Back in 2003, Lincoln Financial Field first opened its gates. Before Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins took to the field of the new stadium for the Eagles in midnight green, another professional sport made its way to Philadelphia as the stadiums first ticketed event in its 12-year history.
A match between European soccer powers Manchester United and Barcelona took place on August 3, 2003 and served as the rebirth of soccer interest in Philadelphia. Names like Ronaldinho, Rudd van Nistelrooy, Tim Howard and Roy Keane took the field and gave fans a glimpse of what professional soccer is all about.
The Union were born shortly after, in 2008, and interest in soccer has skyrocketed throughout the city in the time since. In fact, soccer interest has grown so much that the city will now serve as the host of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup final in July.
“We’ve had 12 international club teams come here to play over the years, we’ve had 10 men’s national teams come here and play, we’ve had five women’s national teams and most recently, in October, we held the women’s world cup qualifiers at PPL Park,” said Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz. “This is another great, great event that we’re able to bring [to this city].”
In 2009, the U.S. men’s national team played their first match in Philadelphia since 1968. They’ve played two matches in the city since and are the favorites heading into Gold Cup play, which begins on July 7. USA will face the winner of a March playoff between Honduras and French Guiana in their first match in Group A.
“In essence the Super Bowl of soccer is taking place right here in Philadelphia and we should in the next few years be the American football host site as well, but that’s another discussion for another day,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “Philadelphia continues prove itself as a great world class destination for big events.”
The rest of team USA’s slotted matches of Group A are Haiti on July 10, followed by Panama on July 13. If the Americans win their group, they would play the third-place team from Group B or C on July 18.
“This is a sports town,” said Nutter. “Philadelphians will argue about anything related to sports, they will go to anything related to sports and [this event] brings people here. This is an international event, there will be nearly 100 countries represented here and all eyes will be on Philadelphia on the weekend of [July] 25th and 26th.
The Gold Cup final will take place at Lincoln Financial Field on July 26. PPL Park hosts the third place match the day before, on July 25.