There are not many fan bases that can say they helped bring a professional team to town, but in Philadelphia the passion for an MLS franchise, spearheaded by supporters “Sons of Ben”, was instrumental in securing a team. The 2013 campaign is the club’s fourth season, and the Philadelphia Union have established themselves nicely in the city’s otherwise busy sports scene. While the location of the stadium outside of Philly remains the biggest downfall of the experience, the rest of PPL Park is just about perfect. From the passionate fans to the aesthetically pleasing design and amazing view, this soccer-specific stadium remains as one of the best in MLS.
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Local favorites, traditional stadium food and specialty items all make up the plentiful options at PPL Park. You can't help but think Cheesesteak when near Philadelphia and there are four different kinds offered at $10, which includes a side of fries. The steaks are quite filling and the traditional one I had was pretty good. There is even a vegetarian cheesesteak, although to be honest, I'm not sure how that works. Other Philly favorites include soft pretzels in the shape of a U for Union ($4.50), Turkey Hill Ice Cream and Chickie's and Pete's famous Crab Fries ($7.50). They even consider nearby Jersey with a sandwich called "The Striker" that features Pork Roll and Cheese (which is big in the Garden State).
Traditional favorites can be found around the concourse, but even those are spruced up, like the several varieties of specialty hot dogs and hamburgers (a theme now common at stadiums across the country). Macaroni and Cheese is big at PPL with different types, including one served with a unique lobster cream sauce ($12). The Barbeque stand is excellent too with Pulled Pork ($10) and a Brisket ($10). You will notice that many of the prices are high, but at least the quality is decent and sides are usually included.
Coca-Cola is the soda provider, while Budweiser takes care of the beer. It will cost a pretty penny to drink with a bottle costing $7.50 and a large draft running a staggering $9.50. Local products including Victory and Dogfish Head can be found as well.
Though the city in which PPL Park resides may not be the ideal area, the stadium takes full advantage of a picturesque setting. Located right along the Delaware River, the Commodore Barry Bridge towers overhead and much of the stadium benefits from this spectacular outside water and bridge view. To take full advantage, try to sit on the west side of the stadium (Sections 102-112), which not only has the best view, but the sun is also out of your eyes. These seats are also covered by a roof, which is similar to the other sideline. Very comfortable and roomy blue seats are found throughout the one-level seating bowl, with the exception of the separated River End, where the light blue seats are hardly ever used as that is where the supporters reside. It is a remarkably intimate stadium with excellent sightlines and seats quite close to the pitch. The fans create a soccer atmosphere that wonderfully compliments an otherwise terrific venue.
What is it about MLS stadiums in boring or unattractive locations outside of the big city? Harrison, Carson, Commerce City, Bridgeview, and Chester are just some of the league's home bases. The issue with Chester (a city of 33,000 about 10 miles southwest of Philadelphia) is that it is both boring and unattractive. The city is rather downtrodden with boarded-up buildings and other spots that you would not want to venture into. No worries for getting to the stadium though as they keep that area very safe with police presence. As for the stadium, it was supposed to be a key in starting a huge urban renewal project along the waterfront. After four years, there is almost no sign of that as only a nearby existing historic building was renovated for office space. The rest of the surrounding area is full of lots and its best just to head right to the park.
Thankfully, designers did create a lot of green space around the stadium, which is perfect for impromptu soccer games amongst friends. There are also picnic tables and a plaza for music where fans can enjoy a festive atmosphere before entering the stadium. This is a great venue to consider some pre-game tailgating. Fans can also take a stroll along the water where walkways line the river's edge.
Let's start with the Sons of Ben supporters group, who help to set the tone for the game. They fill up much of the River End and do a great job with their cheers, chants and songs throughout. Some of the favorites include: "Four Leaf Clover", "Just Can't Get Enough" and "Philadelphia". The latter two help to get the rest of the crowd going as well. It is a passionate fan base that is quite focused and into the game, often rising to their feet for corner kicks or to show appreciation to starters being subbed out. Goals are electric as everyone sings and dances along to the "Doop Song".
You will also see much of the crowd in various Union jerseys or shirts. While attendance has slipped a little with each season and empty seats are increasing, the stadium is still packed for most games.
By car, PPL Park is very simple to get to with I-95 just a few minutes away. After exiting 95 onto US-322, a newly-built exit ramp brings cars right down to West 2nd Street and from there, the stadium's parking lots are a couple blocks away. If you want the official stadium lots, be sure to follow the signs because there are several private parking areas enticing you on the approach. These other parking lots are tempting to utilize for saving some money (PPL charges a ridiculous $20), but it's best to do some research given the overall area that you are in. Because many fans tailgate, traffic coming in is minimal as fans arrive at different times. Congestion leaving can be expected, but there is organization as many personnel direct the traffic to speed up the process.
Public transportation is available, but could be better. The Chester Transportation Center is located on SEPTA's regional rail (the Newark-Wilmington line) and from Center City Philadelphia, it is about a 25 minute ride. The problem is that the stop is too far from the stadium, so shuttles run to bring riders to and from.
Inside PPL Park, the concourse wraps around the entire stadium at ground-level underneath the seating bowl. Though most times there is enough room, halftime will get crowded, which is to be expected at almost all soccer matches. Bathrooms are quite plentiful, but a huge gripe is how each bathroom only has one door for people coming in and leaving. This makes it more crowded and quite awkward.
I absolutely recommend going to a game at PPL Park and quite likely fans will want to return after their first visit. But I just can't get past that ridiculous parking charge of $20, though it can be avoided by using a private lot or taking the rail and then shuttle. Outside of that, ticket prices are average by MLS standards as they range from $25 to $50. The preferred sideline seats are $40 or $50. The experience is worth those prices.
Even though this should be expected for a stadium so young, it is remarkable how clean the park is. Floors and walls throughout the concourse and in the stadium still have this new look and it really elevates the place for fans.
The great atmosphere does not just include the game as fans get things going on the outside with tailgating in the parking lot. There is an Eagles football feel to the parking as many of the cars feature a tailgate.
Terrific detail went into the creation of the team's logos, colors and jersey. The Union nickname refers to the "union" of the 13 colonies when Philadelphia became the first capitol of the new United States. Meanwhile, take a look at the logo. Every single aspect of it has a meaning, from the colors and the circle, to the shield and the 13 stars at the bottom. It is just an awesome representation of the city's history.
PPL Park is the home of Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union. It is a brand new stadium for a brand new team, and my expectations were high going in. Taylor Twellman of the New England Revolution on Twitter recently called it the best stadium in MLS.
He was not wrong.
1000 W 2nd St
Chester, PA 19013
2520 W 3rd St
Chester, PA 19013
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1450 Providence Ave
Chester, PA 19013
2628 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19146