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Top 10 in 2010: An International Statement

Over the next two weeks, 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.

[inline_node:287895]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.

[inline_node:287894]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:

Philadelphia Union 1, Celtic FC 0

Manchester United 1, Philadelphia Union 0

Philadelphia Union 1, Chivas de Guadalajara 0

Top 10 in 2010:

#10: The 95th Minute PK

#9: Two to Win It