Philadelphia Soccer Is Reborn Today

Philadelphia Soccer Is Reborn Today

Well, it's finally here. The Philadelphia Union will kick off their inaugural MLS season tonight in one of the best sports venues in the country, Qwest Field in Seattle, at 9:30 PM Philly time. 

There have been some bumps along the way, from battles over state and local funding, stadium construction setbacks and opposition to its location, and a league players strike that threatened all the efforts and dollars put toward founding this new team. Some of those difficulties are still underway, but for the most part, the franchise and its supporters have weathered the initial storm, and now they are ready to represent the city and suburbs of Philadelphia. 

In a region dominated by Eagles football, and more recently, championship-caliber Phillies baseball, along with the Flyers and Sixers, the Union have quickly made surprising inroads into building a fanbase. First and foremost, they have captured the existing soccer fans in the area, many of whom had been clamoring for a pro team here—and let's face it, without whom there would be no franchise, at least not yet. The Sons of Ben have led that charge, and done it well while gaining a lot of media exposure for the team, but there are a lot of unbranded fans showing support too. 

Without a doubt, there is still opposition to an MLS club—to any soccer entity—being here. I still don't fully understand the hate on a sporting level, thinking it'd be a lot easier to just ignore that which you don't care for (those who are against it for tax and funding reason are a different story). I ignore LOST and Muse every day. 

But from what I've seen, the franchise isn't begging for universal fan acceptance. They want the soccer fans—those already in love with the beautiful game, and those who someday will be. They seem confident in their product, in their future stadium atmosphere, and they haven't shown any signs of compromising their soccer purist culture to make the team more acceptable on a mainstream level. 

The team has a very classic approach. It isn't flashy, or named after a dinosaur or something from space, and even its colors and logo are simple. Their visual-branding–oriented TV commercials are the furthest thing from overselling or hyping. 

One of the biggest criticisms of soccer is that it is too low scoring, that there aren't enough game-changing events within each contest. Knowing this, while starting a new team and hoping to fill a stadium in Chester, the Union are built on defense, on limiting opposing scoring opportunities. We all love our great Phillies defense, long for the days when the Birds played better without the ball, enjoy big hits and turning the field upside down, but it's offense that really puts asses in the seats no matter what the sport. 


originally uploaded by lancerobson.

The Union's primary focus is on building a successful franchise though, not just selling a 2-hour show for its entertainment value. 

Their coach, Peter Nowak, is known as a hard ass who believes that defense wins games. Sure, a 5-3 loss might appear more interesting than a 2-1 loss or a 1-0 win, but these guys aren't looking for unpredictable, shootout soccer. Nowak wants to control the tempo, dictate the pace, and decide when and how to strike. It's strategy over flash, and maybe the difference between the interest level of the enthusiast and the casual fan. Again though, they're not interested in compromising their soccer values.

Only time, attendance, and dollars will tell if that is the right move in the long term. With ticket sales already exceeding many people's expectations and sponsorships lined up for many team elements, it's hard to find fault in their decisions to date. What remains to be seen is how those soccer fans who have never been interested in the MLS—guys like me—will take to a slower game with less talent on the field than we are used to seeing when we choose to watch soccer. This won't be waking up early on a Saturday to watch Drogba score two highlight goals, or Manchester City take down Man U, or USA in the 2006 World Cup. But it will be a team representing where we live, taking on a squad from some other place, and we've always been into that on every level, from football in sweatpants to the Olympics. It's fun to support your side, and even better when they win. 

I admittedly don't know much about the MLS, nor how the Union will fare in the W-L columns. Some experts think they're not bad though, and having an average-to-good team will go a long way in helping the franchise take root, rather than what we're used to seeing from expansion teams in most other sports. If the latter happens, interest could wane in the half-interested fans, and not grow initially in the soccer-curious crowd. But the crazies won't slog off after a few bad games, or even seasons, which is huge if this season doesn't go well in terms of ya know, winning.

We'll have a bit more on tonight's game later today, with a look at some of the on-field questions facing the team in its first game. 

Best of MLB: Mike Trout (thumb) leaves early as Marlins crush Angels

Best of MLB: Mike Trout (thumb) leaves early as Marlins crush Angels

MIAMI -- Mike Trout sprained his left thumb stealing second base Sunday, and the Los Angeles Angels took a thumping without him, losing 9-2 to the Miami Marlins.

Trout yelled in pain as he rose after sliding headfirst in the fifth inning. He was examined by a trainer, stayed in the game, but was replaced in the sixth. X-rays were negative, and there was no immediate timetable regarding his return.

The reigning American League MVP was 0 for 2 when he departed with the Angels trailing 4-2. He finished 2 for 9 in the series to drop his average to .337 (see full recap).

Aaron Judge hit first-career grand slam in Yankees' win
NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge hit his first career grand slam and the New York Yankees took full advantage of Oakland's shoddy defense Sunday in a 9-5 victory over the Athletics.

Michael Pineda (6-2) tossed six innings of three-hit ball to win his third straight start. Aaron Hicks and Chris Carter each had an early sacrifice fly as the AL East leaders scored five unearned runs and took two of three in a well-pitched series.

Judge connected with two outs in the third for his 16th home run, tying Mike Trout of the Angels for the big league lead. The drive landed in the right-field seats, not far in front of The Judge's Chambers cheering section installed by the Yankees for the start of this 4-2 homestand.

Khris Davis hit his 15th home run for the A's, who committed two more costly errors to raise their season total to 49. They began the day with 10 more than any other team in the majors.

The fielding failures put starter Andrew Triggs (5-4) in tough situations. He went six innings and gave up one earned run (see full recap).

Miguel Gonzalez loses perfect game in seventh, but pitches White Sox to win
CHICAGO -- Miguel Gonzalez took a perfect game into the seventh inning, Todd Frazier hit a two-run homer and the Chicago White Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 7-3 on Sunday.

Melky Cabrera and Matt Davidson also connected, helping the White Sox take three of four in the series. David Robertson got two outs for his seventh save.

Gonzalez (4-5) allowed three runs and six hits in 7 2/3 innings while snapping a five-start losing streak. The right-hander struck out six and walked none.

Gonzalez retired his first 18 batters before Andrew Romine led off the seventh with a hard one-hop liner to shortstop Tim Anderson, who couldn't field the ball cleanly and was originally charged with an error. Alex Avila followed with a single into to right field, and Romine's ball was later changed to a hit (see full recap).

Gone but not forgotten: Joel Embiid remembers Harambe on 1-year anniversary of death

Gone but not forgotten: Joel Embiid remembers Harambe on 1-year anniversary of death

Gone, but not forgotten … as long as Sixers superstar center Joel Embiid has his way.

On the one-year anniversary of Harambe's death, Embiid remembered the slain gorilla on Instagram with the caption: "Gone but never forgotten #RIPHarambe."

The Instagram post was accompanied by a picture of Harambe along with a longer message and acquired over 22,700 likes within the first 37 minutes of its posting.

Gone but never forgotten #RIPHarambe

A post shared by Joel "The Process" Embiid (@joelembiid) on

There are some factual errors in Embiid's post, however. The picture stated that Harambe "would've been 18 today," which was posted Sunday.

Harambe's birthday was May 27, 1999. He would have been 18 years and one day old Sunday.

This was not Embiid's first participation in the Harambe Internet meme.

Regardless, the tragic killing of Harambe, a popular male gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, sparked outrage and then Harambe became an Internet meme.