Blank Slate No More

It all started with a blank slate. 

For an expansion club, the inaugural season is obviously going to have ups and downs.

For this particular expansion club, the ups continue. The milestones keep on coming.

The last four years have been filled with meetings, meetings and more meetings. The goal at first was to bring a team to Philadelphia. Mission accomplished. Then a team name and crest that represented the region’s history and its fan base. Mission accomplished. A technical staff and roster? Check. First win? How about in dramatic fashion in front of nearly 35,000 fans at the Home Opener?

Sure, the Union would like to have a better record than 1-5-1 heading into Saturday’s match at Houston. Who wouldn’t?

But it has been a season of excitement thus far and only promises to get better when the Union unveil PPL Park on June 27 against Seattle.

“It really has been a lot of fun,” said Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz. “You don’t get too many situations where you get to build it from scratch. We had a blank slate when we started here. In my other two efforts in Tampa and New York, the task was to turn around a franchise. I thought that was much harder. Here, it was a blank slate with a stadium, a club and a passionate fan base.”

That fan base has reveled in the first two home games at Lincoln Financial Field – with combined attendance of nearly 60,000 for a 3-2 win over D.C. United and a 1-1 tie against FC Dallas. 

One could argue that late goals in each of the two home games were inspired by a fan base that makes its unwavering support known for 90 minutes.

“We’ve been in touch with the fans from the very beginning,” Sakiewicz said. “We’ve done everything with the fans in mind. They’ve been behind everything we’ve done and we appreciate it. We think we’re going to have a real homefield advantage when we open PPL Park.”

Sakiewicz and the Union are so appreciative, in fact, that they’ve plastered images of Union fans, including members of the Sons of Ben, on the exterior walls of PPL Park. A fitting tribute to a fan base that has shown unwavering support since before the club’s inception. The same fans that will provide one of the strongest home-field advantages in the league, if not the strongest.

The Union’s home is just about complete.

Just uttering that phrase was enough to make Sakiewicz break out a huge grin.

“It was a long time coming,” Sakiewicz said. “I can’t wait. I’m really excited for this game. The whole season has been fun. I’m enjoying every minute of it. I hope the fans are, too. A whole lot of hard work went into this. For me, this season has been great. I know we’ll have bigger and better things to come.”

After the next three road games at Houston, Chicago and Kansas City, the Union will finally be able to step on the field in Chester on June 27. While every other milestone has been important, this one will be the most fulfilling. 

“We basically built this stadium from nothing,” Sakiewicz said. “We had everything blank at the time. It’s going to be a big deal for all us who have been involved from the beginning.”

It’s a big deal in a lot of ways. For the evolution of Major League Soccer and the sport in the U.S. For an expansion team in the process of making its mark in the region and in the league. And for a fan base that has waited years to walk out and see their home pitch for the first time. 

June 27. Hard to believe, isn't it?