Teacher, Professional Phila DOOPer, Expat-in-training

Training Facility Preview

Some months ago, during the Union town hall meeting for the top 100 STH’s, mention was made of the club constructing a new training facility for the club nearby. After that, not a word. So last week, I talked to Coach Hack briefly on what he’d heard or knew about the facility-to-be.

Google aerial photo of PPL Park and SW

The team is in the process of finishing up the real-estate bits and ends and paperwork, but they’re hopeful that they can break ground on the training fields “hopefully sometime this fall”. They’ll be building the training facility about 300 yds southwest of PPL Park. From what I understand, the electrical equipment around Lot C will be the future home of at least two fields: one grass and one artificial turf so they can get used to playing on both.

By the way, for those of you wondering what the big building is that is between Lot C and the river, it was the electricity generating station for the local utility company. A few years ago, the town decided to redo the building so now it has a big auditorium (“Turbine Hall”, not used much these days) and a host of office spaces for guys like Wells Fargo and the like. Ideally, I’d love to take that whole building and convert it to a “La Masia”-style youth academy. Perhaps someday…

In any case, considering PPL Park took around 18 months or so to build, figure something like that for a quality training facility if they’re going to do anything substantial beyond just the few training fields. Maybe we go the Barça route and put in our own MiniEstadi for our reserve and academy players. The small matter of actually building the thing may be in some jeopardy with the impasse on tax revenue between the Union and the City of Chester. But Coach Hack seems hopeful at any rate.

In other news: Still no word on when (or at this point, if) they’ll ever get around to paving Lot B. Or any other lot. C’mon, Union, it’s been three years!

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Live from Cherry Hill: It’s Zac, Coach Hack, and Nick Sack

I was planning to just thumb through Twitter to see what exactly was said at the WIP Union radio show, but then Heather convinced me to come out with food, since it was at PJ Whelihan’s Definitely-Irish Stop-Giving-Me-That-Look Authentic-Genuine Pub & Grille. To be honest, I couldn’t hear a lot of what was said, mostly because even though we sat right in front of them, the speakers were made for volume, not clarity. So when you speak at a normal voice, it’s hard to understand.

In any case, I got to talk to the people who showed up for a few minutes before or afterward. Here’s the gist of what they said…

Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sackiewicz: “No, we’re not hiring. Although I did get a lot of coaching résumés in the last week… No, we’re not hiring teachers. Yes, I’m sure.”

Union GK Zac MacMath: Those helmets are uncomfortable and don’t help much. Krystian Witkowski is still down with major concussion symptoms and has been for some time; he’s been seeing a specialist, but it’ll take time. Also, a 3v3 beach soccer tournament would be awesome.

Coach Hackworth: Still haven’t heard anything about the All-Star Game coaching thing. Basically taking the whole coaching thing one day at a time, not worrying about the future too much (within reason). The “Capri Sun Incident” was just two of his youth team members. Training Center will “hopefully” break ground this fall (I’ll put more up about this soon).

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The Nowak Era Has Ended

So between the two games of EURO 2012, this happened.

The Philly Soccer Page » Peter Nowak departs the Union.

I must admit, I harbour a mixture of feelings about this. Shock, relief, and resignation among others.

Shock that they did it now. Many of us saw that if the Union continued on this destructive path, that Nowak would be forced out. Although, much like other recent Union personnel moves, this came out quick and dirty.

Relief that, one would hope, the bleeding out of veteran (as much as can be) Union players in return for allocation money and underwhelming players has stopped. God willing, the freefall in the standings will at least be arrested and reversed under a new manager. Yes, I realize Coach Hackworth was Nowak’s second in command and change won’t come quickly, but at least it’s a start.

Which leads me to “resignation”. The players are traded, the damage is done, the horse is out of the barn. Things aren’t going to immediately get better. We’re (probably) not going to go on a 10 game winning streak now that Nowak is out. We’re (likely) not going to be able to clinch first place in the east this time around. But at least it’s a start. I’m hoping a playoff spot in some fashion isn’t too far of a stretch for us.

I bear no hostility to Coach Nowak. He’s a good guy and he’ll likely continue to do great things. I wish him well. But we have to focus on our club and turn our ship around.

