A week removed from a season-ending playoff loss for the Philadelphia Union, Corey Furlan, one of the team’s most vocal and longest-running supporters, still doesn’t know what to make of it all.
Initially, after the club’s 2-1 loss to New York City FC, he had no words when responding to a reporter’s text.
“I got nothing, man. Give me an hour or two.”
Furlan finally responded along with a number of supporters that were among the sold-out crowd of 19,847 at Subaru Park last Sunday — the biggest in club history. The Inquirer gave a few fans the floor, asking their opinions on the Union’s improbable season ahead Saturday’s MLS Cup (3 p.m., 6abc, UniMás and TUDN) between the Portland Timbers and NYCFC.
An original Sons of Ben member who led the charge in bringing a team to Philadelphia.
“So yeah, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was absolutely gutted [with] the way the chips fell. However, given the circumstances, I couldn’t be prouder of this team. You have 11 guys in [COVID-19] protocol and [the guys they played] put up a fight that I could have never imagined. Also, you’ll never be able to convince me that with our full side we don’t run [New York City FC] off the park.
“You know, [most people who follow the team know] the whole story of the Sons of Ben and how the Union came to fruition. But the feeling and butterflies I have now were the same ones I had over a decade ago, hanging onto every word that came from [MLS commissioner Don] Garber. Are we getting a team or are we not getting the team? The feelings have come full circle. Because this is the moment like that we dreamed about, having a team represent Philadelphia in an Eastern Conference final being the hottest ticket in town.
“This is the feeling anyone that was a member of the Sons of Ben envisioned for this club. Back then, I was a 23-year-old kid and, here I am, almost 40 years old, and I have those same giddy feelings for what’s to come with this team. To me, that’s awesome.”
A casual soccer fan turned Union “die-hard” after “watching the team win [the] Supporters’ Shield” as MLS’s best team in last year’s regular season.
“I mean for what they were able to do, given the hand they were dealt is incredible. I mean when you don’t have your starting goalkeeper, your backup goalkeeper and basically your entire midfield, it’s going to be an uphill battle off the bat. We’ll never know how 11 guys contracted COVID-19 in the same week, and why you wouldn’t quarantine yourself ahead of the biggest match in the history of the club but whatever. At this point, it’s water under the bridge but I’d be lying if I didn’t have a whole lot of what-if’s swirling around right now.”
Co-founder of the Sons of Ben, the Union’s longtime supporters’ group that’s credited with leading the charge to bring a MLS team to Philadelphia.
“You know, going into the game, with the odds so clearly against the Union — you can feel nothing but pride in the effort that everyone in blue and gold showed out there. Think about missing that many starters, all-league level players and still taking a lead and fighting until the end. Disappointed at the result but not in the players, coaches, or fans. The atmosphere was electric and everything I hoped it would be.
“[In preparation for the match], I saw in my memories that, you know, 13 years ago, when we [as original Sons of Ben founding members] gathered together at the stadium for the groundbreaking and thinking that now the same weekend, 13 years later, not only is there a stadium there but that the team that we hoped would play there one day is in a nationally televised conference final. It’s pretty, pretty neat. The combination of memory and the future.
“When we were hoping to get a team, I think that playing for championships might have been a stretch goal, but it was certainly never something that didn’t envision would happen. It just wasn’t at top of our minds. To us, it was always let’s bring a team that we can cheer for and that will embrace the fans the way we embrace them.”
A former Sons of Ben president turned chant leader and organizer — “capo,” to use the soccer term — in the River End stands.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team. Just being here in a conference final. It’s surreal, honestly. We’ve seen them with just a terrible team, you know what I mean? Like scraping the bottom. Then to see them get into [U.S.] Open Cup finals, getting into the playoffs and winning games, [head coach Jim] Curtin did that. Then last season with the MLS Supporters’ Shield, it’s been an incredible ride and makes me personally excited about the future. They didn’t win, but the heart that they played with makes all the time, the money, getting burns from smoke bombs totally worth it.
“Look, man, I used to live in Reading, Pa., up near the mountains and I used to drive to these matches until literally, the transmission blew in my car. When that happened, I would take a Greyhound bus from the Poconos down to the depot on Filbert Street, and then hop on a train to get into Delco and then get picked up from there. I would do that for every match. I would use my vacation days to come down for them. I’ve spent thousands on this team because I believe that’d we’d be a top team in MLS, and we are. So yeah, a loss to this [NYCFC] team [stinks], but we didn’t play them at full strength. If we did, there’s no way this wasn’t a different outcome.”
A 19-year-old who’s been a Sons of Ben member for the last five years.
“To watch what transpired the week leading up to the game you couldn’t help but realize winning was going to be a tall order and it was like the more you read the worst you felt. But it never felt like they couldn’t pull off a miracle. And you know what? The guys that we’re able to play almost did. Everybody knows how hard they work for a whole season, to have [11 players] a lot of [those guys being] starters have to go on [COVID-19] protocol. You kind of feel for them.
“I support these guys all the way. I mean, this is a club that, you know, no one expected this for them this soon. This team is legit and has a real chance based on what they have here to be in the mix every year. Just give us a team to be proud of. Making the playoffs every year, getting far in major tournaments, that’s it. That’s all we as fans ever asked.”