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The Soap Box: Union fan speaks out

MLS fans, show some brotherly love. You have a new contingent of supporters hunkering down at McFadden’s at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Saturday in anticipation of the Union’s home debut against D.C. United, and you now have a new forum for all things involving your club.

The Soap Box, MLSsoccer.com’s newest weekly feature, opens with the thoughts of Sons of Ben top supporter Mike Naioti, who shares his take on the Union’s home opener, Danny Mwanga playing out of position and why everyone in Philly loves Peter Nowak.

MLSsoccer.com: Honestly, tell me what you think Lincoln Financial Field is going to be like on Saturday.

MN: I think we’re all a little bit nervous about it. They’re telling us there’s going to be more than 30,000 fans there, but I think there are a couple of issues that might sort of prevent that atmosphere from being everything it can be for the first game. You’ve got Joe Biden coming in with all the security involved with that, and Lincoln Financial Field is generally just a more conservative environment for games. I think once we get into our own place at PPL Park, then I think you’ll start to see what our fans can do and the true soccer culture and a localized atmosphere we can create. But we’ll do what we can do tomorrow.

MLSsoccer.com: Is there a misconception about Philadelphia fans?

MN: If you support a Philadelphia team, it’s one of the best cities in the country for sports. I think if you’re coming in as a visiting fan, it can be a bear to get around and have a good time, because Philadelphia sports fans are vocal and they support their teams. A lot of the national media has a tough time accepting things about Philadelphia fans, but I think that at the same time, we love our sports. It’s something we look forward to and carry in our day-to-day working lives, and at the end of the day we take a lot of pride in our teams.

MLSsoccer.com: Will it be tough for the Union to carve out their niche, to crack the sports scene against the likes of the Phillies and Eagles?

MN: I think the league has done a great job over the last 10 years in refocusing its goal and not trying to convert the fans of other sports, but to focus on the soccer purists and the soccer fans in their market. Soccer has a history in Philadelphia and has always been a strong region for the sport, and there’s a strong fan base already built in here to really make it a success. I think we’re here to stay for sure.

MLSsoccer.com: Take me through your day on Saturday.

MN: A lot of us have our own plans for Saturday, but I have four or five people coming to stay with us for the game and another 15 or 20 people who’ve never been to a soccer game in their lives and are really excited to see one. We’ll head down at McFadden’s at Citizens Bank Park around 1 p.m., that’s going to be the headquarters for the Sons of Ben for the first game. And then we’ll have a large part of the group tailgating through the parking lot, that’s a Philadelphia tradition. And all the future home games will have all those Sons of Ben tailgates.

MLSsoccer.com: What were your expectations for the season opener?

MN: For the most part, we didn’t know what to expect. A couple of us went down to North Carolina during preseason to see how they were going to play, but the team wasn’t really settled. Given some of the roster situations, we knew Fred was going to be out and some of the other guys would be unavailable. The lineup was a surprise throughout the midfield, but the physical style of play that we expected was there completely. Toni Stahl’s red card obviously changed the game, but I thought we played strong even with a man down. We definitely saw some glimpses of some quality play in there.

MLS soccer.com: And Danny Mwanga?

MN: I thought he was out of position, to be honest. When we saw him in North Carolina he was a holding striker who could use his size to create opportunities for the guys around him. But in Seattle we saw him in a midfield role, as a more of a controlled midfielder and a play developer, and I don’t think that’s his strength. He’s built to be a striker, and he’s got a nose for goal.

MLSsoccer.com: How have the fans embraced Peter Nowak?

MN: Across the board, we love Peter Nowak in Philadelphia. Since we got the chance to meet him, he’s been extremely forthcoming with us in telling us about what the Union’s identity will be and what kind of players we’ll have, and that candor has allowed us to get a good feel for what kind of coach he’s going to be.

MLSsoccer.com: And his comments on Freddie Ljunberg after the season opener?

MN: After that Seattle game, I think it’s one thing to see how that game plays out, and it’s a different thing to talk about it afterwards. But he’s the bus driver here, so if that’s the way he wants to express himself, that’s okay. There were a lot of people who felt the same way and knew exactly where he was coming from.

MLSsoccer.com: What’s your take on Fred?

MN: I’m really excited to see him in the midfield. I think that’s the big question for me, if Fred can be the kind of player the league has expected him to be. He didn’t really get that chance in D.C., being put out on the wing so often. But if he can be the controlling midfielder we expect him to be, then I think we’re in a very solid position. If not, that’s my one roster move, to try and find a true game-changing midfielder who can be the rock in the midfield.

MLSsoccer.com: Do you guys have any expectations for the new DP rules?

MN: We’re all excited at the prospect, but with the kind of coach Peter Nowak is, he’s not just going to go get somebody to fill seats. He’s going to work his players hard and demand a lot of strength and stability from them. It’s rare to find that kind of drive and push from another player brought in from another league around the world, the kind of player that would make the move to MLS. There are rumors about David Trezeguet, and I would love to see a player like that with a hard-nosed, aggressive mentality. Somebody like that would fit in with the atmosphere that Nowak is creating.

MLSsoccer.com: Lastly, tell us what’s going to happen in the opener. Will Philly wait another week for the first win?

MN: We’ll have the home field advantage, and I think with the 30,000 fans all waiting for the first goal, the first win, I think we’re going to have something nice to celebrate at the end of the night.