The city of Chester was the center of the soccer world Wednesday night, as fans from across the globe descended on the town to watch the best of the Major League Soccer All-Stars take on one of the world’s most popular teams, the Chelsea Football Club.
Set against the picturesque Commodore Barry Bridge, the river end section at PPL Park is reserved especially for the groups of rabid Philadelphia Union supporters.
Even with some of game’s biggest stars on the field — Landon Donovan, David Beckham — this group wanted more. They wanted to see the Union’s own star defenseman —Carlos Valdes — subbed into the game.
“Carlos Valdes … Carlos Valdes … Carlos Valdes,” they chanted — the solidarity of their voices punctuated by the pound of a keg-sized battle drum.
When they got their wish 35 minutes into the match, the intensity of the crowd’s roar electrified the warm July air.
It’s this sort of frenzy that makes fans of the 3-year-old Union feel like part of something bigger.
Delaware County’s Jackie Lee is a member of the supporters’ group “The Sons of Ben.”
“For some people, this place is like a religion; it’s almost like a church,” said Lee. “Because Philadelphia is such a wonderful city, and it’s blue-collar and it runs on the blood of the people who live here, it just makes it that much more magical to come to the games.”
That magic was felt Wednesday night by more than just Union fans.
Originally from Siberia, Jake Maslov now follows Chelsea from his home in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a team that’s been playing good football,” said Maslov in a thick Russian accent. “It’s been up and coming and I think we’re taking over the world!”
Ian Wogan traveled from Dublin to see the match, but he wasn’t there necessarily to root for one side or the other.
“Americans cheer for anything that’s good about their own team,” he said. “I think you should appreciate good football on both sides and not just boo everybody on the other team when decisions go against them.”
Never mind the boos and cheers, say some. The real winner is the local economy.
“So many people downtown in the shops and in the stores, getting food and all that good stuff,” said Reading’s Jess Schmura, who used the event as a chance to stay overnight in Center City.
Chester’s Patricia Banta often feels the economic boon of having a soccer club nearby. Game days turn her convenience store across from the stadium into a pay parking lot and snack hotspot. She gets $10 per car.
“They park; they grab a sandwich or something—a cold drink. You know, that’s a plus for us,” she says.
For those who do care about the actual game outcome, the MLS overcame Chelsea 3-2 on a last-minute goal.