WHEN BRYAN James and a crew of die-hard Philadelphia soccer fans traveled to the Meadowlands in June for a New York Red Bulls match, they received a spirited welcome from the hometown crowd.
None of it is fit to print.
"They were chanting, '[Bleep] Philadelphia,' " said James, founder of Sons of Ben, a 1,600-strong supporter club formed last year in the hope that the Philly area would one day get its own soccer team.
Yesterday was the day.
After months of speculation and political wrangling, Major League Soccer announced that, in 2010, Philadelphia will become its 16th team, playing in a 20,000-seat stadium to be built on the Chester waterfront.
The league, since it began play in 1996, has always wanted to bring soccer to the Philadelphia region, the fourth-largest market in the country and largest in North America without an MLS team.
"We may have been a little slow showing up," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. "But when we do, we kick butt."
The team, which will be named with fan input, already has an unprecedented level of support for an expansion franchise, said MLS commissioner Don Garber. And it would likely alter the dynamic of the I-95 rivalry between New York and D.C. United - perhaps siphoning some South Jersey fans in the process.
"I live in New York and I know what it's like for Giants fans to attend a game at the Linc," Garber said. "I know what it's like to be a Mets fan and try to go down and attend a Phillies game."
Wait until Red Bull fans meet the Sons of Ben in Chester.
"There's already some animosity between their supporters club and our people," said Dan Ryazansky, who runs MetroFanatic.com, a site frequented by the Empire Supporters Club and other New York soccer fans.
"I've never seen this level of interest from the public sector, never have had a supporters' group the size of Sons of Ben before a team's ever launched," Garber said after yesterday's announcement at the Wharf at Rivertown, which adjoins the Chester stadium site. "I think there's something very special being incubated here in Philadelphia for Major League Soccer."
An investor group, led by iStar Financial CEO Jay Sugarman, beat out St. Louis to make Philadelphia the league's 16th franchise. Seattle will become the 15th team next year.
The $115 million stadium will anchor a $414 million mixed-use development at the base of the Commodore Barry Bridge.
The "Rivertown" project, spearheaded by Delaware-based Buccini/Pollin Group, will include townhouses and apartments, 335,000 square feet of office space, 22,215 square feet of retail space, a 200,000 square-foot convention center and riverside promenade with boat slips.
Stadium construction is expected to begin in August or September and must be completed by March 2010.
Delaware County is contributing $30 million to the project and will own the stadium via a county sports authority. The state will kick in $47 million and the Delaware River Port Authority last week approved a $10 million allocation for the project. The remainder will be privately financed.
Reaction was mixed yesterday on the streets of Chester, an impoverished Delaware County city of 37,000 residents.
"I love it, something different for the kids to get involved in," James Wharton said as he jacked up an SUV at Slapp's Tire Service, a couple blocks from the stadium site.
Chester officials hope revitalizing the waterfront will help reverse decades of economic and social decay and encourage new residents and businesses to move in. As part of the deal, the state is also expected to free up money for a supermarket, which Chester does not currently have.
"I think it's foolish," said Maltrese Sessoms, a crossing guard at 3rd and Tilghman streets. "We're talking about the city of Chester. It needs so many things other than to bring in something that no child - or even adults - are interested in."
The city, Sessoms said, is far from a hotbed of soccer enthusiasm: "The kids that get off my buses have basketballs in their arms."
Rick Eckstein, a Villanova sociology professor and co-author of "Public Dollars, Private Stadiums: The Battle Over Building Sports Stadiums," said similar projects over the past 15 years have not lived up to their expectations.
"There is so much evidence that these things don't work as economic engines," Eckstein said of sports stadiums, but "the politicians keep going for it."
Brian Larson, a marketing professor and director of Widener University's sports-management program, isn't so skeptical.
The stadium, combined with Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack and the planned $50 million University Crossings revitalization project on Providence Avenue, will help enhance Chester's image. That "branding," he said, could yield long-term results that can't be measured by a simple cost-benefit analysis.