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.

Now 22/1 to win Super Bowl, Eagles also the NFC East favorite

Now 22/1 to win Super Bowl, Eagles also the NFC East favorite

The Eagles crushed a Super Bowl contender on Sunday at the Linc. And Vegas took notice.

According to Bovada, the Eagles' odds to win the Super Bowl went from 33/1 to 22/1. Just nine teams have shorter odds to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots are tops at 15/4, followed by the Packers (8/1) and the team the Eagles beat, the Steelers (9/1).

With the win, the Eagles also became the favorite to win the NFC East, going from 11/4 to 2/1. They're followed by the Cowboys and Giants (both at 11/5) and last year's division champs, Washington, is at 6/1.

The Eagles are also 12/1 to win the NFC.

Of course, the biggest story for the Eagles this season has been the emergence of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. He had his first 300-yard passing game Sunday and was named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week. His odds to win MVP went from 50/1 to 33/1. Those are the same odds as Drew Brees and Eli Manning.

Meanwhile, former Eagles quarterback and current Minnesota Viking Sam Bradford went from 50/1 to 25/1 to win MVP.

While Wentz's MVP odds shortened, his odds to win Rookie of the Year actually got longer, going from 8/5 to 7/4. That could have something to do with the odds of Ezekiel Elliot (7/4), Dak Prescott (5/1) and Sterling Shepard (7/1) all improving.

Flyers Notes: Ivan Provorov not in ‘younger’ lineup; Travis Konecny gets chance with NHLers

Flyers Notes: Ivan Provorov not in ‘younger’ lineup; Travis Konecny gets chance with NHLers

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers’ morning skate Wednesday came with youthful flavor.
 
Ivan Provorov was no part of it.
 
The 19-year-old was with the big-boy contingent on the opposite ice, a group of mostly NHL players that will not play in tonight’s preseason game against the Devils at the PPL Center, home of AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.
 
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said a younger lineup is set for the team’s fourth preseason game.
 
“Every game is a little different,” Hakstol said. “[Tuesday] night we had a more veteran group dress, so not only are we looking at individual performances but we would expect to see a little more of our structure come into play. Tonight’s roster is a little more younger, so we’re still obviously looking to build some of the concept and some of the systems and detail.”
 
Provorov, the Flyers’ prized blue-line prospect and No. 1 roster hopeful of training camp, was featured in the NHL-heavy lineup Tuesday night, playing 21:43 with key minutes on the power play and penalty kill. This followed a night of 28:48 ice time in the Flyers’ split-squad preseason opener Monday.
 
So it was highly unlikely Provorov would play Wednesday, but the fact he was saved for a veteran-laden game instead of a prospect-filled one is telling.
 
Then again, Provorov is far from your typical 19-year-old hockey player.
 
“Right from day one, I think we’ve all saw that early,” Hakstol said. “A year ago, the focus, the ability to be detailed and to handle himself like a pro, albeit a young pro. Ivan has a great level of maturity to him.”
 
Provorov has done his work thus far. It’s his time to watch for a game.
 
“You look for him to be able to go out and do things consistently and efficiently,” Hakstol said. “I think for the most part, Ivan was able to do that [Tuesday] night.
 
Konecny with Schenn, Raffl
While one 19-year-old sits, another gets his chance.
 
Although prospect Travis Konecny — also looking to make the NHL jump — did not play Tuesday, he’ll still have a chance to open eyes with NHL forwards tonight.
 
The talented winger will be paired with Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl, both of whom were clearly especially selected to play tonight with Konecny.
 
“They see the ice real well, I’ve just got to move my feet and get in the good areas and I’m sure they’re going to find the spots,” Konecny said. “I’m going to try to not do too much tonight and just let the game kind of take care of itself — and take care of the little things I can control.”
 
The 24th overall pick of the 2015 draft amassed 101 points at the junior level last season. Putting NHL talent around him should only help and it serves as an amplified audition of sorts.
 
“It gives him an opportunity to play with two veteran players,” Hakstol said. “Travis is no different than anyone else, just go out and play his game. Every player, it’s one of the challenges coming into camp, to go out and make an impression. Every player needs to do that from Day 1. We’re getting into our fourth exhibition game here now, so it’s an opportunity for Travis to go out and play the way he plays. He has an opportunity to do that with two veteran players.”
 
Konecny, 5-foot-10 with speed and skill, is keeping things simple in his second NHL camp.
 
“I think this year I’m trying to approach it and play the game the right way,” he said. “Last year, I came in excited and I had my feet going, my energy, but I was kind of all over the place. I’m trying to follow the system and play the right way this year.
 
“My first game a couple days ago, it was quick pace, I wasn’t really expecting it — it’s been a long time since I was in that kind of speed. So I think tonight’s game I’ll be a little more relaxed and ready to go.”

Roster moves
The Flyers on Wednesday assigned Mark Dekanich, Chris McCarthy, Maxim Lamarche, Martin Ouellette, Jesper Pettersson, Steve Swavely, Kevin Sundher to Lehigh Valley, which opens its training camp Friday. The Flyers' roster now stands at 49.
 
Loose pucks
Other NHLers expected to play tonight: Defenseman Brandon Manning and center Boyd Gordon. “Boyd has had a good camp,” Hakstol said. “He got in game action the first time [Tuesday]. As you’d expect, he did a real good job within his role of starting with faceoffs and the responsible style of play he has.” … Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz will be the goalies. Both will compete for starting time with the Phantoms this season.