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A Philadelphia Union Blog

Much Adu About Nothing – The Union’s Protected List

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Yesterday, during the l-o-n-g wait for the announcement of the MLS teams’ protected lists, I tweeted that I expected the Philadelphia Union to protect the following players: Faryd Mondragon, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams, Gabriel Farfan, Sebastien LeToux, Brian Carroll, Roger Torres, Danny Mwanga, Michael Farfan, and Freddy Adu. This turned out to be the final list with the exception of Keon Daniel being protected in lieu of Adu.

Unlike last year, this list presented few surprises. There were no last minute trades or inclusions of marginal international players. It seemed obvious to me that the Union would protect the regular starters who make up the core of their team.  Taking this into account, only a few protected slots were open to speculation. I expected Mondragon to be protected. Although age combined with a higher salary might be a deterrent to a drafting team, this concept isn’t likely to apply in a situation where the older, better compensated player is a regular starter, in particular a goal keeper.  The Union also likely want to make sure Mondragon stays around around for a few years while Zac MacMath matures.

The inclusion of Keon Daniel was a bit of a surprise but not out of line. He was an integral part of the Union’s midfield during the successful first half of the season and provides size and a physical presence, something the Union otherwise lack. Hopefully any visa problems he has have been resolved.  I had expected the Union to protect their financial investment in Adu, but perhaps they feel he will not be attractive the Montreal.  He has a high salary and hasn’t exactly lit up the field since returning to MLS.

I learned my lesson last year when I left Torres off my probable protected list because of his loan status.  The Union obviously don’t have a problem with protecting loan players, as they did so with Torres and Michael Orozco-Fiscal last year. Michael Farfan  has been a revelation this year and has turned out to be a good value for a second round draft pick. His presence in Philadelphia was no doubt a factor in attracting his twin brother to the Union as well.

Who among the unprotected players, if anyone, will tempt the Montreal Impact? The most likely suspects would be Kyle Nakazawa and Justin Mapp. Nakazawa is a young, inexpensive and serviceable midfielder while Mapp, although older and more expensive, is probably the better player if he is playing well and is a natural left footer. If we are lucky, they will take Stefani Miglioranzi.

In other news, I congratulate the Los Angeles Galaxy on winning MLS Cup. Cough, hack, gag.  Let’s hope we have finally seen the last of the Beckhams.  MLS may have grown in the past five, but I wouldn’t attribute it primarily to Golden Balls. I don’t watch MLS soccer because of Beckham, do you? At least the Union lost in the playoffs to a team which eventually made the finals. The Union will return to defeating Houston during the 2012 regular season.

A fuss has been made about the Impact’s website being in both French and English. I’m not sure why MLS communications haven’t been in French since Toronto entered the league. Isn’t MLS the top professional league for both the US and Canada and isn’t French an official language of Canada? I would have thought that this meant that all MLS materials would be issued in both languages. Let’s hope progress is finally being made on this issue.

Well, Montreal Impact, Bonne Chance, you’re going to need it. Let me make a few suggestions for players you might be interested in …

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One Fan’s Perspective on the 2011 Season – Off the Field Edition

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The Philadelphia Union played their Hurricane Irene rescheduled game against the New England Revolution on Wednesday night.  The game was as wild as the recent weather. The Union came back from a 4-1 deficit at half time to get a draw.  Despite the great come from behind effort, the Union really needed a win.  A playoff contender should be able to beat the worst team in the Eastern Conference at home, and any other result is unacceptable.  The Revolution are so bad they can’t even hold onto a 4-1 lead.  At least I’ve never seen a Union player planking after a goal.

Soccer players and fans aren’t a bunch of sissies when it comes to a little rain. Anyone who attended the rain soaked home game against the Seattle Sounders will attest to that. I was more than willing to draw the line at a category one hurricane, especially one that produced a tornado warning for Chester. Irene also brought to mind an issue I had long thought about – what exactly is the contingency plan in case of flooding at PPL Park? As much as I don’t want to acknowledge it, PPL Park will flood one day. After all, there have been times in the past when the Delaware River has been in the business district in Chester.  Is there insurance or are there funds available to cover damage to the stadium? How quickly could the stadium be recovered and what if any contingency plans exist for an alternate site for games? This is the price we pay for the scenic riverfront location of PPL Park.

