SPRINGFIELD, Pa. - It didn't take long for the Seattle Sounders' simmering rivalry with the Philadelphia Union to boil over.
Even before the season began, it seemed inevitable that Major League Soccer’s two newest franchises would be competitive. And then MLS did its part by sending the Union to Seattle to play its inaugural game in front of a national television audience.
During the game, things intensified almost immediately as Philadelphia’s Danny Califf picked up a yellow card in the game’s first minute for knocking down Seattle forward Fredy Montero. Before the first half was out, Toni Stahl was sent off with his second yellow card.
The deal was sealed after the game when Philadelphia manager Peter Nowak accused the Sounders of diving, and designated player Freddie Ljungberg of dishonesty, complaining and whining – all within the space of two sentences.
Fans on each coast mentally circled the date of the rematch that now looms just two days away as the Sounders visit Philadelphia at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s not like this is not going to be a little bit of a heated rivalry,” Union coach John Hackworth said Thursday. “There’s already some blood in the water, so to speak.”
Nowak was unavailable to the media after a short Union training session Thursday, leaving instead to attend a pep rally for the game that also will mark the dedication of PPL Park, the Union’s 18,500-seat, soccer-specific stadium.
And Ljungberg opened this week without adding much more fuel to the fire.
“I couldn’t be less bothered,” he said. “For me it’s probably a disgrace what he said. But I don’t get involved in those kinds of things. I just play my game, and hopefully we can beat them.”
But while Ljungberg implied he has put the incident behind him, Hackworth believes the Union’s goon reputation lingers unfairly.
“Everybody watched it on national TV,” he said. “We get a red card – I would say controversially so. (Danny) Califf gets a yellow in the first 20 seconds of the game. Certainly, I think that a combination of playing in Seattle in front of that crowd, national TV, the perception being that we were these thugs and that’s the way that we were going to play. We have felt that actually from referees, from press in different cities, even our own fan base. But I would say it’s a little unjust.”
Hackworth notes that the Union’s reputation for rough play is not reflected in MLS statistics. There, Philadelphia ranks 14th in the 16-team league with 115 fouls and is 11th with 17 cautions.
The numbers are somewhat deceptive because the Union has played a league-low 10 games. However, Philadelphia has suffered two more fouls than it has committed.
“We also have played for my money some of the most attractive, attacking soccer in the league,” Hackworth said. “Nobody mentions that.”