Aaand…We’re Back

We were on deadline last Friday night till 9:30 and then we spent the weekend and beyond packing up the Backpost home offices for relocation. Not an easy job: Our signed Rodney Marsh and Jeff Durgan jerseys require special packaging and extra transport fees.

We’re just about on the other side of it all, but in the process we missed posting on the MLS opener between Seattle and expansion Philadelphia, the first real game at Red Bull Arena, and the opening weekend league-wide, along with an eventful Premier League weekend and some good outings for Yanks Abroad in general.

Here are a few reactions on the MLS opening weekend, and we’ll get back at everything else once we’re fully relocated and reconnected to the InterWebs:

Sounders Bust Union 2-0

The atmosphere in Seattle was incredible–36,000-plus turned up in a driving rain and spent the entire game chanting and singing.

There were two mohawks on the field, as Seattle’s second-year man Steve Zakuani sported a subtle one and Union defender Danny Califf went full Travis Bickle with his.

Zakuani was the most dangerous player on the field for much of the night. Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso—a Cuban defector—also had a great game.

Freddies Ljungberg and Montero weren’t quite clicking last Thursday, but they are poised to be one of the league’s more potent attacking combos

Philadelphia started a surprisingly young group—with two players, Michael Orozco and 18-year-old Danny Mwanga—playing out of position. They also continued the tendency for hotheadedness that they showed in preseason, as Califf was yellow-carded in the early going, and his partner in central defense, Toni Stahl, was red-carded in the 40th minute.

This Philly team was spirited, and will probably get better results at home (especially when PPL opens), but Seattle was head-and-shoulders better and seemed like a long-established franchise rather than last year’s expansion team.

Red Bulls Douse Fire 1-0

The atmosphere at Red Bull Arena was electric and loud (much as it was the previous week in the exhibition against Santos), the result was positive (ditto) and the opening goal was scored by new midfield signing Joel Lindpere (again).

The team was also noticeably sharper and more energized than previous years’ editions, and yet there were signs of the old MetroBull funk, struggling under the surface: In the first half, with the score still 0-0, Mike Petke—who had a great game—attempted a clearance  while running toward his own goal—and nearly put it over RB keeper Bouna Coundoul, prompting the guy in front of us to say, “Hey we already opened one arena with an own goal.” He was referring to Nicola Caricola‘s own goal that gave the New England Revolution a 1-0 win over the MetroStars in their inaugural home opener back in 1996—aka the Curse of Caricola

Fire forward Brian McBride came within two inches of scoring on a bicycle kick in the first half, his effort bouncing harmlessly off the post, and then Chicago spent the last ten minutes pressing heavily for an equalizer. It was an all-too-familiar scenario for old-school MetroBull fans, and yet … the Fire didn’t get it.

We might actually be in a new era with this team. The old Red Bulls/MetroStars would most definitely have given up a late equalizer—and may have coughed up two.

Javier Morales wins Player of the Week:

An excellent two-goal, one assist outing for the Real Salt Lake star, no doubt, and it’s a nice way for him to start the new season after having left last year’s MLS Cup in the early going with an injury. But this result may say as much about the woeful status of the Quakes as it does about Morales and RSL. They open at home with a 3-0 pasting? Could be another long year in San Jose. D.C. United also needs to get its house in order after absorbing a 4-0 drubbing at Kansas City, United coach Curt Onalfo‘s former team. Said veteran striker Jaime Moreno, “This [loss] is a slap in the face … and it is clear that this team has a long way to go to improve.”

In the other opening games, Guillermo Barros Schelotto set up the first goal and scored the second in Columbus’s 2-0 win over Toronto; FC Dallas and Houston split the points (1-1) in the Texas derby in front of a paltry crowd of 8,000-something at Pizza Hut Park—less than half the attendance for last year’s opener; and Edson Buddle scored a sixth-minute goal for Los Angeles that proved to be the winner over New England. Landon Donovan got the assist.

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Philly Redux

We got some excellent reader feedback after yesterday’s post on the expansion Philadelphia Union and soccer’s roots in Philly, so we’re posting again to address the comments:

Reader Dave L brought up the Philadelphia Fury, the NASL successor to the Atoms. We did not include them in our capsule history and they probably deserved a mention—not only for the fact that three of their primary investors were Peter Frampton, Rick Wakeman and Paul Simon (what, no Elton John, footie fan and singer of “Philadelphia Freedom?”).

Their ill-advised color scheme of mustard and raspberry, which they wore for their three years of existence (1978-80), and some of the stars on their roster—including ex-Atoms keeper Bob Rigby and former England international Alan Ball—were also noteworthy.

Ball was the youngest member of England’s 1966 World Cup–winning* squad. He had a huge game in the final against West Germany, and also played in the 1970 World Cup.

DL also hunted down the above photo of the Fury in action against the Houston Hurricane’s Kai Haaskivi. Note Houston’s colors—identical to the current Dynamo kit. No word on whether the Gulden family of products was a Fury investor.

Commenter The Fenestrator opened a window on the local flavor of that Atoms NASL team, mentioning Stan Startzell, an All-America at U Penn who was drafted by the Cosmos and played on the Atoms’ 1973 title team. Startzell was joined on that team by local boys Charlie Duccilli, Lew Meehl and Bobby Ludwig—all of whom starred in the Philly-area United Soccer League before signing with the Atoms. Startzell, according to the Fenestrator, still plays in regional over-50 (60?) tournaments these days.

