The City of Philadelphia has long been a playing field for soccer dating back to the late 19th century. Drawing its roots from the English immigrants working in the textile industry, what started as impromptu matches on random street corners and abandoned fields in the Kensington and Frankford neighborhoods, developed into full-fledged amateur leagues, open to players of all sizes, skills and ages. According to soccer historian Ed Farnsworth, the first known game played “under proper rules” took place on March 19, 1881 and the Philadelphia region and was once the leading center for soccer in the United States. The first organized league — the Pennsylvania Association Football Union (PAFU) — was organized in 1889.
Philadelphia’s first professional soccer team
Charlie Reilly played halfback for Philadelphia’s first professional soccer team, the Philadelphia Phillies, and “Princeton Charlie” emerged as the face of the new sport. Drawing from a small pool of English, Irish and German immigrants, the Phillies joined the newly formed American League of Professional Football Club (ALPFC) and played their first organized game on Oct. 6, 1894 before a crowd of 500 at the old Baker Bowl.
First Philadelphia Soccer Club
The Philadelphia Hibernians, also known as Hibernian F.C., have largely been considered the first powerhouse soccer club in the city limits. The Kensington-based club comprised mainly of Irish American immigrants entered the Eastern Soccer League (ESL) in 1909 and claimed titles in 1911 and 1920 while making deep runs throughout the decade, including an appearance in the 1914 ALP championship.
One of the country’s first soccer stadiums
Founded as the Bethlehem Football Club in 1907, the club quickly became one of the most dominant forces in American soccer. Charles Schwab, owner of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, invested in the franchise, changed the name to Bethlehem Steel in 1914, and constructed one of the country’s first real soccer stadiums. He also recruited top talent from Europe to bolster his roster and Bethlehem Steel won nine league championships, six American Cups, five National Challenge Cups and three National Association Football League (NAFL) titles from 1913 until 1929.
John and Henry Farrell, pioneers in U.S. Soccer
Henry Farrell was the leader of the 1924 Olympic squad that included eight soccer players from the Philadelphia area. Henry was the son of a forward-thinking soccer pioneer named John Farrell who helped establish the U.S. Soccer Federation in 1913, the official governing body for the sport in the United States. In 1924, Henry led the U.S. National Team overseas to Paris for the Summer Olympics where they recorded the first American win in a major international competition on foreign soil.
Philadelphia German Americans & Elmer Schroeder
The Philadelphia German Americans (later rebranded as the Uhrik Truckers) entered the American Soccer League (ASL) in 1933 and gained national attention after winning the U.S. Open Cup in 1936. Legendary soccer coach Elmer Schroeder manned the sidelines for the German Americans from 1932-37 and ushered in an era of remarkable success. They won two straight National Amateur Cups under Schroeder’s guidance while sending five players to the U.S. National Team. Schroeder became the first American-born president of the U.S. Football Association in 1933 and was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1951.
Arguably the greatest American professional soccer player of all-time, Bahr, a proud Philadelphian, guided the Philadelphia Nationals to four American Soccer League titles (1950, 1951, 1953, 1955) and then won another one as a member of the Uhrik Truckers (formerly the Philadelphia German Americans) in 1956. He appeared in 19 international competitions, including the 1948 Summer Olympics and 1950 World Cup, or “Miracle on Grass,” one of the biggest upsets in the history of the World Cup tournament.
This team made history by becoming the first expansion team to win a league title in their inaugural season. Led by legendary goalkeeper Bob Rigby — the first soccer player to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the team folded in 1976, but will forever be remembered for literally changing the course of history when they hosted the Soviet Red Army team on Feb. 11, 1974 in an exhibition match. They lost but the game has been credited for birthing a new version of the sport: indoor soccer.
Philadelphia KiXX owner Ed Tepper was one of the co-founders of the original Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL), the indoor soccer league. The league had a resurgence in 2001 and the KiXX returned to action as one of the marquee franchises. They won the first MISL championship. Goalkeeper Peter Pappas has been referred to as the “Godfather of Indoor Soccer.” In 13 seasons with the KiXX, he recorded 5,399 saves and 230 wins in 416 career matches.
Founded on Feb. 28, 2008, the Philadelphia Union are named after the “union” of the 13 original colonies in America and play in Major League Soccer (MLS). They were the 16th expansion team added to the up-and-coming league in the U.S. The club’s primary colors of navy blue and gold represent the Continental Army’s uniforms during the Revolutionary War. Their first home game was at Lincoln Financial Field on April 10, 2010 with an attendance of 34,870. The Union have built a reputation for a rowdy fan base, anchored by the raucous “Sons of Ben” supporters group who led the initial grassroots effort to secure the MLS franchise in Philadelphia, and generally pack the house at Subaru Park.
Philadelphia International Unity Cup
The Philadelphia International Unity Cup was created in 2016 by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to celebrate the favorite sport of the many immigrant groups that reside in the city. The World Cup-style tournament is held over several months and pits teams representing countries from all over the world against each other, with the goal of uniting Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.
Women’s World Cup
In 2019, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team claimed its third consecutive World Cup — and fourth overall title for the American women — after the squad beat the Netherlands, 2-0. They have won back-to-back titles (2019, 2015) and three of the last six world championships. The team came in Philadelphia in August 2019 for an exhibition game against Portugal that sold out in minutes and broke the record for the largest crowd for a stand-alone friendly match.