Eric Shertz put his deposit down for Philadelphia Union season tickets the day after the team’s official expansion announcement in 2008, traveled across the country to Seattle for the franchise’s first-ever game in 2010 and, for the past few years, had become a fixture at PPL Park, where he stood near the front of the River End section, usually with his teenage son, always with a smile on his face.
But the next time the Union take the field at PPL Park, Shertz will not be in the stands cheering beside his fellow members of the Sons of Ben, the Union’s first and largest supporters’ club.
The devoted Union fan, Sons of Ben original and beloved member of the Philadelphia-area soccer community passed away in his sleep early Sunday morning.
He was 38.
“There are so many different people that knew him in so many different ways,” Sons of Ben president Kenny Hanson told MLSsoccer.com. “And what seems to be universally true is that everybody loved him.”
Just 16 months younger than Shertz, Hanson was shocked to hear of his sudden death Sunday – “I don’t even think words can describe what was going through my mind” – but immediately sprung into action.
Along with Bearfight FC of Wilmington, Del., an amateur soccer club Shertz co-founded, the Sons of Ben are helping to raise money to support Shertz’ family, especially his son Gabe, an avid Union fan and soccer player who was by his father’s side at almost every game.
“From all of the people I talked to and all of the things I read in the last couple of days, people thought that he wasn’t just a good father, but that he was a model father,” Hanson said. “I was talking to someone this morning that told me that he taught him how to be a good father. In everything he did, he was just very good – and I think being a father was probably the thing he was the best at.”
As far as being a Union fan, Hanson said that Shertz was loyal, passionate and rational, often talking other fans off the ledge that may have been angry at the team’s performance and usually offering smart takes on Twitter (under the handle @ventur514).
Above all else, he wanted to do what was best for the club while helping the sport and the league grow.
“Eric has always been there,” Hanson said. “He was kind of the unofficial welcoming committee when the Sons of Ben first started. He was the person that when people would walk up, he would go shake their hand. And he always had a smile on his face that was very welcoming.”
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) April 21, 2014
It’s for that reason that so many people have rallied behind Shertz over the past few days. Hanson said that supporters’ groups all across the country – “from Seattle to New York to Florida” – have gotten in touch with the Sons of Ben to see how they can help, and that Union players, coaches and executives have also offered their support.
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“I have spoken with the team and I can tell you everyone from [CEO] Nick Sakiewicz down has reached out to us,” Hanson said. “Many of these people knew who he was and interacted with him. The feeling in the Philadelphia Union front office is a bit somber as well. Everyone that met him thought he was a great guy, a great fan and a great father.”
Hanson even said that D.C. United, the rival team the Union face for Philly’s next home game on May 10, have gotten in touch to see what they can do in conjunction with the Sons of Ben’s plans to honor Shertz.
— Sons of Ben (@SonsofBen) April 21, 2014
“There are plans for May 10 with the goal of bringing everyone together,” Hanson said. “All we can really do is come together and be there for each other and support the things he supported and try to let his spirit live on in the River End.”
Donations to help cover Friday’s funeral expenses and any other expenses for the family of Eric Shertz can be made here.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.