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Bridge Brigade bringing fans together to create fun atmosphere at Union II games



When Philadelphia Union II opens their third season in MLS Next Pro on Sunday afternoon, it will be at a mostly empty Subaru Park. It will not be library quiet though thanks to a group of diehard fans who have organized under the banner of the Bridge Brigade to create a fun atmosphere for the reserve squad’s games.

Started informally by a group of friends last season, the supporters group has become more formalized ahead of the start of the new Next Pro season with an official name, logo and blessing from the front office.

Kyle Wood and Philadelphia Soccer Now contributor Evan Cohen are among the fans spearheading the group. Both said they started going in full voice at Union II games after joking for a while about what it would be like to bring the energy of a first team supporters group to a Next Pro match.

“I first went to a Union II game because when I got my season tickets I saw that it was free so I checked it out,” Wood said. “Being there and seeing some of the younger players was cool but something was missing.”

Cohen had a similar experience.

“For me with Union II it was always let’s see how the younger guys are doing,” Cohen said. “But we started to joke about what it would be like if we went to a Union II game and treated it like the World Cup final.”

What if.

Last summer when Cohen returned home to the area from college in New Orleans, the discussion had continued to point where they and some other friends turned that what if into reality.

“It was really random, they played terribly – I don’t think they had a shot on target the whole night – and got killed,” Cohen said.
And it was so much fun. We were saying there’s something here, deeper than the game. You’re so close to the game and the refs could hear what we were yelling at them about so we decided to run with it.”

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union II

Wood said that another feature of their group is how accessible it is to just join in with them. They’re easy to locate, there’s plenty of empty seats in their section and they’re welcoming to fans of all ages. Kyle and Evan recalled a time early on when a couple kids came over with a parent asking to get a picture with the group.

“It’s really special,” Wood said. “And you don’t see it too often around the league where kids can just come up and join in on the fun.”

Connecting with the front office has enabled the group to bring in a drum and flags and push ticket sales and packages like one that included Kyle’s signature bucket hat for a game last season. They’ve also gotten the thumbs up from head coach Marlon LeBlanc and the players have voiced their appreciation for the effort.

“Groundswells are the best thing, right?” LeBlanc said when asked about the group in a press conference this week. “I give those guys credit, they show up all the time, rain or shine, whether there are 5 or 10 or 50.”

LeBlanc said going to Union II games is a chance to see the future not just of the Union but the national team.

“I would encourage people to come and watch these kids,” LeBlanc said. “They are exciting. They are as good as advertised, if not better and they’re only getting better.”

Striking that balance between fielding a competitive team and developing players is always at the front of mind for LeBlanc and diehards in Bridge Brigade have embraced that aspect of it too. They don’t need to win at any cost.

“MLS Next Pro started as a solution of what to do with reserve teams,” Cohen said. “But it’s quickly become more than that. It’s a place to trial things and to test out innovations. It’s got its own purpose and now with more independent teams coming in you’ve got more teams that are really taking the league seriously.”

Carolina Core and Chattanooga FC both joining gives two additional away trips for Union II supporters they don’t get following the first team. The quaint nature of smaller crowds and less mainstream attention also means a lot more interaction with players who the brigade gives “free hugs” (plastic juice box barrels) at the end of games.

“The boys really seem to love it,” Wood said. “And it’s been great getting the feedback from them and building relationships with the players on a different level.”


Matthew Ralph is the managing editor of Philadelphia Soccer Now / Brotherly Game. He's covered soccer at all levels for many years in the Philadelphia region and has also written for, NPSL, PrepSoccer and other publications. He lives with his wife and two young children in Broomall, Pa., but grew up in South Jersey and is originally from Kansas.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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