Philadelphia Union press clips: September 18th
TODAY'S FEATURED ARTICLE
(Matt De George, Delaware County Daily Times)
Nick Sakiewicz has seen a fair amount of games played at PPL Park by the team he helped bring into existence.
But there was a moment Tuesday night in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final that still took him aback.
With the Philadelphia Union down a goal to Seattle in extra time of the franchise’s first championship final, Sakiewicz expected the crescendo from the boisterous fans as the Union streamed forward in search of a goal. What he didn’t expect was the entirety of PPL Park to rise in anticipation, chanting along with the Sons of Ben, arms up, urging the Union toward an equalizer.
“Right in front of me, over the whole west side of the stadium, I could see all the fans standing with their hands up,” the club’s CEO and Operating Partner said by phone Wednesday. “That was the first time I had seen that across the whole stadium.”
On the scoresheet, the final goes down as a near miss for the Union in their quest for a first title, a 3-1 result for the Sounders after extra time, despite the Union scoring first and squandering a pair of golden opportunities for a winner late in regulation.
But from Sakiewicz’s perspective, hosting an Open Cup final is a vital step in the Union’s aspiration to be an elite American soccer club, a living expression of the ambition that Sakiewicz always touts as being at the forefront of his ownership group’s mission statement.
“It’s a big step for us to get to our first final,” Sakiewicz said. “It wasn’t an easy road. There were some tough games along the way, and I’m proud of the team and the organization. Despite the result, I think the guys fought hard. We were the better team in some respects, in others not. But we stood toe-to-toe with Seattle.”
In terms of atmosphere, the Union faithful were out in full force and full voice. The crowd of 15,256 was the lowest since 2008, but it was in the range of the last two finals, hosted by Real Salt Lake (17,608) and Sporting Kansas City (18,873, in early August). Combined with a sizeable contingent from Seattle, PPL Park reached some of its loudest and most inhospitable decibel levels.
The Union made it difficult for the visiting Sounders, who have already clinched an MLS playoff berth with six weeks left and appear to be the odds-on favorite to complete the first MLS-era treble of trophies. In their four Open Cup wins this season, the Sounders had outscored opposition, 15-2.
It took until extra time, when the skill of the Sounders’ Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins were finally brought to bear, that the Union were finally subdued. (For those of you keeping score at home, Dempsey and Martins make $8,448,552 combined this season, while the Union’s entire payroll checks in at a shade over $3.9 million.)
Sakiewicz said that the ability to counterpunch the Sounders reflects well on the job done by manager Jim Curtin, though it changes nothing in his reckoning of whether the interim tag should be removed.
“Nothing changes with Jim,” Sakiewicz said. “He’s been in the club for a long while, and he’ll continue to be a part of the club for quite a while. He’s been leading the team in the locker room and in practice, and for me, nothing changes. He’s our man.”
Ultimately the club fell short of the Sounders, who captured their fourth Open Cup in six seasons.
As Sakiewicz pointed out, though, the histories of the teams are widely divergent. While the Sounders entered MLS just one season prior to the Union, the Sounders name dates to clubs competing in America’s top leagues since 1974, with the current version existing in the USL First Division contiguously from 1994 to their ascension to MLS.
To Sakiewicz, nights like Tuesday provide an example of what the Union hope to become, year in and year out. The atmosphere, the competitiveness, plus accessory pieces like the practice facility under construction adjacent to PPL Park, are all selling points in the recruitment of players and coaches that can get the Union closer to realizing their ambitions and articulating new ones.
“It’s one step at a time,” Sakiewicz said. “When your organization is only five years old, there’s a lot of steps to building a great organization. We’ve had a lot of them, whether it’s the playoffs in 2011 or the All-Start Game in 2012 or many of the other great league games we’ve had here. …
“It all stacks up. It shows how competitive we are, how ambitious we are as a club trying to make a championship run, it’s all important. That’s what being a successful soccer club is all about.”