MLS is back. And Philly hates you too
Reflections on Philadelphia, on the ethos of a sports town, on anonymous quotes, and Ale Bedoya calling that guy a coward.
MLS is back, and Philly hates you too
Okay, that’s not literally what they said. What they literally said was “coward”. And they said it in reference to one specific guy- one specific, anonymous guy- who’d launched a glorious new MLS year by surmising the Philadelphia-favorites, then saying: “they’re not even that fucking good”.
The Union won 4-1 at home on Saturday. When the whistle blew, Aretha sang. R-E-S-P-E-C-T blared from Subaru’s speakers, the River End serenaded the players below.
Philly Inquirer’s Union guy of soccer writing aplomb- the inimitable Jon Tannenwald- greeted Jim Curtin in the press room, asking what exactly that meant.
“The DJ had his final say at the whistle, I think playing Aretha Franklin up there. I don't think we've heard from you since one of your friends across the league had something to say about you, was this the response tonight?
“The anonymous quote? First of all, anonymous quotes are for cowards. And people are very brave when they make anonymous quotes. You know I went through all the people it possibly could have been, and there's like two or three that it would come off as a loving quote, and kind of an appreciative quote, that it could possibly be. There's a couple that if it's them, I'd love to find out who said it. We did use it in the film session yesterday. I reminded the guys. Yes, everybody's in love with us right now, picking us to win the Eastern Conference. But Championships aren't won on paper, paper means nothing. So, you know, we have to still, we still have a doubter, you know, out there, you know, in whoever made that quote. So, it always motivates the guys. But again, I will go on record saying people that give anonymous quotes are cowards."
What happened after that, is Alejandro Bedoya came into the locker room repeating the word coward too. As Philly’s captain, I imagine Ale’s unofficial job to be really driving home the vibe. And the vibe that night was: the anonymous guy is a coward, and you could put our name on that.
“Which one of you works for The Athletic?” Ale asked the encircled scribes, referencing the outlet where the story came out. When none of us did, he suggested we find out anyway. “Find out who said that. Tell him he’s a coward.” That’s on the record, Bedoya said, tell him I said he’s a coward.
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Philadelphia is a place, I often tell people, emphasizing place in the phrase. The identity is specific. The identity is also a bit of chicken and egg.
Philadelphia believes manifestly the whole world is against it. Eventually it comes true. Or it starts true, but we fan the flames, enjoying the commotion we’ve created.
Oh, the fond memories I have, walking from Fishtown to the Art Museum with a festive crew, the year the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Packed, people everywhere, people selling “Fuck Tom Brady” pins, people climbing trees, people -yes- climbing polls.
Amid the melee, speaking from the Art Museum steps (the beloved steps Rocky ran up, the steps tourists are always running up— and falling down) comes the booming voice of a man named Jason Kelce, dressed head to toe as a Mummer (long story, look them up).
Kelce drives home an epic speech of Philly-specific flair, and now Philadelphia legend.
He starts by demanding the crowd give him a few “hell yeah”s if they love the Eagles. The crowd does love the Eagles, and readily comply. Kelce then launches into an aggressive soliloquy, starting with: “I’m gonna take a second to talk to you about underdogs”. (You can hear fans bark at him in response as he says this).
With all the receipts- and a hoarse voice- Kelce then begins to list all the people that doubted the Eagles, or didn’t want them to win. That includes the “freaking analysts” that rated Doug Pederson a poor hire. He continues, “this past off-season some CLOWN named Mike Lombardi told him that he was the least qualified head coach in the NFL!”
The crowd is outraged. The speech is getting more impassioned.
“IT DOESN”T STOP WITH HIM!” Kelce goes on naming all the critics, all the haters, all the “freaking analysts”.
He lists the insults lobbed at his teammates: too slow, too old, can’t catch, don’t got it anymore. He’s barely got his voice by the end, at which point he’s banging his fists on the stand, hysterically stating, “It’s the whole team!”
Kelce then turns to the city and nails the ethos. While standing on the steps Rocky made famous, he tells the crowd everything it ever wanted to hear:
“But you know who the biggest underdog is? It’s y'all, Philadelphia”.
Nodding toward 52 years without a championship, Kelce explains Philadelphia’s rugged reputation by saying if he doesn’t eat breakfast, he’s (expletive) pissed off.
He goes on:
“No one wanted us. No one liked this team. No analyst liked this team to win the Super Bowl. And nobody likes our fans!!”
A city leaning heavy into being disapproved of, roars approvingly back.
Kelce wraps up this pivotal moment in Philly sports history with a localized Millwall chant. He picked it up courtesy of the Union’s own Sons of Ben:
“No one likes, no one likes us, no one likes us, we don’t care. We’re from Philly, fucking Philly, no one likes us, we don’t care.”
The speech was immediate legend. Any Eagles fan worth their salt can quote it. Kelce’s lines became part of parlance— an appropriate response to any person doubting you, for any reason.