The 2011 season has seen a number of positives off the field for Union fans.  Attendance has been strong, with most games selling out. A full stadium is important for creating atmosphere at games. Strong demand is also great for season ticket holders who may occasionally have an extra ticket to get rid of. I, for one, have not had any trouble getting rid of my extra ticket this season when necessary, unlike last year. The Union has done a good job of holding the line on pricing on tickets and concessions.  The second dollar dog night of the season on Wednesday was much appreciated. This has been a regular promotion at Phillies games that has been adopted readily at PPL Park.  As the economy continues in the doldrums, let’s hope the Union have the sense to continue to keep prices down and soccer one the best values out there for your dollar.

The team has done a reasonably good job of marketing and promotion, and even soccer apathetic sports fans I have talked to have heard that games at PPL Park are a good time. The implementation of the season ticket cards this year has been smooth, and I find them a convenient way to manage my tickets. I would like to see their use expanded to include accessing parking passes and making concession purchases. The Comcast deal for local television coverage has also been a positive, and I feel that local broadcasts are now easier for the casual fan to find.

On a less positive note, the parking situation at PPL Park remains mixed. I like the proximity of the lots and the prepaid parking. However, I wish progress could be made on paving all the lots.  Ingress/egress from the lots remains about the same. I park in lot A, after a season in lot C last year, and in general find it easier to get in and out than lot C. As a non-tailgater, my only complaint is the flagrant and persistent violations of the tailgating rules that make for a dangerous situation in Lot A prior to games. I would prefer all tailgating be confined to one lot (Lot C) or at least confined to a specific section of Lot A.  I wonder about the future of the parking situation if the stadium expansion plans are realized or the rest of the proposed riverfront development adjacent to PPL Park is built. It is hard to imagine sufficient parking without the addition of significant parking structures. I would not like to go back to remote parking and shuttles.

The Union would benefit from better mechanisms for soliciting feedback from fans. As I have noted in this blog previously, the surveys the team conducts are not blinded. I have serious concerns that this could affect the integrity and accuracy of the results. The recent Supporters Summit was limited to members of the Sons of Ben. Although the Sons of Ben are a huge positive for the organization and do have a dialogue with the Union, they are not a general advocacy group for fans. They have a very specific and narrow agenda as it relates to off the field issues and that doesn’t always reflect the opinions of all fan contingencies.  The general impression I get is that the Union are not that concerned about the other 16,000 fans in the stadium that are not in the River End.

The continued existence of Major Molly’s Army is still a thorn in the side of this blogger. Although I understand the need for a promotional team, I don’t see any legitimate reason for this team to be single gender. This is one situation that the Union can easily correct over the off season and let’s hope that they do so.

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It’s Squeaky Bum Time!

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As we enter the second to last month of the MLS regular season, I would like to make a few observations. The Union’s once secure hold on a playoff spot has become tenuous as of late. Despite the roster changes over the course of the season, many of the same problems that were apparent in May are still rearing their ugly heads:

1. No regular starting eleven: Putting aside necessary changes for injuries or suspension, the Union have no regular starting eleven or formation. The result has been confusion in midfield, lack of chemistry, and the inability to move the ball forward.  Every week, it seems fans were are greeted with a new, bizarre lineup. At least this keeps bloggers and journalists guessing.  As a second year team, the Union are still a work in progress.  I would like to see less turnover this off season and more progress toward a settled, cohesive structure.

2. Lack of scoring: This has been a concern since game one this season.  The lack of offensive production is in part a result of the roster merry go round.  It may also be due to lack of the right talent.  Sebastien LeToux scored his first goal in open play this season against Real Salt Lake.  With the end of the Carlos Ruiz experiment, we need stepped up production from LeToux, Danny Mwanga, and Jack McInnerney.  Veljko Paunovic has been an on and off player.  Freddy Adu can  make his return to MLS meaningful by providing the missing attacking link in midfield.

