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Thursday Cannon Fodder: on the downswing

PSA: this is not about Arsenal being on a downswing. Don’t come for me.

Everton v Arsenal - Premier League - Goodison Park Photo by Jon Super/PA Images via Getty Images

What do you do when your team isn’t very good?

I’m currently wrestling with that dilemma with two of my teams — the Washington Nationals and the Washington Capitals. Two seasons removed from winning the World Series, the Nats were picked to finish bottom of the NL East across the board. They’re awful. And there’s a decent chance Juan Soto, one of the few bright spots on the roster and best young players in baseball, is going to walk when his contract is up. Just like Bryce Harper did.

The Caps are in a bit of a different spot. They’re making the playoffs this year and should be a projected playoff team next season, too. But the window is nearly closed on this roster — you never want to say fully closed because if you’re in the playoffs you have a shot. The core of the team is old and the Eastern Conference is littered with younger, more dynamic teams. It’s not hard to see where this is headed two, three years down the road.

So I come back to my initial question, what do you do as a fan of those teams?

You don’t give up on them and switch allegiances (or maybe you do, it’s your life). But as many Arsenal fans found during the end-Wenger years and Unai Emery’s time in charge, it’s tough to stay invested in a team that is clearly going nowhere or headed in the wrong direction.

At least that’s what I discovered and am discovering now with my other teams — I’m just not as invested when the team doesn’t have much chance of winning. That sounds a bit fairweather, but it’s the truth. And it’s a natural, human reaction. I can’t muster up the same level of interest or emotion for games and seasons where the team is getting consistently beaten. And if there’s not much light at the end of the tunnel, that makes it even tougher.

I suppose it’s a little different in football where relegation is on the table. That really gives you something to root against. And then if you go down, you’ve got promotion to cheer for the next season. But still, what was a Sheffield United fan supposed to do last season? They were AWFUL, and it was clear from the end of September that they were going down.

Don’t get me wrong, in those lean Arsenal years and with my teams now, I still find snippets of joy. Juan Soto is worth watching on his own. Alexander Ovechkin is chasing down Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record. Winning will always be fun, regardless of frequency. But it’s more difficult to feel engaged, which in turn creates this feeling of “less than” / guilt as fan. How do you deal with it (if you’ve faced it)?