Ready for River Cup

Banter flying as Front Office prepare for Sons of Ben

CHESTER, Pa. – As Philadelphia Union interim manager John Hackworth’s weekly press conference was wrapping up, Sons of Ben vice president Corey Furlan slid into the room and took a seat in the back row.

Hackworth eyed him, then fired the first shot in a war of words.

“That’s my nemesis,” the Union manager said. “I’m training specifically to take Corey out.”

Ahh, it must be time for the River Cup – the annual charity event/grudge match pitting the Union front office against members of the Sons of Ben, the club’s first and largest supporters’ group.

The game debuted last year at PPL Park with the staffers emerging with a 2-1 victory and, more importantly, both sides combining to raise about $20,000 for the nearby youth soccer team Chester City United.

They’ll lace it up again this Sunday at PPL (6 pm ET), with the hopes of raising even more money through ticket sales. After all, who wouldn’t want to watch Hackworth, Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz and what Sakiewicz called other “old, crippled ex-players” run around the field?

“The whole thing started out as a challenge at the tunnel after one of our games last year,” Sakiewicz said. “It was just a joke. Someone said, ‘Hey, can we play on the field?’ I said, “Who are you going to play?’ They wanted to play each other but I suggested that they play us. It rolled into a great idea. It’s indicative of the kind of relationship we have with our fans to create something like this that’s so special.”

Hackworth agreed that it’s a cool event for a great cause. But after logging two assists in last year’s game to lead the front office to a stirring victory, he knows he also has some pressure on him to repeat that performance.

Of course, the pressure is mainly from his family.

“My kids have been talking about this all summer,” the Union manager said. “There’s a lot riding on it, especially in my household.”

Despite coming out on top last year, the Union staffers may be in trouble Sunday. The Sons of Ben had tryouts to field their team and have been practicing once a week for the past month. Furlan, the team’s captain who scored in last year’s contest, said about two-thirds of the squad played NCAA soccer. He also noted the younger guys on his side will benefit now that the game is 90 minutes, instead of 60 minutes like last year.

The 51-year-old Sakiewicz didn’t argue with him on that point.

“Last year, much against my wishes, they left me in way too long,” the Union CEO said. “I was waving throughout the game and they thought I was just waving that I was OK. I was actually waving to get taken off.”

With that in mind, Sakiewicz said he’ll probably play a “very deep, deep sweeper,” alongside his friend, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who will be among the featured players in Sunday’s game.

“I hope you play sweeper again,” Furlan said, glancing over at Sakiewicz.

“Why, what position are you playing?” Sakiewicz retorted.

“I’ll be the guy running past you with the ball.”

Game on.

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.