Monday, June 29, 2015

Montreal Impact 2 at Philadelphia Union 2 - June 27, 2015


Major League Soccer is celebrating its 20th season this year and despite Chivas USA folding after last season, the league is in good financial health and ready to join the Big 4 as a true major league sport. It won't be long till sports road trippers include the 20 MLS venues in their goal to visit all major league stadiums. With the NHL expanding in the next couple of years and MLS adding teams in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, and Minnesota, Club 122 will become Club 148 for the next generation.

For me though, I can't wait that long, so I'm going to try to visit every MLS pitch over the next three seasons. I've only seen games in three active venues so far (New York Red Bulls, NYCFC, and DC United) which means 17 to go between now and 2017.

The closest remaining stadium was PPL Park in Chester, PA, home of the Philadelphia Union so I looked for a weekend when both they and the Phillies were home. The last weekend in June happened to fit the bill perfectly, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (home of the Rocky statue) had a new exhibition going on, so I was able to convince my wife to come along. Which was a mistake.



The Union were hosting the Montreal Impact on Saturday night, for which the weather forecast had been for rain. I told my wife to head back, but she decided to tough it out, another mistake. After spending the afternoon at the museum we headed over to 30th Street Station to grab a SEPTA train (once an hour, so don't miss it) to Chester, from where a free shuttle bus would take us to the stadium. There was a steady drizzle falling as we made our way along the Schuylkill River but by the time the train reached Chester, we realized the forecast had understated things, as we emerged into a torrential downpour with gusty winds rendering umbrellas quite useless. It was too late to turn around so we waited with several other morons who had nothing better to do than get soaked on a Saturday evening.



The shuttle dropped us off a couple of minutes from PPL Park and by then, the surrounding streets had huge puddles, making the walk to the stadium all the more pleasant. At the stadium we found a small overhang under which we could stay relatively dry while we waited for my friend Andrew, who was on his way from the rained out Phillies game. There were a few other fans around, including one woman who lamented the free tickets her husband had received.

Andrew arrived a few minutes before kickoff and we vainly looked for a scalper, but of course, they were taking the day off. So we forked over $27 at the box office for the cheapest ticket (MLS has entered the Big 4 in terms of pricing!) and made our way into the stadium after having to give up our umbrellas. Yes, no umbrellas are allowed inside and all bags were searched for this contraband item, with those in possession of one forced to dump it by the gate. This policy is not unusual and many venues prohibit umbrellas, but I really don't understand the reasoning. Why not ask fans to keep their umbrellas closed? Oh yes, now I remember. Fans are idiots and can't follow the most basic instructions. Ironically, an umbrella would have been useless on this day as the winds would have destroyed it, not that there were any fans to disturb anyway, as you can below. My wife was particularly upset as she thought that those crafty umbrella thieves that plague Philadelphia would steal ours, but fortunately they too were taking the day off.



There were worries that the match might be postponed but the Impact had already several games moved to later in the schedule after their run to the CONCACAF Champions League final, so this one would be held as planned. The rain was heavier than any other sporting event I have attended, and although we stood on the concourse atop the seating bowl but despite being covered, it offered no protection from the elements. Most fans had brought ponchos but we travel light and had nothing of the sort, leaving us at the mercy of Mother Nature. It was tough to complain though as the players were soaked by the time they had lined up for the national anthems.



You will note the two puddles in the midfield circle above, it gave the impression that the pitch was waterlogged but in fact the opposite was true. The drainage system worked perfectly and the field was not a factor during the game, other than when a few players slipped while trying to shoot. I had expected a 0-0 draw, but instead was treated to one of the more entertaining events I have seen in some time.



The Union scored in the 7th minute when Eric Ayuk (top center, above), a rookie from Cameroon who had played in the lower divisions in Thailand last season, one-timed a beautiful touch pass from C.J. Sapong, beating a helpless Evan Bush from the top of the box. Twenty minutes later the Impact knotted things up as Ignacio Piatti dribbled past a couple of defenders and found the far corner behind  Brian Sylvestre, a great long-range effort.



Halftime allowed fans a chance to dry off and when the second half started, the rain had slowed somewhat, but the action on the pitch did not. First, Impact captain Patrice Bernier received a second yellow card to send him to the actual showers in the 67th minute. Montreal was not fazed though, taking the lead just two minutes later. Former Union Jack McInerney (above), a substitute who was booed upon entering the game, took a breakaway pass from Andres Romero, turned around Richie Marquez and beat Sylvestre, again from the top of the box. Five minutes after that though, the Union had a corner that was cleared to Fred outside the box and he unloaded a wicked shot that was saved by Bush. The rebound fell to Maurice Edu who was all alone and tucked the ball home to tie the game at 2. The Union had the advantage with the extra man, but just a couple of minutes after the goal, Ayuk was sent off for his second yellow and the rest of the game was uneventful.



There were 4 minutes of extra time, during which we were making our way to the exits to avoid the umbrella rush, so my final shot of the score is from a bad angle, but we did stay until the end. The game highlights are here and worth a look, some great goals despite the weather. Upon reflection, a much more memorable event than it would have been had the weather been better. Still, I'd like to return to PPL Park on a sunny day (the Gold Cup 3rd Place match is there on July 25 which is a possibility if Canada makes it) as I didn't get to fully enjoy what it has to offer.

Next Up

A quiet month on tap for July, with a short trip to North Carolina next weekend to see a couple of minor league parks and my first Major League Lacrosse game, and then the following weekend in Baltimore for the Gold Cup quarterfinals as well as a return to Nationals Park for Star Wars Day. As mentioned, if Canada makes the final four of that tournament, I'll be returning to Philadelphia to watch that match (the final is at Lincoln Financial Field on July 26). As always, keep following along to see what transpires in the world of sports road trips!

Best,

Sean

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