SEATTLE - Amid all the confetti, dancing and revelry that transpired during the opening of the 2010 Major League Soccer season last night, perhaps the most poignant moment was the realization of the Union officially opening the latest installment of professional soccer in the Philadelphia region.
It wasn't quite the opening that Delaware Valley soccer fans were hoping for, however, as sloppy defending on an even sloppier pitch at Qwest Field amounted to a 2-0 loss for the Union, who struggled to find a rhythm in the first half.
On top of that, the Union found itself also down a player after rookie midfielder-turned-defender Toni Stahl picked up his second yellow card in the 41st minute when he threw a knee into the back of Sounders FC star Fredy Montero.
Stahl had picked up his first professional yellow card in the 23rd minute after a brutal slide tackle on Seattle's Freddie Ljungberg, a Swedish import who starred for English Premier League side Arsenal before making his foray into MLS.
"I think that if you play the game, you should play it fair and not whine about every foul," said Union manager Peter Nowak, referring to Ljungberg. "He is a world-class player that has played in a bunch of games, he is a high-caliber player, something like that is below his standards, but that's just what I think, that's just Peter Nowak thought . . . if he did that back in England with Arsenal or West Ham, fans would be booing him."
When asked about Philadelphia's bruising style of play, MLS commissioner Don Garber shrugged off any insinuations with the following statement:
"Peter Nowak is a very experienced coach who we have a lot of respect for [in this league]," he said. "I think he is going to play a style he thinks works best for his team.
"Certainly everybody will remember the fact that their opening game had a guy that got red-carded, but that's the way Philadelphia has opted to play and that's really something that's up to the coach."
While the Union provided the offensive pressure early, Seattle struck first in the 12th minute on just its second shot of the match. Midfielder Brad Evans slotted a gift into the right corner fueled by a well-timed overlapping run by midfielder Steve Zakuani that opened space just outside the 6-yard box.
"We had a good 10 minutes and then the goal comes, but overall I think even with 10 men, the stadium was pretty quiet in the second half," said Nowak, referring to the sellout crowd of 36,241 that the Union managed to silence in the second half. "This is how men play, we had eight fouls - six yellow cards, that is a little too much."
Chances did come for the Union to draw even early in the first, but poor shooting squelched numerous opportunities. In the 43rd minute, Montero got retribution of his own with a goal that dug an even deeper hole for the Union.
"We told ourselves that we would be pretty hard to beat, and in the first 10 minutes or so we did just that," Union goalie Chris Seitz said. "There is still a lot of soccer left to play, so for us it's back to the drawing board."
About 70 members of the Sons of Ben, the Union's raucous fan club, packed a local Seattle bar, the Hawks Nest, before the start of last night's game. Dressed in full Union regalia, jubilant fans sang, drank and took in a moment more than 2 years in the making.
"It still hasn't sunk in; for us to be in this situation, given all that it took to get to this point, is just incredible," said Union fan Justin Lee, of Linwood, N.J. "Win or lose, just to be here is a dream."
The revelry was so intense, a few Sounders FC supporters left the bar, upset they weren't able to watch the Washington-West Virginia NCAA Tournament game before heading across the street to Qwest Field.