The date was May 17th, 2017. Not far enough into the year to have 90◦ temperature here in the suburbs of Philadelphia. But the Nolek clan was ready in section 111. Ready for something special. Something that would help me not mind the sweaty mess that I was becoming. Probably should have worn something cooler, but that was the last thing on my mind. The Union are finally on the other side of that fine line and becoming the team I know they can be. Let’s explain the night, my night.
We got there slightly earlier than usual, my wife Sue was meeting our friend Staci for a Mother’s Day $2.oo beer. We had brought one my younger son’s friends with us, so that meant I would have to watch 3 kids now instead of 2. But thankfully my buddy Ryan was in lot A, so we all walked to Toyota Plaza. Staci was running late, so my wife and I decided to grab an iced coffee, and win a $2.00 DD gift card. We saw the Dogs for adoption, and got closer than we ever had to bringing home another beagle. But this was all to cover my anxiety. The butterflies in my stomach were starting to stir, getting ready for the boys in blue to take on one of the strongest teams in the MLS, the Houston Dynamo. We finally entered the stadium ready to see if the team I believed in would keep the win streak alive. I honestly did not think they could keep the Dynamo from scoring, but we have shown lately that we can also score multiple times per game. So I’m saying there was a chance.
We sat in our seats, and to our surprise, one of my sons friends were attending their first game with their family. The seats next to me are usually open, so I told them to sit there, that way the boys could hang together for the game. Their youngest is named Daniel, but my son Nick and I have always called him Ilsinho. Not only because he resembles him slightly, but he also brings the ball through the middle like Ilsinho does, like a bull, el toro. So you can imagine our excitement when we saw his name in the starting 11. Daniel’s first game and he gets to see El Toro!
We then had 3 other of our friends kids join our section. And it couldn’t make me happier. That’s what special about this place. I know it’s about the team and the atmosphere, but it is about friends and family for me. I couldn’t ask for any better. I even saw some of my friends that work for the team. You could see the energy that drives them has changed over the past 2 weeks. And I love it. One of the people I saw was Greg for group sales. He yelled up to me “what do you think, 4-0?” I responded “Nah… 2-0!” Lucky guess. I had a feeling they would win, but couldn’t imagine I was going to be right.
So the game starts, and as Billy Joel has said, the regular crowd shuffles in. And from the start the Union were controlling the game. Possession and on target passing is the best I have ever seen. And it’s not just Haris, the team is starting to click. Fafa is lightning fast, Fabinho is a beast, there is no way Elliot is a rookie, and Bedoya is finding his spot. Gaddis has his game on another level that a lot of experts said he didn’t have. Then there’s this guy:
Chris Pontius. The quote by Jim Curtin sums it up. This is pasted right from his quote.
Chris is always just been a solid, all-around soccer player. He has a knack in front of the goal, whether it’s to get goals or assists. He has an engine. A lot of people labeled him as an injury prone guy which is, again, a load of garbage because he’s a guy who takes care of his body as good as anyone, any pro I’ve ever been around. He’s put together now a really long run of games for us. Had a slow start to the year, statistically, but still was doing the work. Now you’re starting to see balls bounce his way. He made some really good decisive final passes tonight. Also did against D.C. He’s confident right now. A guy you can lean on and trust, he’s been through the battles. I keep thinking he’s like 35 years old, but he’s still , still a young guy. He’s playing really well right now. Happy with how he’s performing and he’s been a leader for us as well through the tough early stages of the season.
I don’t think I could have said it any better. This guy is impressive, and he’s starting to put in full 90’s. Everyone has their role on this team, but Chris does more than that. He may not be from Philly but he cares about this team like he owns this team, and I appreciate that. I know his role is to pass the ball in, and win those 50/50 balls, and he has proven that he will do that. Kudos Mr. Pontius.
Back to the game. I will just tell you about the excitement of the 2 goals. To make it simple and not drum up too much drama, on the first score, Pontius has the ball outside the box on the right side, places a ball to a perfect position just outside the 6. Fafa somehow puts on his Wile E Coyote springs that he got from Acme Co. (See how I snuck that sponsor in there?) and out jumps the defense and heads a ball that kisses the crossbar and hits the back of the net. Up 1-0 early in the first half. 17 minutes in, we are winning. I always try to explain to people about the 3 seconds of excitement that happens when your team scores. The buildup and the explosion of cheers is unbelievable. Man I love that feeling. The union really could have blown this game open with an Ilsinho rocket off the side post, or if Gaddis is able to put that ball in. But Ilsinho got his revenge at the 38th minute with a pass from the provider Chris Pontius, placing the ball past the outreached fingers of the opposing keeper. Daniel and my son Nick went crazy!! What are the chances? Daniels first game, gets to see his doppelganger score, and even do somewhat of a dance/celebration. I’m bringing this kid more often! We went into halftime with a 2-0 lead.
The second half was a battle. If you like a soccer game to be non-stop action, this was your game. The 100% effort that both Coach Curtin and Earnie Stewart demand of these players was not only met, but surpassed on the pitch. As the final whistle blew, the realization that we are making are way up the table was buzzing through the crowd. I joke all the time about the bandwagon, but I love people jumping on it. There is no doubt that the players feel the energy and excitement from the crowd. It’s well documented. We need to keep that going through this season. I still have to figure out how I get “till the day I die” as a ringtone.
The city’s most beloved player John McCarthy came over to sign autographs at the end of the game, and that is just too cool for words. My man. He may be the most photographed/selfied player in the history of The Union. We got to meet Keegs and Herbers, and also Uncle Ray Gaddis stopped over. This means the world to these kids, and as a huge proponent of the future of youth soccer, this is a great thing you guys do. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
We said goodbye to our friends before we left, and Daniel, Charlie, Austin, Sawyer, John, and Nick had the biggest smile on their faces. As a father, that is priceless to me. As we left the stadium, I ran into Tim McDermott. We talked about how well the team is playing right now. And just how we can feel the energy building around this team. We shook hands, and did the usual “I told you so.” As we got into our car, I smiled at my wife Sue, and we both agreed. It was a great night!