Observations from a wild night at PPL Park

Photo: Paul Rudderow


“Best game I’ve seen at PPL Park … ever!”

“Casey’s goal was ridiculous!”

“The Union absolutely deserved to win that game!”

I heard all these things at PPL Park on Saturday. I might have even said one of them. (Shhh… don’t tell anyone.) I didn’t go on behalf of PSP. Rather, I wanted to take my little boy up to see his first live soccer match, and I wanted it to be a Philadelphia;hia Union game at PPL Park.

And I’m glad we went. That was not a second half to be missed.

Now, after an insanely exciting Philadelphia-Vancouver match, here are 11 random observations from my night at PPL Park.

Goals are scary

The roar of PPL Park after the Union’s goals literally scared the crap out of my baby boy. The little guy freaked out crying, having never heard so much noise in his five-month-long life on the outside, and blew out out right past his diaper and all over his clothes. Quite an original goal celebration. Poor kid.

But he recovered and went back to being awesome. My wife changed him into a yellow Brazil onesie. That got some wisecracks after the game out at The 700’s tailgate in Lot A, but once they learned he held dual U.S.-Brazil citizenship, these tough guys gave approval to his clothes and promptly went to cooing at the little guy. And demanding that he declare for the U.S. in 2032.

PPL Park: As loud as it’s ever been

Have you ever heard PPL Park that loud and unrestrained? People went absolutely nuts. Three straight goals? In THIS season? Are you kidding me?

About damn time. It’s what we expected when the season started. Nobody thought it would take that long to have that much fun watching a Union game this year, but if the Union can continue after the World Cup break what we saw in Saturday’s second half, then everyone got their money’s worth.

Mike Lahoud changed the game

Lahoud had the best of offensive game of a Union holding midfielder this year. He drove the ball forward through center midfield, held possession well, and helped set up one of the goals. His halftime substitution changed the game. Lahoud’s play showed the team was seriously missing a holding midfielder next to Edu who could push up into the attack, let Edu hang back a bit more, and free up Vincent Nogueira and Chaco Maidana to do their thing.

Did it change the season? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But Lahoud returned from national duty with Sierra Leone looking like a legit international player. You have to admit, that front six looked really good in the second half.

That has to be the starting lineup next game, right?

Casey, Maidana, Le Toux, Nogueira, Lahoud, Edu, Okugo, Gaddis, MacMath and however Hackworth tries to fix the left side of the defense.

Anything else, barring injury, simply isn’t possible. Right? Right???

Speed up, Sheanon Williams

Every time Williams jogged slowly upfield to take a long throw-in, some guy in section 120 yelled at Williams to hurry it up. He then yelled at Williams for not getting back on defense quickly enough, and he yelled at Hackworth for continuing these long throw-ins that lead to opposition counterattacks. (This guy also gave Danny Cruz the middle finger when he left the game, as an aside.)

The guy may have been a jerk — he was too far from the field for the players or coaches to notice his gestures, and he had no idea PSP was two rows behind him ready to describe it — but the jerk had a point. There is a place for these throw-ins, based on last year’s goal returns. But at this point, they may be better used less regularly, when Williams is at right back and in position to make the throw-in sooner.

“Shoot the ball! Shoot the ball!”

I didn’t catch the Sons of Ben’s chant, but I heard the girl in the row behind me screaming at the Union in the first half. By game’s end, they had outshot the league’s most entertaining team 28 to 6.

Conor Casey: Not washed up after all, huh?

At 32, Casey looks to have plenty in the tank. He just needs to stop getting hurt in preseason. Four goals in two games, starting right around the same time his hot streak kicked in last year, when he was also hurt in preseason? Everything changes for the Union if he can score regularly.

Zach Pfeffer looked a little nervous

Pfeffer earned the start Saturday, but he probably didn’t earn the next one, not after the way Lahoud and Sebastien Le Toux played. It’s not that Pfeffer was bad. He just looked to be playing a bit too safe with his passes, perhaps a little unsettled at the pressure (or playing on the left) or lacking chemistry with Fabinho. But this is a bump in the road, not a bump back to the bench. Hackworth should continue looking to him as a sub until he earns the next start.

Cristian Maidana is second in the league in assists

Yep, just like that.

Where does this guy belong on the field? I’m still not sure. But he belongs on the field. As often as possible. His cross to Casey was inch-perfect.

The left side of the Union defense is hosed

Amobi Okugo: Good.

Right back: Good. (Gaddis has been better this year, but Williams is good when in form.)

The left side? Help wanted. Maybe Jeff Parke wants to come back?

Erik Hurtado absolutely broke Fabinho’s ankles in the first half. Fabinho may make good overlapping runs, but the Union need someone who can do that and mark and connect on crosses. Fabinho has a role to play, but regular starting left back isn’t it.

Someone has to step up at left center back. Williams isn’t that guy. Paging Austin Berry — again.

It’s OK to admit that was an awesome game and you loved it

About a half hour after the game, I ran into a PSP reader I know who has been sour on the Union and John Hackworth, so I went up to him and said without any prelude, “So what did you think?”

