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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Monday, June 24, 2013

Matt Kassel makes history in sub appearance

As Antoine Hoppenot bulged the net in the 89th minute Sunday, the course of Major League Soccer history was changed.

OK, that’s a bit dramatic. But Hoppenot’s goal played a definite role in an MLS first.

When Hoppenot finished off the cross by Sebastien Le Toux to put the final touch on the Philadelphia Union’s 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, Union manager John Hackworth called back would-be sub Aaron Wheeler and instead put on Matt Kassel.

In the process, he gave Kassel the distinction of being the first MLS Homegrown player out of the 76 signed in the last five years to play against the team that signed him. He beat Chivas USA’s Tristan Bowen to the punch by about six hours, as Bowen played against former team L.A. Galaxy later Sunday evening.

No matter the historical ramifications, it was satisfying for Kassel simply to get on the field.

“It’s always great to finally get rewarded, and after coming in each day and working as hard as I possibly can, just keeping my head down and knowing that whenever my name is called I have to be ready, and today was that opportunity and I’m excited,” he said.
It’s been a tough start to the year for Kassel, who was an unused substitute three times prior to Sunday. He suffered through a knee injury that kept him out for a stretch in April and May and is still sporting a hard cast on his left wrist.

A lot of that early disappointment faded away Sunday, though, when his No. 8 was put up on the board to replace Brian Carroll, the first time the Union captain has been subbed off in 15 months. The situation of the game and what it meant to the Union only heightened the feeling.

“Obviously it’s a rivalry with Red Bulls. It’s a rivalry that’s very important here on the East Coast,” Kassel said. “They were above of us in the standings and we just beat them to go ahead of them in the standings. Each game is important for us. We know we need to get results; we know we go on a little run, we know we have three big games coming up, and today was a good start.”

There’s also a personal element to it. Not only was Kassel signed as a Homegrown product by the Red Bulls in 2011, but the native of Bridgewater, N.J., graduated from the Red Bulls Academy before going to the University of Maryland. He was less than satisfied with the chance given to him with the Red Bulls under former coach Hans Backe, so much so that he spent 2012 with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds before joining the Union as a trialist and being signed toward the end of training camp.

Of his experiences in New York, Kassel told back in March that “The whole situation, I would say, was pretty disrespectful. … When I was there, it was foreign guys that didn’t really care about younger American players. I think if you talk to anyone who was part of the team that I was a part of, nobody was happy.”

Kassel’s a guy who figures to play some role on this Union team thanks to his versatility as a midfielder and defender. Given the thinness of the defense and the departures of Keon Daniel and possibly Jack McInerney to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, depth players like Kassel will need to step up.

For now, though, he has a historical moment to savor, one in which he got to see his former team pretty well embarrassed.

“I would say coming back to a team that I used to play for, being brought up in that area, it’s something special,” Kassel said. “Some of the guys were joking, some of the coaches, that to be the first home grown player to play against his first team is something special. I just come in here trying to do my job, help the team as much as possible to get results.”

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