December 30, 2010
THE YEAR’S TOP STORIES #2
PPL Park opens
It was kind of a chicken and egg thing. When would MLS come to Philadelphia? When there were plans for a soccer specific stadium to house the team. The egg finally hatched in June of this year, with the opening of PPL Park on the Chester Waterfront, an event that ranks second on the Philly Soccer News list of the top ten local stories of 2010.
|The Sons of Ben found a home at the River End of PPL Park.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Though not as expensive as its counterpart to the north in New Jersey, PPL’s opening gave Philadelphia area soccer a focal point, as well as spectacular views of the Delaware River and the Commodore Barry Bridge, as pretty a backdrop for soccer as any in this country.
The opening came on a sunny Sunday afternoon, while much of the country was in the grip of World Cup fever and transfixed by the performance of the U.S. team in South Africa.
The sellout crowd that piled into the stadium that day was treated to a 3-1 win over Seattle Sounders FC, with Sebastien LeToux scoring a goal and setting up both of the other Union scores.
Following the opening of the stadium, Union President Tom Veit said there is nothing the team would have done differently in building this $110 million waterfront stadium, except “probably we could have added a couple of thousand seats.”
There were numerous occasions during the season when they could have used those extra seats, notably for games against the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, but Veit says it’s the people in those seats that help turn PPL Park into what it is. A real home for the team.
“The most unique feature of this building,” said Veit, “Is how we incorporate the fans.”
Fans are encouraged to sing the national anthem, and the team’s anthem, “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” which begins playing when the clock hits 20:10 to commemorate the first season. But the supporter’s section on the River End of the stadium is perhaps its most unique feature. The team prefers to attack in that direction in the second half, and the Union players also initiated their own version of pro football’s Lambeau Leap, jumping into the arms of members of the Sons of Ben in section of stands dubbed The River End starting the first tradition at PPL Park with a “River Run.”
“There is an intimidation factor,” Union defender Danny Califf said of other teams having to play at PPL Park in front of Union fans, especially the Sons of Ben. “They are not going to be very nice to you.”
Those Union fans were large in numbers, a total of 288,810 turning out for the club’s 15 regular season home games (including two at Lincoln Financial Field). Games against Celtic FC and Chivas de Guadalajara also featured at PPL Park this season.
While the stadium was built primarily for the Union, the facility also hosted the U.S. Men’s and Women’s national teams for a pair of poorly attended games in October.
Although the stadium’s primary function is soccer, the Union already has booked a rugby tournament and the NCAA Lacrosse Regionals into the facility, and there has been some talk of becoming home to Villanova football if it makes the jump up to the Big East.
The facility also is a likely candidate for the MLS All-Star game and MLS Cup sometime in the future.