He hesitated and said — and I’m paraphrasing all this, as I wasn’t taking notes — “Well, I have to rewatch the game on TV. It’s hard to analyze just after seeing that just now.”

And I said something like, “Analyze? ANALYZE? Dude, that game was awesome! Just enjoy it!”

Yes, this is Philadelphia, so you won’t get your hopes up that the team will recover and make the playoffs, because teams have been dashing your hopes all your life and this was just one game.

But it’s OK to have a great time at the game. You can still want John Hackworth fired if you want (and this PSP reader does, if I recall correctly), hate on Danny Cruz, call for Andre Blake, or conversely say that everything is roses and peaches.

Just don’t forget to let yourself sit back and enjoy a great game now and again.

You simply cannot deny that the last 45 minutes produced some of the best, most exciting soccer ever seen at PPL Park. We’ll find out after the World Cup break if that means anything.


  1. It was an awesome game and I enjoyed it.
    Hack still has to go.

  2. bye Bye Hack!

  3. Alex Schaefer says:

    Fire hackworth

  4. Fun game but I’d still rather win 1-0 than draw 3-3.

  5. That was fun!
    And to think, I was seriously thinking about walking out at halftime.

  6. Great stuff. I’m nervous about bringing my wean as well. Is there public info on The 700’s tailgates, or is that just kind of a friends and family deal? I’m in that lot anyway so might stop by if it’s an all-comers thing.
    One thing I didn’t see was whether Maidana was gassed when he was subbed off with the match tied at 88′. Anyone else know? I don’t understand taking him off when the U desperately needed a goal, especially for a player on a cold streak.
    Hack fired mid-comment. Kaboom.

    • By the end of the game, Maidana couldn’t even get over to take a corner kick from the right side. I think he was gassed.
      And, wow, Hackworth’s gone. I wonder how dealing with Nick Sak as GM-for-life affects the candidate list.

  7. We got to see a good Union left back on Saturday. Unfortunately he was wearing a white shirt.

  8. As a corollary to your story, my son and I took my father, who isn’t in the greatest of health. I had to convince him to go. Sitting there with my boy and my dad during THAT game is something I will cherish forever. When I wanted a team in this city, my whole life, I wanted it for soccer reasons. Now I realize that the memories I make there with my family are equally important. I’m glad you and your son are starting early.

    • That’s awesome, and one of the easily forgotten parts of being a fan when we’re upset over player selection, shape, etc. It was only good for one point in the standings, but seeing all the youth teams, grown adults, and even the stadium staff going nuts in that match was a good reminder of how great it can be. Glad you got to experience that.

  9. Thanks for making the comment about Williams, Dan… With the excitement of the momentum changing and clock ticking, why the slow jogs to throw-ins??

    • Because Williams wants everyone to get set for the throw in. This has everything to do with Hack and Nothing to do with Williams.

  10. the couple that sit in front of me found out early last season the noise impact on their young one. he doesn’t come to the games often but by game 3 they had earplugs for him and he was much happier.
    if you continue to bring him i’d suggest getting some.


    it was fun to be there especially after that first half.
    celebrating the 3rd goal i said to my crew that it was the best 10 minutes we’ll see all season.

    i hope i’m wrong about that.

  11. John Ling says:

    I missed this game due to a business trip. My daughter took my dad to the game in my place. figures I miss a good one…

  12. The Philadelphia Union. Clinical Diagnosis. Bipolar.

  13. Hezekiah Ezekiel Schmitz says:

    Parents are literally the most annoying people on the planet. We don’t care about your kid. At all.

  14. My first game of the season in person. Sat in 118 just beyond the 6 yd box. Might be the best soccer game I’ve ever attended. (3-0 last year vs. Red Bull at PPL was pretty great)
    Hurtado was a beast and is a ridiculous combination of wide bodied and fast. And his ball skills were impressive too. The first half was all his.
    And this is the Michael Lahoud that was a dominant force at Wake. He’s eminently capable and maybe the Sierra Leone call up was the right mix of fitness and confidence boosting that he needed. We really need those two way abilities in the midfield in the gameday 18 on a consistent basis.
    Le Toux as a sub was electric. His understanding with Casey is phenomenal and the chemistry with this pair and Maidana and Nogueria is getting there. Results are inconsisent still, but when they connect its impressive.
    Casey scored two but probably should have had 3 or 4. Two narrow misses in the first half on glancing headers to the far post.
    Watching the replay of the penalty the call was right. Watching the replay of Morales’ taking it is gut wrenching cause MacMath has the save made and gets beat on a late bounce. Vancouver had the counter-attack working all first half – why weren’t the Union anticipating it late on?
    A 3 goal second half is still a good note to go into the world cup break on. Curious to see how removing Hack affects the momentum the team seemed to be gaining.

  15. That’s why I love this site! We can all bitch and moan and hate on all things Union.But get to watch a game like that….and you just soak up the moment! I have been bringing my son since the first season…now that he is 16 (and taller than me!…Jerk!),we still love going! The memories make the event! Keep bringing the little guy!!

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