'Who's That Guy?' Soccer Jerseys and Finding a New Way to Be a Sports Fan

'Who's That Guy?' Soccer Jerseys and Finding a New Way to Be a Sports Fan

If you’re even a casual sports fan, you’ve probably had the “whose jersey should I get?” discussion. Whether it’s an Eagles jersey for yourself or a Flyers sweater for a nephew, it’s always an important decision.

But for soccer fans around the world, this isn’t often an issue. Take a look at this photo of Manchester City fans doing the “Poznan,” where they turn away from the field to celebrate a goal.

Notice how few of those shirts have names and numbers on the back. I dare you to go to an Eagles game and find more than dozen fans with blank jerseys.

Soccer fans around the world learned long ago not to become attached to individual players. Especially in recent years, it’s hard to keep track of who plays where. Whether it’s because your team can’t seem to afford to keep its best players (see: Arsenal), or your owner is an insane Russian bazillionaire who likes to change the roster annually (see: Chelsea), fans root for the shirt over the player.

“But Philly fans are the same way,” you might say. Well yeah, we all love our teams, and would root for an American Legion team if they wore red pinstripes. But we all get very passionate about names and numbers. There are entire sports radio shows dedicated to “jersey violations,” and it’s universally accepted that you can’t wear that McNabb jersey out of the house.

After three seasons in Major League Soccer, Philadelphia Union fans are learning they’ll have to go one way or the other.

It’s relatively normal in the soccer world for players to come and go – even more so than in “traditional” American sports. Contracts seem to be mere suggestions, and given the worldwide nature of the sport, players often have off-field issues pulling them one way or another.

In MLS, those issues are amplified, since for 99 percent of the soccer players in the world – even those in the United States – suiting up for the Chicago Fire or Colorado Rapids is not the dream they go to sleep to every night.

In the last week, Union fans have waded through Google Translate to find Spanish-language reports that team captain and defensive anchor Carlos Valdes is likely on his way out. The 27-year-old made his debut for the Colombian national team in 2008, but spent a few years out of the loop before getting a few call-ups in 2012. Now, it appears he is likely headed back to his home country, partially because his national team coach wants him closer to home to keep track of his progress (don’t expect U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to demand Clint Dempsey leave Tottenham to return to MLS any time soon).


It’s yet the latest offseason heartbreak for Union fans, who have watched their favorite players disappear with disturbing regularity. From Danny Califf and Danny Mwanga to Sebastien Le Toux, Faryd Mondragon and Jordan Harvey, Union replica jerseys have gone out of date faster than the Hunter Pence shirt you bought two summers ago.

If you’re emotionally attached to these players, then you likely dread the MLS transaction wire each morning in the winter. And that’s perfectly fine. No one should tell you the “right” and “wrong” way to be a fan.

There’s no doubt it’s fun to feel attached to your favorite players. The Union encourage it with player appearances, autograph sessions and the intimate setting at PPL Park. I’ve been guilty of it before and I’m sure I will be again (try to ignore my Sheanon Williams jersey).
But in three years rooting for the Union, as well as a decade-plus supporting Manchester City (Claudio Reyna, for the win), I’ve learned it’s more enjoyable – at least in my soccer fandom – to focus on tactics, strategy, matchups and team performance over individual attachments.

Do I have favorite players? Of course. But I also have come to terms with what the business of soccer is about, and, more specifically, the transient nature of MLS.

With Peter Nowak’s ego out of the way, all Union fans are hoping to see less turnover on the roster in 2013. But if you want to fully enjoy your time at PPL Park – especially if you are a newer Union fan – try a new approach to sports fandom. You might just find that you enjoy it a little more, and are heartbroken a little less.

Save the date
The 2013 MLS schedule was released on Wednesday. In addition to opening at home for the first time – March 2 against Sporting Kansas City – the Union skip a few difficult road trips this year. The unbalanced schedule means the team won’t play road games against Seattle, Portland, LA Galaxy or Chivas USA. They do face multiple road tests against New York and D.C United – something many fans will actually enjoy.
If you’re a die-hard Union supporter, you’ve already dissected the schedule and planned your sick days. But to the rest of you, here’s a few games you shouldn’t miss – both home and away.

