What’s the Union worth? (and other thoughts)

Photo:Earl Gardner

And now for a collection of miscellaneous thoughts on Philadelphia Union and Major League Soccer. Ready? Go.

Union worth $90 million: What’s it mean?

Philadelphia Union are worth $90 million, according to Forbes magazine estimates. What does that tell us?

Nothing, without context. So here’s some context:

  • The Union are the 11th most valuable team in MLS.
  • Five years ago, only one team was valued at even half as much: the Los Angeles Galaxy. Toronto was No. 2 at just $44 million.
  • The Union ranked 13th in revenue. Only two teams with a soccer-specific stadium ranked lower: Colorado and Columbus.
  • Of the six teams to join MLS since 2007, the Union are the fifth most valuable. (Vancouver is sixth.)
  • Of the eight teams valued at less than the Union, only three have stadiums dedicated primarily to soccer. (One of them is Columbus, whose stadium is outdated. Vancouver is not counted as one of them, as they share BC Place with the CFL’s BC Lions.)
  • The most valuable MLS club, the Seattle Sounders, is worth more than 8 of the English Premier League’s 20 clubs and 8 of the NHL’s 30 clubs.
  • The Portland Timbers are worth $141 million — and they play in a stadium the size of PPL Park.

Basically, the Union are a lower middle class team in MLS. Half the clubs worth less than them lack their own soccer stadium. A fifth (Columbus) plays in one that is a bare bones prototype of the soccer-specific stadiums now populating MLS.

Three MLS clubs operate in crowded sports markets most comparable to Philadelphia: Chicago, Dallas and Colorado. (Click here for more detailed delineation.) Philadelphia is the third most valuable of the four. They’re also by far the newest MLS club of the bunch.

Portland and Seattle have shown how valuable a club can become if team management successfully taps into fan support and puts out a quality product with good marketing. However, they each have unique advantages that Philadelphia lacks. Portland has only one other major league team to compete with, while the Sounders joined MLS at exactly the right moment to capitalize on the departure of the NBA’s Supersonics. The Cascadia rivalry and the region’s liberal atmosphere help make their games an event for even non-soccer junkies.

The benchmark franchises for the Union to emulate are Kansas City and Houston. Each plays in traditional, old-style sports markets in which baseball and football have dominated for decades. Houston has a bigger Latino population, which bolsters its soccer fan base. Kansas City has ingenious marketing and operates like a world class outfit.

The Union are not in bad shape though. When MLS announced the creation of a Philadelphia expansion team, only one club was worth as much as the Union are now.

There is one core, key lesson to take from the high rankings of Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Portland:

If a club’s investment team treats the club like it truly is major league, the club’s value will rise accordingly.

MLS Cup matchup is a marketing coup, not disaster

Various people have said the upcoming MLS Cup final is a marketing disaster because it doesn’t have New York or Los Angeles playing in it.

I totally disagree. Those teams would have offered pragmatic, nuts-and-bolts and probably not very memorable soccer.

Instead, viewers will see two of the league’s most entertaining teams. Salt Lake plays attractive, possession-oriented, attacking soccer. Kansas City plays an intense, frenetic style that isn’t always pretty to watch but, when it’s clicking, can be thrilling, as it was on Saturday night.

Add to that the fact that the game will be played in one of the nation’s best soccer venues. Only Portland and Seattle can match the atmosphere in Kansas City’s stadium.

In the end, you get an absolute spectacle of a game, exactly the type of match that MLS should want to market to an audience wider than just the fans of each team. The more cynical team, Kansas City, will be at home, so they should be more inclined to play more offensively, particularly after Saturday’s performance. And Salt Lake will be Salt Lake.

Might the Galaxy and Red Bulls have pulled in more viewers who didn’t root for either team? Possibly.

But I’d pick this matchup any day. If you want a game that will retain viewers and incline them to watch games next year, this is it.

Philadelphia’s waiver draft surprise: Don Anding

The Union officially waived four players on Monday. Three — Kleberson, Greg Jordan, and Oka Nikolov — came as no surprise. Kleberson’s contract is pricier than his performance and current potential warrant, Jordan hasn’t broken into the team in two years, and Nikolov may retire.

The surprise was Don Anding, the Union’s first pick (No. 26 overall) in the 2013 amateur draft.

Anding spent most of the season on loan with Harrisburg but impressed in his one U.S. Open Cup appearance for the Union. He only played in one regular season game for Philadelphia, who had drafted the left-footed speedster with an eye toward converting him to left back. Anding more often played an attacking role for Harrisburg.

Union manager John Hackworth told me two weeks ago that Anding would be one of several young Union players with expiring one-year contracts. These players — Leo Fernandes, Yann Ekra, Matt Kassel, and Anding — would be invited to preseason camp next year to earn contracts, but they would also be offered the chance to explore opportunities with other teams. Hackworth said Monday through a Union spokesperson that nothing has changed in that regard.

