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Countdown to First Kick is Over

In a matter of hours it will be the beginning of a new era in Philadelphia soccer history.

On February 28, 2008, Major League Soccer announced that Philadelphia had been awarded the league’s 16th team, and that professional soccer would return to the Philadelphia area in 2010.
 
Well, March 25, 2010 is officially here.
 
When Philadelphia Union makes its debut tonight, it will have been 30 years since a top-flight professional soccer team had played a game here. That’s three decades. That’s a long time.
 
But there’s no need to wait any more. The countdown is officially over.
 
“I’m ready for soccer,” said Philadelphia Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz. “I’m ready for games. It has been a long work-in-progress. It has been worth every minute because we’re here. I couldn’t be more excited.”

Thankfully, MLS and the MLS Players Union announced key elements of a new five-year collective bargaining agreement last Saturday so the clubs can begin playing on the field.

Under the new CBA, player salaries are guaranteed to increase each year league-wide, and the individual minimum player salaries also will continue to grow. The new agreement also includes improvements to players' quality of life such as meals, hotel accommodations, reimbursement for relocation costs and player appearances.

“It's in all of our best interests to ensure that we have star players that can help drive interest in our league and grow attendance and ratings,” Garber said. “Now that we're past the CBA, we could sit down and we can tackle that issue.”

Since Philadelphia Union was awarded the 16th franchise, it has been a monumental task to build the roster from scratch. Beginning with the expansion draft on the day before Thanksgiving, Team Manager Peter Nowak and his technical staff have pieced the club together one by one.

From the roster to PPL Park – Garber has sure noticed.

“Peter Nowak and his guys are excited and they have put together a strong squad,” Garber said. “It’s one that ownership feels strong about. They have sold more than 10,000 season tickets. They have a new stadium which will be spectacular on the waterfront. I think it will be a true stimulant for the redevelopment in the area of Chester.

“I think having an MLS team to serve as a lightning rod is great where it can bring them back to the glory days of the 40s and 50s.”

When Philadelphia Union takes the field at Qwest Field to battle Seattle Sounders FC, it will be a landmark day.
 
The process really heated up the day before Thanksgiving.
 
Consider that day as the first course for Philadelphia Union fans. On that day, the 16th Major League Soccer franchise signed its first 10 players in the expansion draft.
 
The 10 players selected included: Brad Knighton (goalkeeper, New England Revolution); David Myrie, (defender, Chicago Fire); Shavar Thomas (defender, Chivas USA); Jordan Harvey (defender, Colorado Rapids); Shea Salinas (midfielder, San Jose Earthquakes); Stefani Miglioranzi (midfielder, Los Angeles Galaxy); Andrew Jacobson (midfielder, D.C. United); Nick Zimmerman (forward, New York Red Bulls); Alejandro Moreno (forward, Columbus Crew); and Sebastien Le Toux (forward, Seattle Sounders FC).
 
The club has added some major pieces since then.
 
“It was an honor to be selected by this franchise,” said forward Danny Mwanga, the club’s first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft. “I really like how this team is being put together. It’s a great organization.”
 
Philadelphia Union Team Manager Peter Nowak and assistant John Hackworth have continued to scour the world searching for more talent since being hired.
 
The search began on Nov. 14 in Trenton, N.J., with the club’s first Open Tryout Session. The club's second and third Open Tryout sessions took place the weekend of Dec. 5-6 at the University of Pennsylvania, with over 1,000 participants pre-registered. Nowak and Hackworth have scouted nearly 1,400 prospective players. Now, that’s dedication and hard work!
 
“I am excited,” Nowak said after the expansion draft. “I did talk to the players after the selections. All of them are excited about the work ahead of us. They are excited to see the stadium and facility and to work with us. We look forward to them coming to the city of Philadelphia.”
 
But that’s why Sakiewicz and Chairman Jay Sugarman hired the dynamic duo of Nowak and Hackworth. It’s what makes this franchise special.
 
What also makes this franchise special is how it interacts with the passionate fan base.

The pieces have been falling into place from the start. The scintillating stadium is coming together at the base of the Commodore Barry Bridge along the historic Delaware waterfront. What a home-field advantage this will be when the raucous Philadelphia Union fans begin cheering at an insane level.
 
The recipe began before Thanksgiving. It’s continuing now as we head into the two-week countdown.
 
In 1979, the Philadelphia Fury represented professional soccer in this area.
 
But this is a new era.
 
“It’s an era,” Sakiewicz said, “that I expect to stick around for a long time. These fans are itching for soccer. They can’t wait. The season-ticket sales tell us that much.”
 
Just wait for April 10 when the club hosts D.C. United at Lincoln Financial Field. Or June 27 when PPL Park opens in Chester.

The new era will be felt in every way. And it will feel darn good!