CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union will conclude their inaugural season at PPL Park on Saturday when they host the Eastern Conference-leading New York Red Bulls in front of a sellout crowd in a nationally televised broadcast that promises fireworks, both literally and figuratively.
For Union assistant coach John Hackworth, playing at home has been a special event all year for his team.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Hackworth about the team's home venue. “We knew that coming into the year and having our own stadium, it was going to be a cool. What we didn’t know is the feeling that we would get playing here and the way the fans have come out and been so boisterous and organized and comical and how that would energize us. It’s been pretty special.
“People have asked me what my favorite stadium is in MLS, and I’m trying not to be biased, but this is really a great place to play.”
As great as PPL Park is for the Union, according to captain Danny Califf, it’s just as tough for visitors to play there given the intense atmosphere created by the Philadelphia soccer fans who fill it every weekend.
“[PPL Park is] very Philly,” said Califf. “It’s probably one of the most challenging environments for teams to come into and play, with the fans being right on top of you. It’s really cool.”
Having garnered only 28 points in their first season thus far, the Union know they could have done better. Twenty-one of those 28 have come at PPL Park, something Hackworth believes is due to the culture created when visitors have to come and play in Philadelphia.
“[Saturday is] the last home game for us and we feel like we’ve played a certain brand of soccer here, for sure,” said Hackworth of the home matches this season. “It’s an attacking style with great mobility and that’s what we’re going to try and make sure we do against New York.
“We’re kind of disappointed that we don’t have more points or more wins, but we’ve kind of established that the way we play here is something that’s different from that.”
Looking to build off of their last match against the Galaxy, Califf expects the Red Bulls to get a stiff test from his team.
“I think we’re going to look to try and play similar to how we played against Los Angeles,” said Califf of facing RBNY. “We’ll do our thing, but we certainly have to be aware of those guys.
“They are a quality team, and it’s not just their Designated Players,” he added. “They’ve got a lot of quality throughout. We’re going to have to come out and play really well with a lot of energy, and I think we’ll do that.”
Shane Evans covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @shanEvans.