The passion level for sports in Philadelphia is unprecedented. A kind of Brotherly Love that exudes off of us like sweat pouring off of Patrick Ewing. That passion does not stop at the four major sports. In 2010 the Philadelphia Union joined the city and became the MLS’s sixteenth team upon their expansion into the league. The team plays their home matches along the Delaware River at a brand new, beautiful PPL Park located in Chester, PA.
In order to trace the history of professional soccer in Philadelphia and how the U came to be you have to look at the history of the Sons of Ben. This will uncover what real passion is all about. As rumors circulated around the city in 2007 of a potential deal between the MLS and investors in Philadelphia regarding a soccer team in Philly the Sons of Ben were born.
The Sons of Ben a Philadelphia Union supporters club was born on January 17, 2007, the 301st anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birthday. The club was founded by Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and Dave Flagler building a base of over 1,000 supporters in 2007. The group ran a ticket drive in 2007 attracting over 2,800 requests. SoB epitomizes Philadelphia and the passion of a city. The Philadelphia civic colors of light blue and gold represent a phan base in love with its team, the Zolos. If you don’t know why the U is referred to as the “Zolos” that may be a story for another blog.
In the 2010 MLS Super Draft the Union, with the number one pick, selected forward Danny Mwanga from Oregon State University. The Union played their first match on March 25th v. the Seattle Sounders F.C. at Qwest Field losing 2-0. The two home openers for the U were moments that every Philly soccer phan will not quickly forget. The team’s first home game at Lincoln Financial field in April was packed with supporters en route to a 3-2 victory over D.C. United for Piotr Nowak’s squad. And phinally in the home opener v. the Sounders the Zolos prevailed 3-1 to open PPL Park with fury.
The U entered 2010 with high expectations and the phan base to back it up. Although the club did not reach the postseason it was a beginning to something very special in Philadelphia. Led by leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux with 14 strikes the U scored 35 in all.
The U are currently in the Greek Isles preparing for the 2011 season, opening play on March 19th at Houston. They will be playing an exhibition match today February 28th v. Greek Third Division side Hersonissos F.C. followed by another match vs. Ergotelis F.C. on Wednesday. The opportunity to travel to Greece as a team and experience a new country and a new brand of soccer has bonded the group. A family bond is something that every team needs in order to succeed.
While the U have lost some players from 2010 they have also replenished the roster with some proven players. With the signings of Brian Carroll, Carlos Valdes, and Faryd Mondragon to add to recently signed forward Carlos Ruiz, who has scored 82 goals in 7 previous MLS seasons, the Zolos are preparing for a postseason run in 2011.
“I think we have a team filled with potential and we’re all looking forward to making the necessary steps forward in our second season.” Midfielder Justin Mapp said of the U’s expectations for the season.
With the countdown to first kick only 19 days away the excitement for a new year is building. You can guarantee the Sons of Ben will be ready to go. The home opener at PPL Park is on March 26th v. Vancouver. I know for a fact that there will be plenty of DOOP-ing!