May 16, 2008
Plenty of soccer in the area
The Philadelphia market is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Major League Soccer. While that milestone is still two years away, there is plenty of soccer all around the area for someone looking for an inexpensive alternative.
We are talking of course of the numerous minor league teams which have sprouted up over the past several years in the United Soccer Leagues, Women’s Premier Soccer League and National Premier Soccer League.
An influx of minor league teams on the outskirts of a major league market is especially prevalent in baseball, where the Philadelphia area boasts teams in Wilmington, Camden, Atlantic City, Trenton, Reading and Allentown.
But there are even more soccer alternatives available. On the men’s side, you have the Ocean City Barons, AC Diablos, Pennsylvania Stoners, Reading Rage and Lancaster Inferno.
Fans of the women’s game can check out the New Jersey Wildcats, AC Diablos, Philadelphia Liberty, CDSA Future, Northhampton Laurels and Lancaster Inferno.
Unlike most of their baseball counterparts, however, the Philadelphia area’s minor league soccer teams are totally independent of the major leagues, and in most cases operate on a very small scale, with limited staffs and certainly without the amenities and facilities many of the baseball teams offer.
In all likelihood you won’t find many players destined for Major League Soccer playing in the men’s minor leagues, although there have been some. The women’s teams will likely provide some of the talent when the new Women’s Pro Soccer launches next year, and indeed may boast some top women’s players in the meantime. Current and former Women’s National Team stars including Heather O’Reilly, Shannon Boxx and Brandi Chastain all have played in either the W-League or the WPSL.
Regardless, it’s not a bad use of five or six bucks to catch a game on either the men’s or the women’s side.
Many of the teams are stepping up their promotional efforts and really attempting to make the games an outing.
Take the Ocean City Barons.
“This is a great family resort,” said General Manager Neil Holloway. “We get crowds coming in off the boardwalk. People come down for the weekend and by Sunday night they are looking for something to do.”
Holloway says attendance typically picks up after Memorial Day, and he would in fact like to play all his home games in July, but can’t because of the rules governing U.S. Open Cup qualifying.
The club has a mascot, Bobby the Boardwalk Baron, which resembles a red-baron style bi-plane. The team’s stadium is in the shadow of the boardwalk Ferris wheel, which makes for a great sight at night games.
This year, Barons fans can visit an in-stadium food court run by Mama Mia’s restaurant, and the team has cheerleaders and halftime shootouts.
“It’s a great environment,” said Holloway.
The Barons are perhaps the most established of the local minor league teams, having been around for more than ten years, but the others are slowly working their way into their communities. The Diablos have worked out an arrangement for the Washington Township Soccer Club to acquire some 2,000 season tickets. The team also is doing a unique giveaway/contest this season in conjunction with one of their sponsors, Best in Breed. They will be giving away a high-end breed dog.
The Stoners are trying to tap into a bit of nostalgia by reviving the name of the area’s old American Soccer League team, which was very successful in the late 70s and early 80s. They are planning a reunion at their June 21 home game.
So, even with MLS still two years away, there’s plenty of soccer to go around.