A total of 19 MLS teams will be represented at the event but while NYCFC, Columbus Crew and eight others have signed gamers to represent them, the Union decided they’d rather stage their own competition — with help from Philadelphia-based N3rd Steet Gamers — to determine a representative.
“For us, just like if you look at the way we think about our club a lot and that pride of homegrown, that pride of representing your own city we thought it was appropriate at least in the first year for us to go that way,” said Doug Vosik, Philadelphia Union’s vice president of marketing. “We’re going to find the best gamer in this city one way or another. I think I’ll have a moment of pride when they go up against some guys with contracts at the MLS Tournament and see if our homegrown can take them down.”
After two regional qualifiers last weekend — one in the city at Independence Blue Cross Live and another at YSC Sports near King of Prussia — the field has trimmed to 32 competitors vying for the honor to represent the blue and gold at the eMLS Cup tournament at PAX East in Boston in a month. The tournament begins at 10 a.m. in the TruMark Financial Club.
One of the finalists, Joe Garber, of Chadds Ford, had a successful first outing in the competition, winning the first of the two regional events at YSC Sports last Saturday.
“It’s awesome,” Garber said. “I didn’t think I’d make it this far. They were really good. I surprised myself.”
A Juventus FC supporter, Garber admitted to not knowing much about the Union, which puts him in a category of fan the team hopes to attract: soccer fans who haven’t yet been drawn in to support the league or their local team.
“It’s just one more way to engage fans,” Vosik said.
Fans like Brayden Eckert, of Reading, who began supporting the Union in part because of the game.
“It was a blast, I had a great time,” Eckert said after competing at YSC Sports last Saturday. “I’ve loved the Union since probably about 2013 and I love FIFA so it was worth it.”
Timothy Halter, who was also at the YSC Sports event, plays soccer at Cumberland County College in New Jersey and has been playing FIFA since before the Union became a team.
“FIFA’s a great game to play,” Halter said. “It makes you feel like you’re a professional even if you’re not that good.”