Top 10 in 2010: An International Statement
Over the next two weeks,
philadelphiaunion.com will be counting down the top 10 moments of the
Union’s inaugural season as part of our Top 10 in 2010 series. It wasn’t
easy narrowing down a historic season filled with countless memories,
but we've whittled the list down to our very favorites. Feel free to
leave your reactions or personal memories in the comments section below.
We’ve taken some creative liberty with number eight in
our Top 10 in 2010 series, expanding the definition of a “moment” to encompass three international friendlies.
Why? Because a first-year Union side collectively bested three revered international clubs, Manchester United, Celtic FC and
Chivas Guadalajara, that had a combined head start of over 300 years.
The first test was Celtic, representing the first
international friendly ever played at PPL Park. Fresh off a heartbreaking 2-1
loss to San Jose four days earlier, Philadelphia had a chance to revive their
spirits and make a statement to the international soccer community. They wound
up accomplishing both.
Still officially unsigned, Eduardo Coudet slid a pinpoint
pass through a gap in Celtic’s defense in the 23rd minute that
resulted in the match’s lone tally. None other than Sebastien Le Toux took
Coudet’s service and evaded American goalkeeper Dominic Cervi, calming slotting
in the go-ahead goal. Brad Knighton and Brian Perk combined for a shutout, with
Perk in particular playing a sensational second half to keep Celtic from
equalizing late. With Chivas yet to be announced, the Union had improbably knocked one down, with one to go.
Topping the Scottish powerhouse was one thing, but competing
with English Premier League giants Manchester United, the most powerful brand
in all of sports, was quite another. Just a week after the Celtic victory, the ultimate David and Goliath matchup nearly
unfolded like the fable.
Manchester United didn’t have all of their guns so soon
after the World Cup, but they still fielded a lineup of all-time greats Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Edwin van de Sar, as well as stars Dimitar Berbatov and Nani, among
others. When the final whistle sounded, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had earned a
1-0 victory, but Philadelphia made the far bigger impression.
The Union controlled the run of play with their starters in a scoreless first
half, before Manager Peter Nowak opted to give his entire roster an
unforgettable experience, rather than playing for the win in a friendly that was
essentially meaningless. Manchester United, on the other hand, kept many of
their first-half starters in the match, finally receiving a goal from Gabriel Obertan in the 76th minute.
Philadelphia couldn’t make it 2-0 in international competition, but the message
at Lincoln Financial Field was loud and clear: Not even one of the very best
clubs in the world could bully the young, determined Union.
The last leg of the friendly trio
was played a month and a half later back at PPL Park against storied Mexican
side Chivas de Guadalajara. Headlined by Kansas City Wizards Designated Player
Omar Bravo, Chivas came out as the stronger club in possession, but the
Union kept them at bay behind goalkeeper Brad Knighton. 18-year-old Jack
McInerney netted the go-ahead goal off an incisive pass from Justin Mapp in first half stoppage time, and Knighton
shined the rest of the way en route to a 1-0 victory.
Making save after save,
many in dazzling fashion, the former New England Revolution backup forced the
issue when Chris Seitz committed a costly mistake in the following league
match, and sure enough it was Knighton in between the pipes against Chicago just 10 days after
the Chivas friendly. It didn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone; After all,
the Union still didn’t have a shutout in league play, yet they’d given up a
total of one goal against three prominent international sides with Knighton in goal for 180 scoreless minutes.
More significant than any single
moment during the three friendlies was the cumulative impact. The
Union had more than held their own against elite competition, proving that no
challenge was too great despite the squad’s youth and relative inexperience
playing together. Even more importantly, the club demonstrated -- to themselves more than anyone else -- just how good they could become once mistakes in league play were eradicated. That realization
could prove to be a gift that keeps on giving in 2011 and beyond.
Full Match Highlights:
Top 10 in 2010: