Ten springs ago, a 24-year-old soccer player from Florida fulfilled a dream held by countless Philadelphia sports fans.
At the end of the Union’s first-ever home game, Andrew Jacobson ran to the stands and leapt into the arms of members of the Sons of Ben, the supporters club that filled nearly the entire lower deck of Lincoln Financial Field’s north end that night.
There was the pregame ceremony with then-Vice President Joe Biden and the late Walter Bahr, the Philadelphia-born legend of the 1950 U.S. men’s World Cup team. They came to mark the first home game for a Philadelphia professional men’s outdoor soccer team since Aug. 16, 1980, when the NASL’s Fury took the field at Veterans Stadium for the final time.
There was Sébastien Le Toux’s hat trick, including the opening goal four minutes in.
There was Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz’s stunning gaffe that gifted D.C. a tying goal: a ball dropped for a punt that instead fell right onto the foot of Jaime Moreno, who stole it and put it in the net.
And there were the Union, playing only the second game of their existence, beating a team that epitomized Major League Soccer’s establishment. D.C. played in the league’s first game in 1996, and in 2010 had the league’s largest trophy collection.
Something about that postgame celebration feels especially vivid, though.
To be sure, it helps that an Inquirer photographer captured the moment, and the picture was featured in the next day’s paper. But it’s something more than that: a moment of true joy and optimism, before the team went on to lose a lot more games than it won over the next decade.
Jacobson still remembers the celebration too, after a career that spanned 11 years and three countries.
“It wasn’t planned by any means,” he said. “All of the excitement building up to the game, and then the ups and downs of the game, and to win, and to really feel the passion from the fans after — it was just kind of a spur of the moment thing.”
The Union televised the game on PHL17 a few weeks ago, bringing it to local soccer fans who perhaps hadn’t seen it before. Even if you were paying attention in 2010, you might not have watched the game if you weren’t there. It was only televised on the out-of-the-way Fox Soccer Channel.
Now the game lives on the Union’s website, in an archive of classic contests. (It’s no fluke that just three of the 11 games available are from the team’s early years. There wasn’t much worth remembering.)
Le Toux scored the night’s first two goals. The opener was a header off a Roger Torres cross — a play that surprised even Le Toux, since he didn’t score many headers.
“I was not really supposed to be in the box … I was more waiting on top of the box,” he said. “When the play kept going, I knew that nobody really marked me. So I snuck in the box, was kind of like, ‘Put it in a good spot,’ and I don’t know, the ball really just fell right on my head.”
The second was a fine right-footed shot on a breakaway in the 40th minute. Though some fans missed Le Toux’s opening goal because of long security lines, they didn’t miss that one.
D.C. started its comeback in the 63rd, when Santino Quaranta jumped on a pass by centerback Michael Orozco, ran forward and fired it past Seitz. Moreno’s equalizer came five minutes later.
“We felt like we just let them back in the game as opposed to them earning it,” said Jordan Harvey, who until Kai Wagner’s arrival last year was the best left back in team history. "But we had the right mentality.”
That mentality started with veterans Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno, Fred and future team captain Danny Califf.
“We had the work rate in guys like Seba who was leading by example — he never stopped running. We had guys like Alejandro who never stopped working," Harvey said.
“We didn’t have one sour apple out of the whole group that when push came to shove, would, you know, crumble or give up,” he continued. "And when you have the older guys doing stuff like that, like Fred or Danny — Danny’s the epitome of that — when all the older guys are doing that everybody falls in line.”
There was also the fire of manager Peter Nowak, who won trophies as a player in Chicago and as as a coach in D.C. before coming here.
“He always wanted to be hard-nosed, and in that period in my career I would have run through a brick wall for him,” Harvey said. “Then, on the flip side of that, with the ball, he wanted [attacks] to be on the ground, he wanted to pass, he wanted it to be fluid, he wanted me to get forward. All of those things I really enjoyed.”
Nowak’s ways weren’t always for the best, and they blew up on him later. But in that first season, he helped the players build chemistry.
“He always got the best out of each player,” Le Toux said. “Sometimes he was maybe too hard on some players, but he was coaching the team the way he wanted to do it. … How he tried to manage everything else around was maybe not the best way to do it — and that’s why he got in trouble for it — but as a coach, just looking at the technical parts, I don’t have too many bad things to say.”
The reward for the Union’s efforts came in the 78th minute. Moreno turned to chase a high ball that Michael Orozco played over D.C.'s back line, and was held back and pushed over by Dejan Jakovic. With the ball placed at the top of the 18-yard box arc, Le Toux stepped up and drove a low shot straight into the net.
Though it felt like a home game to the players, it wasn’t quite. The Union’s true home, PPL Park (now called Subaru Park), wasn’t to open for another two months. And a dedicated practice facility was still years away. Back then, the players dressed in the stadium locker room and rode vans to a public park in Wallingford.
“We’d always be like, ‘Choo choo, jump on the positivity train,’ because that’s the only thing you can do in certain moments — like when we’re on the bus and it’s 100 degrees out and we’re busing to the field or whatever,” Harvey said. “Everybody stayed positive, and maybe as a young guy I was a little bit naive, thinking that things were going to get done as quickly as they were said to be. But I only look back and think it was a really cool experience with a really good group of guys.”
