Before the Philadelphia Union existed, a group of passionate soccer fans got together, named themselves the Sons of Ben and tried to convince league higher-ups that Philly deserved a Major League Soccer franchise.
That, above all else, was their No. 1 priority. But for one day in 2007, the Sons of Ben had another, simpler goal: to act like pests.
Crashing the 2007 MLS Cup at RFK Stadium, nearly 100 supporters of the yet-to-be-formed Union got seats among the New England Revolution faithful and heckled their not-yet rivals with “Buffalo Bills” chants, in reference to the NFL team that lost four straight Super Bowls from 1990-93.
The Revs proceeded to lose their third consecutive title game, falling 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo.
“One distinctive response, besides a water bottle being thrown at us, was a woman turning around and saying, ‘You ruined it for us,’” Sons of Ben president Matt Ansbro recalled. “That pretty much made the trip.”
Four years later, the Sons of Ben will once again be heckling teams in the playoffs. Only this time, they’ll also have a team to root for.
The Union play the first playoff game in the franchise’s two-year history on Sunday at PPL Park against Houston in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals (4 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes).
“We talk about [the 2007 MLS Cup] like it was 12 years ago, but it was only four years ago when it happened,” Ansbro said. “It’s amazing how fast things have turned around. And now to reach this point is great. Taking the spotlight off the Sons of Ben, it’s definitely a tribute to the way this team was put together and the way this team has been run.”
The transformation from a hopeful idea to an expansion team to a playoff team has certainly been remarkable, and the Sons of Ben have been along for every step of the journey.
This season, they’ve helped turn PPL Park into a near-impossible place for opposing teams to get a win – the Union boast a 7-1-9 record at home – and have also taken their chants and signs on the road. In the Union’s regular-season finale last Thursday, around 1,200 Sons of Ben packed Red Bull Arena long before kickoff.
“We wanted to show ’em up in their own house and I think we accomplished that,” said Ansbro, who took over as the supporters’ group president from co-founder Bryan James in June.
The Sons of Ben are currently looking at travel options to go back on the road for the Union’s second-leg game in Houston on Nov. 3. But for now, they are primarily focused on creating the best possible atmosphere at their River End section at PPL Park on Sunday.
A big, free tailgate has been planned before the game, and some SoB members are planning to dress up for Halloween, perhaps even creating an “Undead River End.”
And here’s one more scary thought:
“I would not be surprised,” Ansbro said, “if the River End is probably a little louder than what it’s ever been.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.