by Matt Minarik
When Major League Soccer (MLS) first kicked off in 1996, three (New York, Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth) of the top five sports media markets in the United States were debuting an MLS team. Philadelphia was not one of them. In 1998, the Chicago Fire debuted. Once again, no Philadelphia. In 2005, Los Angeles debuted a second MLS team, but Philadelphia was still nowhere to be found. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Three years later, Philadelphia finally got their franchise.
In 2001, a group of investors attempted to bring an MLS team to Trenton, NJ, but it was blocked by the then New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now NY Red Bulls). In 2006, there were plans to build a state-of-the-art stadium on the campus of Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. Then-New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine dropped the proposal. A year later, the now famed Sons of Ben were formed and, along with the Chester-based Keystone Sports & Entertainment LLC, finally brought professional soccer back to Philadelphia.
The Sons of Ben supporters group are arguably just as famous as the team they support. The SOB was formed on January 17, 2007, by three rabid soccer fans trying to figure out how to bring soccer to Philadelphia. January 17 is also the birthday of Benjamin Franklin. Through many fund-raisers and charity events, the Sons of Ben raised interest in the area to have a Major League Soccer Club. Keystone Sports & Entertainment proposed to have a stadium built in an area under the Commodore Barry Bridge in Chester, PA. On February 28, 2008, Philadelphia was finally granted an MLS franchise. The name Union alludes to the original thirteen colonies.
On March 25, 2010, the Union took the field for the first time in Seattle. They lost to the Seattle Sounder 2-0. It wasn’t until their second game and the club’s first home game versus D.C. United that the Union earned their first victory. Sebastien Le Toux scored all of the Union’s goals en route to a 3-2 victory. The Union finished their first season with eight wins, seven draws, and fifteen losses.
The Philadelphia Union has reached the MLS Cup Playoffs in six of their twelve years. Their most successful season came in 2020 when the Jim Curtin-led Union won the Supporters’ Shield with the best regular-season record in MLS. The future is promising for the Union. Along with many veteran soccer players, they pride themselves on developing homegrown talent. If you haven’t been to Subaru Park to cheer on your Philadelphia Union, now is the time.
Happy Birthday, Union! Doop!