Tragedy Follows Philadelphia Union Elimination from Concacaf Champions League Tournament

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Editor’s note: The author of this piece attended the match between the Philadelphia Union and Club America on September 15, 2021.

What should have been, even in defeat, one of the happiest nights in the brief history of the Philadelphia Union turned sad in the early morning hours today.

The Union lost to Club America, 2-0, in Chester. The match was the second leg of a semifinal tie in the Concacaf Champions League tournament. Club America won the first leg, 2-0, so the odds against the Union advancing to the final of this international tournament were long coming into the match due to that pre-existing deficit. It’s trite, but just getting this far was an enormous achievement for the Union in the club’s 11th year of existence.

Making matters worse for the Union was the fact that, by any reasonable assessment, Union supporters were outnumbered by perhaps as many as two to one in the team’s own building. Club America was founded in 1916; wherever they play, their support travels and does so in numbers. This was apparent from the seats, and from the press box:

To be very clear – very clear – the Club America supporters were passionate and demonstrative throughout the match, but in the best possible way. Play was never stopped due to fan conduct and the atmosphere was charged but never became disruptive. In fact, once Club America scored late in the second half (and then again a few minutes later) to seal Club America’s passage to the final, the atmosphere in Subaru Park was positively giddy, especially as the Union fans began the quiet march away from the dispiriting loss.

Sadly, this night would be soon after tarnished by a senseless act of violence hours after the match:

There were regrettable factors at play here. Alcohol may have been one of them. According to a 6ABC report, Chief Inspector Scott Small said the participants may have been drinking.

“Sometimes when alcohol is involved there are fights… Normally, these are well-run businesses that are quiet, safe. People just come here for a good steak sandwich. However, once in a while you get a fight that escalates into violence,” Small said.

Per Subaru Park policy, alcohol sales are halted at the 70-minute mark (or earlier). Last night, the 70-minute mark of the game was approximately 10:30 p.m.

A separate problem was out of the Union’s hands; the match started at 9 p.m. local time to accommodate the television broadcast. See also Philadelphia Eagles night games – later kickoffs allow those who want to drink to excess pre-game to do so and then some.

And, naturally, the Union aren’t responsible for the conduct of an individual (or in this case, a group of individuals) hours after the match concluded, actions that occurred several miles away from the stadium.

Still, perhaps it’s for the best that it is beyond unlikely that the Union will again advance as far as the semifinal of the Concacaf Champions League any time soon. You’re probably not going to see mounted police (as you did outside Subaru Park last night) for a Union/FC Cincinnati match.