Soccer in PA

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I’m sitting here in my parents living room in good old Upper Browndale Pennsylvania. It’s 9AM (it’s also Thursday, June 26th-rest assured I won’t get this published till sometime in July). I’m making eggs and drinking a Guinness  and trying to figure out what red, white and blue outfit I should be wearing to Scranton to watch the USA vs. Germany World Cup game. I’m feeling a little confused though. Usually when I’m drinking at 9AM and getting to go to Scranton there’s Dropkick Murphy’s playing, I’m wearing green, and the weather is much chillier.

I normally have a no-drinks-before-2:30 rule (classy, no?), save for special occasions such as the aforementioned Parade Day and big events like Preakness. That being said, The World Cup is a special occasion. Like the Olympics, it occurs only once every four years and also like the Olympics, it’s competition on a national level. There’s no “my team” and “your team” but rather a collective hope that our team, will win (and if you haven’t seen the #ibelieve hashtag or hear the “I Believe That We Will Win” chant, then what rock are you living under, soccer fan or not?). Also, nothing makes me happier than getting dressed up in American flag shorts and participating in spontaneous bursts of patriotism is public. I say this with no irony or sarcasm. I realize that some people think this is gross or douchey, but those people are clearly Nazis or communists or something of that ilk.

If Will Ferrell believes in Team USA and being a patriot, so should you.

There’s been a lot of media coverage about this specific World Cup’s popularity here in the US. As you’re undoubtedly aware, soccer’s sort of the red-headed-step-child of athletics here, while the rest of the world lives and breathes football.  Last year the MLS Cup (Major League Soccer) had its lowest viewership ever, while these past games with Ghana, Portugal and Germany have been shattering records.

There’s plenty of theories floating around about why this is or what the impact will be on soccer here; I just think it’s cool people are finally paying attention. While I’m not going to pretend to be some diehard fanatic, soccer was the only sport I played growing up.  And while I don’t really follow any professional sports closely, soccer is the one I most enjoy watching. I like that it’s fast paced. I like that there’s no unnecessary stopping and starting and I like that half of my time isn’t dedicated to commercials.

I would like if the World Cup lead to increased popularity, and that some of you will continue on the soccer bandwagon once the hoopla dies down.  I know what you’re thinking: where will I watch soccer once this is over?

Surprisingly, there’s quite a few options here in Pennsylvania.

Let’s start with bars, since these live games aren’t done just yet.  I watched the game at Ale Mary’s, a newish bar in downtown Scranton, which identifies as a soccer bar; the newly formed Electric City Shock have their post game meetups there. There’s quite a few other “soccer bars” scattered around the state. The American Outlaws, an American soccer fan club, has anointed several bars as the “official” World Cup locales of their city. They include Fado’s in Philadelphia, Mr. G’s in Harrisburg (where #ibelieve I’ll be watching the game today), Tellus 360 in Lancaster and Claddagh’s Irish Pub in Pittsburg. There’s plenty more and I was surprised how many places popped up when I googled “soccer bars in PA.”

Celebrating the World Cup at Ale Mary's in Scranton.
Celebrating the World Cup at Ale Mary’s in Scranton.

Now let’s move onto the real thing.

Pennsylvania is home to one of 16 teams that makes up Major League Soccer (19 teams altogether, 3 are just Canadian). The Philadelphia Union plays in PP&L Field in Chester PA, just south of Philly. The season goes from May to October, so there’s still plenty of time to catch a game. PP&L Stadium is a really cool place to watch one. I’ve never been to a soccer game there, but did go three years ago for the National Collegiate Rugby Championship-I have little knowledge of rugby-I went because a ticket got you into a free Dropkick Murphys concert afterwards. It’s right on the Delaware River, almost underneath the Commodore Barre Bridge and 60% of spectators can see the bridge and river from their seats, which is pretty cool.

Major League soccer in the US runs on tiers. It’s more complicated than just major and minor leagues. There’s four of them, the top being MLS teams themselves like the Philadelphia Union. The third tier (there’s no 2nd in PA) is the USL Professional Division which includes two PA teams: Harrisburg’s City Islanders and Pittsburgh’s Riverhounds, which play on City Island and in Station Square respectively.

The National Premiere League is the fourth tier, and while it’s not technically professional soccer, there are quite a few viewing options to chose from. The Keystone League includes the Lehigh Valley’s FC Sonic, Hershey FC, Junior Lonestar FC (Philly), the Pocono Snow (who plays in East Stroudsburg), the Buxmon Torch FC in Perkasie and Scranton’s Electric City Shock (who plays at the UofS’s Fitzpatrick Field!).  The Erie Admirals play in the Midwest/Great Lakes League.

Additional, the Reading United AC is a minor league team that plays in Wyomissing, while the Harrisburg Heat is an indoor team that plays at the Farm Show Complex during the winter months.

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