Trophies: Give them time.
Fan personality: Powerful. We can’t quite say the Sons of Ben made the Union exist through sheer force of will, but their efforts didn’t exactly hurt. They made their presence known in MLS and Philadelphia circles well before a team was even close to existence. The raucous atmosphere at PPL Park is a surprise to no one.
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Stadium situation: Getting to PPL Park isn’t the most pleasant experience. It’s neither downtown nor in the midst of a sprawling soccer complex. It’s a rather rundown area, with the stadium a key part of an ambitious revival project. But it is a fan-friendly and TV-friendly venue, with a great view of the Commodore Barry Bridge (ironically, I don’t recall a bridge near Chicago’s Toyota Park, even though it’s in a town called Bridgeview).
The Sons of Ben might be the first supporters group to form before any sort of team was even announced. Unlike other recent MLS expansion cities, Philadelphia didn’t have an existing second-division team. They had nothing. The Sons of Ben didn’t care. Their enthusiasm made an impression on commissioner Don Garber and surely on the local ownership group that assembled quickly, then quickly built PPL Park.
With Sebastien Le Toux providing the scoring punch in front of a fiesty midfield and defense, the Union put forth a credible effort right away. In Year 2, the team made the playoffs ahead of D.C. United, the team many in Pennsylvania used to support from a distance just because they were closer than anyone else.
Then came the bitter 2012 season. The team was young — Freddy Adu, who turned 23 early in the season, was older than about half the team. Coach Peter Nowak, who had built a tough and technical team in his image, acrimoniously parted with the team. Replacement John Hackworth had a good start but feuded with Adu, and the team faded. Hackworth let it be known that Adu wouldn’t play for him in 2013, even if it means he just sits and cashes Union paychecks.
In 2013, Le Toux came back, joining rising star Jack McInerney and new signing Conor Casey in a possibly dangerous front line.