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Geodis Park opening a memorable experience for home and away supporters

Philadelphia Union fans were greatly outnumbered but could still be seen and heard among the sellout opening day crowd

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Nashville SC Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A new stadium only gets one opening day and for traveling supporters for the Philadelphia Union they reveled in getting to celebrate the first goal in Geodis Park when Mikael Uhre scored in the 66th minute.

It didn’t matter that they were outnumbered 3,000 to 1 by those wearing Nashville gold (also known as yellow) or that they were seated in a section furthest from the pitch. Like the bachelorette party goers on Broadway, they didn’t hold back when the otherwise hushed crowd sat silently stunned by Uhre’s opener.

“It was incredible,” said Chris Gonzalez, who traveled to the game with his wife from Mechanicsburg. “We were sitting on the last row as far away from the pitch as you could be but the view and the sight lines were great.”

Gonzalez, who lived in Nashville for a decade, attended the Union’s match last season at Nissan Stadium and didn’t want to miss the chance to return to the city for the first game at what is now the largest soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. Having lived in the Tennessee capital when both the NFL and NHL teams arrived, Gonzalez wasn’t surprised to see how they have embraced an MLS team.

Philadelphia Union

“It’s a city that has really grown from a minor league sports town to a big city,” Gonzalez said. “And they’ve really embraced soccer.”

Part of that growth has been the introduction of transplants like Philadelphia native Alex Hamell, who was in the safe-standing home supporters section for the game. He recalled attending a town hall meeting about the stadium shortly after he and his wife moved to the area in 2017.

“It was surreal,” Hamell said of the experience walking into the stadium for the first time. “My first Nashville soccer event was attending a town hall about the stadium being built.”

Hamell said Nashville SC now having a home of their own — as opposed to playing in the cavernous Nissan Stadium — immediately made the atmosphere better but the design of the stadium centering around the fan experience meant from the opening kickoff the crowd noise and the atmosphere was unlike any the home fans had experienced before.

“They really did a good job of keeping their fans in mind,” Hamell said. “This never really felt like a corporate cash grab like so many stadiums can feel like.”

Matt Ralph

Despite being small in number, the Union supporters — many wearing the Union’s secondary jersey and standing throughout — were hardly invisible. About 100 had tickets in the away supporters section, many of whom bought into the package offered by Philly Sports Trips.

“It’s a beautiful stadium, really well designed, very eye appealing,” said Mike Blankemeyer, Sons of Ben travel director. “They need to figure out some parking stuff because it was a nightmare getting in and out but other than that it was great.”

Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin didn’t have any difficulty hearing the fans from field level.

“For our fans to come and support us the way they did and cheer us on, that was incredible,” Curtin said. “Cheering us off the field is something you’ll remember. All these little moments in the league growth are really special and should be cherished. That was an incredible game and incredible atmosphere and on the surface like I said that is the best that I’ve seen in this league.”

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Nashville SC Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Geodis Park is located in the Nashville Fairgrounds a couple miles from the heart of the city. It’s mostly surrounded by a neighborhood but there is an interestingly-named bar called Santa’s Pub across the street from one of the entrances and a couple grass fields on the perimeter where fans were playing pickup pre-game.

There are plans to enhance the area around the stadium and iron out some of the issues on display with parking on Sunday.

But for now, the stadium itself is something worth experiencing in a city that should already be on a list of top road trips for fans across the league.

“I’ve been to pretty much everywhere else up and down the East Coast,” Gonzalez said. “I’d say this was definitely right up there as far as fan experience.”