June 26, 2011
By Charles Cuttone
A tale of two Phillys
CHESTER, Pa---There is no doubt Philadelphia is a passionate soccer town. Heck, it’s passionate about all its sports teams—well, almost all of them.
Hence, the title of this column, the first half of which is being written in the press box at Widener University’s Leslie Quick Stadium as the Philadelphia Independence host magicJack in a make-up of the scheduled home opener, which was postponed due to severe weather.
Arriving on the campus of Widener about a half hour before the game, which is late for me, there were no lines of cars waiting to get into the parking lot. Indeed, most of the parking spaces were eerily empty.
A quick, though admittedly not accurate, head count during the national anthem yielded a figure of about 300, well below the 3,000 the team drew a few weeks ago when Marta and the Western New York Flash came to town.
The noise made by the five fans armed with a cowbell, drums and a tambourine did little to inspire other than scowls from magicJack owner and self-professed coach Dan Borislow.
The rendition of “Four Leaf Clover” at the 20:10 mark seemed as half-hearted as it was off-key.
Most of the faces in the stands are familiar ones. They’ve been here before. Just not enough of them. Which is a bit puzzling. True the team and the league, Women’s Professional Soccer, have made their share of missteps, but for the most part, it’s a quality product on the field. Some of the world’s best players play in the league. Granted, many of them are off in Germany for the Women’s World Cup, but losing key players last year didn’t have a negative impact on Major League Soccer.
I’ve never seen a player in this league turn down a request for an autograph, or be anything less than willing to talk to the media. In fact, the players eagerly greet the kids lined up along the stadium fence after the game. The players make appearances, blog, tweet, do clinics and visit hospitals. Yet it draws a big yawn from the Philly sports---and soccer -- community.
The team has talked about an eventual move to PPL Park. Although they are now playing less than four miles from the home of the Union, the idea of them there seems even further off than ever.
It’s a four-mile trip from Widener to PPL Park, and on this Union-Chivas USA game night takes about five minutes to traverse the first three miles, before the back-up traffic heading into the parking lots comes into play.
The crowd streaming into the stadium is ready to see the Union play. They are greeted by the large inflatable Bimbo bear and a bevy of activities around the stadium.
The buzz around the park is palpable, and by 30 minutes before game time, much of the announced crowd of 18,000 is already in the stadium, whether in the stands watching warm-ups or around the concourse chowing down on the food offerings.
The 2,000 strong Sons of Ben section is not quite full, but provides an exclamation point to the already electric atmosphere, chanting along as the PA announcer introduces each of the Union players.
The chanting never stops, and when the Union goes in at halftime, the crowd, though always behind the team, lets it be known with a flurry of boos that they are not happy with the team’s performance.
The Union gets the message, turn it around and score three goals in the second half to come away with a 3-2 win. And with a few minutes left on the clock, a new chant emanates from a corner under the Commodore Barry Bridge – “She Said Ye-es,” as a section of fans help two of their number celebrate a successful marriage proposal amid the happy chaos of a Union gamenight. The parking lot still has cars in it more than an hour after the game. The exit from the other Philly takes a bit longer.