As the only American-based writer at Blowing Bubbles monthly, I feel a great privilege to be part of the community and share opinions from across the Pond. I’ve been to England three times to watch West Ham play, and have seen Mark Noble’s last home and away match.
West Ham is my first team even from 4,653 miles away, but when I’m not watching West Ham, I’m watching my MLS team – Philadelphia Union. The MLS has been laughable at worst and overlooked at best, but with big names like Messi and Suarez joining the league, Christian Pulisic and Brendan Aaronson’s strong performances in the Premier League and the US teams performance in the 2022 World Cup, even against England, there is room to start looking at the MLS as a source for transfers.
The US will host the 2026 World Cup, so there is bound to be big investment in ‘football’ to whet Americans’ appetites; Apple TV capitalised on this by releasing the popular football comedy show Ted Lasso which featured West Ham. There was footage of the London Stadium introducing a new American audience to our club, similar to what Green Street did almost 20 years ago.
It drew cameos from football icons such as Pep Guardiola, Mike Dean, and Thierry Henry. The exciting thing about following the MLS, is that firstly, there is no rivalry with West Ham so you can enjoy without guilt, and secondly, the MLS season runs from February to October, so you have something to watch in the off season.
Start the 2024 season fresh and choose your team. There are 29 teams (26 from US and three from Canada), so I won’t be able to go over all of them at any depth, but here is a brief summary of the structure, a few notable teams, and also my unapologetic push for you to follow Philadelphia Union.
The continent is so vast we arbitrarily split the teams into the Eastern and the Western Conference. There are 34 matches in total, with each team playing one home/one away match against the teams in their conference, and one game against specifically chosen teams in the opposing conference.
The points system is the same as the PL – the team with the most points wins the Supporters’ Shield. Because Americans are fond of knockout competitions there is a Round of 16 for the MLS Cup with the top teams from each conference competing against each other to reach a Final with Eastern and Western winners then playing each other.
Here is a brief rundown of why you should follow the Philadelphia Union as a West Ham fan, who you shouldn’t follow, and who I would forgive you for following. Philadelphia Union is a working class club with recent success. The club had a fanbase before it existed, as the football fans of the Philadelphia area were so keen to have a club, that they formed a group called ‘the Sons of Ben’ (after Ben Franklin) and petitioned the MLS, the mayor and the community to bring a football team to the area.
They won and Philadelphia Union was started in a poor, working class community, next to the river, not unlike the Thames. The ‘Sons of Ben’ are our ultras and now occupy the whole river end of the stadium.
Philadelphia sports fans are known for being highly passionate and raucous. The players follow suit and will fight out on the pitch for the fans. Their style of play is intense, with a focus on pressing, turnovers through hard graft and counter attacking.
The manager Jim Curtin has been at the helm for 10 years, and employs a 4-4-2 diamond relying heavily on the workload of his midfielders, and overlapping fullbacks. The Union relies on Ernst Tanner – the director of football – to scout hardworking, unknown players for cheap.
In the last four years we have won the Supporters’ Shield, and been in the top six making it to the MLS cup final but losing. West Ham scouted fullback Kai Wagner last year. The hated Big six are as follows:
NYCFC are owned by Manchester City owners, have a lot of money – this is the team who took on Frank Lampard Jr. They play in the Yankee baseball stadium in New York. They’re local rivals to Philly, and beat our third team in the playoffs because of Covid regulations.
New York Red Bulls are to the east of us and play in New Jersey. They have been compared to Arsenal in that they were constant winners years ago but have since lost favour. Thierry Henry played for NYRB, and their colours are red and white.
DC United from Washington DC are the joint most winning team in the league next to LA Galaxy, and are comparable to Manchester United. Wayne Rooney played for and managed them.
Across the country, LA Galaxy holds the joint most trophies and are also known for their wealth with Chicarito and Zlatan being big signings. They are similar to Liverpool, not so much in their community, but in their wealth, history of winning, and player status.
Rival to LA Galaxy, LAFC is a new top six club often criticised for possible FFP breaches. They are similar to Chelsea in that new money has made them spoiled. Philly lost to them in the semi-finals, with Gareth Bale scoring in the final moments to bring LAFC level with Union, for us to lose in a penalty shootout.
Atlanta United, while it has a passionate and large fan base, are another personal rival as we seem to get in scuffles with them all the time. I’d consider them the Tottenham Hotspur of the league.
Other clubs I’m not keen on: Toronto FC, Inter Miami, Columbus Crew, and New England Revolution.
Teams that are midtable who are developing and I’d respect you for following in the Eastern Conference: Charlotte FC, Chicago Fire, FC Cincinnati, CF Montreal, Nashville FC.
In the Western Conference: Austin FC, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, Minnesota United, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, St Louis Sc, Vancouver Whitecaps
Choose your team now and get following in the 2024 season. Why not have two different teams disappoint you each week?