When I started this whole venture some 11 years ago, I began with an interest on the stadium design. That quickly manifested into an interest with everything surrounding the stadium experience from a fan’s perspective. I have remained steadfast with that through the years as the site has grown, along with my work for Stadium Journey (incredibly going on my third year of writing there and enjoying it thoroughly). Even though the opportunity for a media credential has come up the last couple visits, I have turned it down in favor of a seat in the stands. However, on this trip to see the Philadelphia Union, it was difficult to turn this one down and I decided to give it a shot. The experience assured me that sitting with the fans is where I want to be.
Prior to arrival at PPL Park, I was notified that my name would be on the parking list for the media in Lot B. It was not. Thankfully, the attendants were very nice and when I explained who I was and contacted, they let me through. Unable to find the media gate after walking around the stadium, I finally spotted it, only to reach the table and learn my name was not on the credential list. After a quick minute, staffers tracked down my contact and let me in with a new pass. After finishing my walking and picture-taking of the concourse and interior bowl, it was time to head up to the press box (very strange for me to write that). I reached a three-level room feeling completely out of place as all the writers had their laptops and cell phones at their counter space. Awkward ol’ me took out my Mead 3×5 notepad, camera and program. I tried to absorb it all for a little bit, including sampling the media buffet as I got ready to watch the game from up top. One problem with the actual watching of the game: there was a giant metal post in my way! (see picture below). My seat was most impacted, but there were certainly others in the room that had to deal with this obstruction. I have no idea, maybe this is a common thing since this is a such a new stadium, but it was remarkable to me how the people writing about the game couldn’t completely see the field, while those in the seats had no issue. This partition, in addition to being secluded from the game atmosphere, led me to leave after ten minutes of game-time in search of a seat in the packed stadium. I settled by standing behind the seats on the party deck (which I got into since I was coming downstairs from the media level). From there, I was able to scope out corner seats that were open and moved there for the second half. Needless to say, my original mission and thoughts remain as adamant as ever. No press box, No suites, I want to be in the seating bowl with the fans.
None of this diminishes my thoughts on PPL Park…what a beautiful soccer venue! Set on the banks of the Delaware River in Chester (about 10 miles SW of Philly), the Park’s defining feature is the view of the river and the towering Commodore Barry Bridge. Highly recommend sitting on the west side of the stadium (Sections 102-112) for not only shade, but to also take full advantage of the view. The stadium design is excellent too, with overhangs on the sidelines and a sleek one-level seating bowl that is pleasing to the eye. Philadelphia’s faithful supporters are the Sons of Ben, a group created even before the Union and they were instrumental in getting an MLS franchise. The group is named after Philadelphian Ben Franklin and they sit at the river end, singing and chanting songs like “Four Leaf Clover” “Philadelphia” and “C’mon the U”. The Union have drawn fans very well their first four seasons and the rest of the crowd is fully engaged and quite knowledgeable. Not to mention loud, as evidenced by this roar from a goal. This is a sports mad city and the Union have taken residence with the region’s other big franchises.
The game was thrilling, but not one that ended well for the home side as boos reigned down from people familiar with supplying them. The Union struck first as a long throw in from Sheanon Williams was headed home by Amobi Okugo in the 20th minute. FC Dallas had the equalizer a few minutes later and they went to the break 1-1. In the 68th minute, JeVaughn Watson for Dallas was sent off and Philly spent the late minutes trying to win. Finally, a cross was finished off by sub Aaron Wheeler and the Union looked poised to win with just minutes left. In the 90th minute, FC Dallas was pressing and Williams cleared the line to save the game. It wasn’t until I got home that I saw the replay and it looked to have been a goal. It wasn’t over however as in the dying moments, Dallas was awarded a free kick from midfield. Goalie Zac MacMath attempted a catch on the long ball, lost control and the scramble went Blas Perez’s way who tied the game remarkably in the 95th minute. The Union had one more chance at the end, but failed and the game ended in a 2-2 tie that felt like a loss. It also felt like a loss for me, as this was the first tie I’ve witnessed in 136 prior stadium visits
Look for an official PPL Park review on the right side of the page in the coming days and I’ll have an updated review over at Stadium Journey as well.