It was the end of the first half of a game nearly nine years ago that Pat Noonan became a permanent fixture in the Philadelphia Union record book for a reason many fans there that day still haven’t forgotten.
We’re talking, of course, about the very first goal scored at what is now known as Talen Energy Stadium on June 27, 2010.
“That was a hard game to forget for many reasons,” the second-year assistant coach said in a recent interview. “One, it was about 95 degrees, it was a nationally televised game so you know you’re aware of those things as a player. On the day, I did, I scored the first goal and I also missed a penalty so we ended up losing the game 2-1. I wasn’t supposed to take the penalty but I ended up taking it and missing it. I remember scoring a goal, missing a penalty and losing.”
He also remembers the weather being particularly harsh on the day.
“That was as hot and humid of a game as I played in my career,” Noonan said. “That was a hard game to forget because of the negatives I took away from it. At least I can say (I scored the first goal in stadium history), that’s the positive.”
Noonan had 42 goals in his 11 seasons in MLS playing for the New England Revolution, Columbus Crew, Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy. He twice played for the late Sigi Schmid in stops in Columbus where he was part of the 2008 MLS Cup-winning squad and in Seattle. His goal against the Union was the only one he scored in his two seasons with Seattle and the second to last of his career.
His former coach died on Christmas Day at the age of 65.
“I was always thankful to Sigi for his belief in me as a player but mostly I’ll remember his kindness off the field,” Noonan said. “Him and his wife, Val were always great to myself, my wife and my family when we moved to Columbus, when we moved to Seattle, even in his time in LA when I was coaching with the Galaxy we spent time off the field and we had great conversations about the game, about life. It was those moments you saw a different side you wouldn’t see when the cameras weren’t on.”
Noonan and Schmid’s paths first crossed at the College Cup in 1999 when Noonan’s Indiana Hoosiers beat UCLA in four overtimes in the semifinal en route to a national title. It was Schmid’s last game as a college coach before taking over LA Galaxy for the first of two head coaching stints there.
Their paths crossed again when New England traded Noonan to Columbus for a first round pick in 2008. Then again when Noonan was signed after a trial with Seattle in 2010.
Like his boss Jim Curtin, who was part of two Open Cup-winning teams as a player in Chicago, Noonan said the experience playing in a winning environment served him well in his transition from player to coach, which started in 2013 with the LA Galaxy and included a one-year stint with the U.S. Men’s National Team before coming to the Union.
“Like with all coaches you observe how they operate in a successful environment and I say successful because those were the environments I experienced with Sigi in Columbus and Seattle,” Noonan said. “You get a better understanding of how to build something successful in a championship team and what that takes. As a player I wasn’t thinking as a coach but I was certainly observing the things that he did well. He was always very prepared, he wanted to put every last thought he could into preparation and post-game training analysis and he really valued the opinion of those around him.”
Like so many who encountered Schmid and got to know him off the field, Noonan carries those observations into his job with the Union, which he is happy enough with to have reportedly turned down an opportunity to return to Columbus under new head coach Caleb Porter.
“It’s been great in Philadelphia, we have a lot of really great things going on here and I really enjoyed my first season and what we were able to achieve,” Noonan said. “You can see how they fight for Jim (Curtin) and for this club.”
Nine years after spoiling the party in the Union’s stadium opener, Noonan finds himself in a key behind-the-scenes role in the push to set the Union on a different path going forward into the next decade.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “Obviously, the next step is to bring some hardware to the fans, to the city. It’s not easy to do but these guys are willing to fight for that.”