Featured photo: Paul Rudderow
This was a long time coming.
On Saturday night, two teams from Philadelphia’s Casa Soccer League will take the field to play at PPL Park.
And it’s not just any game. It’s the final of the Kelly Cup, the league tournament named after our friend Shane Kelly, the former Casa player and first division commissioner who was murdered in Fishtown in 2011.
This is a good day. A sad day in some ways, but a good day.
It’s sad because we remember what a great guy Shane was, and he’s not here. We’d all rather have him playing in a game on Pennypack Park’s lousy fields, where Casa used to play, then have a game beneath the lights at PPL Park after the Union game. But he’s not.
But it’s a good day, because we get to remember Shane with a game in his name in the region’s best soccer stadium. Normally, this game would probably be played at YSC Sports in Wayne or a Philadelphia city field.
“The chance to be one of the teams playing the first Casa game at PPL Park formed part of the motivation for our late season surge into the playoffs,” said Brian Shingledecker, a former teammate of mine who now plays for KS Cracovia, who will face Levin’s Minions in the match. “The field at YSC Sports is pretty good, but now we’re talking real grass and probably the best playing surface in the region. Throw in the stands, lights, sideline advertisements, etc. and it makes for a pretty cool atmosphere. The icing on the cake is the chance to play on the same game surface as an MLS team. The chance to play an actual competitive game in this environment is once-in-a-lifetime. So, yeah it’s a big deal and we’ll be pumped.”
How this game got set up
The idea of Casa playing at PPL Park goes back a long way. In fact, the Philly Soccer Page started in part because of it.
Back in 2009, Union ticket representative Anthony Cardillo called me. I had gone to a Gold Cup match in Philadelphia, and apparently my name was in a database. We hit it off, I told him about Casa, the largest amateur adult league in the region, and we decided to get together and talk about ways we could work together. At the time, I was playing in Casa and sitting on its board of directors, so Anthony and I set up a meeting that brought Casa leaders Eric Wirth, Ryan Pine and me into a room with the Union.
That didn’t pay off then. The Union were still figuring out what they were doing and pretty much treated Casa like a youth league, instead of a major nonprofit with well over 1,000 adult members who chose to spend money on soccer. Our biggest hope at the time was help with improving our field situation, and a one-off at PPL was just a bonus. We got nowhere, so we shook hands and parted ways. It helped inspire the idea of the Philly Soccer Page, which I first floated at a Casa board meeting to help raise funds to improve our fields, increase the league’s standing in the region, and of course be a little journalism experiment.
Two years ago, Pine, the current Casa president (and former PSP contributor) resurrected the idea. The Union began an initiative called the Adult Affiliate League program. Casa was one of the first leagues to sign up, Pine said. In exchange for purchasing a season ticket plan, Casa secured player appearances at events and some other features, including the opportunity for Saturday’s game. The partnership has worked out well, notably during a fundraiser to raise funds for medical treatment for Casa player Mike McKinney, who had been struck with brain cancer. (McKinney’s cancer is now in remission, Pine says.) Union midfielder Danny Cruz graciously spent the day with the Casa crew at Jon’s Bar on South Street to help the cause.
Previewing the game
Next up is Saturday night’s game at PPL Park, with kickoff will be 35 minutes after the final whistle of the Union-Colorado game, Union spokesperson Aimee Cicero said. That should be around 9:30.
The Kelly Cup draws the top two teams from each division, with the exception being a play-in game among the first division teams. Levin’s Minions won the regular season title in Casa’s top division. Play-in winners KS Cracovia are a regular league powerhouse started by team captain Eryk Tylek and other players of Polish heritage, and they’re well-known as a talented team with a penchant for picking up more than their share of bookings. It should be a great match.
“Both teams play at a high level, with several players on each side possessing serious soccer resumes with college, semi-pro, and even professional experience,” Pine said. “The event should be a wonderful conclusion to the best Casa season yet and will be attended by over 1,000 Casa members.”
This will be the second time adult amateur teams have played at PPL Park, with the first being last year. If you’re wondering why we didn’t write about it the first time, it’s because we didn’t know. We found out about this game because PSP maintains links and friendships with so many Casa players. The Union are not promoting this game in any way, which is rather confounding.
Anyone who wants to attend has to buy a ticket to the Union-Colorado game. Each of Casa’s 50 teams has been allotted 20 tickets to the game, with the league having purchased them before the season through a $200 increase in team registration fees. So this isn’t charity. Casa is basically buying field time at PPL Park.
Fortunately, it also means that everyone who attends the Union game can stay longer to watch the Kelly Cup final.
You should check it out if you can. As far as I’m concerned, the Kelly Cup is one of the best events ever to be held at PPL Park.