On a wet and dreary Seattle night, the Philadelphia Union proudly marched out onto Qwest Field, into the bright, festive, lime green and aqua—clad crowd and into history, as they made their Major League Soccer debut.
What followed was a 90 minute game that I'm sure most of them would rather forget.
As it turns out, a team comprised almost entirely of teenagers and rookies played exactly like you would expect a team of teenagers and rookies to do.
Perhaps we should have seen it coming when the mohawked captain, Danny Califf, picked up the first yellow card of the season all of 42 seconds into the game.
The back line seemed incapable of marking the fast and technically efficient Freddie and Freddy combination, the midfield incapable of holding possession and the strikers incapable of posing any serious threat to Sounder goalkeeper (and balding idol), Kasey Keller.
The Philadelphia Union will now make MLS history with the first zero win season and will remain firmly rooted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
That is the pessimists conclusion from the first game and from visiting blogs and comment sections on the Philadelphia Inquirer, this seems to be a fairly common view.
But I am eternally an optimist and have not lived there long enough to succumb to the soul—sucking sports depression that seems to run rampant...yet. For me, it is far easier to look at the game optimistically and realistically.
Realistically it was impossible to think that you could take a bunch of rookies and teenagers who have hardly known each other for six months, throw them on to what is viewed (though in this case heard) as the loudest stadium in the MLS, against a powerful veteran team that made the playoffs last year and expect dominance.
And optimistically, this Union team is going to be very, very good.
The Union were already without their midfield maestro Fred, who Peter Nowak is counting on to be the string—puller of the team.
Number one pick, Danny Mwanga, has the physicality, technical ability and speed to become a dangerous striker once he adapts to the professional game. And Jack McIlnerny, who came on as a sub, is 17—years old. 17 years old.
When I was 17—years old, I played in a made—up soccer league with 10 of my friends where spectators were non—existent, rules were lenient, if they were enforced at all and games were generally called when someone had to go home to do homework. And I still got nervous.
McIlnerny, at 17, made his professional soccer debut in front of 30,000 opposing fans and on national television.
I'm sure nerves were a factor, yet the still managed to impress me. From following the Union preseason, it also appears that he might have the highest potential of them all.
So in light of all this, I think it is impossible to not look at this team with optimism, regardless of last nights performance.
Instead of jumping the gun, let's just relax, wait for the kids to grow up and for the rookies to become seasoned.
Expect growing pains, but enjoy the season. After all, it is the beautiful game.
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