If you watched what I watched on Sunday night... then you know my pain.
The Philadelphia Union are a franchise now in their 6th season in the MLS, built on the back of a supporters' group: The Sons of Ben. The fans willed the MLS into giving the city a franchise, helped build a fantastic ground in PPL Park (I've been there, it's a beautiful stadium), and generally have been the backbone of the entire organization. Aside from all of this however, the Union continue to slip into the bottom end of the MLS tables season after season.
The 2013 season brought a close play-off race the Union lost out to in the end, but another top 1st round pick in the draft followed and they placed it on Zac MacMath, a goalkeeper who was drafted a year after their previous 1st round was also used on the man between the sticks. MacMath proved inconsistent, but was learning and did help carry the Union to their first chance of silverware, the 2014 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final where they lost to Seattle. 2014 also saw them miss out on the playoffs on the last day of the season. They would trade MacMath in order to help sign Algerian goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi off an impressive World Cup. Since then, M'Bolhi has yet to live up to his name nor his $500,000/year contract and the Union have slipped into further disarray.
The trade with Montreal for Wenger in which they gave up long time Union player Jack McInerney last season was questionable, but it looks to be an ever trade as Wenger is one of the better players on the squad. The league has however evolved; more foreign talent is entering the league and budgets are now even tighter with the new CBA in place. The Union's plan of picking off old talent is now obsolete as talent like Connor Casey, who won the MLS Cup with Houston prior to the amount of foreign talent in the league now, are no longer the top-tier players they were able to be in a still budding league.
So who is to blame? The manager Jim Curtin, is hardly the fall guy despite his role in things. Managers have since come and gone but to no avail, and it is only the ownership now that must be questioned. With the Union now 0-2-3 in their opening 5 and still facing the issue of being unable to see a lead out, the season looks grim for Philadelphia. Poor teams have come in to beat them, and their better performances like the one on Sunday night against Kansas City can be undone at the seams by 5 minutes of poor play from a now shaky goalkeeper. The loss of MacMath is hurting them, but their loss of direction is killing them at the very soul. Attendances, while still impressive, have slowly been on the decline as a whole year in and year out, and the franchise risks isolating the very market they have yet to penetrate and make an establishment in. The Union last season outsold the 76ers, but at the current rate the Union could be in for a massive drop in fan base. Shades of Chivas USA, with their only 4,000-5,000 fans packing a football-specific stadium like Staples Arena could be the scenes we see in Philadelphia is the franchise fails to get its act together and the MLS being willing to pull the plug on the franchise should that happen and the plans in Miami or San Antonio finally take shape could sentence the Union to an early death.
Do I want to see the Union move? No. I hope this franchise remains at PPL Park for centuries. Philadelphia can become a big MLS city and the amount of football based fans there is certainly significant to target them as their own market. They might not be on the level Kansas City, Omaha, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland are, but the market is there. A stagnant franchise that offers no promise of quality is not the way to expand it however.