Ruben Vasquez was searching for something more at Union games. Sure, he loved his club. An inaugural season ticket holder, Vasquez had been around the Union literally since the beginning. But there was something missing, and he wanted to bring whatever it was that was missing to Union games.
Vasquez was born in Medellin, Colombia, where soccer is as much of a religion as Catholicism. From a very early age, he loved the beautiful game, having his father bring him and his friends to games. He played the game was well growing up, and always had a soccer ball wherever he went.
"In Colombia, we're really passionate about soccer," Vasquez said. "In our city, we had one of the best club teams in Latin America. I fell in love immediately."
When Vasquez moved to the United States when he was 13, he continued to watch soccer, but it was tough because there wasn't a team for him. He chose the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, solely because living in south Jersey, it was the closest team he had. But that all changed when Philadelphia was awarded an expansion team.
"As a Colombian, I was really lucky because when the Union became a team, they signed a Colombian player," Vasquez said. "That made it more interesting than anything else. I was proud the Union had a Colombian player, and from there it became a passion for our city and our country, and I had it right down the street, if you will."
As soon as season tickets went on sale, Vasquez bought them. The Union was his team, and he was determined to become a faithful member for the club. He attended games and enjoyed the atmosphere, but he kept thinking about the games back in Colombia.
In Colombia, the games weren't just games; they were events. There was food and music before games, chants and celebrations during, and gatherings afterwards. It was where you met family members and friends, and where strangers became friends. There was a bond between the club and fans, and even fans to each other. And he wanted to bring that same atmosphere to the Union.
Vasquez decided to start La Union Latina, a supporter's group which brought the South American soccer atmosphere up north. Membership has been slowly growing, but every one that has joined has become engrained into the group. Members hail from different parts of South America, but all bring the same passion their home countries bring to their games. Members have become family members to each other, which is ideal, because family is a pillar of what La Union Latina wants for Union fans. When Vasquez started La Union Latina, he found what had been missing from Union games years before.
"It started out little by little," Vasquez said. "People look forward to going to the games and having that atmosphere that reminds them of home. We're trying to get people who are thinking about joining the group to come to a game with us. We try to bring our culture to the team. We're trying to bring in people with that spirit."
Over the summer, La Union Latina members attended Copa America matches thanks to the Union, and Vasquez credits those games to a boon in membership and participating in the group.
"Copa America was really successful for us," Vasquez said. "Everybody loved the games and the Union helping us helped bring everyone together."
La Union Latina's goal is to become a fully recognized supporter's group, and they are well on their way. Vasquez has created the atmosphere he felt was missing from Union games. There's passion, there's family, and there's community within the group. Vasquez's soccer club has always been like a family to him, and because of La Union Latina, he and many others have created a second family of their own.
"The atmosphere, the family, seeing your friends every week, that can't be beat." Vasquez said. "We're soccer fanatics with passion, we're families. The Union is a family, and La Union Latina is a family. The name of the team, the Union, the reason why we're gathering, it all makes sense. It's family, it's passion, it's unity."