Fans Set the Stage for Historic Night

More than three hours before Philadelphia Union’s first-ever home game, the parking lots were quite full. Fans were tailgating, kids were kicking soccer balls around and there was a major buzz in the air in anticipation of the rivalry against D.C. United.

Vice President Joe Biden was going to be in attendance, as was Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and soccer legend Walter Bahr.

On a picturesque day in South Philadelphia – the club will play two games at Lincoln Financial Field before moving to PPL Park in Chester on June 27th – a crowd of 34,870 was treated to a memorable 3-2 victory over D.C. United.

What a win. What a day.

What a way to respond after a season-opening 2-0 loss March 25 at Seattle.

“We have all the goods and the right mix for an MLS team,” said Philadelphia Union midfielder Andrew Jacobson in the jubilant locker room. “Since this team was put together, the coaches have been building a certain way. You saw it today. We have great resolve. We’re about team, team, team. It really is something to build upon.”

Sebastien Le Toux registered a hat trick -- including the go-ahead goal from about 20 yards out in the 80th minute on a free kick after a red card was called on Dejan Jakovic – and the raucous home crowd roared with approval.

The intense home-field advantage could be felt by the players long before the game ever started.

“It was pretty cool,” said Philadelphia Union forward Jack McInerney, who was the club’s No. 7 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft. “You could feel their energy. I thought it helped us get off to a really good start. I thought we got some momentum. Even though they tied it at 2-2, Sebastien got a huge goal. Our fans deserved it. They have been waiting so long for this game. I’m happy we were able to give them a victory.”

Philadelphia Union defender Danny Califf has talked repeatedly about how this club expects to win. After the first game, they kept working in practice.

It paid off on this historic night.

“I really like the talent on this club,” Califf said. “I really do. I think we have a group of players who are dedicated to team unity and playing for the team. As for the atmosphere, whew, what can I say? They were loud and cheering. They were energetic. It was a fantastic environment. You can’t ask for anything more. It was phenomenal.”

The environment was striking well before the game started.

Several Philadelphia fans walked through a D.C. United tailgate and received some good-natured ribbing. They shot back with some funny responses.

In another clear-cut Philadelphia Union-based tailgate, a group of about 50 fans were as stoked as possible for the home opener.

“Unnnnioonnnnn baby!!!!!,” shouted Michael Portantis, 43, of South Jersey. “I’ve been waiting so long for this. It’s time! Let’s go do it! It’s going to be an awesome season, baby!”

This has been a long time coming for Philadelphia Union.

With the fantastic support of the fans and community, the club was officially awarded on Feb. 28, 2008. That decision was proven in a huge way with this atmosphere.

“We’ve wanted to be in Philadelphia since the league launched,” Garber said.

That was 1996. While it took until 2010 to get that first game played, it was well worth the wait.

And talk about a homefield advantage.

“For me, it was fantastic,” said Coach John Hackworth, who served as Head Coach with Manager Peter Nowak mourning the fatal plane crash that included Polish President Lech Kaczynski. “Normally, I don’t pay that much attention to the crowd. But I was walking through the field, and I thought, ‘Holy Cow, this place is rockin!’ This is awesome.”

Everything was awesome about this game. It’s a day the club will never forget.

Nor will the players.

“It was dynamic,” said forward Alejandro Moreno. “The fans were great. They were into it the whole time. We could feel their passion. It’s going to be fun playing in front of fans like these. They’re great.”

Indeed.

There will many more days like this in the weeks, months and years ahead. It will continue to get better.

But this was a heck of a way to make a home debut.