By Ridge Mahoney
There's still more than a month to go before the MLS Northwest rivalry officially kicks off when expansion Portland visits Seattle, but on the other side of the country, two teams are ready for Year Two of getting in each other's face.
For many decades, the sports fans of Philadelphia have regarded themselves, and their athletes and teams, as truer and purer than their counterparts in the Big Apple. New York teams signed rich guys, Philly preferred tough guys.
The delineation is simplistic and far from entirely accurate, but it works for at least one end of the spectrum. Philadelphia hosts New York Saturday in a revival of their relationship that pre-dates the City of Brotherly Love actually fielding a team. Four years ago, the Sons of Ben traveled north to a game at Giants Stadium and through their cheers and chants and taunts began fostering the jovial ill-will that continues to this day.
Here is an excerpt from a Sons of Ben e-mail sent out Thursday:
“Saturday the U face off against the hapless Red Bulls. They're entering their 16th season of not having won a single thing. Not an Open Cup, not a Supporters' Shield, and not an MLS Cup. There’s going to be 450 of their fans filling Section 132 (how, we don't know, as they usually don't have that many people show up to their home matches). Be ready to come and to be loud and proud to be an SoB.
“This rivalry started back in 2007, 3 years before the Union first took the field. The fledgling Sons of Ben took a group of a couple dozen members up to Giants Stadium to cheer for a nonexistent Philadelphia team as well as cheer against the Red Bulls in a league match against Kansas City. The handful of NY supporters felt our presence and we started a back-and-forth during the match, including our now-famous 'we've won as many cups as you and we don't have a team.' An editor from Sports Illustrated saw us and we got a great mention in that magazine the following week. This is one of the key moments of the early SoB momentum to bring a team to Philadelphia. Both matches last season (as well as the USOC play-in game) were heated, and there's been a lot of tension at the Superdraft each time it's nearby as well. Let's show them what a sold-out stadium looks like and what real supporters sound like.”
The e-mail also included the location and menu for the group’s pre-game tailgate party, as well as a mock ad, which reads: “For Sale, New York Red Bulls Trophy Cabinet, Brand New (Never Used!).” Pictured is a wood-and-glass case, backed by a Red Bull logo that is clearly visible, since all the cabinet contains are bare glass shelves.
I’m sure the Red Bulls fans, which include the starkly recognizable Johnny Toro of the all-red face and prominent horns, will have their own songs and chants at the ready. Their decorum, and that of the SoB, has occasionally come into question when obscene chants and cursing have brought complaints from other fans. MLS is well aware of this, and so are the supporters of many teams, who have held meetings the past few years to maximize enjoyment and minimize the possibility of fights and brawls and arrests, which can be triggered when insults and emotions and adult beverages are boiled together.
SoB co-founder Bryan James and his fellow officers around the league are resolute in their belief that MLS can’t afford the ugly scenes that sometimes mar encounters between certain cities in other sports, as per NFL games between the Giants and Eagles. Avoiding trouble while still heckling and harassing the opposition isn’t saintly, it’s sanity.
Seattle and Portland, you're on the clock.