Wearing player jerseys and supporters’ scarves, a pack of rabid Philadelphia Union soccer fans known as the “Sons of Ben” gathered inside Philadelphia’s City Hall Tuesday morning to cheer Major League Soccer’s decision to hold its summer all-star game in Chester.
At Mayor Michael Nutter’s request, the group — a sea of Union blue and gold — sang their popular fight song. The tune, which only can be described as the word “doop” chanted in exuberant revelry, echoed throughout the storied mahogany walls of City Hall.
To truly understand why the group feels so excited, you have to know a little bit about the genesis of the “Sons of Ben” and the struggle in general to bring MLS soccer to the Philadelphia region.
Although MLS wanted a team in Philly from its outset in 1996, for years all attempts were stymied. By 2007, with the Delaware Valley swelling with fans who grew up playing soccer, the “Sons” formed to show MLS and the world at large that Philadelphia was more than ready for some football.
By 2008, parties on all sides were convinced; by 2010, a new stadium was built in Chester and the team played its first game.
‘Sons of Ben’ exult
For many in the “Sons of Ben,” a feeling of vindication comes with each additional indication that soccer is thriving in the region. The MLS decision to award the Union with the All-Star Game is no exception. They wear this fact, like the custom-made scarves around their necks, like badges of pride and honor.
One of the founders of group, Bryan James, still can’t believe how far his group has come.
“I could have never imagined it. I could have hoped for it, but there was a time when we didn’t even have a soccer team, and that’s what Sons of Ben was created to help get,” he said Tuesday. “Now to have the MLS All-Star game is amazing.”
For his part, Nutter matched the group’s enthusiasm, repeatedly calling Philadelphia the “best sports city in America,” and congratulating the “Sons” for their passion and intensity.
He also praised the MLS decision as one that will create an economic windfall for the region this summer.
“We know we’re gonna put some heads on beds,” Nutter said. “We’re gonna fill up restaurants. People are going to be here for three days.
“The game’s in Chester, but most of the hotel and hospitality will certainly take place right here in Philadelphia,” he continued. “It’s a whole lot of money.”
Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz echoed that sentiment, and spoke in general about the team’s commitment to the people of Chester. He touted the fact that the team is one of the city’s top employers.
Chester Mayor John Linder, though grateful to the Union, took a far more measured tone. The mayor of the cash-strapped city was quick to point out that most of the jobs created by the team are seasonal, and that real change would only come to the beleaguered region only with more sustainable job opportunities.
Set for July 25 at PPL Park, the game will be played between the best the MLS has to offer and a yet-to-be-determined team from abroad.
No matter who plays, the “Sons of Ben” are sure to come out in droves. Combine this with the fact that the match will be broadcast in 138 countries, and who knows?
Soon, the rest of the world may be singing “Doop” right along with them.