Expanding the franchise

The Polish American String Band accompanied the Sons of Ben supporters club to the ceremony unveiling Philadelphia Union's official name and colors at City Hall. (Sarah Glover/Staff Photographer)

They came with a string band.


We were all standing at Dilworth Plaza wondering when the press conference to officially introduce Philadelphia Union would start. Then, all of a sudden, a few hundred Sons of Ben came marching out from City Hall, belting out "I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover" at the top of their lungs as the Polish American String Band played the tune.

I've followed Major League Soccer for a long time, including a few years spent covering the league before I moved to Philadelphia. I've never seen anything quite like that.

Yet it was so classically Philly. For a sport that defines itself as being the most global of games, this was the ultimate local spin on the kind of passion for which soccer fans are so well-known.

They came witth a sense of humor, too. MLS Commissioner Don Garber got the perfect reaction from the crowd when he said that while they might applaud him now, they won't be when he suspends a Union player for the first time.

He got booed, of course, but there was plenty of laughter first.

And they came with a spirit of inclusion. From the top of the front office on down, team officials talked about how they wanted to draw not only the youth soccer players and Europhiles, but also the Mexican population in South Philadelphia and the West African community that plays pickup games in University City's Clark Park.

You can hear from Garber and Union president Tom Veit in the audio player below.

If it all comes together, the atmosphere in Chester could genuinely be unlike anything this city has seen in quite a while. Yes, that may sound like hyperbole, but from what I've seen, soccer fans in this country are a bit of a different breed from fans of other sports I've covered.

The biggest question left now is whether and how all those fans that Union wants to attract will go to the stadium every weekend. It will be answered in due time.

For now, though, I'll reiterate something I've said before: if I'm still blogging on here come the summer, I intend for soccer to be a significant part of what I write about. I know that a number of Sons of Ben read this blog and I've certainly noticed the spikes in traffic on here when I write about the sport.

So I ask you: are you interested in this team? How do you think it will fit into the local sports landscape?

And can we please get a string band playing at the games?