Saturday, March 30 at New York (3:30 p.m.): It’s the day before Easter, the kids are off from school, and there are PLENTY of seats to be had at Red Bull Arena. The Union’s biggest rival sits just over an hour up the road in Harrison, N.J., and plays in what is arguably the finest soccer venue in America. New York rarely sells out, so tickets are easy to get. Take a drive, take the train, or – if you want the full experience – join the Sons of Ben and ride the bus. For a few bucks, you get a game ticket, bus ride to and from, and a day you won’t forget. (If you miss it, don’t worry. The Union play there again on August 17.)

Sunday, April 21 at D.C. United (5 p.m.): All the same reasons as above, except for the location. Instead of a majestic soccer palace, you get crumbling, raccoon-infested RFK Stadium. Still just as enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 15 vs. L.A. Galaxy (7:30 p.m.): No more Beckham, but the Galaxy are still the class of MLS, and the two-time defending MLS Cup champions. Odds are they’ll add one or two more big names to the roster before then.

Sunday, June 23 vs. New York (5 p.m.): The Sons of Ben bring their full voice when New York comes to town, and you can count on at least a few visiting fans making asses of themselves and getting arrested. So that’s always fun.

Saturday, May 25 at Montreal (TBD): Looking for a different Memorial Day weekend destination than the Jersey Shore? You could do A LOT worse than Montreal in May. Go for the weekend, and join what will likely be a sizable group of Union fans at the beautiful Saputo Stadium.

You can find Steve at the top of Section 138 starting in March. Come by and say hi.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard and Tommy Joseph both start

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard and Tommy Joseph both start

Wednesday's matchup against floundering White Sox righty James Shields is a rare opportunity for Phillies manager Pete Mackanin to have both Ryan Howard and Tommy Joseph in the same lineup (see game notes). In an American League ballpark against a right-handed starter, Howard (DH) will bat cleanup and Joseph (1B) will hit sixth.

Howard, who is hitting .378 with five homers and 13 RBIs in August, sat out Tuesday's 9-1 loss (see game recap). The Phillies managed only five hits, as White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon stymied the team's offense.

Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera also return to the lineup. Herrera has four hits in six career at-bats against Shields. Overall, the Phillies have a .297 batting average against the veteran Sox starter. 

With Herrera and Hernandez back at the top of the order, Aaron Altherr moves down from second to seventh. Out of Altherr's 95 at-bats this season, only four have come from the seventh spot. Here is the full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, DH
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Aaron Altherr, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

NFL Notes: Chargers withdraw offer to 1st-round pick Joey Bosa

NFL Notes: Chargers withdraw offer to 1st-round pick Joey Bosa

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers have withdrawn their contract offer to first-round draft pick Joey Bosa and will restructure a new deal that takes into account his absence from the team.

The Chargers' statement Wednesday said they believe "Joey will be unable to contribute for the full 16-game season without the adequate time on the practice field, in the classroom, and in preseason games." They characterized their previous offers to the Ohio state defensive end as fair and structurally consistent with the contracts of every other Chargers player."

Bosa is the only first-rounder who has not signed with his team.

Negotiations stalled over when Bosa's $17 million bonus would be distributed and offset language in the contract.

San Diego said it offered an initial signing bonus payment larger than any draftee received in the last two drafts, and more money in 2016 than anyone draftee except Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (see full story).

Giants: Owner Mara 'comfortable' with Brown suspension
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A visibly shaken Giants owner John Mara said Wednesday he was fine with the NFL's suspension of placekicker Josh Brown for one game, despite allegations Brown abused his ex-wife as many as 20 times prior to the Giants signing Brown to a two-year extension last spring.

