HARRISON, NJ - APRIL 24: Head Coach Peter Nowak of the Philadelphia Union directs from the bench against the New York Red Bulls on April 24, 2010 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Red Bulls defeated the Union 2-1. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)
The first time I heard about the "Sons of Ben" was during a trip home for the holidays in December 2007. My father had discovered the group online during the fall and joined the effort to bring an MLS team to Philadelphia. He started to become a regular at Dark Horse Tavern events and was hooked by the end of the year. My father had become a SoB.
On February 28th, 2008 the Sons of Ben dream came true: Major League Soccer added Philadelphia as its sixteenth team. Local government officials and Keystone Sports had won the bid which would bring the MLS to Philadelphia and a new soccer specific stadium in Chester to go with it.
In early 2009 votes were cast to name the forthcoming franchise. The candidates: AC Philadelphia, SC Philadelphia, Philadelphia City and Philadelphia Union. The team promised to abide by the results and Union was the winner.
The Sons of Ben found themselves receiving plenty of media coverage, as told by @sobsanjaya:
Fourfourtwo, a football magazine from England came over to do an article on us. We had an article done on us in Sports Illustrated also. Both in 07. Bryan's [James] done tons of interviews for multiple news channels and plenty of newspapers. We were at the 2007 MLS cup where we got a lot of coverage and at the 2008 superdraft in Baltimore we also got a lot of coverage!
On May 29th, 2009, the Philadelphia Union announced the hiring of Piotr Nowak as its first manager. Assistant coach John Hackworth was added weeks before the expansion draft in November 2009.
As the 2009 MLS season drew to a close, Philadelphia's 2010 campaign got underway. The team started to build buzz with popular open tryouts held throughout the Philadelphia area. All that was left was to build the actual squad.
On November 25th Philadelphia selected 10 players in the 2009 MLS Expansion Draft:
MF Andrew Jacobson (D.C. United) age 24
F Alejandro Moreno (Columbus) 30
D Shavar Thomas (Chivas USA) 28
GK Brad Knighton (New England) 24
F Nick Zimmerman (New York) 22
F Sebastien Le Toux (Seattle) 25
MF Shea Salinas (San Jose) 23
MF Stefani Miglioranzi (Los Angeles) 32
D Dave Myrie (Chicago) 21
D Jordan Harvey (Colorado) 25
On December 3rd, 2009, the Union announced that they had acquired Danish league defender Danny Califf's MLS rights. The deal would become official in January when Califf joined the Union on a free transfer.
The 2010 MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia was the latest, and biggest up to this point, piece of national television exposure for the Union and the Sons of Ben. An excited group of Philadelphia fans gathered at the Convention Center, sang songs and firmly established the rivalry with New York supporters. The Union selected Danny Mwanga as their number one pick and the crowd burst into personalized song shouting the refrain "O Danny Mwanga". ESPN gave Philadelphia high marks for their draft performance:
The Union didn't waste a single pick, grabbing value with each of their six selections. Danny Mwanga could provide an instant impact as a rookie forward, and Amobi Okugo is a highly rated central midfielder whose physical frame makes it hard to believe he is only 18.
U.S. U-17 star Jack McInerney is more of a long-term project, and Toni Stahl could wind up being a starter. Late-round additions Kyle Nakazawa and Brian Perk stand very good chances of making the roster.
The Union were able to capitalize on their expansion status, trading allocation money to FC Dallas for the sixth overall pick and trading it's allocation spot to DC United (the first overall allocation spot) for the seventh overall pick, allocation money and Fred, a Brazilian midfielder.
Michael Orozco joined the team on loan from San Luis FC, of the Mexican First Division, in late January 2010. On the eighth of March, the Union announced the signing of young Roger Torres from America de Cali of the First Division in Columbia.
The Union got to work in February and started a three leg preseason tour. The squad traveled to North Carolina and delivered a 5-0 victory over UNC and a 5-1 victory over Wake Forest. Philadelphia then went to Mexico to train in high altitude and take on two sides. The Union drew Chivas de Guadalajara 2-2 and topped Universidad de Guadalajara of the Mexican Liga Ascenso (Mexican Second Division) 1-0. The final leg took Philadelphia to Tampa to face FC Dallas and the Tampa Bay Rowdies in exhibition. The Union lost both games 2-0 and 1-0 respectively. Each match featured the kind of physicality and undisciplined play that would plague the early part of the inaugural season.
March was dominated with anxiety over the months of disagreement between the MLS and the players union. Years of work had come down to untimely labor talks. The Sons of Ben were ready to go, songs were rehearsed, plane tickets had been purchased and a team was scheduled to be delivered. Last minute agreements avoided a lockout and paved the way for Philadelphia to enter the MLS on March 25th, 2010.
The defense is good enough to get into the post-season, but the attack is mostly unproven at MLS level. The Union will be a mid-table team, with a chance at sneaking a playoff spot. They will be very difficult to score against, but proneness to disciplinary issues could be the Union's Achilles' heel.
The Brotherly Game launched on March 24th, 2010. I had been pushing for a Union blog on SBNation since November 2009 and wanted to make it happen before the season got underway. The name couldn't contain "Philadelphia" or "Union" for legal reasons and "Brotherly Game" was chosen. Brotherly Game is a take on soccer being the "beautiful game" in the city of brotherly love.