It was a nice afternoon in the plaza outside City Hall yesterday, so it hardly mattered that the official announcement of the team name, colors, and logo for the new Major League Soccer franchise was delayed for just a few minutes while the team's fan club assembled after a long morning of preparation three blocks away at McGillin's Olde Ale House.
Precisely at the stroke of just a few minutes late, the Sons of Ben formed enthusiastically if somewhat unsteadily behind the Polish-American String Band and entered the plaza to that traditional soccer marching tune "I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover."
And then the game began.
The players in this game, standing on the podium to address the lunchtime crowd of soccer supporters and curious passersby, included, among others, the owner of the franchise that will begin play in March, various team officials, and the commissioner of the MLS.
Those are important people. They have money and jobs and careers riding on the project. They have an 18,500-seat stadium being constructed in Chester along the Delaware River waterfront. They have schedules to meet and payrolls to fund and a business to form in an uncertain economic time.
But the reason that the whole enterprise should matter to all Philadelphia-area sports fans, the only thing that really breathes life into the franchise, is the spirit of the folks who came into the plaza celebrating their love and support of a team that has yet to play a single match.
"It's a great day," said Bryan James, president and cofounder of the Sons of Ben, the local soccer fan group that was formed during a January 2007 meeting at McGillin's. "We've been waiting a long time for this."
Even if you aren't a soccer fan, it's hard not to be happy for them. The group, which has grown to more than 3,500 members, helped sway the balance when MLS was considering where to place its 16th franchise.
Yesterday, confirming a badly kept secret, the team was christened Philadelphia Union, with a navy, light-blue and gold logo that features a coiled rattlesnake and the Latin motto Jungite aut Perite (Join or Die).
There was a good deal of explanation about the choosing of the name and the logo. "Union" is a nod to Philadelphia's roots as the first capital of the union of the 13 original colonies. And the snake and the motto were taken from Benjamin Franklin's political cartoons in the Pennsylvania Gazette, his entreaty to hang together or all hang separately. And the colors from the uniforms of the American Continental Army, or close enough.
Sensible enough, although it will make more sense when emblazoned on a uniform and there is a stadium full of people who care a lot more about how the team plays than about its name.
"UUUUUUUUUUUUU-nyun!" the Sons of Ben roared when the name was officially unveiled, starting a tradition they plan to continue in the Supporters Section behind one of the goals. Potential ticket buyers are warned: "This section will stand, sing, and chant for all 90 minutes of the match. Please take this into consideration before choosing seats in this section."
The next step is the hiring of a coach, which will be done this summer. Then comes the building of the rosters, which will be accomplished through an expansion draft, the college draft, and the allocation of up to eight international players to the team.
"We're going to find a coach that fits the team culture, which is also the culture of Philadelphia," team president Tom Veit said. "It's going to be a team that works hard. Might be an offensive team, might be a defensive team, but it's going to be a team that goes out and plays every second of every minute. Because that's what Philadelphia wants and what Philadelphia respects."
Veit got a lesson in what Philadelphia wants when the organizers interviewed local fans early in the process to determine the level of soccer interest. When the locals were asked which were their favorite soccer clubs, the organizers got back names like Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona, all the top international teams. No MLS teams.
But do you like the MLS? Do you watch it?
"And they said, 'Oh, yeah, but, what am I going to do, root for Washington? We're Philly,' " Veit said. "They're MLS fans, but they're Philly MLS fans. That slogan we have: Is the MLS Ready for Philly? That's the truth. They've never seen a market like this, and wait until we hit the turf with this fan base."
It all sounds good, as these things invariably do at their birthing. With some luck, some favorable construction weather, and some good soccer, it might even turn out as planned.
Regardless, getting a first-division outdoor soccer team back in the Philadelphia area was worth the wait. Even those final few minutes while the most important people in the process readied themselves for their entrance.