Philadelphia: a soccer city

Philadelphia is a soccer city.

Yes, I said it.

I do not mean to say that Philadelphians hold soccer, footy, football, futbol, whatever you may call it, in the same regard as they do football or baseball. But it must be said, there seems to be a paradigm shift at work. Certainly there are those who will say nay to the sport or its rising popularity in the States — sorry, this column is not for you.

It is perhaps the biggest cliché in Philadelphia sports, but from goalie controversies, to the tired and overwrought Santa and the snowball, one reigns above all: There’s always next year, man. But this year, more than most, it seems a cloud of losing and overwhelming mediocrity has descended over the stadium complexes in South Philadelphia. The Flyers and Sixers are the punchline of most jokes, the Phillies have yet to inspire the way they did around 2008, and the Eagles, well who really knows what is going on with head coach Chip Kelly and the personnel situation within that organization.

Which brings me back to Philadelphia being a soccer city. For those who are unaware, Philadelphia has had a professional soccer franchise which plays in Major League Soccer [MLS] since 2010. They have a spectacularly beautiful stadium situated scenically at the foot of the Commodore Barry Bridge (though perhaps not as strategically situated as most fans would hope). This stadium — PPL Park — can accommodate nearly 19,000 fans and at the last game against the new expansion side owned by Manchester City, New York City FC, was a complete sellout. Granted, the stadium has been somewhat empty in recent weeks as a result of the weather and a string of poor performances. But with an impassioned, diverse, and loyal fan base, despite their failures on the field, it seems only likely that the team will continue to grow in influence over the regions sports identity.

PPL Park: Home of Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union and the Commodore Barry Bridge in Chester, Pennsylvania, just south of Philadelphia. Photo from stadium section 138. Photo Credit: Nick Mumenthaler
PPL Park: Home of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union and the Commodore Barry Bridge in Chester, Pennsylvania, just south of Philadelphia.  Photo from stadium section 138.
Photo Credit: Nick Mumenthaler

With the city’s other teams in varying stages of rebuilding and crisis, it is only too obvious that there is a prime opportunity for the Union, MLS, and the United States Soccer Federation [USSF], the governing body of soccer in the United States, to elevate the professional and youth levels of the sport in the Delaware Valley. Indeed, the game’s promotion at both the professional and youth level go hand-in-hand. Young soccer players and fans become older soccer players and fans with disposable incomes and families. And while the stadium boasts a section called “The River End” where several thousand of the team’s most boisterous supporters, the Sons of Ben, call home, the remaining sections are filled with families and supporters of all ages who enjoy the game and the game-day experience.

The Union front office has, on more than one occasion, let the opportunity for increased success on both the field and in the sports market slip through their fingers. But they may not get another opportunity like this. With sports fans, looking for new hope and the Gold Cup Final being played at Lincoln financial field this July, the iron is hot and must, must be struck. Marquee signings, stronger investment into the fan experience, and the growth of the team through monetary investment are absolutely crucial at the moment. If the Union front office cannot see the golden opportunity lying at their feet, perhaps they do not deserve to reap its rewards.

Philadelphia Union players defend a throw-in by New York City FC at PPL park on April 11, 2015. Photo Credit: Nick Mumenthaler.
Philadelphia Union players defend a throw-in by New York City FC at PPL park on April 11, 2015. Photo Credit: Nick Mumenthaler.

But for a moment close your eyes. Imagine it’s July 4th, 2026. The United States Men’s National Team walks out onto the pitch at Lincoln Financial Field to 70,000 plus screaming fans. Sure, it’s the nation’s 250th birthday, but in this dream it’s also the World Cup Final. Mark my words — it could happen.

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