The 37-year-old Brown was arrested in May 2015, when he allegedly grabbed his ex-wife Molly by the throat and held her down with his knee in their Woodinville, Washington home. Brown was charged with fourth-degree domestic assault. Five days later, the King County prosecutor's office dropped the charges because of insufficient evidence. Brown's ex-wife reportedly dropped the charges.

After the NFL hit Brown with a one-game suspension instead of the six games mandated by the league's new personal conduct policy, Molly Brown told media she was physically accosted at least 20 times, including once when she was pregnant in 2009.

Vikings: Bridgewater expects to play Sunday 
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater says he'll play this weekend in the first game at the team's new stadium.

Bridgewater was coy after practice Wednesday about his shoulder injury, but he said "of course" when asked if he's expecting to take the field Sunday for the opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings host San Diego, and the third exhibition contest is typically when the starters play the longest in the preseason.

Last week at Seattle, Bridgewater was a surprise scratch from the lineup. Coach Mike Zimmer has refused to discuss his condition.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Wednesday he didn't see any limitations with Bridgewater the day before.

Panthers: Rivera expects Short to get long-term deal
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Coach Ron Rivera says defensive tackle Kawann Short is "too important a player" for the Panthers not to sign him to a long-term contract.

Short has one year remaining on his rookie deal. He's outperformed his current contract, recording 11 sacks last season while being named NFC Player of the Month twice.

Rivera said Wednesday that "somewhere along the line, those are good guys, they'll figure it out. I believe they will. ... (Short) likes where he is. We'll see where it all unfolds."

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has a policy of not discussing contract negotiations in the media.

Gettleman also does not negotiate contracts once the regular season begins, so the Panthers essentially have two weeks to strike a deal.

Short said last month he has no plans to holdout.

Lane Johnson declares he's done taking supplements

Lane Johnson declares he's done taking supplements

No more supplements, Lane Johnson says. Those days are over.
 
Johnson, who faces a 10-game NFL suspension after a second positive test for a banned substance, said Wednesday he’s finished taking anything that could possibly put him at risk for a career-threatening third suspension.
 
Johnson claims the amino acid he ordered online and took was approved by the NFL but was tainted with a banned substance that didn't appear on the label, the so-called peptide found in Johnson’s sample.
 
Johnson also said he is planning to take legal action against the company that provided him with the amino acid.
 
“Going after them,” he said. “I have people on it to get it done.”

Johnson declined to identify the company that supplied him with the supplement.

Johnson was suspended for four games in 2014. A third suspension would result in a two-year ban.
 
“Seriously, I don’t want to have to go through this again,” Johnson said at his locker after practice Wednesday. “Unless something changes, the policy, I don’t trust anything.
 
“I can’t risk it. If it happens again, I miss two years and I’m just not going to risk that happening. I’m not taking any chances.

"Food and water. That's all I'm going to put in my system. Food and water. No supplements, no powders, nothing."
 
Johnson has been practicing with the second team and playing in the preseason games while he awaits his fate.

Johnson was the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, the Eagles' highest-drafted player since Donovan McNabb was the second pick in 1999.
 
Once Johnson’s B sample comes back — presumably positive, since Johnson has admitted taking the supplement — Johnson said he plans to appeal the suspension. But he said he doesn’t expect it to be reduced.
 
“Even if you prove it (was tainted), there’s nothing you can do,” he said.
 
It would be unusual for an NFL offensive lineman to not use any supplements at all.
 
“Look in everybody’s locker,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s got ‘em. But you just don’t know what’s really in them.”
 
Players say supplements help them not only to build strength and muscle but also in their recovery following games.
 
Johnson insists he can get by without them.
 
“You’ve got cold tubs, you’ve got different stuff you can do, foam rolling, soft tissue stuff,” he said. “There’s only limited (benefits) with that stuff. I think I’ll be fine.”

Meanwhile, he waits.

“It’s like waiting for an execution date,” he said. “It’s been living hell the past month.”