CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union returned to Chester for the first time in 10 months on Tuesday night.
The fans, as we all know, did not.
Playing in front of 18,000 empty blue seats at an eerily quiet Subaru Park on Tuesday, the Union made their 2020 home debut – on Aug. 25 no less – with a 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls.
Kacper Przybylko scored the lone goal and also prevented one in the first half, and Andre Blake stopped three shots as the Union earned their second straight clean sheet and fourth of the year.
“It’s always difficult playing against the Red Bulls,” Union defender Mark McKenzie said. “We know they bring that fire and intensity and bring the best out of us. I am proud of the team and it was a great result. Keeping a clean sheet at home is big. … It got a little helter skelter there at the end but we got the big three points.”
The game marked the first appearance for the Union on their own turf since beating the Red Bulls for their first playoff victory last October. The atmosphere last fall was vastly different than in this one. The park was sold out and the fans were electric as the Union rallied from a first half deficit for a thrilling 4-3 victory.
The encore looked and sounded like an intra-squad scrimmage.
It was quiet. Like, really quiet.
You could hear every player and coach talking throughout the game and when they weren’t, Subaru Park could have doubled as a library. Sure, the speakers blasted the Doop song after the Union goal and a gaggle of die-hard fans stood outside the gate behind the River End cheering the team, but it was clearly the most surreal home game in team history.
“We miss the fans and the game feels bit soulless without them in the building,” Union coach Jim Curtin said. “That’s just the way things are right now.”
Przybylko put the Union ahead in the 31 st minute but the bulk of the work was done by Ray Gaddis. The defender made a smart push up front and delivered a perfect cross from just outside the 18 right to Przybylko’s foot. It was the second goal of the year for Przybylko and the first assist – and 10th career – for Gaddis since Sept. 25, 2019 at San Jose.
“Ray’s cross was brilliant,” Przybylko said. “I had so much space and just looked at the post. That was the perfect ball for a striker.”
Przybylko was active at both ends of the field. In the 44th minute, he stood on the goal line and stopped a header from Tim Parker off a corner. On the counter, Przybylko nearly added his second goal but Red Bulls keeper Ryan Meara made an excellent save.
In the second half, Sergio Santos and Przybylko each had a chance to give the Union a little cushion. Santos unloaded on an open look inside the box but it was right at Meara in the 64th minute. Then a couple minutes later, Przybylko found himself alone in front of the goal but he chipped the shot over the crossbar.
“We need to finish those goals,” Przybylko said. “If we finish the goals, we can rest a bit more.”
The missed opportunities nearly came back to haunt the Union as the Red Bulls applied pressure over the final 20 minutes. However, Blake and the rest of the back line stood resilient to secure the win.
“It was definitely a big at home,” McKenzie said. “Jim (Curtin) likes to call our place the fortress, and we need to keep it that way. We need to build on what we did tonight.”
The Union hope to build on the momentum against DC United in a quick turnaround on Saturday at home.
“We lose a little advantage with no fans but we are comfortable on this field,” Curtin said. “I am really happy where this team is at, and we are going to grow each game. In this league, you have to stay hungry and humble because you will be brought down to earth once you think you are good… We have to guard against that.”