A friend doesn’t think you’ll make it to dinner on time? Appropriate response: no one thinks I’ll make it to dinner on time, and no one likes my fans!
Nobody wants Joel Embiid named NBA MVP? It was all of us!!!!
Popular by vote, but not anonymous quote
The truth is, Philly Union are heavy favorites to win a whole lot this year. Many pundits and predictions acknowledge that. You’d need your head in the sand to say otherwise.
But that one quote, that one, glorious, anonymous quote, gave this team everything it needed to hear. Because no matter how many people concede Philly is the team to beat, there’s no shortage of people who dislike that it’s true.
In The Athletic’s anonymous roundup of exec predictions, Philly ran away as the favorites. 10 votes for Philly to win MLS Cup. Atlanta is next in line, with a dismal 3 votes. Philly takes the Supporters' Shield too, but by a narrower margin, edging out LAFC 8 votes to 7.
But from the mouth of an anonymous executive, reflecting on his vote above:
“The thing is, they’re not even that f—ing good,” one executive said. “It kind of hurts me to pick them. All they do is kick the s— out of you. They’re always ready to play, that’s great, that’s good coaching, all that stuff. But they’re just not great. They have a way of doing things and they’re consistent, but it’s not like the quality is amazing. So it hurts me to pick them, but they’ve kind of earned it.”
People will admit Philly can get results. The people happy about it are in far shorter supply.
Why? Well, they’re un-enchanted with the style of play. It’s unsophisticated, it’s direct, it’s gritty- like that godforsaken city- but it’s not beautiful, there’s no finesse.
Let’s be real, it’s not only the exec-anon who feels this way. We’ve all heard it over the years. Curtin knows it, too.
Are you sure this is ugly?
I asked Jonathan Tannenwald about the way Philly plays in our conversation Friday. When I suggested some people don’t see it as the “beautiful” game, he responded: then why do they score so many goals?
Fair enough. They scored 4 to overcome the Crew on Saturday. Yes, two of them penalties, put away by Daniel Gazdag. But the other two from open play, delivered home by Julian Carranza.
And while it’s true things started ugly (Union barely saw the ball the first fifteen, a chippy half was marked by fouls, they conceded first to Columbus) the squad adjusted in match, limited midfield threats, and found final third chemistry by the second.
Jim Curtin spoke briefly about their style in the post-match:
“You know, they did hurt us a little bit tonight. Columbus, you know, they're a great team and they're going to be like I said, one of the top teams in our conference. But I have to give credit to our guys, because, you know we bend a little bit, but we don't break. We kind of grind, we make it ugly for stretches. And then when we do go in transition, like that [second] goal showed, you know, we can be pretty, pretty ruthless, and finish plays off. So it's a fun way of playing, and I think the players have all bought in. I think you guys know what we're going to look like and we have a real identity, so I'm happy with the result.”
A real identity, indeed. And any suggestions it’s not beautiful may want a word with the Joaquin Torres assist for Carranza’s second. Or the precision from Carranza as he sent two in.
It’s also a warning sign for the league that most players- and Jim- were of the opinion the 4-1 victory wasn’t emblematic of their full potential. Columbus will be a good team this year, and they beat them 4-1, but give it time, they’re still working things out!
I asked Daniel Gazdag in the post-match if he’d heard all the hype, or was paying any attention:
“Yeah, obviously we heard about that. A lot has changed around the club in the last few years. Now everyone expects us to be a good team, to be there at the end of the season. So that's good for us. But that's not enough. If we have a good team on paper, you know, we have to go out and show that… that we are good every time.”
I asked if he felt they showed it against Columbus. Gazdag said they started to, but in the second half. He emphasized the pre-existing chemistry with Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza, and getting back to that rhythm:
“The chemistry was really good last year as well. So I mean the longer time we stay together, it's just getting better. You know? I think the second half, it was… it was like a union. So it was like us. I'm really happy with that.”
Julian Carranza also came out to chat, coming off two goals of his own. He stood beneath a speaker blasting reggaeton and talked about his second goal, which required newfound and instinctive chemistry with Joaquin Torres, debuting moments before in the midfield:
“I mean knowing Joaquin, he's the type of player that when he turns, he tries to play the final ball. So when he turned, I looked at him, and I knew that I had to run that way. And then, I mean his touch was unbelievable. And I just have to finish. It was good. It was good first touch for him, and then it was a good finish.”
There is a calm feeling of humility in the air, as the team heavily predicted to do well starts to go about proving it. There is also a calm measure of confidence that they feel themselves capable.
And tying it all together is that quote, that beautiful anonymous quote, providing one final measure of motivation to a team that doesn’t even really need it.
As Ale Bedoya departed- insisting his name go on the record calling the anonymous guy a coward- it was agreed. The last thing you want to do, the absolute last thing you want to do, is give a team this good, from a city like this, an identity like that to move them.
Oh, does no one like us?
This is an amazing article that truly encapsulates that general Philadelphia sports fan and the die hard Union supporter!