PPL Park in Chester, two weeks from hosting its first Major League Soccer game, drew rave reviews from players, management, and season-ticket holders in a dress rehearsal of sorts Saturday.
The Union invited season-ticket holders to watch Saturday's World Cup game between the United States and England, a 1-1 tie, and to check out the sparkling new $122 million stadium that will seat 18,500 for soccer.
This season, the Union played their first two MLS home games at Lincoln Financial Field while the stadium construction was completed. PPL Park will open June 27 with a 5 p.m. game against the Seattle Sounders FC.
The players, who had not been inside the soccer-specific stadium until Saturday, were like fans themselves.
"It's a really nice stadium and I really like it," said forward Sebastien Le Toux, who has a team-high five goals for the 2-7-1 Union. "I like the fact that the fans are so close to the action."
Close is an understatement.
"We wanted to bring the fans as close to the game as possible," said Nick Sakiewicz, the Union's chief executive officer and operating partner.
According to Sakiewicz, FIFA, the governing body of soccer, mandates a 22-foot minimum from the sideline to the restraining walls in front of the first row of seats.
So the Union made sure that specifications were met. In addition, the seats are steeper, with a deeper angle.
"The ball is on the pitch so often in soccer that you want the seat to be elevated so the fan can see the ball on the field," Sakiewicz said.
The Commodore Barry Bridge provides a picturesque background.
"Everything is great about the stadium," said forward Alejandro Moreno, who has a team-high five assists. "The bridge coming across the stadium really looks nice."
Moreno had seen the stadium from the outside, but this was his first time inside.
"We've been talking of this so long, and you walk in and don't know what to expect," he said. "It was like it was a myth, that a stadium was being built in Chester, but then you come in here and see how special it will be for us, and it is very exciting."
The sideline roofs that protect fans from the elements give PPL Park a look resembling Red Bull Arena, the home of the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J., that has drawn praise.
Yet with 6,500 fewer seats, PPL Park is a more intimate version of Red Bull Arena.
"This stadium will be a much more unified experience for the fan than Red Bull Arena," Union president Tom Veit said. "I think here, the fan will really feel part of things."
Season-ticket holder Brian Sherman of Sicklerville, Camden County, said he can't wait to see the stadium full. Sherman is a member of the Union's enthusiastic fan club called the Sons of Ben.
The Union have sold all 12,000 season tickets, and single-game tickets for the opener have been sold out.