By Ryan Kirby
PHILADELPHIA, Penn. -- 2501 Seaport Drive in Chester, PA will be the site of the newest MLS franchise. Today marked a tangible shift as the vision becomes reality: ground has been broken. For some fans, it has been a long time coming.
“The ground being broken has been several years in the making for us."Jack Gettleib, a member of the Sons of Ben, said. "We have such big support group here and for the first time we got to see some real proof that this is finally going to happen for us.”
The Sons of Ben are the Philadelphia-based fan group that formed in January 2007. Membership has reached 3,500 already and the numbers increase every day.
“We used to think this was a long shot," Gettleib admitted. "We used to think that we would maybe get the Kansas City Wizards to come here. To have our own franchise and complex the way it has worked out has been almost too perfect. We are just excited to finally see it with our own eyes."
The fans are kicking in as much as they can. The Sons recently held their second annual “Help Kick Hunger” food drive which benefits the Bernardine Center in Chester. MLS Philadelphia will make a matching donation of up to $500.
Of course, there are presales for season tickets.
“We already reserved our season tickets,” local youth soccer coach Brandon Jeffries said. “I think it is a unique opportunity here in Philadelphia: every kid plays soccer when they are young. The tickets are more affordable and the kids, I think, will enjoy the game more.”
Jeffries' enthusiasm has been echoed in the sheer number of season ticket reservations that have been made, already topping 5,000.
“We have been cheering for D.C. United forever, so I can't wait to have my own team to cheer for,” Jeffries' eight-year-old son Adam said.
Officials say that the plans for the stadium itself have not been held up at all despite the nation's economic troubles. The stadium will be just to the south of Philadelphia, in Chester, which has been struggling economically recently.
“We just need something to get this community straightened back up, and if soccer is the answer then I’m all for it,” Howard Blanton, a long time Chester resident, said.
There are plans for millions of dollars of stores, homes, and other developments to go up around the stadium. Officials say they need time to adjust the plans in light of the current economy.
There has been $25 million in funding from the Governor's office for this soccer specific venue that will seat 18,500. The Philadelphia Franchise will operate under the Keystone Sports ownership group.
For the die-hard fans, however, those figures are just abstract. What matters now is the reality: Philadelphia's stadium is being built. Or at least, they are moving the dirt around to make space for it.
Ryan Kirby is a frequent contributor to Goal.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.