CHESTER, Pa. -- A food piece I wrote for The Press of Atlantic City in September last year featured the opening sentence, "I needed to be with my people again." I was referring to returning to Italy for the second time in a few years, but I got the same vibe on Wednesday night while visiting PPL Park here for the Philadelphia Union vs. Everton friendly.
I certainly wasn't the only one there ... the attendance was 18,582 ... to see the Union get past English Premier League side Everton 1-0. Add on the 57,305 who braved the blazing heat at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday night to witness the Union represent so well in a 2-1 loss to Spanish La Liga side Real Madrid, and you have some serious numbers to crunch.
Think about that for just a minute ... more than 75,000 people in the tri-state area bought tickets to watch professional men's soccer in the last week. That figure would have been staggering about five years ago, but it's nothing out of the ordinary now. Top-notch soccer has flexed its commercial muscles for a while, especially in this region.
But, right now, I'm slightly more interested in the spiritual, cleansing side of soccer attendance this summer. Last season, I was able to get to more than 20 Union matches ... including a pair of early season, freezing away games in New York (league and cup) as well as the team's first-ever match that took place in cold, rainy Seattle.
I do think the people who run the club often forget the dedication (and precious dollars) that we fans apply to this team. There's a lot of lip service otherwise ... from the top of the Union organization on down, and I can vouch for this first-hand ... but such words often can ring empty. For myriad reasons, I haven't been out to PPL Park much this year.
Mostly, it's been about my soon-to-be 14-year-old twin sons playing Super Y soccer for the Ocean City Nor'easters in the Mid-Atlantic region since early June. The dates almost always often conflict with Union matches, and I miss the company of my section-mates Andy Stubbs and Dave Winans very much. And, sometimes you've got to be a husband instead of a soccer fan.
But, being in PPL Park refreshed me Wednesday night. It was good to see a young and hungry Union team take the play to an established Premier League side like Everton and be rewarded for such positive tactics. However, there's no doubt that the Union, in the full bloom of the summer of Major League Soccer's calendar, ruled the fitness equation. Everton were just a step behind all night.
I had tickets (great seats ... just 10 rows from the field) for the Real Madrid match Saturday night at the Linc, but I sold them in the end. While it might seem like sacrilege to some, my sons had a Super Y match late Saturday in northern New Jersey followed by a home match in Ocean City at 10 this morning. The heat, travel and turnaround time (not to mention the money, just three nights after Everton!) were going to be too much for the boys and I to deal with.
But you never want to miss the opportunity to see a team like Real Madrid in action. Thankfully, I had some surrogates in the stand texting and calling me with updates. Steve Miller, a fine soccer coach who lives in Egg Harbor Township, took his two daughters to the match and checked in by phone at halftime. Nor'easters coaches Dan Ash and Steve Thurlby also were on hand to witness the spectacle that is a big soccer game at the Linc.
I know I'm getting out to at least one more Union game this season ... a road tilt at RedBull Arena in Harrison, N.J. It's a Thursday night ESPN game, and I hope to catch up with my friend John Harkes, the television commentator, before the match. Mark Melhorn, who serves as The Press' sports editor, is traveling up with me. It's the last match of the season, and a whole lot could be on the line.