Everyone in Philly is overlooking the Union, including me

What if I told you there’s a surprising team in town that has overcome an inability to score to find themselves in the unlikely position of first place?

Like everyone else in town, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by they way the Phillies have started the season. But the Phillies, as well as they’ve played, aren’t in first place. The Union are.

Last week I drew a cartoon about how our Eagles-obsessed city seemed to care more about Sam Bradford than the suddenly fun-to-watch Phillies:


Amid the normal group of cheers and complaints about my cartoon, someone at the Philadelphia Union decided to update it to reflect the fortunes of the city’s long-overlooked professional soccer team:


I have to admit that the Union were far off my cartooning radar. I’m not familiar with many of the players, I’ve never actually been to Talen Energy Stadium and after their season-opening loss to FC Dallas, the team just seemed to faded into the background.

Part of the problem is that the fan base, while devoted, will never rival the number of fans who follow the other major sports in the city. As a result, coverage of the Union rarely makes it to the homepage of Philly.com, highlights aren’t often shown on Comcast SportsNet and the team is never discussed on sports talk radio.

So I made a point to watch Friday night’s match against D.C. United and decided if they won, I would draw a long-overdue cartoon about our up-and-coming soccer team. After all, in the rare occasion I've drawn cartoons about the Union, it's normally making fun of the fact no one knows who they actually are: 

Or that no one in town really seems to care about soccer: 

I have to admit, the game was difficult to get through. The play was sloppy and uninspiring. Compared to the European soccer my Brazilian roommates in college hooked me on, both teams seemed amateurish at times. Luckily there weren’t any NBA playoff games competing for my attention, otherwise I probably would’ve checked out of the Union game at halftime.

But I’m glad I didn’t. Regardless how difficult the game was to watch, seeing Richie Marquez’s game-winning run and score in stoppage time was the most excitement I’ve associated with the Union in the six years they’ve been playing soccer in Philadelphia.

Daily News columnist John Smallwood wrote a great column about Earnie Stewart, the team’s new sporting director and a former U.S. national team player who is getting most of the credit about the Union’s culture change.

"I think everything starts at the top," said Union assistant coach Mike Sorber, who was a teammate of Stewart on the 1994 World Cup team. "There have been a lot of changes in the front office. Earnie's leadership and what he's brought to the table is definitely a part of this.

"I think that is the most important thing for a team, to have the right people on the team, the right people working together, and that you're all moving in the right direction.

"We did not have that in the past. I think you are seeing the performances and the results on the field."

So I’ll try to be watching Wednesday when the team takes on Orlando City SC. But with the Raptors facing off against the Cavaliers in Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, I’ll do my best to stick around.

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Rob Tornoe is the sports cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philly.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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