It wasn’t exactly the “beautiful game," but there were flashes of brilliance during Friday night’s inaugural River Cup charity game between the Philadelphia Union front office and the Sons of Ben.
Most importantly, the friendly match raised $25,000 for Chester City United, the city's own youth soccer club. It’s another significant investment in the youth of Chester, a city that has struggled in recent years.
All of the proceeds from the River Cup will make a difference in the lives of local children by getting them involved in soccer and giving them a positive social outlet at a young age.
Recapping the action
On the field, the front office claimed the River Cup and a year’s worth of bragging rights with their 2-1 victory over the SoBs.
Union striker Danny Mwanga predicted that exact scoreline earlier in the week. After the dust settled at PPL Park, he commented on the level of play.
“It was good, like I said before, I knew it was going to happen. I predicted 2-1,” Mwanga quipped. “The front office had a lot of good players, and the Sons of Ben played with a lot of heart. They fought and they had a couple of chances to win the game. Unfortunately they didn’t, but it was a good game.”
VP of Ticket Sales and Fan Services, Mike Quarino, played all 60 minutes in goal for the front office. Arguably the man of the match, he made a number of athletic stops to preserve the lead for his team. He also joked that he had been training with Union netminder Faryd Mondragon.
“I played [goalkeeper] growing up,” explained Quarino. “Faryd and I had been working out pretty diligently lately, a couple of sessions, so I learned it from him.”
The Union front office struck first in the tenth minute through Nico Abelenda. The ticket sales account executive latched onto a ball from Union coach John Hackworth, and slotted home past SoB co-founder Dave Flagler in goal.
Hackworth was also responsible for the second Union staff goal, which came in the 40th minute. Substitute Alex Carrington played a square ball to Hackworth near the top of the box. Hackworth’s hard shot led to a rebound, which Carrington pounced on, steering the ball into the net.
“I passed the ball backed to Hack, I knew he was going to shoot the ball,” Carrington said after the match. “I just crashed the net because I knew the goalie wasn’t going to hold on to it; Hack’s got a good shot. I knew he was going to bobble, and I was just there to luckily put it in with my head. It went far post; I thought it was a good shot.”
Mwanga was impressed with the performance of Hackworth, a former professional.
“[His game] was really good,” said Mwanga. I think he was one of the best players on their side today. He was running up and down, challenging the play — it was terrific.
The Sons of Ben cut into the front office lead on the 53rd minute, through a terrific piece of play from Tony Hoffman. The midfielder made an incisive run down the right flank, and hit a cross that found the feet of capo Corey Furlan. Furlan was able to settle and fire, beating Quarino at his near post.
Hoffman posed the biggest threat to the front office backline, continually making dangerous runs in the final third. He says his side had opportunities to score, but gave credit to the front office, specifically Quarino.
“[The scoring chances] were there, but [Quarino] played a great game,” Hoffman said. “The defense was solid, we took what we could, but unfortunately couldn’t come out higher on the score sheet.”
Hoffman did well linking up with Corey and Matt Furlan. Jameson Beates had a few promising looks in the final third as well, but the SoB attack often fizzled out before the decisive pass was made.
“I was disappointed, but we played hard, we did what we could,” added Hoffman. “There was a lot of talent on their team, so it was hard to counter."
In search of a late equalizer, the Sons of Ben threw numbers forward late in the game. Several front office counters looked promising, but didn’t pan out.
Two late sequences involved counter attacks from Union coaches. A give-and-go between Hackworth and assistant coach Rob Vartughian fell short when Hackworth’s final ball rolled too close to the goalkeeper.
Another build-up between Nowak, Hackworth, and Vartughian was snuffed out by the SoB defense at the last second.
But Nowak — who opted to forego shin guards — was strong and tricky on the ball all night, deployed in his typical central midfield role.
“He’s the master, he’s the real number 10,” Mwanga said, laughing. “He’s the guy who cleans up stuff, picks up the ball, and finds players. He could have had two or three assists. Unfortunately, the guys on his side couldn’t finish, but his game was really good."
Hundreds of fans came out to PPL Park in a great show of support for an equally great cause. Over a dozen Union players were in attendance as well to catch the action, clearly enjoying the role reversal.
The Union staff side may have edged the Sons of Ben on the field, but the real winners were Chester City United.
It was also a bonding experience for the front office and supporters group.
“It was great, the Sons of Ben are phenomenal,” said Quarino. “It’s probably the best relationship between a front office and a supporters club in Major League Soccer. To be able to do this experience, and give them this opportunity to play on the field — it’s as exciting for the front office as it is for them. I would have liked to keep the clean sheet, but we’ll take the win and we look forward to doing it again next year.”