March 1, 2008
by Charles Cuttone
This team will succeed
I am going to go out on a limb here---maybe. Philadelphia’s Major League Soccer franchise will be a success. A big one.
I know the nay sayers will say soccer failed in this market before. But the same can be said for many of the markets in MLS, like Los Angeles, Toronto, Washington D.C and Chicago.
Besides, an objective look at the so called failures here, shows it was more a matter of screwing up a good thing than a failure.
The Philadelphia Atoms entered the North American Soccer League in 1973 and immediately won the league championship and led the league in attendance. Oh yea, mostly with an American team, dominated by Philadelphia area players like Bob Rigby and Bobby Smith. They were coached by an American, Al Miller.
So what happened? The team’s owner wanted to get a National Football League franchise, and to satisfy the league’s ban on cross-ownership, he sold the club to a group from Mexico. So, in the Bicentennial year, Philadelphia’s pro soccer team that was mostly home grown was replaced with mostly foreign players. Fans stopped coming.
After not having a team for a year, the Philadelphia Fury were born. They were owned by some rock stars and people in the music business. A mostly English team played boring soccer and moved to Montreal after a couple of years.
In the late 80s, when the American Soccer League was making a push to elevate itself, I was part of a group that bought the league’s Philadelphia franchise. We ended up playing in Trenton instead of Philadelphia because our ownership didn’t have the vision and the capital to see what we could do playing in a bigger venue in the city. Still, the team was one of the best draws in the league.
This effort is different. The owners have deep pockets, a lot of local ties, have brought in an experienced soccer guy in Nick Sakiewicz, and have all the politicians behind them.
It was a veritable love fest at The Wharf on Thursday, with the Governor thanking everybody. Mayors thanking the governor and the county council, and on and on. The politicians are hoping the stadium will anchor economic development along the Chester waterfront, and is pat of a $400 million project that will include residential and commercial development.
I am not as keen on sports teams driving economic development and creating jobs as the governor is. I’m also not a big supporter of public money for sports stadiums, but that’s a different story. This is about everyone getting behind this new soccer team. The politicians, the business community and the fans.
Fans like the Sons of Ben. Everybody at Thursday’s press conference thanked them, and rightfully so. They got behind the effort and pushed for the stadium and the team. Without their persistence its likely MLS would not be coming to Philadelphia in 2010.
That’s why the franchise is going to be a success. Philadelphia has rabid sports fans. Win or lose.
How long has it been since a Philly team won a title? Fans still go to the games. They still call the talk shows and they still hate the opposing teams.
If Sakiewicz can successfully mine the talent he already knows is in the area, and the team can cultivate more fans like the Sons of Ben, the nay sayers and soccer bashers won’t matter. They won’t be able to get near the new stadium anyway. Unless they buy one of those riverfront condos.