Saturday, February 9, 2008

Philadelphia Soccer

When it comes to the expansion of the MLS, Philadelphia has long been considered a top contender for a new franchise. Philadelphia soccer fans have been pushing hard to get a team into the MLS for the 2009 season, but last month at the NSCAA Convention in Baltimore, MLS Commissioner Don Garber stated that the MLS might not add a 16th team until 2010.

This week though, the fans in Philadelphia got some good news when Governor Ed Rendell announced a $25 million state aid package for a soccer specific stadium in Chester, a municipality that hugs the Delaware River and I-95, just south of the Philadelphia International Airport.

Additionally this week, FC Pennsylvania, LLC, the group seeking the franchise rights for Philadelphia, announced the hiring of Nick Sakiewicz as its CEO. Sakiewicz was a founding MLS executive, a former president of AEG New York, and served as president and GM of the Tampa Bay Mutiny and New York MetroStars.

In addition to being a soccer executive, in his younger days Sakiewicz, a native of New Jersey, was a goalkeeper for FC Nantes, FC Belenenses, the New York Arrows, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

I for one am in full support of a Philadelphia MLS franchise, both for the obvious and not so obvious reasons.

The Obvious Reasons:

Philadelphi is one of the great sports cities of the U.S., with hardcore supports of the existing NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL franchises. I expect to see a similar devotion from Philadelphia's soccer fans, especially if the success of Sons of Ben is any indicator. Additionally, Philadelphia is along that Northeast corridor with Boston, New York, and D.C. It's easy to travel between those cities, combine with the natural rivalries and travelling fans and we'll have some great atmosphere in the stadiums.

The Not So Obvious Reasons:

Philadelphia is part of the foundation of American soccer. In 1897, Esther W. Kelly Bradford founded the Lighthouse Boys Club in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington. While the club formed several athletic teams, it is best known for its Lighthouse Soccer Club, which exists to this day. Many of its young players went on to join Philadelphia's professional club and to represent America in international competitions. The U.S. soccer team in the 1936 Olympics included four former Lighthouse players.

Walter Bahr, the captian of the U.S. team during the 1950 World Cup, played for Lighthouse in his youth.

But even before Bahr's time at Lighthouse, there was Charles H. "Dick" Spalding, who is credited with scoring the first U.S. National Team goal, this during a 1916 tour of Sweden and Norway (I note there are some who claim Thomas Swords actually scored the first goal for the U.S.'s national side). In addition to playing professionally for the might Bethlehem Steel FC, Spalding also played professional baseball for the Phillies and the Washington Senators.

Philadelphia has also been home to many important American pro and semi-pro soccer clubs:

Philadelphia F.C.
Fleischer Yarn
Philadelphia Celctic
Philadelphia Americans
Philadelphia Centennials
Philadelphia Disston
Philadelphia Merchant Ship
Philadelphia Ukranian Nationals
Philadelphia Spartans
Philadelphia Phillies (1894)
Philadelphia Atoms

The time has come for the MLS to have a Philadelphia franchise.

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