I don’t think a heartbreak will stay with me as much as the Philadelphia Union’s loss to LAFC on Saturday. Philadelphia was two minutes from winning an MLS Cup on the road. In a season where they could have finished with the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, they got neither.
But I digress. This isn’t a rant about the loss. This is a column about my experience as one of those loyal 2,000 fans who made the trek to the City of Angels.
I write this on Sunday, on a flight from Phoenix back to Philadelphia. My 2019 away kit is worn over a Penn State hoodie. I’ll rep the team until I’m back in State College tomorrow.
Getting out to LA was no easy task. I flew out of State College after a Friday Spanish class, met my dad and sister at Philadelphia International Airport, and from there flew to LAX after a last-minute change that involved running into storms in Dallas.
My dad and sister spent the night at the Omni hotel, which the Union had booked for fans along with a Hilton in LA. I had a friend from high school who went to USC, so I crashed at her dorm for the night.
The next morning, I woke up bright and early. As a lifelong USC fan before I went to Penn State, wandering around the campus (including a visit with the iconic Tommy Trojan) was surreal. But from there, it was all business.
As I walked to the Union’s official tailgate, I passed four or five LAFC fans, and made a point to remind them that no one likes Philadelphia and that we don’t care. A few minutes later, I was able to make more friends, as I informed a tailgate of around 300 Football Club supporters the same. They applauded my devotion to the club with some boos and hand gestures (a sign of respect, I’m sure.)
With all vibes intact, I completed my journey to the Union’s tailgate. Admittedly, the event was a little low-key for a tailgate ahead of a championship game, but sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles. If anything, you can blame the short notice for the size of the tailgate, but it did seem the organizers were unprepared. There were only six servers for several hundred people, and not enough space for people to comfortable stand/sit in.
Just over an hour before kickoff, the Union faithful began a march to the match, which included some antagonization of the hosts, pictures with majority owner Jay Sugarman and plenty of singing.
Inside the match, the energy was electric. The Union fans (admittedly) couldn’t fill the whole section allotted to them by the league, but hey, neither did Los Angeles.
The SoB section leaders did a great job of getting the crowd excited, but by the time the match started, my voice was already shot. Nevertheless, we rallied. Pulled it together. Supported.
Huge credit goes out to Sebastian Le Toux, the Union’s first-ever club legend. The former midfielder spent the whole match with Union fans, chatting with them and cheering on Philly the whole time.
Despite all that yesterday sucked, I’ll never forget the best four minutes of my life thinking that we won the Cup.— Joe Lister (@Joe_Lister21) November 6, 2022
Celebrating with a my dad and a club legend - two people who have been part of this journey since 2010, is a memory for a lifetime. #doop pic.twitter.com/tIG1U1zMMN
From the first tap to the final penalty kick, both sets of fans were electric. To their credit, LAFC fans made the building erupt each time they scored. To Union fans credit, there were several points throughout the match where Philadelphia chants echoed around Banc of California Stadium.
I have never heard a home crowd as silent as when Jack Elliott scored the Union’s third goal. I have never heard a crowd as excited as when Gareth Bale scored LAFC’s third goal.
At this point in the column, I have a mild critique of LA fans, and no it’s not that they threw objects at the players. That is what it is. However, each time that LAFC scored, at least 5-10 sections of Football Club fans turned away from the field and each other to curse out Philly fans. It eventually reached a point where it felt like they cared more about Philly losing than LA winning. Small club mentality.
I will say, I had firm confidence that the Union would win the penalty shootout. I forgot that John McCarthy had that dawg in him. And as soon as Daniel Gazdag sent his kick to the moon, I knew deep down the game had ended.
Most fans cleared out as soon as the game ended. A large portion stuck around to applaud the Union players when they came around, but most were gone by the time McCarthy came around to applaud his former fans. There’s no hate toward the Union’s former ‘keeper, he’s absolute class.
The rest of my day was rough. I went to the Cal vs. USC football game with my USC alum dad, but couldn’t get my spirits up. After what seemed like an hour wandering around Los Angeles, the two of us made it back to the hotel, where we collapsed into bed and were asleep soon after.
The next day, we got up, grabbed some Mexican food for breakfast, and hit the road. This brings me to where I am now, on a flight from Phoenix back to Philly. At least I’ll get some Wawa before going back to school tomorrow.
I have no regrets about spending a weekend supporting the Union. It was a great experience, and one that gave me memories to last a lifetime, good and bad alike.
With the season ended and the trip completed, all I have to say is thank you for a great year, Union fans. I’ll see you all in March.