As a Philadelphia Union fan it’s hard not to be jealous of other teams. Teams with trophies, teams with megastars, teams with better attendance, downtown stadiums, etc.
But one of my greatest envies as a fan of the Philadelphia Union has always been that the team didn’t start sooner. Fourteen years sooner.
I remember being really excited about MLS when it started because I thought it was really cool to see a sports league start from scratch. I was never a big doodler, but I remember tracing and copying the logos in my school notebooks. The Columbus Crew became my favorite team because I lived in Ohio a few years, attended some Columbus Clippers games as a kid and I liked their logo best.
It was hard to be a fan of any team in those days, much less a team that played in another state so my interest in the league was fleeting at best. I wanted the league to succeed and I wanted soccer to catch on, but I didn’t have a team I could really latch onto, especially after returning from a semester in England in 1998 where I had a chance to see teams like Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham play in person.
It’s hard to say what would have happened if Philadelphia had been awarded a franchise in 1996, but it was a fun exercise to go back and imagine it along with my favorite Union podcasting brothers Luke McClung and AJ McClung of the Doopy Brothers.
For part 1, we’ll introduce the team name, branding, colors and inaugural jerseys.
While D.C. had United, one consistent feature of the names of the original MLS teams was how American they were (in nomenclature at least). For good or bad, you had the MetroStars, the Rapids, the Burn, the Wizards, the Galaxy, the Revolution, the Clash (good band, good band) and the Mutiny. Rather than play it safe and traditional with a bunch of Uniteds and FCs with block pattern jerseys, the inaugural teams had a unique quality to them that depending on who you talk to made MLS either seem innovative and original or cheesy and overachieving.
Luke took this into consideration with his decision to name the team the Ringers and with his design concepts. Ringers works because it fits in so well with the names of the other teams not in D.C. MLS wasn’t really ready for a Liberty Bell FC quite yet and it seems a stretch that the Union name would have even been in the running.
The colors Luke chose will look familiar because they are the colors of the Sons of Ben, which of course predate the official colors of the team that was still not a reality when the supporters group formed in 2007. The colors reflect not only the colors of the Philadelphia flag, but also elements of the flags of the three states that are part of the Delaware Valley.
I’ll let Luke, the appointed-by-me jersey critic for this publication, talk to you about the jerseys he designed.
Luke - The jerseys follow the Nike template that was given to the LA Galaxy, NY/NJ Metrostars and San Jose Clash. Rather than having a sponsor suck up the focus of the front of the jerseys, MLS originals were able to put their own logo or wordmark as the centerfold of the jersey. The ‘96 jerseys were meant to be loud and fun to appeal to the younger “skateboard culture” crowd that was on the rise at the time. With high contrast colors and design, the jerseys are supposed to stand out and elements such as the side zig-zag shapes on the sides hint to the crack in the bell seen on the Ringers primary logo.
In a way to make extra money Jay Sugarman and the Ringers were the first MLS club with a jersey sponsor. Unfortunately the sponsor was Enron. Years later, fans welcomed a new sponsor, BIMBO, with open arms. -AJ McClung
Jay Sugarman was only 31 at the time but he had a hunch that soccer might one day be a good real estate investment so he put together the $5 million franchise fee to buy into the league, which coincidentally was the same year he became the director of iStar.
While the Phillies/Eagles were pushing for the Ringers to call Veterans Stadium home, but former Philadelphia Atoms player and Penn men’s soccer head coach George O’Neill made a big push for the team to make Franklin Field their home. The Scottish-born former U.S. international (2 caps) ended up rejoining his former Atoms head coach Al Miller as an assistant for the Ringers inaugural season.
Al Miller last coached 15 years earlier with the Tampa Bay Rowdies (his last coaching job) but in a nod to the city’s history in top flight soccer the Ringers front office convinced the Lebanon County native to helm the team and try to repeat the feat of leading the 1973 Philadelphia Atoms to a championship in their inaugural season.
In Part 2 we’ll take a look at a hypothetical roster of players for the inaugural team.