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A history of soccer at Lincoln Financial Field

For as many scars as there are in Philadelphia's sports history, the establishment of Lincoln Financial Field as a top-class soccer venue has been a smashing success for the city.

The item was buried deep in the March 18, 2003 edition of the Inquirer, behind coverage of Phillies spring training, the Flyers and the NCAA tournament.

Jim Thome had hit a pair of home runs against the Yankees, after all. Eric Desjardins, Tony Amonte and Sami Kapanen had scored in a win over the Devils that secured a late-season tie atop the Atlantic division.

(Some things don't change, though: the front page featured a profile of Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli's eccentricities. He was only slightly less bald back then than he is now.)

If you kept going, past the brackets and the box scores, you might have been surprised to see a famous byline all the way back on page D12:

Larry Eichel, Inquirer Staff Writer

And there was a story about... wait... what's that?

Sellout in soccer boosts sport here

With a new, friendlier stadium, Philadelphia has prettier prospects for "the beautiful game."

The news: Every ticket an upcoming exhibition game between Manchester United and Barcelona at Lincoln Financial Field was snapped jup just hours after going on sale. It was to be the first ever event at Philadelphia's new stadium, which was a big enough deal. All of a sudden, it was an even bigger deal.

"No one expected it to sell out in two hours," Eichel wrote. "But that's what happened Saturday."

Could it be, as Eichel claimed, that "the Philadelphia area is full of soccer fans eager to see more top-level play now that the city has a high-quality facility with a grass field"?

A few paragraphs later, there came a prophecy:

Philadelphia has always been a good soccer town. It has supported both the indoor Kixx and the Charge of the Women's United Soccer Association. In 1991, the last time the men's national team came to town, 44,261 people paid to watch a game played on the artificial turf at Veterans Stadium.

But the city has never had a team in Major League Soccer, one reason being the unattractiveness of the Vet as a venue. Now along comes the Linc.

Said Trey Fitz-Gerald, MLS's senior director of communications: "We've always had Philadelphia in our sights as an important market for our future. Now there's a venue that would help vault them to the top of the list of candidates."

Did it ever. For as many scars as there are in Philadelphia's sports history, the establishment of Lincoln Financial Field as a top-class soccer venue has been a smashing success for the city.

Come June, we'll see yet another chapter written in the stadium's history with the world's game, as the Copa América Centenario brings three games to town. Indeed, as I wrote last week, the United States' group stage finale on June 11 may well be the biggest soccer contest this city has ever hosted.

That history has been quite a rich one. Even before soccer exploded in popularity across America, the U.S. national team drew crowds for exhibitions at Veterans Stadium and Franklin Field that remain among the largest in program history.

I wasn't living here in 1989, when 43,356 fans packed Franklin Field for an exhibition game against Soviet powerhouse Dnepr. Or in 1991, when 44,261 fans at Veterans Stadium watched John Harkes lead Sheffield Wednesday against a national team he'd otherwise have been part of.

At the time, the Vet crowd was the sixth-largest on record for a U.S. national team home game. In an era when the Americans played foreign clubs on a regular basis, it set a domestic attendance record for that kind of contest. The previous record? That contest at Franklin Field.

(That Dnipr team, by the way, is the same one that reached the Europa League final last season. It's now known by its proper Ukrainian name, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.)

Soccer, Philadelphia and the relationship between the two have come a long way since then. Lincoln Financial Field has played a big role in strengthening the bond. So here's a little holiday gift for the stat geeks among you: a list of every soccer game played at Lincoln Financial Field, including scores and attendances.

The list comes with one disclaimer: the crowds listed are based on tickets sold, not how many people actually showed up. In some cases, perhaps not surprisingly, those numbers aren't the same. But the counts of tickets torn are mostly lost to history now.

Thanks to Brett Strohsacker of the Eagles' public relations department for helping me put this together. I'll try to keep it updated going forward.

August 3: Manchester United 3, Barcelona 1 (68,396; the venue's first ever event)
September 20: Norway women 2, France women 0 (24,346; Women's World Cup doubleheader)
September 20: North Korea women 3, Nigeria women 0 (24,346; Women's World Cup doubleheader)
September 25: Sweden women 1, North Korea women 0 (31,553; Women's World Cup doubleheader)
September 25: United States women 5, Nigeria women 0 (31,553; Women's World Cup doubleheader)

July 28: Celtic 2, Manchester United 1 (55,421)
August 2: AC Milan 3, Chelsea 2 (39,123)
November 6: Denmark women 3, United States women 1 (14,812)

September 13: United States women 2, Republic of Ireland women (13,176)

July 19: United States men 2, Panama men 1 (31,087; CONCACAF Gold Cup doubleheader)
July 19: Honduras men 1, Canada men 0 (31,087; CONCACAF Gold Cup doubleheader)

April 10: Philadelphia Union 3, D.C. United 2 (34,870; first ever Union home game)
May 15: Philadelphia Union 1, FC Dallas 1 (25,038)
May 29: United States men 2, Turkey 1 (55,407; World Cup send-off game)
July 20: Manchester United 1, Philadelphia Union 0 (44,213)

July 24: Real Madrid 2, Philadelphia Union 1 (57,305)
August 10: United States men 1, Mexico 1 (30,138)

July 28: Mexico men 2, Jamaica men 1 (68,930; CONCACAF Gold Cup final)

June 9: TBA men vs. TBA men (Copa América Centenario)
June 11: United States men vs. TBA men (Copa América Centenario)
June 14: TBA men vs. TBA men (Copa América Centenario)

Here's a list of every U.S. men's and women's national team game that has been played in Philadelphia. This does not, of course, include games played at suburban venues such as PPL Park. It's only contests that took place within city limits.

September 25, 1968: U.S. men 0, Israel 4 at Temple Stadium (attendance 7,161)*
August 25, 1989: U.S. men 1, Dnepr 0 at Franklin Field 
August 2, 1991: U.S. men 2, Sheffield Wednesday 0 at Veterans Stadium

September 25, 2003: U.S. women 5, Nigeria 0 at Lincoln Financial Field
November 6, 2004: U.S. women 1, Denmark 3 at Lincoln Financial Field
September 13, 2008: U.S. women 2, Republic of Ireland 8

July 18, 2009: U.S. men 2, Panama 1 at Lincoln Financial Field
May 29, 2010: U.S. men 2, Turkey 1 at Lincoln Financial Field
August 10, 2011: U.S. men 1, Mexico 1 at Lincoln Financial Field

Yes, the first ever U.S. women's national team game in Philadelphia was played 35 years to the day after the first such U.S. men's national team game. How many of you knew that?

* - Thanks to famed local soccer historian (and former Inquirer copy editor) Roger Allaway for providing the attendance figure.