PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Call this another major step along the way.
The evolution started with a franchise in Philadelphia, continued with a soccer-specific stadium and morphed into a postseason appearance.
Next up is the MLS All-Star Game.
The Philadelphia Union and PPL Park will host the 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game Wednesday, July 25. Kick off is set for 8 p.m. ET, broadcast live on ESPN2, Galavision or Telefutura and in Canada on TSN and RDS. The game will be broadcast in 130-140 countries.
In such a short amount of time, the region was awarded the Union, a gorgeous 18-500-seat stadium along the Delaware River waterfront in Chester, and a trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs last season. While the Union fell to the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the atmosphere at PPL Park was unforgettable. When Phil Collins’ song, “In The Air Tonight,” blared from the speakers before kick off, chills were felt down many a spine.
And now the league's top showcase event, the All-Star Game.
“It was always part of the plan,” said Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz at a news conference Tuesday at Philadelphia City Hall. “I think we (Chairman Jay Sugarman) were the two guys who came to town and people said we were crazy for building a soccer stadium. Now, I think we’re two crazy guys who built too small a soccer stadium. There’s nothing that can’t be done and we’ve seen that.
“This is a great reward for the fans, the media, who have been awesome to us by treating us like a big league franchise from day one … this is a great, great reward for everyone involved.”
Sugarman said he’s reveling in being the host for the All-Star Game. Only one thing could be better.
“We said from day one that we would do everything first-class,” Sugarman said. “To bring the best of the sport to Philadelphia in just three years is great. We got a franchise and the All-Star Game. There’s only one thing left – it’s shiny and you can drink out of it.
"Nick is doing an amazing job to help make that happen. I think we’re all proud of him and the job he’s done putting this franchise in place.”
Without a state-of-the-art stadium, and a passionate fan base to support the franchise, press conferences like these don’t occur.
Sakiewicz, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Chester Mayor John Linder spoke at the press conference.
Long before days like this, Sugarman reminisced about the early days before a shovel had even been placed into the ground in Chester to build PPL Park.
“It does make you reflect and appreciate this and these types of events because you can’t believe how much work goes on behind the scenes to build a stadium from scratch,” Sugarman said. “Building a team from scratch is a tremendous amount of work. It’s not like buying into a team. This, you kind of make it up as you go. I remember those early days. We just didn’t know. This is an amazing reward for all of the hard work from the beginning.”
Union manager Peter Nowak has been there from the beginning. He has helped mold the club into a playoff team and will continue that work in season No. 3 in less than two months.
“Absolutely, I think getting the All-Star Game is a tribute to the organization and running things the right way,” Nowak said. “I think it’s a testament to all these people that have helped establish a true soccer culture. Many clubs work for years to get an environment and a culture like that.
“We did it in a very short time and it’s an acknowledgement from the city and all these people that we’re doing something right. I think it’s very special for the organization and something we all will embrace.”
Rewind back more than four years, and Sakiewicz still pointed to a trip he made with Sugarman to survey the land for a potential stadium.
“To be fair, he (Sugarman) had the vision,” Sakiewicz said. “When we first rolled down 291, I said, ‘Ain’t no way we’re building the stadium.’ I Google mapped it. Jay said, ‘Let’s check it out.’ Hey, he’s the real estate guy.”
Fast forward to 2012 and look at the results. The world's gaze will be fixed upon Chester, the stars of MLS, and a high-profile opponent that has yet to be determined.
“This All-Star Game is another step,” Sakiewicz said. “We’re going to make it a rockin’ party.”
WATCH: Philadelphia unveiled as 2012 MLS All-Star host city