Fans' View

Fan’s View: What the YSC Academy tells us about our club

Photo: Courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

The recent opening of the Union’s YSC Academy grabbed national attention, and rightly so. It is a clear sign that our soccer culture has taken significant leaps in recent years. While it is perhaps the first baby step towards creating a national academy system on par with the world’s best soccer countries, it may also be quite revealing about our fair club.

First, let me say that I have only a superficial understanding of the relationship between the YSC Academy and Philadelphia Union. The team has said that they are only an affiliate partner and that the academy is a separate financial venture. Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz has said, “This is not an inexpensive venture. This is multiple millions of dollars over a long period of time. But our dream is to put as many starting-11 players as we can from our local area. And this is how we can do that.”

His statement seems to suggest that the club has at least some stake in the academy, but now we are in to muddy waters. For Rich Graham, who founded the academy and is also part-owner of the Union, there is an obvious link where the success of the academy directly benefits the club. This uncertainty about the relationship is perhaps a consequence of the culture of MLS business being conducted behind closed doors. Unfortunately, it diminishes our full understanding of this important new venture, and leaves room for speculation.

So why would the Union go out on a limb to support the nation’s first soccer specific school? For Rich Graham and YSC, I think the progression from their already existing, excellent development academy to adding a school is a natural one and should be celebrated. It allows them to not only develop the technical ability of their players, but affords them an unparalleled opportunity to foster the development of their player’s character. The Union’s decision to affiliate is interesting. While Nick Sakiewicz will tell us that the Union’s stake in the venture is altruistic in its dream of one day fielding a team of locally-developed talent, we must remember that the Union’s owners are shrewd businessmen first. They no doubt have some level of passion about the sport and our team, but there is a reasonable chance that the bottom-line is an even bigger concern.

For me, the partnership is another sign that the ownership does not intend to compete with the spending of NY, LA or Seattle, nor would it likely be able to in the foreseeable future. While Mr. Sakiewicz says the academy is “not an inexpensive venture,” I doubt that the annual overhead for a small teaching staff and office space would amount to much more than a single Designated Player’s salary.

For a club that clearly has a war chest the size of my kid’s piggy bank, I think this academy partnership is a very smart business decision. Theoretically, in five years’ time, if we could field even a small handful of players that have come through the Union Academy, the investment will be returned. These players would cost much less against the salary cap and have ties to the area that would favor the Union in future contract negotiations. Of course, if I were part of the Union ownership, I’d be dreaming of producing the next Messi or Bale who the Union could develop, field in PPL Park’s shop window, then sell for a hefty profit.

In the end, I think it is a win-win for ownership and fans. Sure I would love to have a Daddy-Warbucks-Microsoft-Oil-Tycoon-Billionaire-Crazed-Soccer-Fan as our owner to splash the cash like Jay-Z in a Miami nightclub — who wouldn’t?  But I think having smart, tactical businessmen that also happen to like soccer is not so bad either. If they make money, a significant portion of that should be reinvested in the team (or else we’ll be calling for new owners). The most important revelation of the Union’s YSC Academy partnership is that our owners clearly have a long-view for the club’s success…even if they might have an eye on their wallets as well.



  1. WilkersonMcLaser says:

    Er, I love your optimism, Scott, but if being a “shrewd businessman” means consistently fielding an underpowered starting XI and leaving promising players with upside (read: salary potential) to rot on the bench, then I’ve a lot to learn.
    The YSC Academy, truth be told, says that our team is too miserly to pay for a well-rounded, market rate team. Let’s not kid ourselves. While I celebrate a good academy system, this lopsided emphasis only indicates that the FO has no intention of building a championship team. Instead, they are building a pipeline of sellable assets. Essentially, today’s Philly Union thinks it can capture the Paris Fashion Show by shopping at TJ Maxx.
    This FO seems to define penny-wise and pound foolish even in a parity-stricken league like MLS.

    • True. I’m glad you could read between the lines. I’m definitely trying to see the glass half full. They way I see it, I don’t think they CAN spend more for DPs even if they want to, so the academy is the next best solution. Frankly surprised that more teams haven’t done it–we all have such a large potential talent pool that it only requires putting those kids on a ball for more hours and you will naturally produce at least a handful of good prospects.
      The big reveal will come when Jack McInerney’s contract expires. If they sell him, they will show their hand at trying to “buy low, sell high.” While that’s great for the kids in the academy, it will not be great for us as fans.

      • Agreed, though I’m more inclined to watch for the end of Zach Pfeffer’s loan to see ‘the big reveal’.

        Don’t forget they’re also making a fairly nice chunk of change in tuition from the parents sending kids to Union High. It’s a pretty shrewd business model.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        If Zach Pfeffer keeps it up, he’ll never play for the U again. Which is both great that we could find and being to develop a solid player, but awful that we never got to see the fruits of our labor.
        In the log run, I like the growth of the League and the Union, but as a fan, I want a better team on the field. I like the commitment to the youth, but at some point you have to add the right veteran pieces and see some benefits. The fan base deserves it.

      • Does anyone know when the loan expires? January?

      • keep it up?! He is not setting the world on fire. For the U19 team he has only played 28min in 1 game with no assist/goals. See here: He will be back sooner than you think and join the subs who never play.

  2. While I really love this concept it has to be noted that even the genius soccer minds behind La Masia sign other players for their first team. This is a huge help, but can not be the final answer for the future.

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