CHESTER, Pa. – After doing essentially whatever he wanted on the field Wednesday, Roland Alberg had a little more trouble describing what it was like coming out of the game to a raucous ovation.
“The fans are great,” the Philadelphia Union midfielder said. “Everybody – the fans, the staff, my teammates – I don’t know the word but, yeah, they love me.”
That actually sums it up pretty well.
What’s not to love after the Dutchman registered the second hat trick in franchise history to propel the Union to a thrilling 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire at Talen Energy Stadium?
“I was very happy for him,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “He’s put a lot of work in. And for him to be rewarded, he did a great job tonight getting the goals for us. He carried us, to be honest.”
Curtin added that Alberg “could have had four of five, to be honest” – which may have been a low estimate. On top of a couple of blasts that either just missed the net or were saved by Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, Alberg also hit the shot off the crossbar that led to the Jonathan Campbell own goal that tied the game at 1-1.
He then scored two goals off rebounds to send the Union to a 3-1 halftime lead and completed the hat trick with a penalty kick in the 56th minute, providing Philly with enough of a cushion to withstand a late Fire charge.
“It was phenomenal, man,” midfielder Warren Creavalle told MLSsoccer.com. “For me, he had four goals. He was great tonight. He really propelled us to this victory.”
The only other hat trick in club history came in 2010, when Sebastien Le Toux accomplished the feat in the Union’s first-ever home game.
Alberg, meanwhile, said it was his first hat trick at any level, which he called an “incredible” feeling. Even better, perhaps, was the timing of it. The red-hot Dutch midfielder has now scored a whopping six times over the past seven days, including last week’s 3-2 US Open Cup win over the Harrisburg City Islanders.
And this stretch comes after he played only a combined 15 minutes over the previous eight games.
“In the beginning, it was difficult to find my way,” Alberg said. “I think in the last couple of weeks, it’s been doing well. The team knows the way I play now, so that’s important. I feel comfortable.”
Many of his teammates said they knew Alberg had this kind of talent when he was signed in the offseason from the Dutch club ADO Den Haag, with goalkeeper Andre Blake admitting “it was just a matter of time” for the Dutchman to get his chance.
And Curtin added that Alberg’s improved defensive work is a big reason why he slotted him into the midfield as the Union are looking to fill the big void left behind by Vincent Nogueira.
On top of his hat trick, Alberg made several important clearances tracking back to his own box Wednesday.
“He’s great around the goal, that is for certain,” the Union coach said. “He hits a heavy ball, has a great left foot, makes good decisions around the goal. And it’s good to get him going in terms of his defensive running – he’s really worked hard at that.
“There’s always an adjustment period for everyone coming to this league. It’s a unique league with the running, the dirty running, and he’s really improved.”