This winter, you’ll likely get the chance to see the movie that a couple of independent filmakers are producing about The Sons of Ben, the Philadelphia Union’s die-hard, original fan base whose roots actually pre-date the birth of the club. But the charter members and those who’ve come along since are concerned with far more than just their storied, successful luring of an MLS franchise.
What many people may not realize is that the group is a full-fledged 501(c)3, non-profit. Kenny Hanson, one of SoB’s top officers, explains, “above all, we are a service organization.” And that explains why last week, while the Union players were training for their match against Portland, the Sons of Ben were working with the Union front-office to promote a “Tickets For Troops” initiative, an effort Hanson says ended-up raising about $1800. The group is also planning a “Back To School” drive among other charitable ventures with an eye toward aiding the local community in and around Chester where PPL Park resides. This mirrors the Union’s efforts early on to hire stadium staff from the local area. Chester, despite a bit of a renaissance along its waterfront in recent years, still faces economic challenges, which makes the team and SoB efforts not only responsible but especially noble.
Hanson invited me to the Sons of Ben tailgate last weekend, which occurs prior to every home game. It was a pleasant, well-orchestrated affair on some specially reserved, liquor-licensed ground located just beyond the famous River End section the group bouyantly occupies at game time. Normally, you have to be a member (or know a member) to get in, so this was a nice treat. There’s cook-out food and beer on tap, as well as other non-alcoholic refreshments. Sometimes, the menu changes (Darn! I’m missing the Hawaiian Luau Pig Roast in a few weeks!). The conversation runs the gammut from soccer to family and there are polite requests for donations to whatever charitable drive is underway. Given the non-stop drum-beating and chanting that goes on in the River End during the actual game, you might be surprised by the pleasant, relaxed pre-game scene behind the stands—that is, until some of the opposing team’s travel group walks-by. Then, there’s some pretty amusing taunting.
Overall, the men and women who make up the SoB, seem a far different breed than the soccer-crazed, face-painted gonzos one might expect. This is not the Eagles pre-game party you all saw in Silver Linings Playbook. On the contrary, it’s a pretty friendly, pleased bunch. And they work very hard at running and maintaining their organization, which exists for more reasons than just the game. The Sons of Ben seem mainly intent on helping the Union put a positive face on the MLS here in our area, although adding entertainment value is also key. Last weekend, they had no problem keeping the whole of the stadium’s assembled busy with rythmic clapping and sing-alongs from their excusive perch at the River End.
The Sons of Ben offer memberships for $40 per year, which gets you bling, tailgate admission for a nominal additional fee and the exclusive right to River End tickets which, by the way, you are not permitted to sell. Upon joining, you must also agree to the SoB Code of Conduct, which prohibits racism and violence, very much in keeping with the MLS ad campaign that’s been airing heavily during match broadcasts this season. For more information, visit the Sons of Ben website.
SATURDAY NIGHT’S MATCH-UP: The folks in Vancouver have kindly scheduled an afternoon game in Western Canada, which means you won’t have to stay-up until the wee hours to watch this one. It’s at 7 p.m. EST on TCN. The Whitecaps (9-6-5) have slipped to 4th Place in the MLS Western Conference following a 2-1 loss last week in Los Angeles. They’re better than that, however. You have to go back to June 8th to find another loss on their schedule and they’ve enjoyed a lot of wins since then. Team Captain, defender Jay DeMerit, is still working his way back from a ruptured Achilles tendon and will almost certainly not play, but Vancouver’s been doing fine without him, frankly. Up front, the player to watch is Brazillian forward Camilo Sanvezzo who just turned 25 earlier this week and is on a pace to easily surpass his age in goals this season. He has a whopping 9 tallies in his last 8 matches and leads the MLS with 13, including the Whitecap’s only score last week. Union fans will appreciate that one, as it had a definite Jack McInerney ring to it. Sanvezzo was unmarked on the far side of the pack on a cross, got the ball in the open and drilled his shot. Scottish forward Kenny Miller has also netted a respectable 6 for Vancouver.
UNION STILL MAKING PROGRESS: The Union (8-6-7) is other 4th Place club in the MLS and has also been getting plenty of points lately, although a few less than some fans would probably prefer, given a couple recent last-minute surrenders. Philadelphia remains just 5 points behind the Eastern Conference leader, Sporting Kansas City, and only 1 point behind both New York and Montreal. After their scoreless tie last weekend at home against Portland, the players and coaches have to be thinking it’s time to show a little offensive muscle. For that to happen, Philadelphia will have to improve on a passing game that was off the mark for decent stretches last week. It would also help if Jack McInerney could be helped to the ball a bit more often. McInerney, absent from the MLS for several weeks during his USMT stint, has now slipped to 4th in MLS scoring with 10. The Union, however, do bring a more balanced attack to the pitch than Vancouver and MLS assist leader Sebastien Le Toux now has plenty of targets to help him pad that stat.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Vancouver and Philadelphia have almost identical tasks at hand on Saturday, both trying to solidify their play-off position and climb toward rivals who are tantalizingly within reach. In the Union’s case, a good result in British Columbia opens the door to a potentially major advance. The club’s next two MLS matches are at home against struggling Chicago and DC United, both of which may very well be on their way to missing the play-offs this season. And, the Union gets a nice tune-up against English Premiere League side Stoke City at home on Tuesday.