Union CEO on New York City expansion team: "The best thing about it is now we have another team to dislike"

Union CEO on New York City expansion team: "The best thing about it is now we have another team to dislike"

CHESTER, Pa. – My esteemed 700 Level colleague Steve Moore has already written a good breakdown of what Tuesday’s monumental announcement of a new expansion MLS franchise in New York City will mean for American soccer.

I’m just here to follow in his footsteps and provide a little actual reporting on the subject. And by actual reporting, I mean talking with Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz over a beer at a picnic outside PPL Park  yesterday.

Sakiewicz is uniquely qualified to discuss the situation, given he was an MLS executive for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars/Red Bulls for a handful of years before coming to Philly. And, like almost everyone else, he’s very excited about what New York City Football Club will do for MLS and for the Union. (He was probably also happy to be drinking a cold one outside on a beautiful day.)

“I think the New York market is sensational,” he said. “I operated in that market for five years and I always knew it was capable of holding two MLS teams – because the Hudson River is a lot wider than it looks. There are tons of soccer fans there. It’s going to be great. And the best thing about it for us is now we have another team to dislike in New York.”

So does he hate them already?

“Absolutely,” he said with a laugh. “Why not? There’s a long history of Philly-New York rivalries and now we’ve got two of them.”

Some people have said the other one of Philly’s New York rivals – the Red Bulls – will now be in trouble trying to compete with the money and prestige New York City Football Club will immediately have, given they are owned by English Premier League giants Manchester City and the New York Freaking Yankees. But while acknowledging the club's challenges during their far-from-illustrious history (which includes a dwindling fan base, New Jersey locale and lack of any MLS championships), Sakiewicz believes the Red Bulls will benefit from a second New York team.

“It’s hard to break through the clutter in the [New York marketplace],” the Union CEO said. “We tried for five years and, listen, I thought we did a good pretty good job at Giants Stadium. We averaged like 18, 19,000 per game. But it’s still difficult in the stadium. Once I got the Red Bull Arena project in the ground, you would think they’d become more relevant. That hasn’t necessarily happened but they’ve made good strides. But I think having a rivalry club across the river to create a real deep engaged rivalry is going to create that much more noise in the marketplace and make it that much more relevant for two teams in the marketplace.”

Sakiewicz likes to talk about developing Red Bull Arena – and he has a lot to be proud of in that regard. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place to watch a soccer game, even if it is in Harrison, N.J. New York City FC, meanwhile, does not yet have a soccer-specific stadium to call its own. And while they say they’re working on it, Sakiewicz knows it can be a challenging process.

“I’m not as close to the negotiations as those guys are,” he said. “Obviously I’ve done my own. I got Red Bull Arena into the ground. It took me five years. It probably cost me 10 years off my life. But I’m sure they wouldn’t have made this announcement if they didn’t feel good about what their playing situation would be. And to have the Yankees involved in the ownership group is extraordinary.”

There is still time, of course, for the stadium situation to work itself out.  The same can be said for other issues that will invariably pop up. But for someone that’s been an executive in MLS since the league’s inception, the expansion announcement is all about good news today and not future problems tomorrow.

“Listen, I remember going back to ’95 when we were sketching out plans for 10 markets we’d be in,” said Sakiewicz, who was the president of the now-defunct Tampa Bay Munity before working in New York and Philly. “We always talked about Philly from day one and that’s finally here. And we always talked about two teams in New York. And now 18 years later, here we go, we finally got it done.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com, CSNPhilly.com and The 700 Level. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury.

The team announced the timeline Monday after Hayes underwent an MRI in the morning. Hayes left the Rangers' game Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period.

Hayes had seven points in his previous six games and is third on the team in points with 35. The 24-year-old has 13 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season.

His injury is a major blow to New York, which holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The silver lining for the Rangers is that Hayes will miss fewer games because of the upcoming All-Star break.

Senators sign Zack Smith to 4-year, $13 million extension
OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Ottawa Senators have signed forward Zack Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $13 million.

The Senators said that the extension goes through the 2020-21 season and carries an annual average value of $3.25 million.

Smith, 28, has 11 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season and is averaging a career-high 16 minutes, 13 seconds per game.

He set career highs with 25 goals and 36 points in 2015-16. He has 75 goals and 61 assists in 443 games, all with the Senators.

