My favorite fans are the “4 for 4” group. They religiously follow all the home teams of each major professional sport. Up until recently, those sports were football, baseball, basketball and hockey. I say until recently because since 2010, there’s been a new game in town.
Major League Soccer or MLS is the latest foray of association football, known simply as football abroad and soccer here in the States, into the American sports paradigm. It was founded in 1993 at the behest of FIFA (the world governing body of soccer) as a condition for the US to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. The league currently has 22 teams, 19 of which are in the United States and 3 in Canada. They play a 34 game season that culminates in a playoff for the MLS Champion.
The Philadelphia Union are our local MLS team. They are actually located in Chester, PA but nonetheless represent the city and will hopefully move up here when they can afford to build a stadium within the city limits. They played their first season in 2010, making them an expansion team. Their first few seasons were pretty unimpressive with the exception of the 2011 season were they made the playoffs for the first time. Like the rest of our teams they are in the midst of a rebuild, though a bit further into it. Now they are looking more like competitors. They started last season in 1st place before eventually dropping off due to injuries from two of their star players among other reasons. They still made it to the playoffs and were eliminated in the first round.
The coach is a man named Jim Curtin. He’s a local guy that went to Villanova where he was drafted by the Chicago Fire. He had some successful seasons with them and retired from playing to be the youth academy coach before being promoted to the first team. The GM, Earnie Stewart is a protege of Billy Beane of money ball fame. He has a proven track record as a GM with the club AZ from the Dutch Eredivisie. After a successful stint there, he left for Philly saying that he has always wanted to return to the states to make an impact here in a management role. Earnie is high on analytics and having a balanced roster with strong depth on the bench. He prefers a team that is well rounded with talent rather than top heavy with a few stars and minor role players.
There’s a few things that separate them from the other teams in this area. Here are my 5 reasons you should the support the Union and go 5 for 5.
Let’s start where it all started. The founding of the first top tier professional soccer team in Philadelphia in decades. One of the unique stories of their founding was that it was inspired by and frankly demanded by a local group of soccer fans known as the Sons of Ben.
- The Sons of Ben
First of all without the Sons of Ben there is no Philadelphia Union. Literally. The supporters group was instrumental in bringing the MLS franchise to Philadelphia through their relentless lobbying to the league and local government. The fact that you had fans of a team that didn’t even exist yet is just awesome. It shows the passion in the city for soccer.
So who are the Sons (and daughters) of Ben?
If you visit Talen Energy stadium, the home of the Union, you will see on one end of the venue a group of loud, tireless, blue and gold clad hooligans singing and yelling incessantly as the game goes on. They fill up the supporters section every game, travel with the team and sing their hearts out from start to the final whistle. They occupy the stands on the eastern side of the pitch known as the River End and display their “tifo” or images and banners that either bolster the team or poke fun at the visitors.
Did I mention they bang a drum like Vikings and pop smoke grenades when the team scores? They bring a ton of energy and atmosphere to the stadium which makes for a great experience. If that’s not enough, I got a few more reasons.
2. Alejandro Bedoya, Andre Blake and Chris Pontius
We currently have 3 players on the team who play for their respective national teams two of which play for the US, the other for Jamaica. Charlie Davies also used to play for the USMNT (U.S. Mens National Team) and GM Earnie Stewart, a USMNT regular as a player, was the hero that scored the game winning goal against Columbia in the 1994 World Cup. It was the USA’s first win in the World Cup since 1950.
It’s a sign that we have something of a team over here when we have so many players that are internationally respected. Just imagine if the Flyers or Sixers produced three players good enough to play for their country. We didn’t even have anyone in the All Star game from the Sixers and only one from the Flyers.
3. Keegan Rosenberry
Rosenberry is a right back and was selected 3rd overall in the 2016 MLS Superdraft. In the first game of the season he was the Man of the Match then made it to the team of the week and was later voted into the All Star game. He played every minute of every game for the Union last year. He was the only player to do so in the entire league. At the end of the season he was called up to the USMNT training camp. All of these accomplishments were during his rookie season. Did I mention he’s a PA kid? This is just the beginning of the young talent that we should be expecting to see come up from the Union’s youth academy. It’s one of the best in the country and the focal point of the team’s strategy to be competitive now and in the future.
4. Talen Energy Stadium
It’s one of my favorite venues in Philly sports. A bit small by our standards, but this lends to a more intimate atmosphere. There isn’t a bad view in the house and even the cheapest seats have you sitting close enough to the pitch that you can catch a ball that goes astray.
It is one of loudest, most boisterous fortresses in the Philly sports scene. Go to a Phillies game and it gets loud when someone hits a homer. The Wells Fargo Center and the Linc have their moments but again, mostly when something interesting happens. Talen Energy Stadium is full throttle from start to finish. The Sons of Ben make sure there is never a quiet moment because they cheer and yell and scream and sing win or lose. The electricity is palpable.
5. Getting In on The Ground Level
This Team, this League and this Game are GROWING. This isn’t stopping. It’s not a fad. They aren’t the Kixx or the Soul or any of the other “me too” sports that show up from time to time. Soccer has been around awhile. It even has roots here before football took over. Philly has quite a history in the sport. We won more than our share of championships in our time. It’s almost our time again and you don’t want to be the last one on the train. This team might be the next to win a championship. It’s not only possible it’s probable.
Union fans are loyal and carry a chip on their shoulder like every good Philadelphian. They do this for the same reasons we all do. Because we root for a team that no one thinks will accomplish anything. The exception is that the people saying that are our own.