Updated: Tuesday, September 29, 2015, 3:01 AM
THE HISTORIC football rivalry between Army and Navy continues Dec. 12 at Lincoln Financial Field, but it won't be the only Philly-flavored matchup between the schools in 2015, as their soccer teams will face off 7 p.m. Friday in the Army-Navy Cup IV at PPL Park.
Seventh-year Navy head coach Dave Brandt and the Midshipmen (4-4-1, 1-0 Patriot League) lead the Cup matchup with a 2-0-1 record. After the teams played to a scoreless tie in 2012, Navy won the next two meetings; both wins were 1-0, in the second overtime period, with the game-winning goal in the 107th minute each time.
Sixth-year Army head coach Russell Payne and the Black Knights (2-4-2, 0-1) have not defeated Navy since a 1-0 Patriot victory on Nov. 7, 2008, in West Point, N.Y.
Despite his team's lack of success so far, Payne emphasized how positive the partnership with PPL Park has been for both schools since the inception of this event.
"It's an incredible event for both programs, especially the student-athletes in particular, getting a chance to play at a venue like this, with this type of crowd, and, operationally, the folks here at PPL Park have been phenomenal for both programs," Payne said yesterday at the Cup's prematch media session. "For us, for me, and for all of my program, I think that it's obviously the highlight or one of the major highlights of the year, and, hopefully in college soccer, it's one of the highlights of the year.''
The attendance has grown steadily in the event's first three years. After Army-Navy Cup I drew 3,700 fans, the attendance nearly doubled for the second installment of the event in 2013, with over 7,000 fans. Last year, Army-Navy Cup III drew 10,168 to PPL Park, which has a capacity of 18,500. By comparion, the Union has averaged 17,724 in attendance this season.
"It was the third-largest crowd in the country (for college soccer), I believe, last year, and I think for an Olympic sport, like college soccer, that's a big crowd, but, I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: I think there are a couple things that have come together to allow this game to become what it's become, and one of them just is that both programs play good soccer and they're good college soccer teams right now," Brandt said. You've got to put an entertaining product on the field and a quality product on the field. I think the fact that it's Army-Navy obviously plays into it, as well.
"I'm not sure that you could do this for two other schools, maybe, but it's a great location and the two right schools to have this happen."
Payne and Brandt agreed that the recent "synergy" between the youth, college and pro levels in soccer is a leading reason why the schools were able to partner with an MLS venue such as PPL Park in the first place.
Both coaches said the opportunity to play in a pro-style atmosphere has been a part of their recruiting pitches to prospective student-athletes over the last several years.
"It shows the continued growth of our sport in this country, from the youth level through our college level up to the pro level, that there's not this huge separation between the levels in which you can grow now as a young person in this sport," Payne said. "It used to be very disconnected, and you had to go a long ways to travel to watch a pro game or to have a college team link up with a pro team, and all those different pieces are very, very now closely knit and there's a lot of synergy."
The Midshipmen, who lost on penalty kicks in the semifinals of the Patriot playoffs last season, have won two of their last three games, following a two-game skid. Army will try for its first win since Sept. 19, a 1-0 home win over Fairleigh Dickinson.
"I think it's become something that's really special in college soccer, and I think the Union and PPL Park have done a phenomenal job with it, and I think both programs are a long way from where they were five, six years ago," Brandt said. "I think both teams have contributed to make it something special."
On Twitter: @tom_reifsnyder
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