Smith was Ottawa's third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 draft.

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

In the eighth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 8 is Mathews to Means.

Ryan Mathews
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: The Eagles have to get better, younger, faster, healthier, more durable and more reliable at running back. I love the way Mathews runs when he’s healthy. The guy runs hard and he runs physical and he's aggressive. Then he always gets hurt. Mathews actually has the third-highest per-carry average among running backs in Eagles history, but they just can’t rely on him anymore. How can you count on a running back who misses significant time every year? Time to move on. Factor in the cap savings — $4 million if the Eagles release him — and it’s a no-brainer.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $4 million in cap room to cut the running back who needed serious neck surgery after his season was ended in the Giants' game. Mathews played pretty well in his two seasons with the Eagles, but, as has been the case during his career, health was an issue. And now he’s 29 and will turn 30 early into next season. Time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Matthews
Cap hit: $1.57M

Roob: Matthews is going into Year 4 and I’d still like to see him make a jump and become a 1,200-yard type of receiver. Maybe it will happen with another year under his belt with Carson Wentz. Matthews has the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons — 225, or 75 per year — but his 2,673 yards are 50th most. Matthews is as hard a worker and as committed a player as you’ll see. He'll get the most out of his ability. I’d just like to see him take his game up one more level, and I think he will.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s a shame the Eagles don’t have any legitimate threats at their outside receiver positions, because if they did, so much of the burden wouldn’t fall on Matthews. No, he’s not a great receiver, but he’s a very good one who has been solid in his first three years in the league. In his first three seasons, Matthews has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There have been just 10 receivers in the league to put up those numbers or better: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans, Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall. Matthews isn’t going anywhere and it’s time to think about an extension. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alex McCalister
Cap hit: $557K

Roob: McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end, spent the year on injured reserve but considering the Eagles’ lack of pass-rush potency, he’ll definitely get a look this summer. McCalister had 17½ sacks at Florida, so he’s got that going for him. Still a long shot.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is tough because McCalister was a seventh-round draft pick who was placed on IR with a injury that didn’t appear to be serious. The last year was a redshirt season for the defensive end who has some pass-rush ability but needed to work on packing more muscle onto his frame. Haven’t seen enough to think he sticks. 

Verdict: GOES

Leodis McKelvin
Cap hit: $3.45M

Roob: The Eagles have to do better than McKelvin. He made a few plays, gave up a lot more, and as far as I’m concerned, the Eagles should hang onto Jalen Mills and get rid of all their other corners. Not to mention the $3.2 million in cap savings the Eagles would gain if McKelvin is released. See ya.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $3.2 million by cutting McKelvin, which will probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the Eagles think his lingering hamstring issue played a big role in his play and because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz goes to bat for him. Ultimately, I think McKelvin’s days in Philly are over. 

Verdict: GOES

Rodney McLeod
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: McLeod played really well most of the season, tailed off the last few weeks, and goes into next year a question mark because of that inconsistency. When he’s right, McLeod is a sure tackler, willing run supporter, big hitter and capable in coverage. But those last few weeks raised some eyebrows. There were times you just wondered what he was doing out there. If the Eagles can have the first-10-games McLeod for a full season, they’re fine. But he has to be consistent. He’ll be here through 2017 but after that is anybody’s guess. Another mixed year will likely spell the end here for McLeod.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There were a few plays that showed questionable effort from McLeod this season, which was shocking based on his past. He was an undrafted rookie who worked his way into the league and into a contract with the Eagles. This ended up being a pretty good signing; he had a nice season. He’s under contract through 2020 and the Eagles hope he hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential. He and Malcolm Jenkins should only get better after more time playing together. 

Verdict: STAYS

Steven Means
Cap hit: $690K

Roob: Means, a veteran journeyman defensive end, played only 36 snaps all year. He did pick up one sack against the Vikings, but as far as his future? Most likely, he won’t be back.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Means did everything in his power last training camp to make the 2016 roster. He flashed every day and in the preseason games. But in 2016, he didn’t get to play very much and was clearly buried on the depth chart behind Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. The Eagles need to upgrade at the defensive end spot, which might be bad news for Means if more bodies come in. But for now, he's a good depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS