'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.

Joel Embiid officially out for rest of season

Joel Embiid officially out for rest of season

MIAMI -- In the end, he played 31 games.

Joel Embiid's rookie season is officially over, the Sixers announced on Wednesday. Embiid has not suited up since Jan. 27 and has missed 17 of the Sixers' last 18 games because of a left knee contusion. The Sixers only have 23 games remaining and are not in playoff contention, lessening the urgency of Embiid’s return this season. 

Embiid concludes his rookie season averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.45 blocks in just 25.4 minutes per game.

"The assessment of Monday's follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid's left knee appears to reveal that the area affected by the bone bruise has improved significantly, while the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan," Sixers chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said in statement.

Embiid suffered the injury on Jan. 20 against the Trail Blazers, played one game against the Rockets, and has not suited up since then. Last week the Sixers had targeted a return date of March 3 but changed that status changed to "out indefinitely" after Embiid still was experiencing swelling. 

During an MRI taken the night of the injury, the results also revealed Embiid had a slight meniscus tear which the team did not believe was related to the contusion. 

Prior to the announcement, there was a strong reaction from the fans who were looking for transparency on the big man's status. Embiid expressed his displeasure last Thursday with the way the Sixers managed after he was informed he would miss multiple weeks. 

"I wasn’t too happy with the way it was kind of handled before," Embiid said at the time. "I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled."  

The following day, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said he would have done things differently. 

"We should have just said 'out indefinitely,' even though the treatment was still day to day," Colangelo said. "But the fact that there was uncertainty, I'll own that." 

Embiid's short NBA career has been marked by injuries from the very start until now. He sat out his first two seasons with foot injuries. This year the Sixers took an ultra-cautious approach to their starred big man. He was placed under a carefully monitored minute restriction (capped at 28) and did not play on both nights of back-to-back games. Embiid reiterated throughout the season that after missing two years, he was exercising patience to benefit his long-term health.

When Embiid was on the court, though, he shined. He made NBA basketball look easy and he had his way at and away from the basket. Embiid did not appear in enough games to qualify him on the leaders' charts, but based on his raw stats he led all rookies in scoring and in rebounds. Teammate Dario Saric is second in both categories but still trailed Embiid by 8.9 points and 1.6 rebounds. 

Embid ranks second among all players in blocks behind Jazz big man Rudy Gobert. In his first 31 games, he recorded nine double-doubles, which is first among rookies even though he has not played in over a month. 

Embiid scored a career-high 33 points on Dec. 18 against the Nets and 14 rebounds on Jan. 14 against the Knicks. He dished five assists in three games and swatted five blocks in two contests. 

The announcement of Embiid's status comes less than one week after Ben Simmons was ruled out for the season. Like Embiid did, Simmons will miss his entire first year with the Sixers. He suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot during training camp. Simmons received a bone marrow injection on Monday speed up the healing. Both Embiid and Simmons are projected to be the centerpieces of the Sixers' future when they return next season. 

Embiid is with the Sixers in Miami. Expect to see him around the team for the remainder of the season as he stays involved to further their team chemistry for the 2017-18 campaign.

While he works toward his return to the court and eyes his next official game months down the road, he will embrace his mantra. 

As he's always done, Embiid will trust the process.

Flyers trade Mark Streit to Lightning for forward Valtteri Filppula, picks

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Flyers trade Mark Streit to Lightning for forward Valtteri Filppula, picks

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Everyone knew there was a good chance the Flyers would try to move Mark Streit at the trade deadline.

What no one expected, however, was that they would trade him to Tampa Bay for a player who is coming back with a salary nearly identical to the one they are losing and has another year left on  his contract.

That's what transpired late Wednesday at the deadline when Streit left to the Lightning in exchange for longtime 32-year-old versatile forward Valtteri Filppula, who will make $5 million next season. He turns 33 later this month.

Streit, whose contract ends this summer, was making $5.25 million. Because Filppula, who spent eight years in the Detroit Red Wings organization, had a no movement clause, he has to be protected this summer in the NHL expansion draft.

The Flyers also received a 4th round pick and conditional 7th round pick.

Filppula will add scoring on the wing, but he has had declining numbers since joining Tampa in 2013-14 when he posted a career-high 25 goals and career-high 58 points.

Streit had a no movement clause in his contract, but also had 10 clubs he could be traded to and this was one of them. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has had a working relationship with Tampa GM Steve Yzerman in the past with the Braydon Coburn trade that brought them Radko Gudas.

Weal to the Phantoms
In an unrelated move, the Flyers have loaned Jordan Weal to the Phantoms to make him available for the AHL playoffs.

More coming...