Nowak is gone. Long live Hackworth! Long may we DOOP!

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EURO 2012 Group Stage 1/3

I’ve made my picks for Euro 2012. In short, I’d be happy with Spain, Germany, or The Netherlands winning and/or making it to the final. I’d also be happy to see Ireland make it out of group, though that may be a stretch. Here’s some thoughts on the first round of group stage play…

Poland 1-1 Greece

Euro 2012’s opening game was certainly dramatic. Red cards, suspect refereeing, saved PK’s, and drama galore. Poland’s backup goalie Tyton is temporarily a national hero. But with Poland’s regular goalie out for the next game with a red card, it remains to be seen how well the co-hosts can manage for the full 90 without the Arsenal keeper.

Soviet Russia 4-1 Czech Republic

The Czechs started strong with a 4-2-3-1 formation, but that’s where it seemed to end for them. Russia ran rampant with Dzagoev scoring a brace. Not the result I wanted to see, since I’m still bitter about them winning the ’18 WC. Plus, Heather is part Czech, so there’s that. In other news, Russian fans need to “czech” their racism at the door. Making monkey sounds at players and getting in fights with stadium stewards does not bring pride and glory to Mother Russia.

Netherlands 0-1 Lego land Denmark

One of the major favorites of the tournament, my Clockwork Orange had a gear loose all game. Despite shots (not necessarily on goal) in the double digits, the Flying Dutchmen couldn’t buy a goal for love or money. Both teams put up a 4-2-3-1 starting formation, which seems to be the fashionable formation for Euro 2012. And I have to say I love it. I do want to see more out of the 2012 World Cup finalists, though.

Germany 1-0 Ronaldo Portugal

I’ll admit I didn’t watch most of this (sister’s dance recital). All I’ll say about this is if Portugal advance out of the group stage, blame Alexi Lalas.

Spain 1-1 Italy

This should’ve been an amazing game to watch. Filled with skill, drama, and the human hurricane known as Mario Balotelli. Sadly, wasn’t nearly as interesting as I was hoping for. Spain definitely went the route of possession and the old “pass the opposition to death” route that we’ve seen with RM and FCB. And with Italy having a match-fixing scandal hanging over their heads (again), perhaps their minds weren’t fully in it. All I can hope for is more drama and excitement as they go on.

Croatia 3-1 Ireland

Someone mentioned on the Twitter that the “luck of the Irish” really refers to centuries of starvation and oppression. The Irish certainly had that brand of luck with them against Croatia. Shame, that. Incidentally, MLS was making mention of Keane (who plays for LAG) during the game. Which brings up the question: how many MLS players are in Euro 2012? Willing to bet just the one or two.

England 1-1 France

The Entente Cordiale was again put to the test as these two teams came together. The Three Lions seemed to rely on a counterattacking offense and just seemed to camp in their defensive third for much of the game. Both sides had more than a few chances frustrated: France by GK Joe Hart, England by the laws of physics. Then came the second half with a lack of imagination and quality in the final third by either team. I found myself just willing the game the end after about the 75th minute. Good for England to get the point, but I want to see more out of them.

Sweden 1-2 Ukraine

I don’t care. I just don’t. Don’t get me wrong: I heart Sweden and I’m part Ukrainian. But I can’t see anything dramatic or exciting coming out of this game. UPDATE: So I might have been completely wrong about this game. Multiple chances, Zlatan and Sheva scoring. Actually quite an exciting game. This is what England v France should’ve been like. 

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Occasionally, I have moments of pure genius that strike me. This is one of those times. Behold my plan for a new American soccer tournament…

The Cup of American States & Territories. (also known by its acronym, COAST).

The competition involves entries from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and overseas territories under the jurisdiction of the United States (e.g. Puerto Rico and American Samoa).

Much like the World Cup, regional qualifications will be based on the relative strength and number of states or territories in the area. Here’s what I’m thinking so far (roughly) based on census regions & divisions, but I’m open to suggestions.

