MLS commissioner Garber and Mayor Nutter welcome All-Star Game to Philadelphia

Posted: July 22, 2012

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber sat in one of the box seats high above Lincoln Financial Field. Not far from him was Vice President Biden.

It was April 2010, the Union's home opener, two months before the new team played its first game at PPL Park in Chester, and two years after Philadelphia was awarded an MLS franchise.

Garber took notice of how far the league's 16th team had come in two years. Since awarding the area a team in 2008, Garber knew he wanted to bring a national event to Philadelphia. He expected it would take several years before the fan support was high enough to hold a major soccer event. That's just the way it is in most places.

Four years after Garber announced MLS was coming to Philadelphia, the area is welcoming the league's best players Wednesday at PPL Park, where the all-stars will face the English Premier League's Chelsea, winners of the 2012 UEFA Champions League. The game is a sellout.

"Generally, we wait a little longer to bring something like this, but the city has been so supportive," Garber said. "This is a 'thank you' to the fans. They've been great and they deserve this."

Garber shook hands with Mayor Nutter and posed for pictures at the top of the steps at the Art Museum on Friday afternoon as part of the All-Star Week kickoff that featured youth players kicking soccer balls down from the top of the steps, and a 12-foot blow-up soccer ball that will travel around the area the rest of the week.

Nutter and Garber spoke briefly to the hundred or so fans who lined the railing up the steps before taking turns signing the large ball.

"Philadelphia has embraced the fastest growing sport in the world," Nutter said. "We thank the fans. This couldn't be done without them."

The Sons of Ben, an independent supporters group, were instrumental to bringing an MLS team to Philadelphia. Garber recognized that in his short remarks and spent much of his time discussing the fan base here.

In addition to a strong management system within the Union, Garber said, the support the team has received was the main reason the nationally televised all-star game was brought here.

"This wasn't necessary to give Philadelphia a boost," Garber said. "This was to say 'Thank you.' "

While management groups had shown interest in an MLS team in Philadelphia before 2008, it was the Sons of Ben and other dedicated area fans that made the difference.

Every large city has investors, but only select ones have strong, supportive fans.

Philadelphia loves the game, Nutter said.

Garber agreed. "We had no doubt that [the All-Star Game] it was going to sell out," he said. "This is a city that loves soccer."

Two years ago, he wasn't sure how soon the fan base would be able to support such an event.

But as he looked out from the podium at umbrella-toting fans on a rainy Friday, he said, it reminded him once again why he was here in 2012 - this game is about the fans.

Union loan out two. The Union have loaned rookie midfielders Greg Jordan and Jimmy McLaughlin to USL PRO affiliate Harrisburg for the remainder of the City Islanders' season - through the end of August - with an option to recall both before then.


Union at Red Bulls

What: Union at New York Red Bulls.

When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.

TV: ESPN

Radio: WIP-AM (610)

Records: Red Bulls (10-5-5, 35 points); Union (6-9-2, 20 points)

Outlook: The Union are on a three-game MLS winning streak for the first time in franchise history. . . . New York has yet to lose at home this season. . . . The Union have never won at Red Bull Arena.

         - Inquirer staff


Contact Chad Graff at cgraff@philly.com. Follow

on Twitter @ChadGraff.

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