3. Dropping points at home: Although the Union maintained an unbeaten record at home through most of this season, they did drop points in the form of draws that should have been wins.  Their away record could be better, but this could said of most teams.  The team need to take better advantage of the atmosphere created by the Sons of Ben and the home fans and get full points at PPL Park.

4. Best Defense: The improved defense has been one of the bright spots this season. The loss of Jordan Harvey seems to have been absorbed. Gabriel Farfan has been a mixed bag at left back, but so was Harvey. It is probably a wash.  The key moving forward will be keep the starting four healthy and suspension-free, as there is still a lack of depth here.

With the end of the regular season upon us, it’s “squeaky bum time,” as they say England. At least the Union have 1-2 games in hand over teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. I can realistically seeing the Union taking as many as 18 points from their remaining games. The may need as many points as they can get.

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The Union Know Who You Are – If You Care About Your Privacy

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I recently completed a season ticket holder survey for the Philadelphia Union through a link I received via email. I had participated in all of the previous surveys I had received, believing that it is important to provide the Union with feedback from customers.

I had assumed, perhaps naively, that these surveys were blinded, i.e. the Union couldn’t trace specific responses to individual respondents. However, I received a phone message at the end of last week that clearly conveyed to me that the Union were aware of the specific negative comments I had made in the survey.  I was infuriated.  It was a good thing I didn’t actually take the call. None of my comments to the survey were rude, but that conversation very well could have been.  I think some hapless intern dodged a bullet there.

The Union has a valid interest in verifying your identity in determining whether you are eligible to take a survey, in this case that you actually are a season ticket holder. Beyond that, the responses should be anonymous.  This is analogous to the situation when one votes.  From my job, I know that blinded surveys and studies are important for improving statistical validity.  It is increases the likelihood you get honest and accurate responses.  Accurate feedback is especially important since there is no general advocacy group for Union fans.

The issue I had raised in the survey that prompted the phone call has been covered several times in this blog and on social media, so it is not a secret. My identity is readily ascertainable from this blog. If I wished to raise this issue more directly with the Union with my name attached, I would have written to them.  I do not feel better about getting a phone call from the Union in response to what I thought was an anonymous survey; I feel violated.  I will not be responding to any surveys or providing feedback in the future.

 

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Bagels and Lox for Everyone

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The Philadelphia Union announced yesterday that they have traded starting left back Jordan Harvey to the Vancouver Whitecaps for a box of smoked salmon, a scrimshaw whale’s tooth and a First Nations’ ceremonial eagle feather.  In MLS’s world of cryptic parlance and partial disclosure, this is also known as “allocation money.” When I first read this shocking and unexpected development, you could have knocked me down with, well, a feather.

Harvey had been a regular fixture on the Union’s backline since the team’s inception and had played in every game but one. He was part of what had been a stable and effective back four this season.  Just when you think the Union is dangerously short on dedicated defenders, they go and sell one, and to think that I was beginning to feel that blogging for a successful MLS team was becoming boring.  The Union now have only four players officially rostered as defenders. Midfielders Keon Daniel, Gabriel Farfan and Michael Farfan have been used in the back this season. Ryan Richter has also been given a run out on defense, at least in reserve games. The cherry on top of all of this is that starting central defender Carlos Valdes will not be available for the game this weekend.

This move at this point in the season seems dangerous.  The team had been going well, although they had failed to pick up as many points during their recent run against Vancouver, Kansas City and Chivas as I would have liked. The Union are now in the middle of a consecutive stretch of three away games.  They have struggled to establish a regular starting eleven and formation. I don’t see a coherent plan for replacing Harvey, and the lineups I can envision are unnerving. For those that are upset about the value received in this deal, all I can say is that MLS players, save for a few, are not really worth that much in trade.

