CBA Agreement Lets Focus be on Seattle

CBA No Longer a Concern

 

With today’s announcement of a brand new 5-year collective bargaining agreement, Philadelphia Union fans can take a deep breath and begin to celebrate. In just 5 days, an expansion team years in the making will step foot on Qwest Field to take on Seattle Sounders FC, the first match ever to count in the standings. 

“We as an organization, the league, players, and of course the fans, everyone is happy and relieved we got this behind us and can focus on the most important stuff, the soccer,” Philadelphia Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz said on a conference call today. “For me personally, I have a unique view having been a player, and making a living playing soccer is not an easy thing. Having the different perspectives of the players’ side and management’s side, I couldn’t be happier with the way the two sides handled themselves. I’m delighted we got it done in the proper way. The relationship of the players, League and management will be that much stronger.”

While CBA negotiations were undoubtedly a distraction during preseason, all parties were cautiously optimistic that a deal would get done in the best interest of the sport in the US and a rapidly growing base of soccer fans in the country. Philadelphia Union players were faced with a particularly hard task: trying to ignore the distractions and come together as a young expansion team full of players that have never played together.

“I only want to say that it happens to be me on the call, but I’m just conduit to all the Philadelphia Union players,” added defender Danny Califf. “Obviously it’s been a pretty short relationship but throughout the process, management, Nick and (President) Tom (Veit) as well as the coaching staff, were receptive. Not that we always agreed, but it was a man-to-man conversation and it really helped a lot.

Gutiérrez Key in Union's Colombian Acquisitions

PHILADELPHIA – For a couple of hours on Wednesday, an Irish bar turned into a Colombian one.

In a move that has been whispered about for weeks, the Philadelphia Union unveiled their two newest acquisitions – goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón and defender Carlos Valdés – in front of a swarm of Sons of Ben fans.

Both players are members of the Colombian national team and will likely be immediately inserted into the Union starting lineup.

“This,” Union manager Peter Nowak said at a press conference at Fado Irish Pub, “is the end product of our hard work throughout the offseason.”

And the man largely responsible for helping to bring the two Colombians to Philly is another one of the franchise’s newer acquisitions, Union head of scouting and player development Diego Gutiérrez.

Gutiérrez, who was hired last month by Philly, also hails from Colombia. He said he had long conversations late into the night with Mondragón as he tried to woo him to town, with Valdés in tow.

WATCH: Mondragón Highlights 

“Colombian players are a very good value and becoming a commodity in the world,” Gutiérrez told MLSsoccer.com. “They don’t go out in numbers as much as Argentines and Brazilians do, but it will become that way because they’re players that can adapt to pretty much any culture. For the most part, they’re bilingual. They’re a very good value and they fit our league very well.”

Gutiérrez should know how well Colombians fit into MLS. As a longtime player for Chicago and Kansas City, he lived it. And he’s maintained close ties with many of his countrymen since retiring as a player and stepping into his new front office job.

“Diego has been a huge force in building that bridge because of his connections and his ties,” Union coach John Hackworth said. “At the same time, we’re also just looking for quality. Any time you can bring in two internationals who are currently starters on their national team, especially a team like Colombia, you’re doing alright.”

Reiterating Hackworth, Gutiérrez also wanted to make clear that he’s not perceived as a one-trick pony.

“Look, I’d like to think that I bring a little more to the table than just bringing in Colombian players,” he said. “But having known Faryd and having known Carlos was a big factor. At the end of the day, it’s not just about getting Colombian players. Our view of the market is very, very large. As we narrowed down prospects and candidates to bring in, they just happened to be Colombian.”

WATCH: Full Mondragón/Valdés Press Conference

With the addition of Mondragón and Valdés, the Union now have four Colombians on the roster. Defender Juan Diego González and midfielder Roger Torres are the others. (Torres, who was on loan last season, is expected to return).

In the press conference, Mondragón downplayed the infusion of Colombians on the Union, but Valdés later said how important it is to have veteran countrymen on his side.

Mondragón, 39, has seen it all through a career that has lasted more than 20 years, having played for teams in Argentina, France, Spain, Turkey and Germany.

“[Mondragón] is an idol to me,” said Valdés, who played his club soccer for América de Cali and Independiente Santa Fe. “Not just for me, but for Colombian soccer, he’s an icon. He’s a very important acquisition for us and by having players like Faryd, we’re going to really be able to make history.”

CLICK HERE or call ComcastTix at 1-800-298-4200 to purchase individual tickets for the Union's home opener. CLICK HERE for information on becoming a Union full or partial season ticket holder.

Related:

Union Solidify Defense with Colombian Duo

Valdés Impressed with MLS, Thrilled to Join Union

Well-Prepared Mondragón Ready to Go to Work for Union

MLSsoccer.com's The Daily on Mondragón, Valdés

“There was a lot of support and confidence to know I could speak for the players. At the end of the day we’re all a family here at the Union. It’s a tremendous thing going forward as far as player confidence. I’m happy it’s behind us. There’s no more cautiously optimistic. It’s Seattle, here we come. I’m so excited, so amped about the whole thing. It’s great.” 

One of the most difficult parts of recent weeks and months has been the uncertainty. Should you feel excited or will it just be a bigger letdown if an agreement isn’t reached? While fans, players, technical staff and front office were all similarly unsure of what to think, preparation for First Kick moved along according to plan.

“One of the interesting things as we went through the process in the last few months and the last 30 days in particular was the way everyone kept moving forward,” commented Veit. “Our players, I applaud their commitment to do what they needed to do. For our staff and especially our fans, it was the same attitude. Everyone in the process, and I do include the fans in that process, we didn’t see people stop buying tickets, didn’t see fans stop buying plane tickets to Seattle and didn’t see the players stop training.”

Despite match results in Tampa that didn’t reflect the type of hard work being put it by the players and technical staff, Philadelphia Union accomplished what it needed to in preseason, specifically bonding as a team and learning how to play with one another. The club hopes that progress equates to three points in just five days time.

"When Tom and I went to Tampa, no one was holding back,” Sakiewicz said emphatically. “They were very focused on preparing for an important game in Seattle. We’re exceptionally proud that our guys didn’t allow the distraction to get in the way. It’s a real testament to the commitment to our club and to winning in Seattle next Thursday.”

Califf confirmed what Sakiewicz and Veit witnessed, but there’s no doubt that everyone is a lot happier with all doubt eliminated.

“We were pretty busy with the schedule the coaching staff had put out from the beginning, but it was always in the back of our heads,” said Califf. “Now that it’s done, I can really feel that excitement for real. I’m excited."