And Old 27 wondered if Chris Bahr was the same guy who went on to a successful field-goal-kicking career in the NFL. It is the same guy, son of National Soccer Hall of Famer Walter Bahr; his brothers Casey and Matt also played pro soccer—and Matt joined Chris in the NFL as a placekicker.

So there you have it—more Philly Phodder; and their soccer-specific stadium, PPL Park—a $115-million, 18,500-seat venue—is scheduled to open on the Chester, Pa., waterfront on June 27.

Enjoy the game tonight.

*Victory not recognized in Germany.

2010 MLS Opener: The Philadelphia Story

After an offseason of labor strife and uncertainty, MLS Year No. 15 will kick off, on schedule, tomorrow night in front of a packed house at Qwest Field in Seattle. Last season’s expansion sensation, Sounders FC, will host this year’s new team—and the league’s 16th—Philadelphia Union.

Like Seattle, which had a team in the North American Soccer League (NASL) back in the day, Philadelphia enters the league with a solid soccer history behind it. In fact, soccer’s roots in Philly go just about as deep as they do anywhere in the U.S. Here’s a quick look:

Prehistoric Power

Arguably the first professional team in U.S. soccer history, and definitely one of the most successful, Bethlehem Steel FC was founded in 1907 in Bethlehem, PA, just 60 miles north of Philadelphia. The club was originally formed to boost morale among the steel company’s workers, but in 1914, the corporation’s owner, Charles Schwab, began using it as a marketing tool, pouring money into the club and luring top players from Britain.

The Steel went on to appear in five straight U.S. Challenge Cup finals (U.S. Open Cup precursor) from 1915 to ’19, winning four. In 1919, Bethlehem went on a tour of Scandinavia, losing just two of 14 games.

Schwab, however, would not have approved of the name of the current team from eastern Pennsylvania—he was known as a ruthless union-buster.

Read more about this overlooked chapter of U.S. soccer history in David Wangerin’s Soccer in a Football World, and pick up a Bethlehem Steel shirt right here.

Philadelphia Nationals

Formed in 1936 (as the Philadelphia Passon) the Nationals were a middling American Soccer League (ASL) team until the late 1940s, when their most famous player, Walter Bahr, returned from the 1948 Olympics and led the team to three straight ASL titles. Bahr was a member of the 1950 U.S. team that shocked England 1-0 in the World Cup.

Philadelphia Atoms

The Union team that debuts tomorrow night will hope to follow in the footsteps of their NASL ancestors the Atoms, who won the league in 1973, their very first year of existence. And they did it with a roster dominated by U.S.-born (and Philly-bred) players, in front of Veterans Stadium crowds as large as 20,000, when the league average was hovering around 5,000.

The Atoms’ keeper, local boy Bob Rigby, became the first soccer player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Walter Bahr’s son, Chris Bahr, joined the team in 1975, winning the Rookie of the Year award after scoring 11 goals.

Other notable Atoms players included defender Bobby Smith, who would later play with Pelé and the Cosmos, and future U.S. national team coach Manny Schellscheidt.

College, Youth Clubs

The region has a long tradition of quality college programs, from 1970s NCAA power Philadelphia Textile (now Philadelphia University) to Penn and Lehigh, and it’s home to famous youth club FC Delco as well as U.S. stars such as Ben Olsen, Chris Albright and Bobby Convey, among others.

Union!

Philadelphia Union will have that history behind it when it takes the field in 2010, along with a raucous supporters group, the Sons of Ben, which was formed in 2007 with the goal of bringing an MLS franchise to Philly, and currently boasts 5,200 members.

The team they’ll cheer on tomorrow night looks to be a defense-first outfit as coach Peter Nowak has built his squad from the back, bringing in experienced defenders Danny Califf, Shavar Thomas, Jordan Harvey and Michael Orozco to play in front of probable starting goalkeeper Chris Seitz. Costa Rican David Myrie will also figure in to the backline.

We like what Nowak did in the expansion draft, picking up former Seattle midfielder Sebastien LeToux, speedy winger Shea Salinas from San Jose, and holding midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi from the Galaxy. For offensive flair, Nowak will look to ex-D.C. United attacking midfielder Fred, the Mononymous One, whom the Union acquired in a draft-day trade.

Goals could also come from experienced striker Alejandro Moreno—a three-time MLS Cup winner, with L.A., Houston, and Columbus—and intriguing rookie prospect Danny Mwanga, the 18-year-old No. 1 overall draft pick.

They’ll take on a Seattle team fresh off a superb debut season in which it made the playoffs and won the U.S. Open Cup.

Sounders FC will suit up Kasey Keller in goal, midfielders Steve Zakuani (a rookie of the year candidate in ’09) and Brad Evans (who earned thee caps for the U.S. in 2009) and dangerous strikers Fredy Montero and Freddie Ljunberg.

Enjoy the game—it’s on ESPN2 at 9:30, in hi-def so clear you will be able to distinguish Seattle’s green uniforms against the identical green of the Qwest Field pitch.