Very few places in the United States can
match Philadelphia's passion for traditional American sports
but on Sunday the city will be vocal in backing its
two-year-old team in the Major League Soccer (MLS) play-offs.
All Philadelphia's major league teams enjoy large and
famously demanding support, and the Union has needed little
time to establish itself on the regional sports scene - thanks
to smart management and the passion of the 'Sons of Ben'
The group, named after Philadelphia's most famous citizen,
Benjamin Franklin, pre-exist the club they support having
played a key role, with their vocal demonstrations, of
convincing MLS there was support for the game in the city.
PPL Park, on the banks of the Delaware River in Chester,
Pennsylvania, will be packed on Sunday for the first leg of the
Union's Eastern Conference semi-final against the Houston
"It is a big achievement for a club that is only two years
old, we are so proud," Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz told Reuters on
Reaching the post-season competition in the second year was
an ambitious goal but one which Sakiewicz set as a target for
Polish manager Peter Nowak and his players.
The post-season is by no means easy to reach, and has so far
proved elusive for Toronto FC after five seasons in the
"We wanted to make the play-offs in our second year, we knew
we had a good team last year but with all the challenges of
launching a team and opening a new stadium, we knew it was
going to be difficult in the first year," Sakiewicz said.
"We set the goal of doing it in the second year and we have
achieved it - we don't take that for granted, there is still a
lot of work in progress here."
The Union's purpose-built stadium holds only 18,500 and
that has proved easy to fill. With season tickets sold out, the
club is already looking at increasing the size of the venue.
"The way we designed the stadium was purposely to expand
the stadium up to around 30,000 seats," said Sakiewicz, airing
music to the ears of MLS management who have long argued that
soccer-specific venues offer the best way forward for clubs.
But the Union have also made sure they embed themselves in
their community and the club's branding - its logos, colours
and name - all acknowledge the city's status as the 'Cradle of
Liberty' and historic home of the Declaration of Independence
- a move highly popular with the Sons of Ben supporters.
After their play-off berth was secured, the Union had one
game left - at the rival New York Red Bulls - and their fans
travelled there in numbers in loud and proud style.
"That gave us a taste of the play-offs, but also we got a
taste on the field with a very fast and physical game," Nowak
said. "Everyone is very excited to be here after 18 months.
Nowak's side includes the experienced and much-travelled
Colombian keeper Faryd Mondragon and U.S. international forward
Freddy Adu as well as exciting Congolese-American striker Danny
The Pole led D.C. United to the 2004 MLS title and he knows
that when it comes to the knock-out world of play-off soccer, it
is all about getting the basics right.
"It's not going to be about who plays the prettiest games - it is about who wins," Nowak said.
"It's about being simple, being efficient and being
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