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. 


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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. 

CSN, TCN to air 25 of Union's 34 games in 2017

CSN, TCN to air 25 of Union's 34 games in 2017

Twenty-five of the Union’s 34 games in 2017 will be featured on CSN and TCN, as Jim Curtin’s club vies for a second straight playoff berth.

Twenty matches will air on TCN, while five can be seen on CSN. The nine others will be appear across 6ABC, ESPN and FOX Sports 1.

The Union’s season opener on March 5 at the Vancouver Whitecaps will broadcast on TCN and the team’s home opener on March 11 against Toronto FC will air on CSN. The next three games — March 18 at Orlando City SC, April 1 at D.C. United and April 8 vs. the Portland Timbers — will be shown on TCN.

The Union are coming off an 11-14-9 season and their second-ever trip to the MLS playoffs in which they suffered a first-round exit to Toronto FC.

For the Union’s full 2017 schedule, click here.

Best of NHL: Toews nets hat trick in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Best of NHL: Toews nets hat trick in Blackhawks' win over Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Jonathan Toews had three goals and two assists and the Chicago Blackhawks beat rival Minnesota 5-3 on Tuesday night for their second win over the Western Conference-leading Wild in less than two weeks.

Toews notched his fourth career hat trick on an empty-netter with 1:02 left to stave off a spirited rally by the Wild, who began a franchise-record eight-game homestand on Feb. 8 with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks. Toews had a goal and two assists in that one and has 37 points in 35 career games against Minnesota.

Chicago's captain has been chewing up almost everyone else, too, with 20 points in his last 12 games. Toews' wing men Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik had the other goals, giving the Blackhawks 34 goals in their last eight games. Their first line totaled nine points.

Mikael Granlund's second power-play goal for the Wild brought them within 4-3, before Ryan Suter hit the crossbar with a shot that nearly tied it (see full recap).

Islanders open 9-game road trip with win
DETROIT -- Calvin de Haan was credited with a go-ahead goal that caromed off an opponent late in the second period and the New York Islanders went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 Tuesday night.

De Haan's shot from above the left circle was stopped by Petr Mrazek, but the rebound went off Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet and the back of the goaltender's left leg and into the net. John Tavares scored early in the third period to give the Islanders a two-goal lead and they coasted to the victory.

Josh Bailey had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Greiss stopped 26 shots for New York.

Henrik Zetterberg scored for Detroit and Mrazek finished with 19 saves.

The Islanders, in contention for a wild-card spot, began a stretch of nine straight road games by winning for the third time in four games and improved to 8-13-4 away from home (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins take care of Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sidney Crosby scored the go-ahead goal on a deflection in the second period, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Tuesday night.

Evgeni Malkin and Scott Wilson also scored to help the reigning Stanley Cup champions bounce back from their only loss since the All-Star break. Pittsburgh moved three points behind East-leading Washington and is 7-1-3 since the break.

Jeff Skinner scored for the last-place Hurricanes, who have their second five-game losing streak in the past five weeks. They have been outscored 19-4 during the current slide.

Matt Murray made 29 saves for the Penguins while Cam Ward stopped 19 shots for Carolina (see full recap).