Major League Soccer came into existence in 1996. This professional North American circuit started with 10 teams. Some people weren’t sure MLS could last 10 years.
The Philadelphia Union enter MLS in 2010. Philadelphia is a major market in the United States and it’s known for having passionate fans. Professional soccer would join football (Eagles), basketball (Sixers), hockey (Flyers), and baseball (Phillies) as the city’s major sports clubs.
Although the club would be referred as Philadelphia, the Union called PPL Park in Chester, PA home. Players wore uniforms with blue backgrounds and gold lining at home and gold backgrounds with blue lining on the road; the jerseys didn’t include a sponsor during the season. Former professional soccer player and Poland native Peter Nowak served as the Union’s first manager. Sons of Ben had been established as the team’s fan club and the group would chant “Doop” after every Union goal during home matches.
In its first-ever match on the pitch, Philadelphia defeated the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, 5-0, in the pre-season on Feb. 13 in Greensboro, NC. During a pre-season tour in Mexico, the Union played to a 2-2 draw against reserves from Chivas de Guadalajara and defeated Mexican second-division squad Universidad de Guadalajara, 1-0.
On March 14, the Union played their first exhibition against an MLS opponent, a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas in Tampa, Florida. In their final pre-season match, the Union lost to the Tampa Bay Rowdies (second-division NASL), 1-0.
Philadelphia began its MLS regular season history in Seattle, WA with a nationally-televised match against Seattle Sounders FC on March. Union central defender Danny Califf received the team’s first yellow card 33 seconds into the match. Rookie Toni Ståhl was the first Union player to be sent off the pitch after receiving yellow cards in the 22nd and 37th minutes. Seattle’s Brad Evans and Fredy Montero deposited first-hald scores as the Union suffered a 2-0 loss at Qwest Field (afterwards, the Union released defender David Myrie and sent Ståhl out on loan to their USL affiliate, Harrisburg).
The City of Brotherly Love saw its first MLS home match on April 10 against D.C. United. The Union seized a 3-2 victory (the club’s first) with a hat-trick by Sébastien Le Toux in front of a crowd of nearly 35,000 spectators Lincoln Financial Field (PPL Park still had finishing touches to be placed). The Union signed defender Cristian Arrieta from the Puerto Rico Islanders earlier that week.
Overall, the first season became more forgettable than memorable. Nowak’s club finished seventh in the MLS East (14th out of 16 overall) with 31 points at 8-15-7; Philadelphia never held a spot better than 10th place throughout the season. The Union yielded 49 goals while depositing 35 boom-shaka-lakas.
Nowak liked deploying a four-four-two formation on the pitch. When the season came to a close, Nowak’s starting lineup consisted of Chris Seitz defending the net, defenders Michael Orosco-Fiscal, Califf, Sheanon Williams, and Jordan Harvey in Philadelphia’s territory, midfielders Eduardo Coudet and Stefani Miglioranzi, forwards Le Toux and Justin Mapp, and forwards Danny Mwanga and Alejandro Moreno near the opposing keeper.
Le Toux appeared in 28 matches (all starts), leading the Union with 14 goals and 11 assists. Mwanga scored seven times, midfielder Fred found the back of the net four times, rookie Jack McInerney tallied three goals, Moreno and Orosco-Fiscal both scored twice, and Harvey, Shea Salinas, and Mapp each posted one goal. Fred had been booked for six yellow cards and Arrieta and Orosco-Fiscal each received five yellows (the Union accumulated five red cards).
Seitz had been the primarily keeper while Brad Knighton served as the backup. In 23 appearances (22 starts) Seitz was 5-12-6 with a 1.80 Goals Against Average, yielded 41 goals, and failed to record a shutout. Knighton, meanwhile, went 3-3-1 in eight starts with a 1.00 GAA, issued eight scores, and posted two shutouts.
On the road, the Union finished 2-12-1 with 13 goals and 33 tallies allowed (-20 goal differential). While at PPL Park (and the brief time at Lincoln Financial Field), the Union had been 6-3-6, permitting 16 goals by opponents while depositing 22 scores. The Union lost a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match to the host New York Red Bulls, 2-1, on April 27 (didn’t count toward the MLS standings).
After the season, Seitz and Knighton were asked to find work elsewhere as the Union drafted keeper Zac MacMath out of the University of Naryland and signed Columbian keeper Faryd Mondragon. Bimbo became an official sponsor for the Union as all uniforms would display “Bimbo” in red letters across the chest effective 2011.