  • Northeast
    • Everyone north from and including MD and DC
    • 11 states + D.C. (12 entries total) in the region
    • 4 states or territories advance
  • South
    • From VA, WV, KY, AR, and OK and south, includes TX
    • Also includes PR and USVI
    • 14 states + 2 territories (16 entries total) in the region
    • 4 states or territories advance
  • Midwest
    • Includes the Dakotas, NE, and KS and going east to OH
    • 12 states in the region
    • 3 states advance
  • West
    • Includes MT, WY, CO, NM, and other states west of them
    • Also includes Guam, American Samoa, Northern Marianas (Territories may be subject to play-in)
    • 13 states + 3 territories (16 entries) in the region
    • 5 states or territories advance

After qualifying, there should be 16 states or territories going to the final tournament (5 western, 3 midwestern, 4 southern, and 4 northeastern). I propose a set up similar to the upcoming Euro 2012 format of four groups of four in round robin play, with the top two from each group advancing to the knockout rounds.

Maybe as the Open Cup grows, we can get this one going. I’ve been looking for a way to finally show other states that we’re better than them.

Go team NJ!

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A Wedding, a Game, and a Quick Convo with Nick S

While the Union was up in Toronto, I was busy on usher duty at my friend’s wedding. (Congrats to Andrew and Kim!). I was three drinks into the reception when I saw the final score from BMO field. Shortly after, I lost count of my drinks. It was just as well that I didn’t watch judging from the twitter hate.

As all-consuming as club soccer can be, it’s nice to get away for a change. See the flowers blooming. Talk with old friends. Stand in withering humidity wearing more layers than is advisable while drinking gin. Laugh at your friends as they go ultra while dancing to “Baby Got Back”. Yes, sometimes it’s nice to get away, particularly when you find out just how far they’ve fallen from as recently as last year.

M. Rapinoe on defense. 27 May 2012

M. Rapinoe on defense. USWNT v China

To add to my epic weekend, we got tickets to the USWNT friendly v China. A solid 4-1 win and a very entertaining game, which would’ve been a nice contrast to watching the Union game had I actually seen it. After the game, I saw Nick Sackiewicz in the shop afterwards. Mr. Sackiewicz, for those of you who don’t know, is the CEO of the Union. I asked him what happened in the Toronto game because I couldn’t see it myself because of the wedding. “Good… it was better you didn’t see it. Our boys were scared… lots of high balls and the like. It was a baptism by fire for some of them”. At least he’s honest about that…

Also asked him about future signings with our allocation money. Couldn’t speak to specifics, but said “We’re looking to sign a forward and a defender. We may not wait until the official transfer window opens”. I also asked about the USMNT coming to PPL park. “Jürgen loves this stadium” he replied. They’re still working out World Cup qualifier venues. Here’s to the USWNT doing awesome things at the Olympics, the USMNT coming to PPL, the Union doing better so I can stop sighing heavily everytime I talk about them, and a good end to Memorial Day weekend and the beginning of summer.


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Stadiums as Cultural Icons

I would like to introduce you to two of my new favorite tumblrs of all time: Stadium Porn and Stadium Love. Quite simply, they take you on a glorious visual journey of different stadia from around the world, sometimes in varying degrees of construction. I tell you the truth when I say I have spent several hours at a time looking through both of these tumblrs, often imagining what it’d be like in person or what I’d do with it if I could.

It’s also given me a new thesis: Stadiums are as important to the culture and history of a people as, say, Independence Hall or the US Capitol building.

Think of how many people that care about the halftime score at the Champions League Final in Munich this past weekend. Or the millions of Americans who watched the Super Bowl this past winter and those last two minutes of the game. Now compare that to the number of people who care about the poll numbers for the 2012 presidential race. Or Senate race. Or their Congressional district race. Admittedly based on instinct, I would guess that more people care about football scores than poll numbers.

PPL Park

Sports are as important to people’s identity, culture and history as any major event, institution, or landmark. Baseball phrases have incorporated themselves in American English (like “out of left field”). American football is practically a religion to some Americans. Around the world, billions of people held their breath to see who would win the English Premier League. Just as the Capitol building is where the institution of Congress does its work (or in some cases, not), stadiums and arenas are where the institution of sport plays out.

In most cases, building a stadium is an act of faith and love. It says that someone loves a game (or games) so much, that they are willing to invest a significant amount of money and time to be able to invite others to watch in person. They may never fully recoup the money they invest; in fact, odds are they probably won’t. But in that moment with a cheering capacity crowd hoping for a win, there’s something more important than money: joy.

