By AVI CREDITOR
CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union sure have a knack for coming up with strong showings in home openers.
Sebastien Le Toux converted a penalty kick and had a hand in two other goals, all in the second half, and Chris Seitz preserved a 1-1 scoreline by saving a Pat Noonan penalty, as the Union opened PPL Park with a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders in front of 18,755 Sunday night.
Two of the Union's three victories have come in home openers. On April 10, the "soft" home opener at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, the Union defeated D.C. United, 3-2, behind a hat trick from Le Toux.
Sunday, in the debut of their picturesque, waterfront, soccer-specific park, the Union (3-7-1) dominated the run of play but needed a come-from-behind effort spearheaded by Le Toux to take the three points from their Western Conference counterparts.
Noonan scored a 44th-minute goal, off a feed from Fredy Montero, that negated the Union's vast advantage in possession throughout the first half and gave the Sounders (4-7-3) a surprise edge heading into halftime.
Alejandro Moreno drew a penalty on Tyrone Marshall 10 minutes into the second half, though, to recharge the Union and their raucous fans.
Le Toux, a former Sounder and teammate of keeper Kasey Keller, picked out the upper right-hand corner of the net to convert the 55th-minute penalty and tie the score at 1-all.
"I've known (Keller) a long time, and we used to practice PKs and I knew he knew my favorite side," Le Toux said. "I just waited until the last moment, and I knew he would dive early and I put the ball in."
Four minutes later, Montero was fouled in the Union box by Christian Arrieta, and Sounders coach Sigi Schmid chose Noonan to take the penalty. The veteran went for power instead of placement, firing slightly to Seitz' right. The first-year starter wasn't fooled at all, reading the kick perfectly and smothering the ball to not allow a rebound.
"I try and look at tendencies of players throughout the game and try to make the best guess I can," Seitz said. "I think it was big for our team to just tie it up and for that it gave us a little bit more momentum to go forward. It felt good, but more importantly, it was good for our team."
It took less than 20 minutes for the Union to capitalize on the momentum swing.
A minute after Keller robbed Arrieta of a goal-bound header, Le Toux found space to cross from the right. His ball eluded three Sounders defenders and reached an unmarked Fred by the far post. The midfielder one-timed it into the empty goal for the eventual game-winning goal in the 79th minute.
"I saw the ball coming through the legs of somebody and just said, 'Thank you,'" Fred said.
Rookie Danny Mwanga iced the game in the 84th minute with his fourth goal of the season, and the first to not come in stoppage time.
"We've been kidding him, that if he could score before injury time that'd be great, and that's what he did today," Le Toux said.
He received a cross from Le Toux in the center of box on a counterattack and had his initial shot stuffed by Keller – the keeper's seventh save – before touching home the rebound for the final goal.
"In the 80th minute the game is not over, and we need to keep fighting, and I think that's the result of teamwork and a team effort," Mwanga said.
Following the final whistle, the Union players trotted over to the end of the stadium containing the Sons of Ben, the team's supporters group, to milk the celebration of a victorious stadium opening.
"It was a historical moment," Union coach Peter Nowak said. "The place was just amazing. If you are not motivated playing in front of these guys, with this kind of atmosphere, you should change your profession. Of course it's just the beginning, but we are very happy with the win."
Here are highlights from the match:
- Schmid said that Switzerland international Blaise N'Kufo would join the squad when he first becomes eligible to, on July 15. "He can't play until July 15, so that's when we expect him to be able to be on the field for us. … He's going to help us when he comes," Schmid said.
- Seitz, on saving a PK while one of his childhood idols, Keller, was on the other end of the field: "To be honest, I didn't think about it. He's a great goalkeeper. Historically, he's probably the best goalkeeper we've ever had in the U.S. He's still doing a great job and playing very well. For me, I try to take pieces from his game and adapt them to my game."
- According to the heat index, the on-field temperature was 103 degrees in the first half, 106 in the second. Schmid alluded to the heat and humidity being factors that hurt the Sounders' performance. "When you don't train in the humidity, it's a little tougher to play in it. …It was our first time we had to play in it, and it made a big difference. It takes a period of adjustment."
- Among the unique features that PPL Park boasts were boats camped out in the Delaware River, with people on the boats watching the game on the stadium video board. A Union official also said that cars driving by the stadium on the adjacent Commodore Barry Bridge can see the pitch from the bridge.