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.

Nerlens Noel posts thankful message to Philly fans

Nerlens Noel posts thankful message to Philly fans

Nerlens Noel's tenure in Philadelphia wasn't characterized by a whole lot of winning, but he'll still likely be remembered fondly by Sixers fans as being one of the original members of the process.

It's always an emotional time when a fan favorite departs for another city and a new team instead of seeing the championship aspirations many had for them in Philly through to fruition.

Noel posted an emotional message to his Twitter account on Thursday evening thanking the city of Philadelphia and its fans for the support they showed him through the ups and downs. 

The tweet contained the hashtag #Philly with a couple of exclamation points with a screenshot of a note that read:

What an exciting journey it’s been… To have such an amazing city embrace a kid from Boston coming out of Kentucky the way y’all did, is something I’ll truly never forget. And even through the ups and downs I never doubted the love here and that won’t change. Thank you to everybody that’s believed in me and supported through #TheProcess.

Love! -NN4

Noel was traded earlier in the day to the Dallas Mavericks for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and a conditional first round pick that will likely turn into two second round picks.

Bryan Colangelo will address the media on Friday morning to discuss his rationale behind moving Nerlens.

Related:

>>Every reason why the Nerlens Noel trade was unjustifiable 

>>Video: Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid say their goodbyes 

>>Joel Embiid reacts to Nerlens trade on Twitter: 'Trust it'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel emerged from the trainer’s room in a red sweatshirt and made his rounds of handshakes and hugs. It would be his last time in the Sixers' training complex as a member of the team, marking the end of the longest-tenured player’s stay in Philadelphia.

The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks on Thursday for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick, according to a source (see story). He went through a portion of practice and was removed from it because of the deal. 

Noel’s now former teammates had a strong reaction to his departure. 

“Nerlens, he’s my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s been my best friend since I got to Philly and I’m happy for him. He wants to start. I think in Dallas he’s going to get the chance to start and they’re going to re-sign him and they’re going to pay him a lot of money. Here it was kind of hard for him to start unless they were starting us together. But I’m happy for him. He’s going to get the chance he wanted.”

Noel’s future with the Sixers had been in question for two years as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Last season, the team struggled to find a way for him and Jahlil Okafor, both true centers, to play together. This season, the logjam was magnified when Embiid made his debut and took over the starting role. 

Noel candidly spoke out about the overcrowding at the beginning of the season but that situation was sidetracked when he missed 23 games because of injury. Once he returned, he quickly was on the short end of minutes. 

“I need to be on the court playing basketball,” Noel said in mid-December. “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

The Sixers did figure out his role, later making him the defensive leader of the second unit as Okafor became the odd man out. The Sixers also considered the possibility of pairing Noel and Embiid in the starting lineup, as they did with Embiid and Okafor, but that experiment played out only over a handful of minutes. 

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Embiid said of not playing more alongside Noel. “I thought we should have tried that a little bit more. I think the few times we did, it actually looked pretty good offensively and defensively.”

Of the bigs, it seemed like Okafor would be the one moved at the deadline after being held out of two games because of trade talks. In the end, it was Noel as the one to go on Thursday. 

“He’s one of my favorite players here,” Dario Saric said. “He’s always ready for jokes, he’s always ready to enjoy every moment.” 

Noel was the only player remaining from Brown’s first season as head coach with the Sixers. Brown could not comment on the Noel trade because it was not official at the time he addressed the media. 

Ilyasova leadership missed
On Wednesday night the Sixers dealt Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and 2017 second-round pick swap rights. Even though Ilyasova played only 53 games for the Sixers, the veteran leader left his mark.

“He was a consummate pro,” Brown said. “He helped teach our young guys about that professionalism and helped contribute to our culture. He was good. You add those things up and we’re going to miss him.” 

Ilyasova’s departure affects those who played with him and behind him. Embiid credited Ilyasova for stretching the floor when they were in the starting lineup together. 

Saric, though, is perhaps the most impacted by the trade. Saric moved to the second unit when Ilyasova took over the starting role. He learned from his fellow international power forward, who helped him adjust to the NBA on and off the court. Saric is likely to get the nod as a starter. 

“For me, it’s hard,” Saric said. “I lost in Ersan some kind of mentor.” 

Brown also plans to play Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes at power forward at times, as well. If Covington slides over from small forward, Brown eyes Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson and Nik Stauskas as players who could fill in at the three spot. 

The Sixers will resume activity on Friday morning for shootaround ahead of their game against the Wizards. They will approach that contest without familiar faces on the court. 

“I lost two good friends,” Saric said. “But this is the NBA. This is part of the business, part of the job.”