CHESTER, Pa. – Sounders FC is used to playing before sellout crowds, but rarely as the visiting team.
That will be the case today, when Seattle provides the opposition as the Philadelphia Union opens its new stadium: PPL Park in suburban Chester.
“Obviously, they’re going to come in highly motivated,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “... We cannot get caught up in the crowd with them. But we are used to big crowds, so it will be a little bit easier for us in that regard.”
Again this season, Seattle leads Major League Soccer in attendance, with an average of 36,145 per home game. However, the expansion Union is second, with an average of 29,954 in two home games at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL Philadelphia Eagles.
A sellout crowd of 18,500 already is assured today as the Union moves into its own riverfront stadium.
PPL is the ninth soccer-specific stadium in MLS and the second to open this season, along with New York’s Red Bull Arena. Because Los Angeles and Chivas USA share the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., 10 of the league’s 16 teams play in soccer-specific stadiums. Kansas City and Houston have stadiums in the works.
“It’s a fantastic stadium,” Union coach John Hackworth said. “We’re very excited about having a home venue. Not only our organization, but the people in this area are so excited about it. People who don’t even pay attention to soccer are excited about it. It will be fantastic.”
Philadelphia’s roaring reception for MLS doesn’t surprise Sounders defender Jeff Parke, who grew up about 45 miles away in Downingtown, Pa.
“It’s a hotbed for soccer: the whole Northeast region up there, I’d say from Virginia on up has a lot of soccer and a lot of families that go away on weekends for soccer trips,” Parke said. “It’s big.”
Mike Seamon, a Sounders rookie who played at Villanova, on the western outskirts of Philadelphia, agrees – while also confirming the city’s reputation for demanding sports fans.
“Obviously, the results haven’t been as good as they’d like,” he said of the 2-7-1 Union. “And being around Philly fans and rooting on some of the teams while I was in school, they’re very cutthroat. They get pretty mad if their team isn’t producing. I think they’re going to give them a chance. Obviously, they’re a new franchise and they have had some spark and some fun games – some high-scoring games. I think the fans will stick around.”
So far, the Union is unbeaten at home. In its home opener, a hat trick by former Sounders player Sebastien Le Toux led Philly to a 3-2 win over D.C. United before a crowd of 34,870. The other home match was a 1-1 draw with FC Dallas, with 25,038 looking on.
“When you have a crowd that is so supportive of you, it just gives you that much more energy to push and push and push,” Hackworth said. “You feel like, as a coach and as a player, that you owe it to those people. It’s much different when you’re on the road and you’re getting booed and there’s 20 people in a small section in the upper tier cheering for you. It’s much different. We feel like we are at the start of our season now because we get to play in our own stadium and we have the majority of our games are going to be here at PPL.”
Because of Philadelphia’s stadium situation, MLS front-loaded the schedule with road games. The turnaround starts today, with 13 of the Union’s next 20 games at home.
However, there’s only one inaugural game, and that makes today special. The game sold out five hours after tickets went on sale. A dedication and other events start three hours before kickoff.
Seamon said he would try to get tickets from his teammates to try to satisfy all the family, friends and fans who want to see him today. However, after he gobbled up as many of their two-tickets-per-player allotment as possible, he’s likely out of luck.
“It’s crazy,” Hackworth said. “I have friends saying, ‘Can you get me a couple of tickets?’ And I’m saying, ‘No, there’s no way I can get a ticket.’ They’re texting me back saying, ‘What do you mean? You’re the coach. How can the coach not get us two tickets to a game?’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t do it. There are no tickets to be had.’ That’s kind of neat.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer
Seattle Sounders FC (4-6-3) at Philadelphia Union (2-7-1), 2 p.m., ESPN2
Inside: Preview capsule, page C4 SOUNDERS FC GAMEDAY
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (4-6-3; 15 points) AT PHILADELPHIA UNION (2-7-1; 7 points)
KICKOFF: 2 p.m., PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
TV: ESPN2. RADIO: 97.3 FM, 1210 AM (Spanish).
HEAD TO HEAD: The Sounders won the previous meeting, 2-0, in the Union’s inaugural game March 25 at Qwest Field. Seattle scored on first-half goals by Brad Evans and Fredy Montero.
TEAM LEADERS: For Seattle – G 5, Fredy Montero; A 4, Montero; S 34, Montero; SOG 13, Montero. For Philadelphia – G 5, Sebastien Le Toux; A 5, Alejandro Moreno; S 26, Le Toux; SOG 15, Le Toux.
SIGI SCHMID SCOUTING REPORT: “They’ve been in every game. I think they have settled more on a system of play at this stage. They’ve got Moreno and Le Toux, who have formed a partnership up front. So from that standpoint, they are evolving. They know what their back four is – even though (Michael) Orozco won’t play against us because he got red carded. … They know some of the pieces to their puzzle at this stage, and it’s a little bit easier to prepare for them as a result.”
NOTES: This game marks the end of a 17-day World Cup break for the Sounders. … It also marks the dedication of PPL Park, the new 18,500-seat home of the Union. The game is sold out. … Philadelphia is 1-0-1 in two home games. Thirteen of the Union’s remaining 20 games will be at home. … The earlier meeting was a rough one, with Philadelphia’s Danny Califf picking up a yellow card in the game’s first minute for knocking down Montero; and before the half was through, Toni Stahl was sent off with his second yellow card. After the game Union manager Peter Nowak accused the Sounders of diving and designated player Freddie Ljungberg of dishonesty, complaining and whining. … Philly has allowed a goal in the first 15 minutes in four of its past six games. … Sounders forward Nate Jaqua is expected to make his season debut in a reserve role. … Danny Mwanga of Oregon State, the top overall pick in this season’s SuperDraft, will start at midfield for the Union. Le Toux went from Seattle to Philly in the expansion draft. Seattle’s Jeff Parke grew up in nearby Downingtown, and Michael Seamon played at nearby Villanova. … The local forecast calls for temperatures around 92 at kickoff.
NEXT: The Sounders open defense of their U.S. Open Cup title against the second-division Portland Timbers at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at PGE Park in Portland. Seattle returns to MLS play July 4 at Los Angeles.
Don Ruiz, staff writer