Situations such as the Harvey trade underscore why I will never buy a jersey with a player’s name on it.  The nature of modern professional sports is that player’s stints with individual teams tend to be short. I support soccer clubs as institutions and deliberately do not become attached to specific individual players. I am not a fan of professional athletes in general. This is not a reflection on the Union or any of their players, but stems from my observations of American athletes in the more popular professional sports over the years. If you recently shelled out money for a Harvey jersey, you have my condolences.

Speculation about what all this may mean is rife. Are the younger players ready to step up? Are the Union thinking of bringing in a big name defender? Trading Harvey will create some salary cap room, but he was not earning that much more than league minimum and was very good value for money.  The Union also have not used all their available roster spots.

In other news: I will be at the Philadelphia Independence game this weekend. This may be the last one of the season for me, unless there is a playoff game. There is just a lot going on. Real Madrid have announced some modifications to their roster for the World Football Challenge. As a Real Madrid hater, I am not all that interested in their peripheral players, so I am not bothered by this. It just increases the chances it will be a competitive game. It has been announced that the U.S. Men’s National Team will play Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field.  If only the Gold Cup final had been played here.

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The Dreaded Nil-Nil Tie

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I replayed the Philadelphia Union – Sporting Kansas City game from midweek as I got ready to leave for PPL Park tonight.  I don’t feel like there is a lot to say here.  It was another disappointing result against a team we should have taken more points from. You really have to beat a last place team at home. Again there was fiddling with the lineup, which, again, did nothing to help resolve the Union’s offensive woes.  This team would really benefit from a stable starting lineup in a 4-4-2 formation. The Union also continue to be plagued with problems on set pieces, missed-timed runs, and poor finishing.

The nil-nil tie, along with diving and low scoring, is one of the obsessions of soccer haters in the United States. These scoreless draws can be entertaining games, but I don’t feel that this was the case here. There were too many missed chances and too much sloppy play. The highlight of the game was the crowd chanting “USA” when the result of the Gold Cup semifinal against Panama was posted. A close second was the response of the River End to the incident in New England in which supporters were arrested for obscenity for the “You Suck, Asshole” chant. All though I am not a big fan of this chant, I am disturbed by what seems to be an over reaction by the ownership and security of the Revolution. Self policing by supporters should be the way to handle this issue going forward.

There was a good crowd of 18,127 for the game considering it was a weeknight against an opponent that wouldn’t have been much of a draw. You could also practically swim through the humidity. There was also the conflict with the U.S. Men’s semifinal.  There will be a conflict again tonight with the Gold Cup final. The Union have to be pleased with their attendance figures this season. I know I am – at least I can sell my extra ticket when I need to.

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Goalapalooza

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Since our last scheduled programming, the Philadelphia Union have managed to score more than one goal in a game and to do so in two consecutive games. The Union defeated the Chicago Fire on May 21 at PPL Park by a score of 2-1. Michael Farfan scored his first professional goal, and Carlos Ruiz supplied the game winner – a spectacular, long shot off a bouncing ball that just tucked in under the crossbar. The left-footed shot easily won AT&T Goal of the Week for week 10. The game also featured an impressive defensive play by Sheannon Williams to block a shot on the goal line. His effort was nominated for Save of the Week. My friend who attended the game with me now thinks she is the Union’s good luck charm, as they win whenever she attends a game and snapped a winless streak with this game.

This win was followed up by an entertaining 6-2 blowout against Toronto FC at BMO Field on Memorial Day Weekend. Danny Mwanga and Justin Mapp both scored two goals a piece, Gabriel Farfan emulated his twin Michael and got his first professional goal, as did Kyle Nakazawa. Maicon Santos scored two for Toronto. Both Toronto goals were precipitated by bad giveaways, and I question whether Santos was onside on his first goal. It was impossible to tell from the television angles. I’m assuming he was since MLS officials never get anything wrong, do they? Too bad this game wasn’t played at PPL Park, the number of smoke bombs alone would have been insane.