Wembley is the epicenter for English soccer. Camp Nou is a cathedral to youth and vitality. PPL Park, my home stadium, is a symbol for the hope, rebirth, and sustained growth both of soccer and the cities of Chester and Philadelphia. And those are just a few of the soccer stadiums; think of Yankee Stadium, the old Veteran’s Stadium (before it was demolished), or Lord’s Cricket Ground (for those of you of a cricket persuasion). They are buildings that we fill with our teams, our hopes, and our dreams.

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Califf for Lahoud and Cash

Well, the dust has finally settled and when all is said and done with, we’ve traded away the bedrock of our central defense and a Union captain, original, and fan favorite for… yet another midfielder and some more allocation money.

It must be said from the outset that I harbor no resentment towards Michael Lahoud. It’s not his fault that he finds himself in the trade that he did and now that he’s a Union player, I sincerely wish him the best of luck and hope that he can contribute to our team. But after a grand total of 54 minutes played so far this year, I’m not holding my breath.

And again, what are we going to do with our ever-expanding pile of allocation money? We could buy the services of Robin van Persie… for a month and change. We could maybe get Papiss Cissé for a little bit longer. I understand that owning a team is still a business and some attention does need to be payed toward the money side of things. But if we’re gaining money but losing points and angering fans, what’s the point of it all? If there is a plan here, I don’t see it.

As for the manner that the Califf trade was conducted, I concur with other Union fans and writers that this just smacks of a power play with hints of a salary dump. Others (PSP, K Gabriel, and Brotherly Game among them) have said it much better than I could, so I’ll leave them to it.

In a moment of cynicism and pessimism, I tweeted around the time the trade was made official, “Welcome to Philly, Mike Lahoud. If you play hard, love the fans, and do well, you too can be traded away for allocation money. Congrats!”. I really hope I’m wrong about this whole thing, but I doubt it.

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Women in FIFA

Heather and I were lucky enough to get tickets to the USWNT’s game against China in a few weeks. Even more lucky that the game is after two of my friends get married so we can actually go. According to The Equalizer, over 13,000 tickets have been sold for the match during Memorial Day weekend at PPL Park. While that’s still only about 75% of the stadium, it’s infinitely better than the two and a half thousand some people who came to PPL last time. Reading The Equalizer’s article reminded me of an argument I made a few weeks ago…

Include women’s soccer in the FIFA video game series.

Including women in the FIFA franchise will help to expand the market of the game at (what seems to be) a small outlay. The mechanics and software have been around for years, and players often make players to play other players while they play. (You know what I mean.) Granted, fees and rights would likely have to be discussed, but I don’t see any real reason why they couldn’t be included somehow, even if it was just the national teams.

It’d be even better if they could make an edition for the 2015 WWC in Canada. Again, there’s precedence when EA made a 2010 WC game with the FIFA franchise and included almost every national team who qualified or attempted to.

Adding women’s soccer to FIFA would also raise the visibility of the women’s game in general. I know I’m just as guilty as many others of ignoring and/or placing a higher priority on the men’s game. But they work just as hard as the men’s teams and deserve to be recognized as much for their efforts. And if you’re going to compare the US national teams, the comparison gets even starker. The WNT has won two World Cups and has never done worse then third. They are generally accepted to be a powerhouse in the women’s game. On the men’s side, we’ve won… a few Gold Cups and put up a fight in a Confederations Cup or two. Although World Cup 2014 qualifiers start soon, so here’s hoping for a better tournament.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a FIFA cover with Robin van Persie, Hope Solo, and Tim Howard.

What do the rest of you think?

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Planning for a grim future…

Really, with the Califf trade, it’s gotten to the point that I don’t really know who my team is anymore. In the last year, roughly a half dozen fan favorites have been traded away or retired. I don’t want to be negative, but with the front office doing what they have been, it’s worth asking this question…

By the way, twitter rumour mill says that Danny’s wife posted on the Union’s fb page that “My husband DID NOT WANT to be traded. -The truth”. I just keep having flashbacks to the Le Toux trade over this past winter…

UPDATE: In retrospect, i really should’ve added Jack Mac in the poll. Eh… live and learn.

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