Union defender Ken Tribbett isn't from Philadelphia, but more than a dozen of his former teammates at Drexel University wearing No. 4 Union jerseys made his first home game at Talen Energy Stadium feel like a homecoming on Sunday afternoon.
"It was a humbling experience to be honest," said Tribbett, a Colorado native who played for the Dragons from 2010 to 2013. "To have (so many of) my former teammates come out in the cold to support and cheer for me was incredible. It made my home debut even that much more special!"
The 23-year-old's dramatic rise from an undrafted college graduate refereeing back home in Colorado to stay in the game to the Union's first team has been one of the more remarkable stories of the team early in the season. A standout in his rookie season in the USL last year for the Harrisburg City Islanders, Tribbett signed on with Bethlehem Steel at first but ended up earning a spot in the first team instead after an impressive preseason.
He's since started in each of the Union's first three games, including Sunday's 3-0 win over New England Revolution.
Drexel head coach Doug Hess and his assistants added the Drexel contingent at Sunday's game.
"We knew at some point it would come for Kenny because no is a temporary word for him," Hess said of his former player. "He honestly believes and believed that he could play at that level despite other opinions not falling in line with that right away."
Tribbett was part of Hess's first recruiting class at Drexel in 2010 and after two losing seasons, the college midfielder helped guide the Dragons to back-to-back conference titles and NCAA Tournament bids in his last two years.
Mark Donohue, a forward on those Drexel teams who met Tribbett on his first recruiting visit to West Philly, said he isn't surprised by his former roommate's rise. A British ex-pat who came from Texas to play for Drexel, Donohue still lives near campus and is involved with the solar power phone charger start-up Spor so he decided it only made sense to get some of the other alums together for the home opener.
"To watch his first two games on TV, we were just dying to get out and see him in person," Donohue said, noting that their group of 25 was a mix of former players and friends. "It was great, the game was exciting and we had a couple friends there who are just getting into soccer so it was a good introduction."
That he made it to the top flight in Philadelphia personalizes it even more for Donohue, who like Tribbett considers himself an honorary Philadelphian.
"We know that' been Kenny's dream for so long," he said. "A lot of people tend to have multiple interests but Kenny it's always been soccer, 'I'm going to make it as a pro,' 'I'm going to make it as a pro.'"
Tribbett isn't the first Drexel alumnus to suit up for the blue and gold. Former center back Jeff Parke, a Drexel player from 2000-2003, started 31 games at center back for the team in 2013.
"You look at both Jeff, he was in the league for 10 years and Kenny's just starting out, neither was an All-American so right there it shows that they are driven," Coach Hess said, noting the impact it has on his current team. "The message it sends to our guys is that it's possible."