Harvey felt very much at home, though. Now a 15-year pro playing for Los Angeles FC, back then he was an expansion draft pick from the Colorado Rapids — a team long known (and still known) for not having a big fan base. The Sons of Ben really impressed him.
“Everybody had moved to Philadelphia, no one was from there,” Harvey said. “We knew we had the support of the Sons of Ben and that was awesome. And that was the first real time I ever had in my career of having a real supporter group fan base that was loud and had a voice.”
Le Toux recalled a meet-and-greet with fans at a Center City bar a few days before the home opener, after spending all of preseason in warmer weather.
“That was the only time we really had a chance to meet some fans, and I was surprised to see how many fans were there,” he said. “When we played the [first] home game, we just didn’t know how much impact soccer would have in Philly.”
Where are they now?
Players from the Union’s inaugural roster are spread all over the world now.
Some, such as Sébastien Le Toux and midfielder Fred, are still part of the organization. Le Toux is a team ambassador and TV analyst, and Fred is a youth academy coach.
Danny Califf was traded away in 2012, and came back to the area after retiring in 2013. At one point, he coached an amateur team in Wilmington founded by Union fans. He’s now in his native southern California coaching youth soccer.
Andrew Jacobson works in real estate development in Vancouver, B.C., where he settled after ending his playing career with the Whitecaps.
Stefani Miglioranzi is a player agent with many American clients.
Alejandro Moreno is a smart and popular analyst for ESPN.
Torres remains a fan favorite to this day. He came here as an 18-year-old who spoke virtually no English, but his soccer spoke for him. If Torres, a gifted playmaker with vision and terrific passing skills who is playing in his native Colombia, came to MLS now he’d command a major transfer fee -- and be sold for an even bigger one.
Although his off-field habits weren’t perfect, his teammates knew he was a raw gem. So did the many fans who chanted his name when they wanted manager Peter Nowak (or his successor John Hackworth) to bring him off the bench.
Unfortunately, Torres never got the kind of coaching and teaching here that could have polished him into stardom. The good news is he’s doing well in Colombia, with a wife and kids and a solid career. He won a Colombian league title with Junior FC in 2019.
None of the Union’s inaugural draft picks reached their potential. Danny Mwanga, the No. 1 overall selection, bounced around MLS, the USL and the now-defunct NASL after his 2 1/2 years here. He ended up with just 20 goals in 138 games played.
Jack McInerney is with the Oakland Roots in the nascent third-tier National Independent Soccer Association. It’s his eighth team in a career that started a long descent after he made the 2013 U.S. Gold Cup squad.
Amobi Okugo is in Austin, Texas, playing for the USL’s Austin Bold FC and running a financial literacy consultancy for professional athletes.
Kyle Nakazawa retired at just 24, ending a soccer career that started at the 2005 Under-17 World Cup. He’s now a Forest Service firefighter in southern California.
Brian Perk was released by the Union after the 2010 season and joined the Los Angeles Galaxy. He was a reserve there for a few years, then retired to anonymity. He’s now in law school in the L.A. area.
Toni Stahl, who got a red card in the Union’s first ever game — a 2-0 loss at Seattle — now works in insurance in Hartford, Conn. That was the only MLS game he ever played in.
Other Union alumni achieved fame after leaving here. Remember David Myrie, the Costa Rican right back who was cut after the Seattle game because he was so bad in it? He played for Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup.
Michael Orozco went on to a solid career for Mexican clubs and the U.S. national team. In 2012, he scored a goal that gave the U.S. men their first ever win at Mexico’s famed Estadio Azteca. He returned to the Linc for the 2016 Copa América Centenario, playing in the win over Paraguay. These days, he plays for Orange County SC in the second-tier USL Championship.
And what about Nowak? That’s a story on its own.
Let’s start with how his time here ended. For those who don’t know, he was fired in 2012 and sued the team for wrongful termination because he wasn’t paid severance money in his contract. He also sued MLS and the MLS Players Association.
The lawsuits ended up exposing a raft of misdeeds by Nowak, including hazing players (allegedly spanking one), forcing dehydration, ignoring concussions, and attempting to profit off transfers. Orozco told Fox Sports in 2012 that Nowak attempted to take money that would have gone toward buying out Orozco’s loan from Mexican club San Luis, and split it between the two of them. Orozco refused the offer, and was later sent back to Mexico.
In 2013, Nowak took a job overseeing youth teams at the Kirkwood Soccer Club in New Castle, Del. (The club had a marketing relationship with the Union, which was a bit awkward.)
A year later, he was hired by the Caribbean Football Union, a regional unit of Concacaf, to an advisory role. Later in 2014, he became the technical director of the Antigua & Barbuda Football Association and the head coach of its men’s national team.
Nowak returned to his native Poland in 2016 to manage Lechia Gdańsk. After one season, he moved up from the sideline to become the club’s technical director.
Last year, Nowak got a consulting job with FIFA. This year, he returned to Chicago, where he won two MLS Cups and two U.S. Open Cups with the Fire, to help launch a player agency.