 team that surprised us all with a playoff run?

If I had to guess, it will be somewhere in between. We’ll have a more in-depth look at this year’s prospects –  as well as a few predictions – later in the week, but it would be fair to expect much more from this team than we saw in 2012. Hackworth has had time to make the team his, and we’re well past “they’re still young” as an acceptable excuse. Anything short of a playoff berth would be a disappointment.

I want to buy that sweet new third jersey (which hasn’t been unveiled yet). Who will score the goals this year so I know what name and number to get?

Hackworth has indicated he will likely play three attacking players up front. At first glance, it seems you’d be safe going with the No. 11 of fan-favorite Sebastien Le Toux, No. 6 of newcomer Conor Casey or No. 9 of last year’s goal-scoring leader Jack McInerney. As was proven during training camp in Florida – where the first team struggled to score – it might take time for those three players to jell. We’ll have more on predicted formations and stat leaders later in the week, but for now, you might want to go with a blank jersey. Just ask anyone wearing a Carlos Ruiz or Jordan Harvey shirt at PPL.


What about Zac MacMath?

It’s put up or shut up time for MacMath. If you want to take the popular side of the argument at PPL, you can talk about how great the young goalkeeper is. If you’re feeling feisty, show a little more skepticism (like I often do on this subject). MacMath is immensely talented and amazingly athletic, but from where I sit, it’s time for the 21-year-old, former first-round pick to put the team on his back and win a few games on his own this season. With the departure of team captain and center back Carlos Valdes, he might get that chance early in the season as the defense finds its chemistry.

Why can’t anyone hit a good corner kick on this team?

I don’t really have an answer for that one. Sorry.

How ’bout a beer?

Options abound, but I’ll politely suggest that you skip the lines at Chickies & Petes. Enter through the southeast Supporters Gate and get a double-sized beer at the Snake & Shield, or walk toward the team store and hit up the Boddingtons cart just across the concourse. If you’re looking to use up all your Weight Watchers points for the week, find one of the Philly Favorites stands for my favorite PPL item: Philly Fries. A large boat of French fries smothered in steak, cheese and onions. Much more bang for your buck than a bready cheesesteak.

So you’re an overweight soccer fan, then?

[Hangs head in shame … orders a salad.]

* * *

So if you’re one of the die-hards and find yourself with an extra ticket, invite that neighbor who mocked your Sons of Ben scarf last weekend. And if someone mispronounces Hoppenot, be a nice guy and help him out.

And if you’re a soccer hater (not including those who will comment on this post – you’re a lost cause), stop by PPL this season. Even if it turns out you hate it, there are far worse ways to spend a summer afternoon.

Plus they have Boddingtons on tap.

Follow Steve Moore on Twitter @smoore1117. Stop by and say hi at the top of section 138.

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

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USA Today Images

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta is going home.

In an abrupt announcement on Tuesday, the Union declared that the skillful Swiss attacking midfielder will not renew his contract with the club and will return to Switzerland following the 2016 season to play for his hometown club, FC St. Gallen.

According to MLS Players Union, Barnetta’s exit will free the Union of $687,500 next season.

“The entire soccer community here was so welcoming and I’m so thankful to everyone at Philadelphia Union for making me feel so appreciated,” Barnetta said. “Playing in front of my friends and family and making plans for life at the end of my career where I want to live is a force I can’t resist.”

Although the timing of the announcement is a surprise, the move isn’t one. With Alejandro Bedoya now in the mix, currently playing out of position in a box-to-box midfield role, the Union will replace Barnetta with Bedoya at the center attacking midfield spot. It’s a position that Bedoya is comfortable in, playing there with his previous club, FC Nantes.

Bedoya played for the injured Barnetta in the center midfield spot last Saturday and scored his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC.

But even with Bedoya ready to take over, the Union will miss Barnetta. Since joining the Union in 2015, Barnetta, 31, has been one of the better possession playmakers in MLS, scoring six goals and seven assists in 37 games.

“Tranquillo has been a key piece in what we’re trying to build here in Philadelphia but we appreciate his decision to return to Switzerland,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose club has three matches left in the 2016 season, and will likely make the playoffs. “We look forward to continuing to push for the postseason.”

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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