Union Fire Up Home Crowd, Silence the Sounders

Union Fire Up Home Crowd, Silence the Sounders

It seemed somewhat fitting that Sounders FC would be in town for the Union's PPL Park inaugural game. The Union played their first ever match in Seattle, and a budding long-distance rivalry began. At least that's the way some of us fans saw it. Seattle is the high-water mark for new franchises and their fans. The Sounders' W-L record this season may not show it, but their attendance mark does. Throw in a few dives by their star player in that season opener and our sights were set.

The Union's showing at Lincoln Financial Field was spectacular, but we've been waiting to see what the atmosphere would be like at their permanent home, PPL Park in Chester. Yesterday we finally got that opportunity. 

The following is a random compilation of thoughts on the game and the stadium atmosphere. 

Enrico, Gootman, and I made our way to the Chester waterfront at about 3, and the tailgating was well underway. I was a little mindful about traffic and the overall parking situation, but we didn't run into any glitches, pulling right into Lot A and opening the cooler. Holy hell was it hot down there yesterday. I wondered how it might affect the game and the crowd's energy. On our way inside, we walked under the Commodore Barry Bridge, which provides a great man-made landscape backdrop for the stadium. 
One gripe I had was that I wasn't allowed to bring bottled water inside with me. Enrico and Goot got in with theirs, but security told me it wasn't allowed. With $4 bottles in the stadium on a mid-90s day, water should be allowed... 

Inside, Enrico pointed out that the park had a collegiate feel. The architecture is simple, with broad walls and walkways under the seating. We were stopped just before getting to our section, and temporary fences were put in place right in front of us for the players to come out of the locker room and onto the field. I would have liked to have made it to our seats for that, but it was pretty cool seeing them run out underneath. They were amped. 

Our seats in the supporters section were sun-drenched, but we knew going in that'd be the case. The field looked great, and it's impossible to overstate how close the seats are to it. The Barry Bridge behind the webbed metal "roof" to the sidelines was a great sight, and from a few rows above ours, you could turn around and see the river.
There wasn't much wind yesterday, but I'm looking forward to sitting at the breezy end for future games this summer.

The fans around us were all friendly and full of energy despite the heat. We're toward the corner, so the singing wasn't as loud away from the main SoB guys, but the chants were pretty good. Most of the songs are OK, but I'd add two to the mix: Under The Bridge and Down By The River Take Me To The River (Neil's song is great, but kind of a bad fit aside from the title. Al Green/Talking Heads fits a lot better). 

As far as the game is concerned, what more could we ask for? The Union romped the Sounders, even more than the decisive 3-1 result would indicate. They controlled the possession and tempo of the game, and perhaps inspired by USA's showing in the World Cup, they were able to come from behind after letting up a first half goal. 

We got to see the best possible outcomes from penalty kicks. Sebastien Le Toux absolutely buried his, and Chris Seitz set the place on fire by making the rare save on a PK. Seitz had a rocky start to his Union career, but his confidence has been on the rise, and he was a major force in yesterday's game. The crowd was enthralled with him, chanting for every save and challenge. So great to see the kid playing bold but smart in the box. 

Danny Mwanga got the start, and we thought he had a brilliant goal buried in the top right corner in the first half. Turned out it went just wide, hitting the pole that pinned the net up; the visual effect of it ricocheting down behind the goal looked to us at the river end like it was in. Danny would get, and take advantage of, another opportunity in the second half though, taking a Le Toux feed and sending the supporters section into a frenzy. Fred, frequently seen with a beaming smile on this day, also scored for the Union. When he was subbed off late in the game, the place went nuts for him. 

Is it any wonder the Union scored all three of their goals while shooting on the goal that sits below the supporters? 
After the game players from both sides gave respectful claps to the fans, who remained in the stands for a while to celebrate the win. The Union players made their way around the pitch, grabbing the outstretched hands of their supporters, and enjoying every second of it. After they made their way into the tunnel, the supporters section was still full and loud, and the players came back out for more. They'd earned it, and so had the fans. I don't remember ever seeing players in any sport so happy after a regular season game, and it was a great move to share that feeling with the fans rather than in the locker room. 

Can you tell I had a great time? Writing this thing like a fifth grade report on My Trip to the Soccer Stadium... We'll have more on the park itself in future posts. This time we just wanted to go in and get a little crazy, not think about anything but what's right in front of us. 

Oh, and Freddie Ljunberg got booed to no end. We'll take pride in that, thank you very much. The fans displayed the trademark Philly vitriol, but also the knowledge of the game, remembering Ljunberg's intolerable diving act in the season opener out in Seattle. He definitely heard about it. The Ro-gaine chants for Kasey Keller were kinda lame though.

After a huge letdown to our soccer weekend from the US side on Saturday, the Union pulled us back up and gave us an idea of what we can expect down by the river this summer and in the years ahead. Think they like playing at home? Two of their three wins have come in Philly, with their only other home game ending in a dramatic tie (yes, there is such a thing).  

