Philadelphia Union teammates Maurice Edu and Sébastien Le Toux prove why the “new football” has staying power in the city of brotherly love.
Sébastien Le Toux (LEFT) and Maurice Edu look to lead the Philadelphia Union to its first MLS playoff berth.
Bringing Major League Soccer to Philadelphia—a city already dominated by four championship-winning professional teams—seemed like a risky move back in 2010. But now, well into its fifth season, the Philadelphia Union’s fan base and on-field talent continue to deepen. What’s more, the recently completed FIFA World Cup tournament brought even more American devotees to the sport—Germany’s triumph over Argentina in the World Cup final ranks as the most-watched soccer match ever in the US. So it’s hard to argue with the Union’s Maurice Edu and Sébastien Le Toux when they say there’s never been a better time for the city’s soccer fans.
“While walking down the streets of Philly this summer, it was amazing to see so many people wearing USA jerseys and getting excited about soccer,” says Edu, a Los Angeles native who was part of the US national team’s 23-man roster for the 2010 World Cup before joining the Union four years later as a midfielder. “More people are realizing how exciting this sport is, and even though the World Cup is over they still have a team to support.”
According to Le Toux, a native of France who came to the Union in 2010 after three years playing for the Seattle Sounders, Philadelphia’s rabid brand of fandom has been palpable from day one. “Fans were passionate in Seattle, but it was a calm passion. Here it’s much more intense, and a little less forgiving,” says Le Toux, who currently holds several Union records, including most goals scored. “And there are so many young fans now that are bringing their parents to games and growing up with this team in their city. It’s very exciting.”
And it doesn’t hurt that the Union is having an exciting 2014 season, with a first-time playoff berth potentially within its grasp this fall. The organization is experiencing success off the field, too: The Philadelphia Union Foundation provides opportunities for children in Chester and the surrounding areas through various programs in education, health, and recreation. The foundation’s annual gala, Cocktails and Cleats, raised $50,000 in 2013.
“It’s hard to be a fan of a sport if you don’t have a team to support,” says Edu. “But fans have that now in Philly, and I think it’s been so successful precisely because there are so many other teams here. This is a sports-dominated city and culture, and soccer fits right in.” Adds Le Toux, “It’s an easy game to fall in love with. And the more you watch, the easier it is.”