What to make of all of this? The Toronto game shows that the Union can score without Ruiz, who is off on Gold Cup duty for Guatemala. The team got much needed offensive input from Mwanga and Mapp. I don’t think the Union are doing anything different in terms of formation; the diamond formation in midfield has been used before. It’s tempting to regard the previous low scoring games as just one of those things that happen in the course of a season. The Union are a good team and the scoring was going to come eventually. To be honest, the Fire and Toronto were also less difficult opposition than that which the Union had recently faced.

There were a large number of empty seats at BMO Field, many of which were probably paid for. It is unfortunate if Toronto’s previously stellar fan support is beginning to whither, perhaps justifiably in response to a team management that has raised ticket prices while putting an inferior product on the field. It was interesting to hear J.P. Dellacamera acknowledge that there was a boycott of the MLS Cup final by disgruntled Toronto season ticket holders. I believe that the team and the league had previously tried to deny that this had happened. The 6-2 result was met with a loud chorus of boos from the fans who remained in the stadium for the end of the game. Many fans fled the scene early despite the fact the club was showing the Champions’ League final after the game. Toronto management seemed to be making an effort his season by hiring Jurgen Klinsmann as a consultant and Aron Winter as coach with an eye toward playing a Dutch style of football. It just doesn’t seem to be coming together. Toronto fans have a right to voice their displeasure with team management and take appropriate action, but I would draw the line at actions that hurt MLS as a whole. You can see my prior comments on this here. Toronto fans may, in fact, be getting what they deserve.

The Philadelphia Union keeps rolling along this season. They have made great progress since their inaugural year. They continue to hold down first place in the Eastern Conference over the New York Red Bulls, with a two point lead and a game in hand. It’s hard to find things to write about when team is doing well, but I’m not complaining.

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The Hardest Thing in Soccer

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Clichés are grating enough, but even more so when your team is embodying one. It is often said that the hardest thing in soccer is to score a goal. Philadelphia Union fans got another painful reminder of that in Saturday night’s game against F.C. Dallas. On top of the ongoing offensive struggles, the Union conceded two goals for the first time this year. The final score was 2-0.

The Union’s initial efforts looked promising. The team lined up in an offensive minded formation utilizing Roger Torres at attacking midfielder, Brian Carroll as defensive midfielder, Justin Mapp and Amobi Okugo as outside midfielders, and Sebstien LeToux and Danny Mwanga as forwards. I had high hopes that this formation might actually produce some results on offense. I have been curious to see what Torres could produce if he started. I also tend to prefer LeToux as a forward. Although the team seemed to have the better of the run of play, it was all for naught in terms of goal scoring.

The Union fell behind 2-0 in the first half on goals by Brek Shea and Fabian Castillo. The Shea goal seemed to be the result of a loss of formation, with a large number of Union players chasing the ball on the same side of the field, leaving a lone defender to cover Shea. Lack of defensive pressure on Jackson Goncalvez resulted in a well placed cross to Castillo for the second goal. In response, the Union made offensive minded substitutions in the beginning of the second half, bringing in Jack McInerney and Carlos Ruiz for Carroll and Mapp. Although offensive substitutions are a no-brainer for a team 2-0 down, I am at least impressed that the Union always tries to go for the win, no matter the circumstances. The game also featured a gutsy performance by Faryd Mondragon in goal, who was playing with a groin injury.

I don’t have any brilliant solutions for the team’s offensive struggles. It may simply be a matter of taking time for chemistry to develop. The problems can’t all be put at the feet of Ruiz, as the younger forwards have not exactly lit up the score boards this season. I wouldn’t mind more experimenting like we saw with the starting eleven in this game. I do know this just can’t go on if the Union hope to make the playoffs this season.

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A Midweek Septa Saga

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My fellow bloggers over at http://unholyunion.wordpress.com recently posted some interesting information about a closed Septa train station at Lamokin, about a fifteen minute walk from PPL Park.

