Featured / Local

Philly soccer fans: We want more!

Photo: Earl Gardner

In the second half of the Union’s match against Seattle, Carlos Ruiz tried to trap a floating ball off the head of a Sounders defender. Sticking out his right foot, Ruiz misjudged the flight of the ball and it rolled off his shin and away from his body. Sebastien Le Toux, making a run to Ruiz’s right, was as surprised as anyone to find the ball suddenly bouncing at his feet.

“What a pass!” someone next to me gushed. This sentiment has since appeared in various forms in the comments section of The Philly Soccer Page. The fact that “The Pass” was actually a trap matters little.  Part of the beauty of live soccer is that there is little time to pause and analyze. The imagination is a full participant and, as Union fans will tell you, nobody cares where the goals come from as long as they end up in nestled in the back of the net.

Not seeing the whole picture

Soccer is not a sport designed for television. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” The camera cannot capture the movement of the strikers among the the opposing back line, drifting along the offside line trying to read the intentions of their teammates while giving nothing away to the defenders —who are trying to simultaneously read the intentions of the striker, the ball carrier, and their fellow defenders.

Those who find soccer slow-moving or boring need to see the game live. Or they need to explain why off the ball movement in soccer is harder to care about than the play of linemen in American football, which experts will dissect endlessly for thirteen months of the year.

Town and country

There are many barriers between the American sports fan and soccer. But the most likely culprits are slathered with emotional connections to family or nation.

Philadelphia has a rich soccer history. But without a continuously operating professional team to follow, the obsessive fandom that only a combination of parental influence and proximity can nurture is largely absent from the American fan scene. Pair with this the unfortunate truth that the United States is not in the same orbit as soccer’s elite and even the most confident marketer would hesitate to say the sport can sell itself.

And yet here I am writing about a Philadelphia soccer team. And here you are: Reading about it.

Together we have the exceedingly rare opportunity to bring a sport into this city’s consciousness. A beautiful stadium, a strong core of supporters and, a bit unexpectedly, a very good team demand Philadelphia’s attention. The new TV contract is not a bad thing, but televised soccer is different. Not bad, but different.

Different like listening to JP Dellacamera instead of ninety minutes of songs and chants. Different like seeing the real distance Sheanon Williams covers versus seeing him pop in and out of your viewing window. Different like you were there versus watched the celebrations.

Philly’s teams

My coworker is one of the great Philly sports fans. He can chart the evolution of the Flyers’ jerseys and logo which, to me, is like being able to tell the difference between how Pepsi tastes at different 7-Elevens. But I can’t get him out to a Union match.

The Union are a first place team at a beautiful new stadium. They represent Philly well. The fans had a reputation before the team ever played a match, and they were just as loud in the rain and wind of the Seattle match as they are in the sun. I really believe that it will be hard for anybody who attends a match at PPL to return to an anti-soccer shell.

So PSP wants to hear from you. Have you led a newbie through the gates of Philly’s soccer scene? Whether it was a Union game, an Independence match or a national team contest, we want to know how it went. Is the excitement as contagious as I think it is, or have I been drinking too much Kool-Aid to claim any foothold in reality?

We have a poll on our main page. If you take someone to a Union or Independence match for the first time, tell us in the poll. Get the newbie to leave a comment on PSP and tell us what they thought. We know we are obsessed, now we want to know what everyone else thinks.



  1. i’ve taken 2 newbies. one a soccer enjoyer without allegiance. the other a soccer newbie. brought both to TRE and now both are considering season tickets. both were loving the energy and the game. neither are huge SOB(organizationally) fans but definitely not because of cursing or YSA or anything like that.

  2. I took a friend of mine- a TOTAL newbie to both the Union and to Soccer- to the home opener quite frankly because I did not want to go alone. We BOTH expected her Not to like it and by the time we were walking back to Lot C, she was looking-up the partial season ticket plans on her Smartphone. “YES!!”, I thought to myself. “I recruited someone!” She has watched the game on TV since and agrees that it is NOT the same as seeing it live. So, we’ll Both be back… in warmer/dryer weather 🙂

  3. I’ve been following soccer for years, mainly by watching Manchester United games on TV. I went to a few games last year with a friend of mine who turned me on to soccer in the first place. I also went to a few games with my girlfriend who, before last year, didn’t know anything about soccer, nor could care less about it. All she knew about soccer was that I get really angry and throw things around the house every time someone scores against United. Anyway, we went to a few games last year and she really bought into the whole thing. She got a scarf, and then a jersey, and then at the end of the season, it was her idea to get season tickets for 2011. So not only have I turned her on to the sport by bringing her to a game last year but now she and I are full season ticket holders in the River End. She knows all of the songs, she knows all of the players, and this would have never happened if she had only seen the games on TV and never watched a game live.

  4. Gave my tickets to a Union newbie for the Sounders match, couldn’t attend due to work that day. He took his soccer playing son and a friend to the game, sat in the rain and had a good time. They can’t wait to go back again.

  5. Soccerdad1150 says:

    I’m not worried about converts. We have enough support for this team to thrive. What I can’t stand are ignorant soccer haters. I just had a fight with dom giordano on the Big talker 1210, when he said soccer is not a sport. I truly believe that him bringing it up shows that these guys are worried about the growth of soccer in America. We’re here, and not going away! DOOP!

    • At a bar on Thursday, asked the waitress to change the TV to the DC/NY match on ESPN2. Almost immediately after the channel changed I heard someone groan, “ugh, soccer?” I just don’t get it.