I'm probably forgetting a lot (you can probably figure out why), and my "recap" of the actual game action leaves a lot to be desired. I recommend checking out Dave Zeitlin's account, Judah Levine's, and this amazingly shot gallery at the Union's FB. 

Watch Delware 87ers legend Nate Robinson dribble through a player's legs

Watch Delware 87ers legend Nate Robinson dribble through a player's legs

Delaware 87ers living legend Nate Robinson pulled a new one out of his bag of tricks on Saturday.

Akin to your dog running through the doggie door and back into your house, the 5-foot-9 Robinson took matters into his own hands when he was in a jam and dribbled *THROUGH* the legs of 7-foot-2 Raptors 905 big man Edy Tavares.

Like put his entire body through Tavares' legs while dribbling.

No, seriously, check this out.

Call him up to the Sixers right now just for that. All of us, especially Shaq, need to see him do that to JaVale McGee on Monday when the Warriors are in town.

Outside of that move, it was not a good night for Robinson as he finished with just three points on 1 of 6 from the field.

The Robinson comeback tour in the First State has gotten off to an OK start. He's averaging eight points through four games with the 87ers.

But who cares about points if you can do cool stuff like dribble your whole body through another dude's legs?

Commence the Justin Anderson era

Commence the Justin Anderson era

Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers came seconds away from not just their second straight win since their already shorthanded team was further decimated over the All-Star break, but their second straight pantsing of New York after what should've been an easy Knicks win. Down double-digits for most of the second half -- and trailing by 12 with just five minutes to go -- the Ballers battled back to take a one-point lead on a Jahlil Okafor hook shot with nine seconds to go. But Carmelo Anthony was unstoppable virtually all night, and he victimized Robert Covington at the buzzer with a baseline jumper that avenged the T.J. McConnell shot a couple months earlier. Final score: Knicks 110, 76ers 109. 

Hard to get mad at this L when you're just overwhelmed with love for everyone on the roster. Dario Saric continued his awesome February with 19-15-5 -- the first Sixers rookie to put up those numbers in a half-century -- even though his shot wasn't really falling (7-17 FG, 1-5 3PT). That's what's really remarkable about Dario's recent hot streak, and what separates it from, say, Nik Stasukas' impossibly scorching late 2016 -- he's averaging 20 a game (along with nine rebounds and three assists) over his last seven, and he's shooting over 50% for that span, but he's doing it while only hitting 31% from deep. The fact that he's scoring so prolifically without getting a lot of lucky bounces means it's not just an unsustainable fluke, and that Dario's gonna be a problem for defenses in this league for a long time. 

Speaking of Nik -- he had some embarrassing moments in this one, including a thunderously missed dunk and a thrown-away pass while leading a 3-on-1 break, but he redeemed himself with some big shots in the fourth quarter, and ended up with a nice 14 points on 5-9 shooting. It's his seventh game in a row scoring double digits -- all since moving back to the bench, which is particularly remarkable when you consider that in his 21 games before that as a starter, he only scored in double-digits five times. His starting/reserve splits for the season remain absolutely absurd, but if his NBA destiny is just to be an awesome seventh man for us, we'll certainly take it. 

And as much crap as Jahlil Okafor has gotten from Sixers fans the last few weeks -- few more than me -- as the unlucky child left behind in the Sixers' divorce with Nerlens Noel, I gotta say: He was awesome in this one. 28 points and ten rebounds, and even though the Knicks paraded to the rim early (Okafor-Saric frontcourt, yikes), Jahlil got stronger as the game went on both sides of the ball, in a way I don't ever remember seeing from him before. He saved a good deal of his damage for the fourth quarter, with 11 points, including two absolutely gigantic buckets late, including the hook on the Sixers' scattered final possession that could've been the game-winner. The Nerlens trade will never be justifiable, but if Jah can keep playing like this, it'll certainly take some of the sting out.

So much more to rave about in this one: T.J. McConnell was as clutch late as Jah, even hitting a rare three-pointer (just his second of 2017) to nearly become a repeat Knicks-killer. Covington couldn't handle Carmelo (37 points on 15-25 shooting) at really any point in this one -- thus putting him in good company with every other Sixers wing defender of the past decade -- and his own shot wasn't falling, but he still powered his way to 20 and 10, and had three steals, making it six straight games with at least that many, the longest such streak in the NBA this season. Sergio Rodriguez had about the worst game a point guard could have (2 points on 1-8 shooting, with just one assist and terrible defense), but he's just about the only Sixer you didn't want to hug after this one. 

And oh yeah, welcome aboard Justin Anderson. Our latest acquisition didn't get to do a ton for us in this one, playing just three minutes and attempting one shot (a badly missed corner three), but he had some eye-catching moments on defense, and gave us all some nice Jason Richardson flashbacks wearing the #23. Looking forward to getting to know you, J-And.