BY MIKE WOLVERTON SPORTS GUY I’m pretty sure I’d never been to Chester before. But all good things must come to an end, so I went to see the Union open their new home park on Sunday. I took my son Torin, who’s almost five but not particularly into sports. He usually likes to root for the white team, which would prove impossible in this green-vs-blue matchup. We were running late due to the three-headed monster of:
- Stayed too long at the pool
- Dealing with young children
- Wife never fills the gas tank
So we pulled into Chester about twenty minutes prior to the 5pm kickoff. With the lateness problem, I was predisposed to be annoyed by the parking situation, and with the traffic as it was I had little choice but to chance it with Lot G and its “shuttle” to the stadium. The Union handled this suboptimal scenario well, as there were plenty of buses, but Lot G really is a hike from the park, and the shuttle ride took a good 15 minutes with traffic. We heard the national anthem on the way off the bus and hustled to our seats just as the teams kicked off.
The Union had the better of the running in the first half, without creating many clear-cut opportunities. Our seats were behind the goal, on the side away from the river, so most of the action was coming our way in the first half. Just when it seemed the two sides would go into the locker room without a goal, Seattle slipped Pat Noonan in behind the Union defense and he opened the scoring at PPL Park with a 45th minute score.
The late goal really sapped the energy of the crowd on what was a brutally hot day, and it showed at the outset of the 2nd half. The crowd was dead for the first ten minutes of the half, even the boisterous Sons of Ben who filled the River End at the new stadium. Meanwhile, I was having my own problems. My child-maintenance strategy called for a food/water/bathroom run at the 35 minute mark of the first half, to beat the concession lines. Then I figured we’d walk around the park at halftime and check it out. But my judgment was faulty on the park tour…there wasn’t an easy way to check out other sections, and we ended up wandering the concourse as the halftime crowds hit. That hot, crowded, sweaty experience had a deleterious effect on my 4-year-old. Before we could even get back to our section, I heard my first, “I want to go home now.” Having none of it, we went to our seats for the 2nd half, but the heat, lifeless crowd and 1-0 deficit were doing nothing to help my cause. I heard, “It’s OK if we never come back here”, followed by, “I want to go home right now”. This was more a plea than a command, and I was forced to resort to, “I have to write an article on this”, which sort of worked.
But the best remedy was an uptick in the excitement on the pitch. In the 54th minute, Philadelphia’s Alejandro Moreno drew a penalty which was converted a minute later by Sebastien Le Toux for the Union’s first ever goal at their Chester home. The penalty looked questionable from our vantage point at the other end of the stadium, but looked justified on replay. There was no doubt about Le Toux’s spot kick, an unstoppable blast into the top right corner. Five minutes later it was Seattle’s turn from the penalty spot, after Christian Arrieta fouled Freddy Montero in the box. In the game’s biggest moment, Union keeper Chris Seitz guessed right and made a good save on what was a pretty tame penalty kick, and the crowd went into a frenzy.
From that point on, it was all Union. I even turned to my boy in the 70th minute and said, “There can only be one winner in this game”, which on the surface may seem like the most obvious sports cliché possible, but in soccer parlance means, “Seattle offers naught, there’s no way they’re scoring. So this will either be a draw or a Union win”. And verily, it came to pass. In the 78th minute a cross from Le Toux barely eluded two Union players in front of goal (as well as three defenders), and found its way through to the sumptuously named Fred on the far post. Fred drilled it just inside that post to give the Union the lead. Brazil needs to produce more single-named players with blue collar monikers like Fred. Please, fewer Robinhos and Ronaldinhos, more Freds, Carls and Bobs.
The Union crowd was in a state of delirium now, and it just got crazier in the 84th minute when first-round pick Danny Mwanga banged home a rebound of his own shot to provide the final score of 3-1. Many Union players stayed on the pitch after the match to applaud the crowd, with Sebastien Le Toux removing his pink boots and throwing them into the crowd. You could tell how excited the players were to have performed well for their supporters in their new home.
So all that was great, but I still had to get my tired, sweaty boy back to Lot G. There were plenty of announcements about where the shuttles were (Seaport Dr.), but when I asked a Union employee where Seaport Drive was, he sent me in exactly the wrong direction. We eventually figured it out, but it was a bit of a wait because there was quite a crowd heading back to Lot G. Again, there were plenty of buses. I think the Union handled the situation well, they just need a new situation. Did I mention that it costs $15 to park in Lot G? I can honestly say that the parking problem would enter my thinking when deciding whether to pay for tickets to another game. Of course, the real answer is to arrive earlier and get a spot in one of the lots within walking distance.
All-in-all, it was successful day. The three second-half goals rescued me from my “I want to go home” problem. In fact, by the time we got to Lot G and I strapped Torin in his car seat, he said, “Dad, four things…no five things went my way today. I got to ride on a bus, twice. You took me to the soccer game You got me a pretzel which I really wanted and you got me water when I was thirsty.” Success! A new soccer fan that rates going to the game just as highly as a hard, dry, unevenly-salted post-game pretzel.