CHESTER, Pa. – Let’s call it the undercard to the main event.
Three days before the US national team’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Mexico at Estadio Azteca, the Philadelphia Union hosted the Mexico City-based club Pumas UNAM in a friendly Saturday at PPL Park.
And if that game is any indicator, the US-Mexico contest won’t be very friendly.
Two minutes into Saturday’s match at PPL, there was pushing and shoving – and the chippiness continued until the final whistle blew and the Union had prevailed, 1-0.
“I think any time you play a rival from Mexico, you’re going to have some natural heated moments and certainly you saw that early in the match,” Union manager John Hackworth said following the game. “There’s a lot of pride on both teams and both countries for that matter. That’s absolutely normal.”
Hackworth noted that because there are players on that Union that have played against teams from Mexico or in the US national team system, they knew the game could get feisty even though it was a friendly.
And, the Union manager added, they decided to make sure to send a message early in the game that they weren’t “going to take anything.”
For defender Sheanon Williams and other players, it was all about pride.
“Regardless of friendly, Open Cup, whatever – anyone that comes to PPL Park is in for a fight,” said Williams, one of the few regulars to play all 90 minutes. “That’s just how we’re going to play.”
In the end, the game never escalated beyond some trash talk and light shoving. And both teams featured many youngsters, using the game to gain experience for untested players.
But the Union were certainly happy to pick up the 1-0 win, a result fueled by a second-half goal from Michael Farfan. The club now owns an impressive 5-1-0 all-time record in international friendlies at PPL Park.
“It’s a major point of pride, Hackworth said. “It’s the last thing we said in the locker room before we went out today. We want to try to make sure that we use this home-field advantage. We had to establish it.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.