The Union welcome the Seattle Sounders this evening (5PM/ESPN2) for the first ever game at brand spanking new PPL Park. After playing their first two home dates at the Linc the Union finally move into their new home along the Chester waterfront. All the momentum the Union have built over the opening few months of the season culminates this evening as the Union take on a Sounders team which has fallen on tough times since topping our local XI 2-0 in the Union's first ever game back in March,
Last we saw the Union play a league match prior to the World Cup break they dropped an ugly one 2-0 at Kansas City. Since then they played a friendly against affiliate club Reading United AC, which the Union won 2-0. Hopefully head coach Peter Nowak has spent the break hammering home the importance of keeping eleven men on the field and avoiding the types of defensive breakdowns which have undercut otherwise solid performances thus far.
Nowak has been mixing and matching his lineups over the last few matches. Early season revelation Roger Torres has seen his minutes go down significantly as Nowak has introduced Shea Salinas and Kyle Nakazawa into the midfield. Also, the emergence number one overall pick Danny Mwanga has relegated youngster Jack McInerney to the bench.
Much like how the success of the USMNT hinged on the performance of three or four key contributors (Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard), the Union rely on the creativity and production of Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno, and Fred. When those three are clicking the Union play well.
The Union are going to need to keep tight tabs on the speedy Steve Zakuani, who gave the Union back four fits the last time these two teams played. Freddy Montero also wreaked havoc against the Union in March. The task of containing these two will be made all the more difficult as Michael Orozco will miss the game due to suspension for the red card he picked up against Kansas City. In Freddie Ljundberg and Kasey Keller the Sounders also feature two players with vast international experience.
This match presents a great opportunity for the Union to gauge just how much progress they've made since that opening night loss in Seattle. After notching a win and a tie in their two games at the Linc the Union hope to keep their home record unblemished. Regardless, it's a historic night for soccer in the Delaware Valley.
Union Player Most Likely to See Red: Cristian Arrieta, who will have to deal with Zakuani all night.
Final Score Prediction: The Union win it 2-1 as they feed off the energy of the fans in the first ever game at PPL Park
Photo: Getty Images
Ryan White was whisking by to the visiting locker room when he had to stop.
With huge delight, the long-haired forward hugged a Flyers employee in bright orange athletic gear standing outside the laundry room.
The two exchanged hellos and good wishes before White’s path was impeded again.
None of this was a nuisance. This is what he loved.
“That’s probably the biggest thing I miss here in Philly is the people around the rink are great,” White said late Thursday night inside the Wells Fargo Center. “The guys from the locker room attendants to the security guys to people taking care of my girlfriend and stuff like that. It’s a special place to play and I always felt like I was welcomed here.”
White had just scored his first goal of the 2016-17 season. All offseason, he hoped and planned for the occasion to be in a Flyers sweater. He talked about his endearment for the organization trumping the worth of money elsewhere.
But on Thursday night, he was wearing an Arizona Coyote uniform and, what he called, “putting the final nail in the coffin” of a 5-4 loss for the Flyers.
“It feels good scoring here,” he said.
Not at all how he pictured it.
Playing fourth-line minutes (8:09), White somehow snuck a shot past Steve Mason from a nasty side angle with 4:19 remaining in regulation, making it 5-3 and virtually snuffing another Flyers comeback bid.
“Any time you’re coming back playing your old club, you want to make sure you get a win. … I loved playing as a Flyer, it was a lot of fun playing here,” White said. “Guys over there are a great group of guys, good coaching staff, good people in the organization. It’s just a special place to play.”
It’s where White wanted to be but he holds no ill will towards general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers. Hextall liked and expressed interest in re-signing White, a role-playing fourth-liner, but went out and inked free-agent right winger Dale Weise (four-year, $9.4 million deal), more of a third-line player with similar attributes.
That signaled White’s end with the Flyers after two seasons.
“I think I’d be crazy if I didn’t want to come back here, it just didn’t work out,” White said. “I’m just happy I’ve gotten a chance to play in Phoenix and it’s been pretty good so far.”
