The "Global" Sport: Soccer's Emerging Role in Philadelphia

By Vesko Kostic, for GPA -- There is no time like the summer of 2012 to see that sports are tremendously important global connectors. The UEFA Euro 2012 Tournament and the 2012 London Summer Olympics brought the world together in friendly competition once again. Generally, the great “global” sport is considered to be football (or if you are American, soccer). Football is played in over 200 countries and boasts a huge player group of over 250 million athletes. It is by far the world’s most popular sport, and as such is a great way to connect with international strangers. Here in America, talk of football may not rouse much spirit, but internationally you can make friendly rivals or quick acquaintances with people through the sphere of football. 

In Philadelphia, our focus tends to be on the Phillies and Eagles (and Flyers when it’s hockey season), and some of us may roll our eyes at the mention of Philadelphia Union or PPL Park . It wasn’t until February 28, 2008 that Union became the sixteenth team in Major League Soccer, and since then they have done quite well, placing 3rd in the 2011 Eastern Conference, and 8th overall in the League. It is definitely worth keeping an eye on this team!

While PPL Park may be on the outskirts of the Philadelphia area, it was able to recently attract a friendly match between the MLS All-Star team and the world famous Chelsea Football Club, which ended in a 3-2 score in favor of the MLS All-Stars. Along with this game, previous football highlights that took place in Philadelphia include the 2010 NSCAA Convention, the 2009 Gold Cup, and the 2003 friendly match between Manchester United and Barcelona (the inaugural match of Lincoln Financial Field). In August 2012, the Real Madrid vs. Celtic FC game that's part of the World Football Challenge 2012 will be taking place at Lincoln Financial Field as well. In a recent interview with, Mayor Nutter discussed his newfound love for the sport:

I think soccer has made itself now part of the "big five" sports. When we talk about sports in the Philadelphia region, I think increasingly, you’re going to hear people talking not only about football, baseball, basketball and hockey, but also soccer.

It is a rapidly growing sport, there’s a ton of fan base here in the Philadelphia region, and there are a whole lot of young people – and people who think they’re young – playing soccer. So I think they’ve energized and activated the area, causing all of us to pay that much more attention to soccer.

Certainly the Philadelphia Union gives a lot back to the community, and they’re doing some great things down in Chester. They’re also helpful here in Philadelphia as well.”

Photo credit: Michael S. Wirtz/Staff file photo

It seems football is well on its way in becoming a more popular sport in Philadelphia and around the U.S. It is mentioned more and more as its fan base expands. While USA teams’ standing in football internationally may not be excellent, and on average it is not a sport Americans know much about, it is truly the global sport and one we should be a bigger part of. If you plan on traveling internationally anytime soon, brush up on your “soccer” knowledge; it might help you make some foreign friends.