I think I haven't made secret my love of soccer and Major League Soccer in the US. There is a fraternity, a bonding between its fans and its players, perhaps borne out of its low fidelity origins, that isn't found in a lot of locations in American sport. I've found myself next to players of the team I support in the stands, cheering together with them, or watching them banging a drum to lead a chant. It's not because it's an attention seeking thing, they like the passion, they know what some fans have done to get to support the team they do, and respect it quite a bit.
Then you have the Sons of Ben. This supporters group, based in Philadelphia, was formed and cheered for a team that had not been originated beforehand. Thus, the purpose of the group was to support endeavors around the city, but more importantly help serve as a caucus to bring soccer to Philadelphia, a city who had not seen a sports trophy in more than 3 decades, and whose primary sporting icon was Rocky Balboa. A documentary following the events of the group to lead to where the group (and subsequent team, the Philadelphia Union) is today is the reason we're here.
The film focuses on the origin of the Sons of Ben, or Sons, or SoBs depending on your preference, and their founding by Bryan James. The group went to the MLS Cup Final in Washington D.C. two and a half years before the Union was official and cheered for a nonexistent club. The friendships made within the group eventually spread to more philanthropic efforts, and found the attention of Nick Sakiewicz, who had roots in the area and eventually became part of a group within the ownership of a team. Some of the members of the group talk about the allure to joining the Sons in the pre-2010 days, recount some of their experiences during that period, and reflect on the reality of having a team while looking at their humble roots.
A big flaw in the film is it spends little time explaining ‘why soccer?' or even ‘why American soccer?' and serves as vanity to the hundreds of members of the Sons. Which is fine because it was never the filmmakers' intentions presumably, and considering how little action we see on a soccer field over 75 minutes, it's more served to try and show the outsider why this passion was taken up. James had little connection to anyone in an ownership group for awhile, and did this as a passion project, though it became more than that when there was more than proverbial smoke. Looking at the ways he tried to maintain interest of the group with various charitable efforts.
The film also looks at the group's thoughts on the stadium's location in Chester. Chester is, well, not the cheeriest or safest of places when news of a stadium was made, and interviews with townspeople and local officials helps to reinforce this. Such is the challenge with attempting to do large infrastructure in a city downtown or, in the case of the Union, when a soccer stadium is viewed as the anchor of a larger waterfront renovation project that doesn't occur. The people on both sides of the soccer discussion have warmed to each other through the years and things, while not perfect in Chester, are definitely improving.
Rather than be a soccer documentary, Sons of Ben shows us the efforts in getting a dream realized, and seeing that dream out. It's not told in a polished way or anything, but wants to show you that it's more than just about soccer, which was one of the destinations the Sons reached early on and saw success with on the way to their goal, which kind of sums up American soccer I guess.
Sons of Ben is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and looks as good as you're liable to see considering the source material. Lots of light blue and yellow for the Sons' clothing looks natural, as do the navy blue and gold of the Union when you see them. Flesh tones appear natural with not push or hues to them, and the image is devoid or edge enhancement but does have a moment or two of image noise (not a big deal in this feature). It looks like I thought it would look.
Two-channel stereo sound, which was mainly focused on interviews and news footage, set to an understated score. Dialogue in the interviews is consistent throughout and doesn't require much in the way of adjustment. It's going to be hard to be blown away from a soccer documentary and I wasn't, things just sounded OK.
I've had a few drinks with some of the members of the Sons of Ben and have friends that know many of the people in the Sons of Ben movie, and I can tell you that the Sons certainly buck the trend of your stereotypical Philly sports fan, save for Green Man maybe. But they are a nice bunch of folks who wanted to be part of the rapidly growing swimming pool that is MLS, and good on them for getting it done unconventionally. Technically the disc is OK and the lack of extras isn't really a hindrance. At just more than an hour, it's worth checking out for a change of pace viewing.