Someday, this might be the moment we all look back on and say this was when it all started to come together.
Philadelphia Union vs. Seattle Sounders, 60th minute at PPL Park, Sunday, June 27, 2010. The first match in the new stadium. Seattle forward Pat Noonan lines up to take a penalty kick after a clear dive by Fredy Montero draws a penalty call.
Before him stands goalkeeper Chris Seitz, the young backstop around whom Union manager Peter Nowak chose to build his defense. Just 23 years old, Seitz has come in with huge expectations, struggled in the early games but recently begun to find his footing.
Now, with the score tied at 1, the game is potentially on the line. The crowd is on their feet, the fans cheering Seitz before the kick.
Noonan steps, strikes and sends a shot to Seitz’s right.
Seitz goes right, dives and stops it before falling on the ball.
The crowd goes wild. Defenders Danny Califf and Jordan Harvey go hug their goalkeeper, but the match goes on. Seitz eventually gets rid of the ball. A standard “Philadelphia!” chant starts.
Then, a new chant arises from the crowd, one that has never been heard in Pennsylvania before:
“SEITZ! SEITZ! SEITZ! SEITZ!”
Philadelphia went on to win the match 3-1, dominating almost from the get-go. Goals by Sebastien Le Toux, Fred and Danny Mwanga secured the win in a game in which the Union outshot the Sounders 14-4 and controlled possession for most of the game. There were a lot of factors that led to this win, but the most memorable among them, surely, must be the moment Chris Seitz buried the ghosts of mistakes past and staked a claim as a core, immovable part of Philadelphia Union’s foundation.
Here’s what else stood out.
- Sebastien Le Toux + Danny Mwanga + Alejandro Moreno = goals.
Nowak has been playing with the three in different roles to see how best they mesh. Today, it was Moreno and Mwanga up top with Le Toux playing mostly on the right wing. At times, Mwanga and Le Toux swapped roles, with Mwanga dropping back to midfield. The combination clearly worked. Le Toux’s speed and hustle took him up and down the field, and the occasional flip-flopping with Mwanga seemed to trip up Seattle’s defenders.
No play exemplified the three players’ strengths like the third goal. Moreno took the ball and chipped a beautiful through ball that Le Toux ran under down the right wing, somehow staying onside. He attacked Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller one on one but, rather than shoot, he dropped it to Mwanga making his run. Mwanga shot, Keller saved, and Mwanga buried the rebound.
- Fred was flawless — at center midfield!
Over and over, we’ve seen Fred on the wing, seemingly out of position. He doesn’t look to fly down the wings or shoot, seems more concerned with holding possession, and veers too much toward the center. What a surprise, considering he’s played center midfield for most of his professional career.
Well, he got the start there Sunday, with rookie Kyle Nakazawa taking a seat, and Fred played the best game of his Union career. Forget his opportunistic goal. What stood out most was how he dominated possession in the center of the field, dribbling through the Seattle defense with ease and rarely, if ever, losing the ball. He put an eye on goal instead of backward, and he was dangerous on the attack. Overall, a terrific game. His goal was just a bonus.
- This still may not have been the Union’s best lineup, though it was their best performance.
Cristian Arrieta had a good game filling in for Orozco, but it’s clear Orozco is a necessity for this team. Shea Salinas started at right back rather than at right wing, but if Orozco’s return nudges Arrieta back to right back, Salinas can easily slide in at left midfield in place of Roger Torres. That preserves the three-forward setup that worked so well tonight, albeit with Le Toux playing as a winger.
- The Union remain unbeaten at home.
Three home matches. No losses. Twelve of their remaining 18 regular season matches are at home. The playoffs are still a possibility.
- The home field: Not bad.
No matter where you sit in PPL Park, you have a good view of the action. Sight lines are clear. It’s such a small stadium that you simply can’t get too far away, which makes it a good place to watch a game.
Still, the stadium in Chester is definitely too small, but you can see clearly how more seats can be added at The River End, which looks a little awkward because its highest seats are lower than those along the sidelines. Expect an expansion there if support remains solid, hopefully with a scoreboard, because with only one scoreboard (opposite the River End), one quarter of the fans can’t see it.
The announced attendance was 18,755, which denotes a sellout, but there were clearly sizable batches of empty seats in sections 112 and 123. (There were also scattered empty seats elsewhere, but that wasn’t so significant.) It’s possible those tickets could have been held by scalpers, who were out before the game hawking tickets.
By the way, the $9 hot dog? Wow. That’s a big hot dog. Lots of dirty jokes about that one.
GK Chris Seitz: 8
He didn’t just stop the PK. He made a terrific sliding save on an attack in the second half and had another point blank save earlier. The goal was tough to stop but not impossible.
LB Jordan Harvey: 5
Could have gotten a foot on the deflected ball that Noonan took and turned into a goal at the end of the first half. An ordinary game overall.
CB Danny Califf: 7
Solid match. In proper position most of the night, helping stifle Seattle’s attack.
CB Cristian Arrieta: 6
Nearly scored on a blistering header off a second half corner, with Keller’s great save denying him. Played well most of the match, but was there, walking helplessly while Noonan was nearby taking his successful shot on goal. He likely had no chance to stop it, but it was illustrative once again of how he gives up on plays too soon.
RB Shea Salinas: 6
Seattle’s speedy left winger, Steve Zakuani, was invisible, and that’s largely because Salinas is apparently just as fast and kept him in check. Had some solid crosses on the attack in the first half but wasn’t the same offensive factor in the second, with the exception of his pass to Moreno that led to the penalty.
LM Roger Torres: 6
Torres played within himself and helped the Union do such a good job of maintaining possession in the first half. Subbed out in the 63rd.
CM Fred: 9
The man of the match. See above. Easily his best game of the season.
CM Stefani Miglioranzi: 6
Migs continuously helped break Seattle’s rhythm with good positioning on defense.
RM Sebastien Le Toux: 7
Seattle has to be regretting they made him available in the expansion draft. Le Toux was free to float around the field, but he continued to play within his limits. One goal on a penalty kick, one assist, and a third goal he helped create. Not bad, not bad at all.
FW Alejandro Moreno: 6
Was erroneously announced in the pre-game as a defender, but it continues to be his passing and hold-up play at the fore that creates goals. Drew the penalty that led to the first goal and created the third goal with his great chip pass.
FW Danny Mwanga: 7
His persistence netted him the third goal, but his near-miss on a beautiful curving shot in the first half was a pretty thing to watch. Makes the right runs, has a nose for the goal, and held possession well.
MF Andrew Jacboson: 5
Didn’t seem to have much of an impact in 30 minutes of his play, but he also didn’t do anything to hurt the Union.
MF Amobi Okugo: 5
Came in late, didn’t have time to do much.
FW Nick Zimmerman: n/a
Same as Okugo. Came on in the 87th.
(For more of Daniel Gajdamowicz’s photos from the match, click here or on our Flickr stream on the right sidebar.)