Soccer In The City: Can The Beautiful Game Survive in Philadelphia?

Phil AndrewsCorrespondent IApril 13, 2010

There is no question; the Philadelphia Phillies are currently the toast of the town when it comes to the city’s top professional sports team, thanks in part to back to back World Series trips, and a club house full of classy characters.

So yes, the Phillies are the toast of the town, but make no mistake about it, the Philadelphia Eagles are still the talk of the town, especially on local talk radio, where Philly sports fans either praise their beloved birds or bash them, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Seventy Sixers meanwhile, are somewhere in the rearview mirror.

So what about the city’s two newest professional franchises, the Philadelphia Union and Philadelphia Independence?

This past weekend, soccer fans in the tri-state area (Pa, NJ & Del.) had the chance to bask in the glow of the beautiful game, while enjoying a double dip of European Style football.

 It all started Saturday night at Lincoln Financial field as Major League Soccer (MLS) made its   Philly debut, with the Philadelphia Union hosting D.C. United.

34, 870 fans on hand for this event, an event that saw the Union collect  the first victory in franchise history (3-2), thanks in part  to forward Sebastien Le Toux,  who recorded the first hat trick in team history.

Heck even Vice President Joe Biden was on hand.  Actually, the former Delaware senator participated in the first kick ceremonies prior to the game, along with Philadelphia and American soccer legend Walter Bahr, who is most famous for his game-winning assist in the United States’ upset victory over England in the 1950 World Cup.

I had a chance to watch the first half of this game from the press box, and then worked my way down to section 107, row 4 for the second half. I wanted to get a feel for both the crowd and my season ticket seat location.

Needless to say, sitting with my fellow Union fans only added to the sensory overload, an atmosphere that makes this the sport of choice for every other nation in the world.

As soon as the final whistle blew, a fireworks display worthy of the fourth of July, lit up South Philadelphia Sky over Lincoln Financial Field, a perfect ending to an historical night.

Personally my favorite moment of the game came in the fourth minute, when Le Toux’s first goal, a header, found the back of the next right in front of the Son’s of Ben supporter section, the  group that lobbied long and hard to bring professional soccer back to Philadelphia.  What better reward than to be just feet away from the first two goals in team history.

Philadelphia Union by the way now 1-1 on the season with a game on tap Thursday, Apr. 15 at Toronto F.C.

Less than 24 hours after the Union win over United, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) made its Philadelphia area debut, as the expansion Philadelphia Independence hosted the expansion Atlanta Beat.

The Independence play their home games in the friendly confines of 7500 seat John A. Farrell Stadium at West Chest University, about 37 miles from downtown Philadelphia.

Ambiance was also at a premium for this game, as the teams entered the stadium led by the Philadelphia Drum and Fife. 

Pregame festivities also included Noah the American Bald Eagle, the honorary mascot of the Independence. Presentation of the National Colors by the Pennsylvania National Guard, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and a live rendition of the National Anthem by local entertainer Mindy Rhodes.

On the pitch, both teams spent much of a scoreless first half trying to get a feel for the game and the speed of the artificial turf.

The intensity picked up immensely in the second half, both from a physical and attacking standpoint with both teams having quality opportunities to light up the scoreboard. Thanks to the solid goaltending of Philadelphia’s Karina Leblanc and Atlanta’s Allison Whitworth, this game would end in a scoreless tie.

6028 fans turned out to watch this game, almost 1500 over last year’s league average. If the Independence can maintain that standard for the remainder of the season, life will be good.

This weekend Philadelphia travels to New England to take Tony DiDiccio’s Boston Breakers while Atlanta visits Boyds, Maryland to play the Washington Freedom.

So I think it safe to say that Professional Soccer in the City of Brotherly Love is off to a good start, only time will tell if it can now sustain itself.