Waivers appear to be the mechanism for Anding to explore those other options. Anding, Ekra, Fernandes and Kassel were not eligible for the Re-Entry Draft, the MLS version of veteran free agency, because none has three years of MLS experience. In all likelihood, Anding was the only player who chose to take advantage of the offer to explore options with other clubs, which meant he had to go on waivers to do it. (I could not get a definitive answer on that, but that’s my assessment based on what I know.)

The Union could still invite Anding to training camp. Considering his unique skill set on the Union — left-footed, with speed and good crossing ability — it would be a surprise if they didn’t try.

The latest strange MLS roster moves

So you sign a starter for the Uruguayan national team in August. He’ll be playing in the World Cup next year. Why do you cut him in November?

Chicago’s decision Monday to not exercise the contract option on Arevalo Rios came as a surprise at first. But all you have to do is look at the salary numbers to understand why. Rios was on a $768,000 salary (although that was surely prorated because he joined the club so late in the season). He stands to miss a chunk of games leading up to the World Cup, and he probably would have sought an offseason loan to keep fit and maintain his national team roster spot.

Add to that the fact that there’s a new manager in town (Frank Yallop) making decisions on players, and it makes sense.

But it sure did look at first a lot like the Max Urruti saga in Toronto.

It’s not good for the league to lose out on players like Rios, but realistically, it’s hard to burn a designated player slot on a holding midfielder who could miss at least a half dozen games leading up to the World Cup. Chicago was 4-3-2 in games that he started. They’re probably a better team with him.

Playmakers for the Union?

After my column on Dwayne De Rosario, a reader asked that we look at other CAM options who may be available within MLS. Well, here goes.

  • David Ferreira: Dallas just let him go. He will likely be available in the Re-Entry Draft. Many Dallas watchers say he looked used up this year, even when surrounded by decent talent. It looks like he has never really recovered from that broken ankle in 2011, which probably makes him a different situation from De Rosario. There’s no way an MLS club will give him a contract like the one he has now ($625,000 base salary), but he still has some quality.
  • Daigo Kobayashi: Martin Rennie tried to fit him into a 4-3-3, instead of playing him in the No. 10 role, and it probably cost Rennie his job in the end. By the time Rennie finally played Kobayashi in that No. 10 role, it was too late to improve the attack for a drive to the playoffs. Still, Kobayashi looked really good once he played there, exactly how Vancouver expected he’d look when they signed him. If he can be acquired via trade on the cheap, his $225k salary is not too high if he can play like he did at season’s end.
  • Mauro Rosales: Sigi Schmid cut his playing time toward season’s end, and it definitely didn’t help Seattle. At 32 years old, he does not look washed up yet. He put up four goals and eight assists this year, and he didn’t look to have lost his creative spark on the field. (Thanks to reader, Spugger, for reminding me to include Rosales. This post has been edited to reflect his addition.)

That’s about it though. A good No. 10 is hard to find in MLS. You can count them on one hand, really: Javier Morales, Federico Higuain, Diego Valeri, and maybe Kelyn Rowe if he continues to progress in New England. When a team has one, they’re not likely to give him up.

Schedule note

MLS released its 2014 schedule yesterday, much earlier than usual. Big surprise. Great to see.

Not many thoughts on it otherwise — this column is long enough already — although PSP may have more on it later this week.

The one thing that stands out for the Union, however, is that two of the Union’s three games against the Red Bulls are midweek. That could be a good thing, because it could ensure a full stadium for once for a midweek game. Or, it could be a bad thing if it fans don’t make the extra effort on a weeknight. That game is usually a guaranteed sellout for Philadelphia.


  1. I wonder how Forbes gets its valuation numbers. I figured that the stadium its self is probably figured into the total. If so the Unions value might be around half without it. And adjusted some of those stadiumless teams might be doing better than us.

  2. I disagree with your assessment that the MLS final is a marketing coup. I would go as far as to say it is the other thing I’m your head line.
    A DISASTER!!!!!!!!!!!!
    OK maybe not a disaster, but most certainly not a coup. Maybe… No…. Probably a disaster.
    As the old saying goes you don’t sell the steak you sell the sizzle. and the markets, big time players and memorable atmospheres that the league likes to market are certainly missing this time around.
    Maybe I’m wrong and the numbers will go up this year, if so great. But what I am hoping for is to stay even with last years numbers. If not there will be trouble.
    it’s not like the league spent 7 million of its own dollars pn Clint Dempsey and handed him in the leagues biggest market to have him be shopping at Bed Baths and Beyond while the playoffs are going on. alarge markets, marquee teams, big ti

  3. What are we hearing about Mauro Rosales leaving Seattle? Is there any chance we could land him?

    • Ah! Forgot about Rosales. Knew there was someone. I’ve seen reports that he could be leaving, but we’ll see. Schmid cut his playing time after Dempsey arrived. Didn’t understand it, as they’re definitely a better team with him on the field. Don’t think that bodes well for Rosales staying, but I don’t know any inside info on that one.

    • “I don’t know if it’s in Seattle. I would love to stay in Seattle but you never know. My contract is going to be finished in December and I have to weigh the options. I hope Seattle is another option for me and I can decide with them, but you never know. I would love to stay in the league for a few more years.” – Rosales. $200k/yr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *