With the year nearly half over and the team on the international break now, we take a look back on the first half and hand out some humorous hardware to the boys in blue.
A year that’s gone amazingly well to this point deserves some awards and recognition. With that in mind, we’re proud to present the Pattison Avenue Awards in Excellence, otherwise known as the Patties! Please note: we didn’t want to interrupt the team’s well-deserved time off by asking them to come down to accept these, so former GM Nick Sakiewicz has volunteered to accept the awards and take all the credit one last time. Here we go!
The Bill Parcells “You Are What Your Record Says You Are” Award: Jim Curtin
Jim addressed the media last week and the topic came up of whether the match against West-leading Colorado was a litmus test. He channeled Bill Parcells and said “table doesn’t lie“. At a certain point, despite any excuses anyone can come up with, your record tells the story about what kind of team you are, whether it’s good or bad. That point is now, and that record says the Union are a good team. This run may last, or they may go on a skid, but either way, the standings will tell the story. Table doesn’t lie.
The Danny Califf “Most Badass Defender” Award: Richie Marquez
Those tattoos. That physique. That beard. Oh, and he can time a slide tackle like few others and isn’t afraid to use it anywhere on the field. He’s been a rock back there and has even managed to score a game-winner in the process. Curtin said if he had to enter a back alley and needed a guy with him, Richie was it. Good enough for us.
Marquez (shirtless) is a guy you want on your side.
The Roger Torres “What Do I Have to Do to Get Onto the Field” Award: Roland Alberg
I’m sure Roland is very talented, but unfortunately, he plays a position where the Union is stacked. Tranquillo Barnetta, Ilsinho, and Leo Fernandes can all play the creative midfield role and play it well. Alberg isn’t an 8 and doesn’t slot in on the wing, so this has left him the odd man out for now. And while Alberg’s exclusion from the first XI hasn’t hurt the Union or been puzzling the way Torres’s exclusion was, it’s still there and a ponder point on his future going forward. At least Roland has cornered the market on late-game appearances where he comes on and celebrates a game-winner or equalizer for the U, so he has that going for him, which is nice.
The Carlos Ruiz “Club Legend (And No, that’s Not Boos)” Award: Sebastien Le Toux
Look, this guy does everything the Union have ever asked him to do and then some: run by people, run at people, play defense, play on the wing, play as a lone striker, be the face of the team, play for an abusive coach, run a half marathon with no water, get traded to freaking Vancouver, get traded back, run some more, you name it. He owns nearly every conceivable Union record for an outfielder: games and minutes played, goals, assists, shots, game winners, penalty kicks, and hearts won. He epitomizes what this club and this city is about; hard work and effort are buzzwords for some, but they are what he bases his game on. He goes non-stop from whistle to whistle. If ever there was a man who fit into both the new ethos Earnie Stewart installed in this club and the city of Philadelphia itself, it’s Seba. The love the fan base has for him is akin to what Eagles fans feel for Brian Dawkins or Phillies fans feel for Carlos Ruiz. Furthermore, he loves us too; he met his now-wife here and lives in Northern Liberties. He’s even said he’d like to play for the US men’s team instead of his native France. It’s a lock he gets recognized by the club in some manner after he retires in 2050.
The Ron Hextall “We’re Not Trading You Two Prospects For a Plodding 35-year-old Third-Pairing Defenseman So Stop Calling” Culture Change Award: Earnie Stewart
It’s hard to quantify what Earnie has done since January 1st, but let’s try:
He got every player suits to wear for road trips and to the stadium, making it a more professional atmosphere.
He established a sports science center which helps his coaches make more informed decisions on how to work players in training and keeps the players in better shape.
He established two-a-day practices. One of my favorite Earnie stories is him coming to the Union and finding out they practiced once a day and being disgusted by it. His theory was this was not how professional soccer players around the world train, so it’s not how they’re going to train here either.
He sat down with Jim Curtin after the year and went through the roster and got rid of the players Jim didn’t want to keep. If you read between the lines with what’s been said, anyone who wasn’t willing to play defense and give everything they have on both ends of the field was shipped out. Half the roster was turned over.
They drafted smartly and were aggressive when it was called for. Three rookies (Ken Tribbett, Joshua Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry) have started regularly for the Union at some point and four of them (the first three and Fabian Herbers) get significant time. The club is two deep at every spot now and they didn’t have that before.
He takes responsibility. Even if it’s not something he has direct control over, he takes responsibility. Talen Energy Stadium hosted a lacrosse tournament last week and it tore up some of the pitch inside the 18-yard-box. Stewart was mortified when he saw the damage. He assembled the players and apologized personally, then addressed the media and the general idea was “this stadium is for our soccer club, and it is our job to give our team the best chance to win. That includes a proper playing surface. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t want any non-soccer events happening here. This is my fault.” After years and years of Nick Sakiewicz being so willing to take credit for everything and blame for nothing, a man in charge who’s willing to go the distance for his team and take responsibility when things happen that aren’t ideal is at least refreshing and at most inspiring.
One last thought: my favorite running sub-plot of the year has been whenever someone is asked about the change between last year and this year, they dance around it, but if you read between the lines, there’s a common theme: “it was a mess here last year and it’s much better now”. That’s thanks to Earnie. Much like how Ron Hextall changed the culture of the Flyers and how they operate with patience and a longview which is already paying off, Earnie Stewart has made significant changes to how the Union operate by making them play and operate more professionally, and some of the results have been immediate.
Intermission, featuring the Union goal song (may be NSFW depending on where you work):
And we’re back!
The Faryd Mondragon “Not On My Watch” Award: Andre Blake
Blake led MLS in saves at the start of the year while the back line (which consisted of two rookies, a second-year starter, and a 31-year-old converted midfielder) figured each other and the high press system out. The line solidified but Blake was still there to bail them out with reflex saves, diving stops, and tipped efforts over the bar. It’s no stretch to say Blake may be the main reason why the Union didn’t have yet another slow start, which has doomed them in past years. A great goalkeeper erases a multitude of sins, and Blake has answered every call: he is fifth in save percentage and third in goals against average among goalkeepers who have appeared in over half of their team’s games. His call to the Jamaican national team is no surprise, and a call to the MLS All-Star game seems likely.
The Marty McFly “Where’d You Hide the DeLorean?” Award: Brian Carroll and Chris Pontius
Brian Carroll had had a good career as a defensive midfielder, but the whispers were he was old, slowing, and on his way out in the off-season. There was an effort to sign him to a deal and have him heavily assist with Bethlehem Steel FC as a kind of player/coach figure like Fred, essentially easing him out of a playing role and into a coaching position. But then former USMNT member and incumbent defensive midfielder Maurice Edu went down with a stress fracture in the pre-season and it was no other than the old warrior Brian Carroll who played the position best, using his experience to read plays and clog up the passing lanes in front of the back four. Carroll reached 350 appearances this year which is a mark only a handful of outfield players have ever reached. He even scored a rare goal (and an equalizer at that) in Colorado at the death. It’s safe to say this year has been a renaissance year for him, or at the very least, a strong end to a stellar career.
Chris Pontius was fragile and overpaid. Wildly talented but unable to stay on the field, the former 2012 All-Star and Best XI selection was unceremoniously shipped by DC to Philly in what amounted to a salary dump. People questioned the move, but Jim Curtin was crazy about him. All Pontius has done this year is start every match on the left wing while scoring five goals and passing out four assists in just fourteen games, after scoring six goals and four assists in 51 games over the last three years with DC United. In addition to scoring, he wins battles in the air and is unafraid to mix it up, leading the team this season in games played with a bleeding head wound (2).
Often times, contending teams receive contributions from the most unlikely of sources, and these two experienced gentlemen reached back through time to find past form and contribute mightily to an unlikely contender. Kudos (and Patties) to them.
The Stephen Hawking “Bends Time and Space” Award: Tranquillo Barnetta
The Lloyd Christmas “So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance?” Award: the entire 2016 Union team.
When Earnie was asked if he knew how important it was to the fans to make the playoffs, he responded by talking about winning the MLS cup instead. And while such comments would have elicited scoffs in the past, with the Union in first place now and nearly half the season gone, it appears anything is possible. So we give this, the last Patty of the mid-season, to the entire Union team for their much-improved, entertaining play, and for giving every sports fan in Philadelphia hope for a contender this year. Here’s to the next twenty games, and beyond.
Jay is an editor for Pattison Ave and holds an English degree from Penn State. A native of the Wyoming Valley, he has lived in the Delaware Valley for over a decade. He is old enough to remember and young enough to hope.