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That was only a year ago? Remembering the 2020 season opener in Frisco

The Union’s 2-0 loss to FC Dallas happened in a much different pre-pandemic world



It’s been calendar 365 days since the Philadelphia Union began what would end up being their first trophy-winning season and for me it marks the one-year anniversary of so many things I experienced that weekend that I haven’t since.

That was the last time I’ve attended a soccer game without wearing a mask, the last time I’ve attended a soccer game that didn’t have limits on attendance, the last time I’ve walked a concourse without seeing signage everywhere about social distancing and wearing a mask.

It was also the last time I’ve flown on a plane, the last time I’ve interviewed coaches and players not through Zoom and the last time I’ve met up with friends after a game at a restaurant. I’m pretty sure I even shook hands with Fafa Picault that night but so much of it is a blur now just a year later.

It’s also the last time I saw Philly Soccer Page editor Peter Andrews in person. He made the trip down from Denver and PSP photographer Marjorie Elzie flew in to shoot the game. Peter and I chatted on video in an empty Toyota Stadium afterward about the disappointing 2-0 loss, never imagining how much our lives would be changing in a couple weeks and certainly less than convinced that the team we just saw would win the league.

Just look at how close we were — two people who had traveled from multiple states away – without masks on!

After talking with Peter, I met up with friends at a local restaurant that was packed with people. It was a fun and carefree night with lots of laughter and human connection I don’t believe I’ve had around a table with people I’m not related to since.

The next morning, a friend who lives in Dallas who I hadn’t seen in a couple decades made breakfast and I hit up the National Soccer Hall of Fame before leaving town later that afternoon.

My memory of the Hall of Fame was that it would have been a lot more fun with my kids there. Looking back now after a year of being cooped up in a small Cape Cod with them and their toys, I feel that even more. I was excited at the time to finally visit the Hall of Fame since it was unexpectedly closed for maintenance the one time I tried to go when it was still in Oneonta, New York. Now I’m just trying to live vicariously through my pre-pandemic self as documented on my photos from that weekend.

Before flying home, another friend of mine handed me a navy blue mask to wear at the airport. That was my very first mask. I remember feeling weird about it because of how few other people were wearing one while I was walking through the terminal. Now the opposite would be true.

The Union traveled to LAFC and played what would have been a much better game to cover in person a week later — a wild 3-3 draw capped by Jakob Glesnes’ golazo — and then returned home to prepare for what was supposed to be their home opener against San Jose. That game would never happen, of course, and the season was shut down for months before coming back with MLS is Back in Orlando in the summer, followed by the rest of the regular season and playoffs.

The season ended up being a historic one for the Union with the Supporters’ Shield win and buried the FC Dallas loss in the long ago past. For those of us who were there that night in Frisco, it’s less the result that ended up being memorable and more everything about what soccer used to be and can hopefully be again.

My late night writing time has been interrupted of late by so far futile attempts to schedule a vaccine appointment and the season is still a little over a month away. The Costa Rica trip I had hoped to take with my wife isn’t happening and there’s no schedule yet to decide what road trip might be doable this summer. Once it comes out though, a drive to Ohio to see one or both of the new stadiums in Columbus and Cincinnati sounds like the perfect trip to celebrate making it to the other side of all this.

Matthew Ralph is the managing editor of Philadelphia Soccer Now / Brotherly Game. He's covered soccer at all levels for many years in the Philadelphia region and has also written for, NPSL, PrepSoccer and other publications. He lives with his wife and two young children in Broomall, Pa., but grew up in South Jersey and is originally from Kansas.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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