      • I found just the opposite on a few occasions. One in particular … was at the Irish Pub one evening a couple years back when the USMNT was playing a friendly. It was a quiet Philly sports night, so I asked the bartender to put the game on. Many were confused, thinking it was the World Cup, but I can honestly say at least 3/4 of the place got sucked into the game. One guy walked by and was thrilled to see the game on, so he came in to watch. When he expressed his surprise to the bartender, the latter said it was MY “fault” the game was on … needless to say, I was the recipient of a couple free beers that night in thanks for having the game on.

      • I’ve had a few moments like that. Some people are just more tolerant than others. Most of the bartenders/waiters I’ve dealt with have been pretty supportive. Case in point: I watched first kick last year at Kildare’s in West Chester. It’s supposed to be a Union Pub Partner, but it’s tough to watch a match there because they don’t turn the volume up and they cater more to the college crowd. My group sat on what eventually turned into the dance floor for “College Night,” but the manager was kind enough to keep the hoochies at bay until the game was over. I probably won’t watch a game there again, but kudos to staff for pushing their target crowd aside for 2 hours so a handful of Union fans could watch the game.

  6. I bought 2 season tickets for 2010 – one for me, the other for one of my many non-soccer friends in hopes of converting a few. Jump ahead one year, I still have only two tickets, but now the other ticket belongs to a friend who is not just a soccer convert, but a die-hard Union fan. After the first season, he and his wife went out and bought jerseys and hats, and are currently debating which Union onesie to buy for their newborn baby. By the way, the only thing that kept his wife from the home opener this year was the fact that she was 8 1/2 months pregnant, and even then she didn’t pass it up until the very last minute. Most of my friends still don’t get it. They can’t understand why I’m so into soccer, but those who have actually gone to a game at least have a new appreciation for the sport.

    • Josh Trott says:

      So I think I’ve probably brought six or seven- my wife is the only one for whom it really stuck, and that might be something about which she has little option, if I’m supposed to believe that she loves me.

      The other guys are either committed to other sports, or not aware of the strange pleasures of immersing oneself in allegiance to a sports team, and a few of them may have been surprised by my vitriolic passion, “Get the F- up” at the Columbus defender who didn’t like MOF’s elbow, etc.

      After reading “Fever Pitch” I realized that I can’t be good at a few other things, like the relationships in my life, and my job, if I carry this passion too far. Resolutely I maintain equilibrium when we lose, or interest in life when we have an off weekend. This also means that I have a hard time selling others on this. It’s a form of insanity to most people.

      I look forward to the benefits, to talking about the Union’s first season twenty years from now, with a son, at the game. Still, I’m a bad recruiter.

  7. I haven’t officially brought any converts, but i’ve gotten a few to follow. When the team first started, I didn’t get season tickets, but watched on tv or live stream when i could. I then got me and some friends (some who don’t follow soccer or would care to) to the USA vs Turkey game. They enjoyed the event of it, and that was about it. I got a couple of my friends from that to go to a Union game later in the year, and it was fun. They talked about partial season tickets, but I wanted the full year… Fast forward to now, I know they wouldn’t follow partially yet alone the entire year, but i have 2 rotating tickets (on top of mine) in 121. I have brought soccer fans, but none in which would necessarily ‘follow’ the union unless they went to games… downside of not having friends who are sports enthusiasts.

  8. DoopBastardo says:

    I have taken 5 new people to game sone an ex girlfiend who I actually saw at a game this year so it obviously stuck. All I can say is spread the word and share the game and passion you have for it with everyone and it will spread like a Virus.

  9. A client/friend of mine had season tickets last year. He didn’t make it to one game but he did send me to 7 of them. I found it hard to fill his other three tickets sometimes but usually brought my son and the future mrs. as well as my brother. My brother and I are lifelong Notre Dame fans and have seen many a game in South Bend. When I brought him he immediately fell in love with the atmosphere and said it was like our own little ND stadium on the Delaware.

    At the end of the season, my client didn’t renew. So my brother and I pulled our pennies together and got our own season tickets. We are die hard fans. My son as well. And my fiancee (a Brit who takes naps at any sporting event she attends) stays awake and interested the entire time. This year we have brought her brother (a life long fan of Aston Villa and beer) and a couple other friends.

    Finally a cool thing has happened. One of those friends plans on buying a few tickets of her own this weekend and hitting our tailgate.

    My brother and I keep saying to each other that if we just drag our friends over to sit in our fourth seat (when my son isn’t going), that they will quickly realize that it isn’t the dull boring event that so many people make it out to be.

    My advice to anyone looking to spread the word is to buy one extra season ticket and just keep taking friends. Buy them some beers and spread the virus.

  10. Vinny Russo says:

    I’m a “newbie” to the whole soccer experience. Last year I took my daughter, an avid fan, to the Union home opener as a one time event. Never liked soccer nor wanted to understand it. Six matches, a road trip, and several tailgates later, I’m hooked! Love it!
    Go Union!!!!

  11. Last year I took my girlfriend to a few matches and converted her. Before I knew it she was getting tickets to see beckham with my sister and even saw the national team at PPL with her friends while I missed it because of work. This year I got 4 tickets on my account, only 3 are spoken for so it leaves me the extra to get others to come down.

  12. Instead of Y.S.A.
    Cheer “Eat More Bimbo” !

    How could they argue ?



  13. I bought 2 season tickets both last year & this year, the second being for my wife. For most of the first year I had to drag her to games or took one of my buddies instead. This for the opening game we were going to the tailgate and she asked what time it started. I said around noon but we can get there around 2:00. Her reaction amazed me when she said we had to be there @ noon so we wouldn’t miss anything about the game. She’s been bored to death for years watching the game on TV but once she saw the game live and had a team to call her own she became a convert.

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