Officially, this is the third time game the Philadelphia Union will have played at home, but in many ways it will be the team's first true home game. The Union open PPL Park today, which, along with a new Harrah's casino, is a bit of an oasis on the waterfront of Chester, Penn.
The stadium, which sits in the shadow of the Commodore Barry Bridge, represents an important step for the club in a lot of ways. For one, it's puts them in a stronger financial position. Any team in any sport which owns it's own arena sees it's value increase exponentially. It also gives the team a venue built for soccer that will ensure a good atmosphere. Anyone who has ever watched soccer in Europe or elsewhere knows that the game is all about the atmosphere. With no breaks in the game, there's no chance to blare music over the stadium speakers or show those silly "which hat is the ball under" games on the jumbotron. The atmosphere has be created organically from the crowd. That's where all the songs and the chants come in. It's hard to get that atmosphere in a 70,000-seat arena built for football.
The Union had played their first two home games at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles. While it's a nice arena for the NFL, for soccer it's far too big and the crowd isn't close enough to the field. PPL Park's more intimate size and orientation will put a packed house inches away from the players every match.
Finally, it gives the team an identity. The locker rooms at the Linc are filled with the Eagles' stuff, the walls have the Eagles' logos ... it's their stadium. PPL park will be a real home for the Union. They'll train there, they'll see their colors there, the team name emblazoned across the seats, the Sons of Ben will sit in the RIver End and sing their songs ... the team will take ownership of the venue and play there with pride.
The people who built the stadium did their part. The place looks great. The fans did their part, the place is sold out. Now it's time for the team to do theirs and win, because the real attraction has to be the team rather than the park. Just ask the Baltimore Orioles, who can't draw flies to one of the great stadiums in baseball.
As Al Davis once said, "Just win baby!"