Philadelphia Union, the team for the world’s moment

(Published by The Philly Soccer Page on Nov. 9, 2020)

Ten years ago, Vice President Joe Biden and his granddaughter Natalie welcomed Philadelphia Union into the world with the first kick at the club’s first home game.

Now, days after the Philadelphia region gave the world a massive gift by playing a crucial role in electing Biden president, the Union have won their first trophy. 

You couldn’t make this up.

If the universe likes poetic symmetry as much as fans do, the Union will be visiting the White House with the Supporters’ Shield they won on Sunday in Chester. And Biden, the kid from Scranton, the good former senator from Delaware, will welcome them as the new president of the United States of America.

This team, of all teams. 

This team, from the place where America was born, named for the union that forged it, whose logo and motto draw from Ben Franklin’s famed Join or Die cartoon calling for unity amid strife.

This team, once beleaguered and dysfunctional, now winners representing a gloriously unfashionable city with gloriously unfashionable players. 

“Good things happen in Philadelphia, first and foremost,” Union veteran Ray Gaddis said during the team’s on-field celebration. “Let’s keep it real.”

Everyone knew what Gaddis was referring to: The current president’s infamous “Bad things happen in Philadelphia” comment, taken as a badge of honor in a way only Philadelphians can.

Gaddis flipped the line on its head, as we’d expect from him. No player has played more minutes for the Union in team history. None has been so repeatedly underestimated and then proved himself as often, a selfless servant for the cause of his team. This son of a U.S. military veteran, who lives his religious faith, tucks his shirt like it’s 1960, and has been a vocal leader in MLS players’ support of Black Lives Matter — Gaddis defies the ways that people label each other in the social media age. Instead, he stands as a throwback to another time and an ideal of what the Union have become on and off the field:

A good person, who tries to do right and never gives up.

This Union team has embodied that spirit, matching the character of their home region, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, unafraid to voice their thoughts. They have called for gun control in the wake of mass shootingsmade powerful statements about police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and played some ridiculously entertaining soccer to go with it. From outspoken captain Alejandro Bedoya and local-boy-made-good head coach Jim Curtin to homegrown stars Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson, this team reflects their region through and through.

And is there anything more of the moment than a Caribbean immigrant consigned to visa purgatory finally returning to help his team win a trophy with game-securing goals in two of his last three games? Well played, Cory Burke.

There are some who argue the Supporters’ Shield is less significant than the MLS Cup, for though it rewards the league’s best record, it does not count the postseason. They’re wrong, particularly this year, and not just because this bizarre pandemic season has put some awful teams in the playoffs.

It’s because of our moment in history. 

Philadelphia gave something to the world this past week. Now the universe is giving back. 

These have been dark times, and there remains much to set right, but in a moment when we needed it most, we’ve relearned a lesson worth remembering.

Sometimes, the good guys win.