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.

Shocker: Phillies interested in getting one of baseball's best players

Shocker: Phillies interested in getting one of baseball's best players

We're all looking forward to the free-agent class of 2018.

If Maikel Franco doesn't shape up, the Phillies could make a hard push for Manny Machado. Franco after a two-game benching is back in the lineup for this afternoon's game against the Rockies (see story).

Then, of course, there's Bryce Harper, who earlier this month agreed to a one-year, $21,625,000 deal for next season. 

And guess what? If Harper becomes a free agent after next season, the Phillies would be interested in signing him.

Really?

According to a FanRagSportsNetwork, citing a Phillies source, the Phils would be interested luring Harper to Philly.

Shocker. 

It'd be big news if a Phillies source said the team wasn't interested in signing Harper. 

Anyway, the story also quotes a National League scout.

“Could you imagine what he could do in that ballpark playing 81 games a year in that bandbox?” the scout said.

Chances are every Phillies fan has already imagined it. Harper this season alone is hitting .351/.400/.784 with five homers and 12 RBIs in nine games against the Phils. In three games at the Bank, he's hitting just .250 with a homer and two RBIs.

But in 38 career games at CBP, he's hitting .296/.361/.627 with 12 home runs and 26 RBIs.

In 89 career games against the Phillies, he's hitting .282 with 20 homers and 54 RBIs.

At the risk of stating the obvious, here's one thing to remember: If the Phils sign Harper, then he'd no longer benefit from facing them.

Today's Lineup: Franco batting cleanup as Phillies try to snap skid

Today's Lineup: Franco batting cleanup as Phillies try to snap skid

Well, this hasn't gone well. 

Coming into Thursday afternoon's game against the Rockies, the Phillies have lost five straight. They've lost nine of their last 10. They've lost 20 of their last 24. 

At 15-29, they're not just the worst team in the NL East. They're not just the worst team in the National League. 

Through 44 games, the Phillies are the worst team in baseball. 

Just to make it to a .500 record this season, they would need to go 66-52 (.559) the rest of the way. 

Their four-game series against the Rockies will mercifully come to a close on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. In the first three games of the series -- all losses -- the Phils have been outscored 23-5. 

Maikel Franco returns to the four-hole as the Phillies try to snap out of their funk.

The Phillies on Thursday also activated right-handed pitcher Jeanmar Gomez from the disabled list. Gomez takes Adam Morgan's spot on the roster. Morgan was reassigned to Triple A Lehigh Valley after throwing three scoreless innings during the Phillies' 7-2 loss to the Rockies.

Gomez hasn't pitched since May 4 because of an elbow injury. He began the season as the Phillies' closer but was demoted after blowing two saves and allowing seven runs in his first five innings. In 11 1/3 innings this season, Gomez has a 7.94 ERA.

Here's the full lineup: 

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Michael Saunders, RF
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P