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Return of Red Bull away a delight for Philadelphia Union fans

About 50 fans made the trip with the Sons of Ben for Thursday’s night away match at Red Bull Arena

MLS: Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly two years since the last Sons of Ben road trip to Red Bull Arena, the fact that some 50 fans who had made the trip last week were stuck on the bus waiting through a weather delay was perhaps the perfect harbinger of the game they were about to witness.

It was messy, it was back and forth and it was plenty chippy but it was also the Philadelphia Union playing a close geographical rival and finding a way to claw their way to a 1-1 draw despite going down to 10 men in the 57th minute.

Just being back together for the traveling supporters was reason to celebrate.

Though about 60 supporters made the first ever trek to Nashville a week earlier, this was familiar enemy territory no amount of “you’re not our rivals” talk from Red Bull fans could sour.

“We’ve all been through a shared trauma for the last year and a half,” said Heather Reppert, traveler coordinator for the Sons of Ben. “Losing physical social interaction clearly had a huge impact on us all. Being together again has been amazing. Everyone is obviously very excited to be able to support together again on the road.”

The Union played twice at Red Bull Arena in 2020, winning both games with a 3-0 victory over the Red Bulls — just their second ever in the building — and a 4-1 win over the Montreal Impact two weeks later.

Their previous visit to the stadium with fans was a 2-0 loss in September 2019.

Jim Scharnitz, who lives in the Lehigh Valley but works in North Jersey, has made multiple trips to Red Bull Arena to see the Union play and couldn’t wait to get back when the schedule was announced.

“Before the game I took a picture of the pitch and the seats and I was just kind of looking around thinking this is happening, we’re back to having this fun part of our lives that we all missed for so long back,” Scharnitz said.

One of the thing Scharnitz says he likes most about away trips to Red Bull Arena is the banter between the two fanbases, which turned into a full on call and response “F*** the Red Bull,” “F*** the Union” late in the game, which ended in a 1-1 draw thanks to Sergio Santos’s late equalizer.

The late heroics reminded Scharnitz of the afternoon U.S. Open Cup match in 2005 when a 10-man Union held onto a 1-1 draw and advanced on penalties.

“I kept thinking of that match and how much fun it is to come back down a man like they did,” he said. “Being back on the road and having everyone in the stadium around you rooting on the team, it just all came together.”

Union head coach Jim Curtin thanked the fans for their support post-game as is usually his custom. Curtin said he would’ve been proud of the heart his team showed whether they had pulled out a result or not and acknowledged the effort from the supporters to try and will that equalizer.

“There were so much chaos after the game we probably didn’t spend enough time thanking them for coming, we were getting kicked off the field by the refs at that point,” Curtin said. “Incredible amount of people on a late night in the rain pushed us on.”

Kyle Wood, of Marlton, N.J., who was experiencing Red Bull away for the first time, said it lived up to all of his expectations, especially when the goal finally came.

“How loud we got seeing that ball roll off the post and in was incredible,” Wood said. “The silence of those Red Bull fans made us echo through the stadium, and you can only imagine how that made the guys feel, which is always the aim. We always want our guys to know we’re there with them in those sorts of moments.”

Wood, who was a regular on the Union Zoom Happy Hour that was started up when the pandemic shut down the MLS season, said being surrounded by fellow supporters who care as much about the team as he does, “felt like a reward.”

“It was my first away trip with the Sons of Ben,” he said. “Being together with people without masks and so closely packed in felt good.”

As memorable an experience as it ended up being for those in attendance, the draw capped off a winless three-game road swing that included a 1-0 loss in Nashville and a 3-3 draw in Chicago so it’s probably a good thing there won’t be a group traveling this weekend. The Union return home to face another close geographic rival when DC United visits Subaru Park on Saturday night.