White on Wednesday night caught up with former Flyers teammates Radko Gudas and Michal Neuvirth. While with the Flyers, he lived in the same building as the two. They all had dinner and White got to visit Gudas’ baby daughter.
On the ice, White, gritty and physical-minded, made his presence felt. He was penalized in the second period for charging Nick Cousins. He was also called for a delay of game penalty in the final two minutes for closing his hand on the puck. The Flyers scored on the power play, ironically turning White’s goal into the gamer-winner.
“He told me he just wanted the winning goal,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said with a laugh. “So that’s all that counts.”
White enjoyed the rough-and-tough nature against his old friends.
“All those guys play hard, they know how the game goes,” he said. “I had a little conversation with Gudy last night at dinner and he said, ‘You’re going to be running around out there.’ I figured it would be no other way. You’ve got to expect that coming from those guys, they’re a hard group over there.
“Those guys know how I play and they all play the same way, too, so it was fun.”
He also appreciated seeing the Flyers Heritage Night pregame ceremony honoring the organization’s legends, led by late founder Ed Snider. White kept tabs on the Flyers’ home opener last week when a banner commemorating Snider was raised to the rafters.
“I even heard about the first game coming back, it was pretty emotional in here,” he said. “It was a pretty special time playing here with Mr. Snider around. I think he’ll obviously be forever missed and like I said, it was just special to be a part of it.”
White wasn’t sure what to expect in his return. In the end, he wasn’t surprised.
“It’s funny, I thought maybe coming back here, it would be a little bit different,” White said. “But they’re a pretty welcoming group and it’s nice to be here.”
Even if it’s just for one game.
When he was introduced at center ice Thursday night, Rod Brind’Amour, who epitomizes what it meant to be a Flyer perhaps like no other player in franchise history, acknowledged the crowd.
And then the current Carolina assistant coach walked over to former teammate Eric Lindros and hugged him.
There were indeed some awkward moments for the two back in the 1990s, but they remain Flyers forever and this was Heritage Night for the organization’s Hall of Famers in celebration of their 50th Anniversary.
“You know I haven’t seen him in forever, and it was just fun and when we got out there we just said, ‘nice to be back on the ice again’, it’s been a long time and I haven’t seen him,” Brind’Amour explained of the gesture toward Lindros.
“I saw Johnny [LeClair] last year but it was just nice to catch up with these guys and relive some stories, we had a lot of great times so it was nice to see him.”
How ironic that Brind’Amour would get traded to Carolina for a larger centerman in Keith Primeau and eventually after the pain of separation from the Flyers womb had healed, he won a Cup with the Hurricanes.
Ask Roddy and he’ll tell you that Cup should have been won in Philly. He began the season as a member of the 1999-00 team that blew a 3-1 lead to the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals, but was traded at the mid-point.
To this very day, it ranks all-time as the most controversial trade the Flyers ever made. As if the very soul of the organization had been purged.
“Well I mean that’s the way it goes, right?” Brind’Amour said. “We had a great team. We had a great team back then, but trades happen and they were trying to make the team better. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t, but had we stayed together who knows what could have happened.
“I’m just fortunate that I got that Cup because obviously, that is what I played for my whole life. Would it have been great to have it here? Yes, I mean that would have been something special, but that’s life. It doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
“It was just unfortunate we didn’t win because we were one of the best teams in the league there for a long time and things just didn’t work out. It’s hard to win a Stanley Cup, let me tell you.”
He admitted there’s an orange ‘n black spot in his heart that will forever belong to the Flyers. That’s why he interrupted his own season in Carolina to return here for one night of memories.
He also said how much it meant to him last spring when club chairman Ed Snider reached out to him shortly before his death.
“I got a great phone call before Mr. Snider passed and him telling me what he thought I meant to this team,” Brind’Amour said.
“It meant a lot. So I really feel connected to the Flyers' organization again and I’ll take any chance I can to get back here and be a part of it.
“It has meant a lot to me to be back here and be in the fold. I love the alumni … so, any chance to get to reconnect with these guys means the world to me.”
Which is pretty much how Flyers fans felt about him, too.