All smiles after a historic night in Chester

Photo: Earl Gardner

It was wet. It was wild. It was so Union.

Years of heartache and disappointment washed away. The unyielding rain, instead of dampening spirits, cleansed a cursed team and fan base.

After 120 minutes of soggy soccer Sunday evening, the Philadelphia Union had finally won a playoff game.

“This is one where people are going to remember this game for a long time,” Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin said in his post game press conference. “and not even just fans of the Union.”

Curtin is right.  MLS fans across the country will remember the Union’s 4-3 comeback win over New York Red Bulls. Philadelphia overcame two separate two-goal deficits in an entertainingly chaotic game of soccer. But it’s a game that means so much more to a fan base starved of success.

The history of this team has been built on the memories of failure. There was no postseason success. There were three U.S. Open Cup Final appearances, two of which came at home; all ended in defeat.

The Union never had that moment. They never had that game where every fan will say, “I was there.” They never had that win that draws out a smile 20 years down the road.

Now they do.

“We haven’t had those games where something jumps off the page and stays with you,” said Curtin. “I think tonight you could feel it happening. What people remember and reflect back on is for them to determine, but I have in my mind how special tonight was.”

Curtin isn’t just a passerby in this franchise. He’s a local guy who understands this fan base. He’s been a coach for the Union since 2013 and worked with the academy before then. But he isn’t alone in understanding what this win meant for fans.

The Union’s captain, Alejandro Bedoya, knew the narrative. He used the pressure to fuel performance.

“We had a situation where we could cement ourselves in Union history,” said Bedoya. “Getting the first playoff win, you end it for the club. We’re all excited about that.”

Bedoya and his teammates have etched themselves into Philadelphia lore. They won’t be forgotten among the sellout crowd at Talen Energy Stadium, a crowd which helped fuel a second half surge.

“The crowd was freaking awesome,” said Bedoya. “They were electric. You could hear them when we came back. Every goal that we scored, they were just crazy. You couldn’t hear yourself out there.”

It wasn’t just the cheers which spurred on the Boys in Blue. Down 2-0 early, the coach credits some first half jeers for helping to spark the turnaround.

“After the early negative remarks that came from the Sons of Ben, I think it woke us up a bit,” said Curtin. “They were right in their comments that I can’t say through the microphone right now. It gave us a little bit of life. It gave us some energy in that desperation.”

Desperation carried the Union a long way, according to Union forward Fafa Picault.

“We knew if we didn’t win tonight, we were on vacation,” said Picault. “We know we’re not ready for vacation yet, and we’re not going to be on vacation yet.”

The crowd’s reaction to Picault’s game tying goal in the 78th minute was dwarfed only by midfielder Marco Fabián’s game winner. It was a goal which shook the stadium, and cemented a historic night in Chester, Pa.

“I think our fans can walk a little taller, a little prouder,” said Curtin. “It’s been a long time coming to get that first playoff win. It’s been elusive, and now we finally have it.”

One Comment

  1. a first half that destroyed me, more than the pouring rain at the Piazza last year in the open cup final. i had hope at half time then. i had none on sunday. in my years supporting this team i had never been more disgusted by the effort (and officiating) i saw. props to them for digging deeper that i thought them capable to salvage a win — the most meaningful win — and renew my faith.

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