Everyone’s doing their annual best and worst lists for soccer, sports, celebrity gossip, Tiger Woods mistresses — you name it, and there’s a list for it. But what about Philly soccer? Well, we sort of did something like this a few weeks back, but not really.
So here it is, a proper, pulled-straight-from-the-crevice-of-my-pants list on the best and worst of Philly soccer for 2010.
The only ground rules: It had to happen in Philly or directly and specifically affect Philly. (And because it’s so obvious and overdone, I’m not counting Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria. That’s the best American soccer moment of the year, wherever you are, and the celebrations here were insane, just like everywhere else. I had a smile on my face watching it again before writing this post.)
PPL Park’s opening
PPL Park’s opening was great for multiple reasons. First, the Union played their best game ever up to that point, winning 3-1 over Seattle.
But more importantly, it opened up one of the nation’s best soccer venues. No, I haven’t been to every stadium in MLS, but I’ve been to a few of the better ones, like the Home Depot Center outside Los Angeles and Toyota Park near Chicago. PPL Park is as good or better a venue than each, based solely on structure, location, and views. Like many, I wish the stadium was in Philly, but that location beneath the Commodore Barry Bridge and next to the Delaware River is beautiful enough to balance it out. It’s simply a terrific place to watch a game, even before you factor in the atmosphere.
But of course, you have to consider the atmosphere, and it’s one of the best in American soccer. The Sons of Ben obviously drive the train, but they’re not the only passionate fans out there. Here’s hoping the Union continue to keep ticket prices affordable (I paid $320 for 18 games on my 2011 season ticket) and do whatever’s necessary to keep it fan-accessible and full next year.
55,407 watch U.S.-Turkey at the Linc
Yes, Philly can turn out fans for a big game. Yes, it can be awesome. And we even won. Here’s hoping we get World Cup qualifiers in the next cycle.
The Philadelphia Independence gain street cred
I’m not sure at what point it happened, probably because I wasn’t following them at first, but sometime over the summer, word started getting around that the Independence were hellishly fun to watch. Attacking, fluid soccer, several national team players (Heather Mitts, Lori Lindsey, Amy Rodriguez), one crazy Icelandic fullback (Holfridur Magnusdottir), a team that wins game, and an entertaining coach in Paul Riley, the eventual WPS Coach of the Year. The fact that they made the league title game just iced the cake.
Admittedly, I didn’t expect much from this team coming into the season. The messy divorce with the team’s co-founder and original coach and general manager, Matt Driver, made the Independence seem totally dysfunctional, considering Driver was their public face, had played and coached at high levels of the game, and had serious soccer street cred locally thanks to his key roles in local USL and PDL clubs. But sure enough, the Independence made a great go of it with some excellent players, and Driver’s replacement proved up to the task.
The first Union shutout
The day the silliness ended. A shutout. Finally. It only took two-thirds of the season, but once the Union got it in on Sept. 11 against Chicago, they were suddenly a different team. There was a lot more confidence, and they began their best stretch of the season. It probably caused a lot more season tickets to get renewed than might have otherwise.
Penn’s quietly terrific season
This was quiet only because the Delaware Valley was on soccer overload this year, thanks to two new pro teams and the World Cup, but Penn put together a great year as the best team based in Philadelphia itself. One thing to watch will be whether the men’s team can continue and improve on that great form in the coming years. If they do, it obviously provides a low-price option to watch soccer inside city limits.
Equally as significant, you could see the Union work closely with Penn (and other Big 5 schools with decent soccer programs, like Villanova and Temple) to cultivate home-grown players. D.C. United’s signing of top University of Maryland defender Ethan White this month meant they got a top college player outside the confines of the MLS SuperDraft. The ability to do that could be a great incentive for the Union to tie in with local Division 1 soccer programs, and it could make those schools’ games more interesting to watch if you know you’re watching future players for your local pro team at play.
Honorable mention: The sick Torres-to-Le Toux connection for a goal against Houston; the Union’s first road win (with the Shea Salinas highlight reel goal against Houston earlier in the season); the growth of Philly’s biggest adult amateur league to 46 teams in just its 4th year of existence; AC Reading United’s run to the USL PDL semifinals; 15-year-old local kid Zach Pfeffer signs to play for the Union.
Joe Biden and the Union’s first goal
You just can’t say enough about how much it sucked to miss the Union’s first-ever goal, thanks to insane security lines outside the Linc due to Vice President Joe Biden’s visit for the opening kick . It’s fun to blame Biden, in the same way it’s fun for The Onion to write about him washing his Trans-Am in front of the White House. But really, more blame belongs to the folks who run Lincoln Financial Field, who were woefully unprepared to host the sporting event that was the home opener. They could take some tips on how to host a game from the crew at PPL Park.
That said, the “F*ck Joe Biden” chant was kind of funny, wasn’t it?
A near-empty PPL Park for the U.S. national team games there
There were a lot of good reasons why nobody came to those two games in October, which you can read about here. The no-shows were completely understandable, but let’s be honest: It kind of sucked to have that on national TV.
No Independence at PPL Park
Logic would dictate that, if you open one of the nation’s best soccer venues in the region where a professional soccer team plays, that soccer team would play there. But nope, we didn’t see the Philadelphia Independence play at PPL Park once this year. Instead, they were left to play at some dismal college field with American football lines on it. Nothing against American football, but that’s weak.
The Union should make it a priority to schedule a few doubleheaders with the Independence at PPL Park. Yes, it is in the best interests of MLS for WPS to fold — less competition for your soccer dollars — but it’s in the better interests of the Union to make friends of the Independence fans, rather than marginalize them by marginalizing their team. Doubleheaders are great events — I had a great time at the Gold Cup doubleheader last year — and the Union are likely to sell more single-game tickets for them. Plus, it just looks good.
The mishandling of Chris Seitz
Drop a reported $200,000 on a young player in MLS, where that’s a lot of money. Make him your starter with no competition from experienced veterans. (No, 6 games in 3 seasons for Brad Knighton do not make him an “experienced veteran” in the way most people would use the term.) Watch him struggle and completely lose his confidence. Bench him. Inexplicably start him the last game and watch him take a beating. Leave him unprotected in the expansion draft but then pull him back as soon as you can while leaving the guy you benched him for unprotected, clearly signalling who’s more important. Then let him go in the Re-Entry Draft for nothing, only to watch the team that picks him trade him for an amateur draft pick. The Chris Seitz saga was just a bizarre cycle that’s the major blight on the Union’s player personnel dealings this year, which otherwise (the loss of Shea Salinas aside) were very good.
The 2022 World Cup goes to … Qatar?
We were so getting the World Cup. Not just in the U.S., but in Philly. The region has great soccer venues, the most supporting petition signatures of any U.S. city seeking to host World Cup games, and naturally a major metropolis. Then Sepp Blatter’s brigade of liars, thieves and idiots sold the 2022 World Cup to a country that can’t even host it in summer and has no soccer heritage but lots of oil money. The next time Blatter blathers about MLS needing an August-to-May schedule, at least we’ll have concrete evidence, beyond just knowing it in our gut, that he’s full of crap.
Dishonorable mention: Isn’t it enough to have five crappy things? (Haven’t I written enough about Shea Salinas?) Let’s leave it at that. There was much more good than bad this year. Happy New Year!