Soccer in the City of Brotherly Love

Finally there’s a Major League soccer team in the sports crazed City of Brotherly Love, seems like a perfect fit. At the beginning of this year The Philadelphia Union started its inaugural season in the MLS much to the anticipation of the many soccer fans and even more sports fans in the city.

Major League Soccer (MLS) is a professional soccer league based in the United States and Canada and sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer). The league comprises 16 teams, 15 in the U.S. and one in Canada, which is scheduled to become 18 teams by the beginning of the 2011 season and 20 by 2012. This is the most prestigious league in the US, and boasts some of the best North American players.

In 2007, the Sons of Ben, a supporter group formed to advocate for Major League Soccer to award Philadelphia an expansion team. This was the start of an extensive grassroots campaign in partnership with the Philadelphia Union, the State of Pennsylvania, Delaware County and the City of Chester enabled the construction of a state-of-the-art soccer stadium and convinced MLS that the Philadelphia region deserved a soccer team.

Now the team has finally started play, although they have yet to play any games at the new stadium, which is slated to open this June. Five games into the season the team has a 2-5-1 record. Although they are currently the second worst team in the league this is to be expected with a young expansion team who has yet to play in their new stadium.

Head coach Piotr Nowak, and the rest of the Philadelphia front office seem to be following a blue-print of the Seattle Sounders, last years expansion team that have already climbed in the rankings. Their plan; start by creating a stingy defense.

The defense starts with the heralded prospect Chris Seitz, who is considered to be in line to be one of the next best American goalkeepers. Seitz played for Nowak in the 2008 Summer Olympics and has been awarded the role of No. 1 keeper.

Playing in front of him are two more U.S internationals: center back Danny Califf and left fullback Michael Orozco. Orozco is notorious for the red card he received for throwing an elbow in the final game of group play, a game the U.S. needed to win in order to advance. Still, he is a good defender who became a regular starter for Mexican club San Luis. Califf was one of the best center backs in MLS when he was a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy from 2000-2004. He was also named to MLS Best XI in 2005 as a member of the San Jose Earthquakes. A strong and tough defender, Califf has made 22 appearances with the U.S. national team. Filling out the rest of the backline are MLS veterans Shavar Thomas and Jordan Harvey.

The Union also brought in a ton of young talent to develop through the draft. Danny Mwanga, a freshman out of Oregon State, was the team’s first-ever draft pick and the No. 1 overall selection. Mwanga is a big, strong target, standing at 6’2”, and he has a knack for scoring goals. Nowak and his staff were also impressed by his ability to see the field and to make crisp passes—and his touch on the ball.

Toni Stahl, 24, isn’t as young as the other rookies for Philadelphia. Of all of Philadelphia’s selections, the midfielder is thought to be most ready for MLS, and he has impressed early. Amobi Okugo, from UCLA, is another Pac-10 freshman the team selected in the first round to develop.

Defense is the Union’s strength, along with a pool of youngsters that are still developing. Nowak will also rely on MLS veterans Alejandro Moreno, a forward formally of the Columbus Crew, and Fred, a midfielder acquired from D.C. United, to create a solid attack to complement the defense.

It will be difficult to match the success Seattle had in its first season, but the Union has put together an impressive squad. With a solid team, good future and a fantastic state of the art brand new stadium with a scenic view on the Delaware river, Philadelphia Union games will be a great time for soccer lovers and families looking to have a good time a like.

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