It found it interesting in that it was posted on the same day that I had my own first experience, albeit indirectly, with public transportation to PPL Park. The friend who was attending the Philadelphia Union’s game against the Los Angeles Galaxy with me had to meet me at PPL Park.  She took Septa from 30th Street Station to the Chester Transportation Center (CTC) and a shuttle to PPL Park. Overall, she was very happy with the train service and the fact that shuttles were lined up at the CTC waiting for passengers.  She beat me to PPL Park by ten minutes despite the fact that I left around the same time by car from Haverford Township.

I can certainly understand frustration with Septa and yesterday’s experiences were a mixed bag. I now take the Paoli-Thorndale line to work after years of driving. Yesterday I was reminded of why I used to drive. On the one day that I absolutely had to remain on schedule, there was a significant service interruption on the train line in the morning caused by a power problem. I eventually gave up and drove to work as I could not afford to wait any longer. I went from being twenty minutes early to being twenty minutes late for work, and I incurred a grand total of $31.00 in transportation cost to get to work, not counting gas. You got to love Septa.

Reopening the Lamokin Station, if it is within walking distance of PPL Park, could have the potential benefits of allowing the Union to save money by suspending shuttle service, increasing use of public transportation and providing fans with more transportation options. If this is an issue of concern to you, you can contact Septa with your comments at http://www.septa.org/cs/comment/index.html or on Twitter @Septa.

As for the game, the Union managed to salvage a 1-1 tie on a Danny Mwanga goal.  PPL Park had a record crowd despite the absence of a healthy David Beckham. Although a lot of the media attention focused on the absence of Beckham, it was actually a good performance by the Union against a team that is likely to be one of their tougher opponents. The defense remained solid, and the team put forth a good effort to push forward for a win in the closing minutes. A number of other events have also occurred since my last post.  The Union lost an away game to the Portland Timbers by the score of 1-0, and I continued in my failure to find a place other than my own living room to watch away games. The Philadelphia Independence won their home opener against the Boston Breakers by a score of 2-0. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this game due to illness. The MLS players union also released the salary data for its members.

Although soccer is not as popular as other sports in the U.S., it is clear there is plenty of  media coverage of the Union. The events described in the previous paragraph have been discussed extensively elsewhere. I often don’t feel as if I have any thing original to add to the conversation in terms of context or commentary.  Last season, and until recently, I have posted something about every Union game.  After a good deal of reflection and an acknowledgment there is little reader interest in this blog, I have decided to limit my posting to times when I feel I really have something to add to a topic or it particularly interests me.  I’d like to thank my readers for their support and hope to have a chance to interact with you in the future.

 

 

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A Few Bullet Points about the Earthquakes Game

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I attended the April 30 Philadelphia Union game against the San Jose Earthquakes with my friend Frances who is a resident of Chester. It was great to see how excited she was to be at a game, and she is definitely looking forward to attending another. This was highlight of the game for me, but being a verbose blogger, I will also note the following:

  • another 1-0 win. We should start an over/under on when the Union will score a second goal in a game.
  • attendance of  18,279. This was close to a sell out crowd, no doubt helped along by the nice weather and the team doing well.
  • dollar dog day. This needs to happen more often. I did partake but did not meet my goal of eating my weight in dogs.
  • unwarranted red card to Jordan Harvey. All the cards were a low light of the game, along with bad officiating in general, which is unfortunately nothing new.
  • goal scored by Sebastien LeToux on a penalty kick. The penalty kick was due to a handball, and the goal was LeToux’s first of the season. LeToux has scored, so every one can calm down now.
  • Michael Farfan made his debut for the Union at left back. Maybe Harvey has something more to be concerned about than a game suspension. Roger Torres started for the Union. The jury is still out on whether this is an improvement over his usual super sub role.
  • the SOBs timing on the national anthem is definitely getting better.
  • the weather. I never realized 63-65 degrees could feel so hot, but that is the Bridge Side for you. My farmer’s tan from last year is already threatening to reappear. When we finally left the stadium it actually did feel like 65 degrees.

The Union are currently in second place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind that team to the north, who have played an additional game. Since the Union are doing well, I am happy just to enjoy it and not knit-pick.

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