CHESTER, Pa. – When he first took the job as color commentator for the Philadelphia Union, former MLS player Kyle Martino knew what he would have to analyze may not always be pretty.
Typically struggling in their first years, expansion teams have to work through a challenging adjustment period until they finally fit among the rest of the teams in the league.
Twenty-four games into their first season, Martino has been impressed with how quickly the Union have progressed.
“I think they’re far ahead of the curve, even though the points don’t necessarily suggest that,” he told MLSsoccer.com last week in a phone interview. “When I think about some of the new franchises – with Chivas USA probably being the lower end of what was expected – it’s taken a lot of time for teams to get it together.
“Whether it’s finding the right personnel or finding the right style or how to get results in the league, the Union have struggled with finding out how to get results.”
Getting wins is one thing, but creating a culture and a style for where it can slowly start to happen is what’s important to the bigger picture. According to Martino, the Union coaching staff, led by Peter Nowak, have done just that, even if they aren’t where they want to be in the table.
“If you’re going to judge a team on results, you’re going to judge the Philadelphia Union negatively,” said Martino of Philadelphia’s season. “I’ve seen every single one of their games this year and they’re the type of team that once they start to minimize some of the little mistakes that let teams into games, I think they’re going to be a very difficult team to beat.
“They have two coaches [who] believe in the players and support the players and have them in a system that is conducive to some really fun and attractive soccer. Time will tell to see whether they can make those minor changes to really start getting results in MLS.”
With the season drawing to a close, Martino thinks that no matter what happens in the last six matches, the team can look back on the year and be proud of what they did – on and off the field.
“Even if they don’t make it into the playoffs, they’ve done well,” said Martino. “The goal of a new franchise is to build a strong and dedicated fan base. Check that off because their fans have been unbelievable.
Martino also points to a successful venue with PPL Park and, perhaps most importantly, a sense that Nowak has reached his young squad and has them improving game after game.
“Given the number of things you judge a new franchise on,” said Martino of the first-year franchise, “they’ve got A’s in those categories.”