Union Notes

Union notes: Curtin announcement on Friday, City Islanders partnership, homegrowns, and more

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

On Tuesday, I reported on a variety of Philadelphia Union topics through my Twitter account.

In an effort to refine that information into something more cohesive, I thought it would be a good idea to elaborate here on Philly Soccer Page.

The coaching situation

Jim Curtin will be announced as the next head coach of the Philadelphia Union at a press conference at 11 am on Friday. News of a “major announcement” from Curtin and Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz was released by the club on Thursday morning.

That Curtin would be named head coach was reported prematurely, but accurately, more than a month ago. The first report came from Kristian Dyer, who is on the Union payroll as a pregame and post-game television analyst. Minutes later, independent outlets corroborated the information and myself and others greeted the news with skepticism.

Sources tell me that Rene Meulensteen has remained in the picture since the Dyer report. He would not be the manager, but he would be given some kind of executive role, such as a “Sporting Director” or a “Director of Soccer Operations”.

This would be akin to a general manager role, where Meulensteen would have a say in player-personnel and other decisions from the first team, to the academy, and everything in between. The best comparison would be Andy Roxburgh’s job with New York Red Bulls.

I don’t know where the discussions currently stand. Hiring Meulensteen would probably add another six-figure salary to the payroll while likely diminishing Nick Sakiewicz’s role in player-personnel decisions.

I’ve also heard from sources that Mike Sorber’s future with the club is unknown.

What’s going on with Harrisburg?

I’ve heard tidbits, from those close to the situation, that some Philadelphia Union executives aren’t entirely happy with the Harrisburg City Islanders affiliation and that they would prefer to have their own team in USL PRO, similar to the way Los Angeles and other MLS clubs have begun to operate.

Having a full-fledged second team would allow the Union to get more minutes to more players, as opposed to just loaning out three to five guys over the course of a season. If the team is moved to Chester, it can play at PPL Park or at the new practice fields next to the stadium.

One of the issues is Harrisburg’s stadium, as well as facilities, which Sakiewicz spoke about in this interview with Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald.

This is the relevant part of the article:

“Sakiewicz said he expects the partnership with Harrisburg to continue, and to see “more investment by us in them.” But he also warned that the organization “has challenges, principally their stadium – their stadium is awful.”

“If they don’t get a stadium built soon, we’re going to have to make a decision to either stop the relationship or maybe partner with them and move them, because they can’t compete in USL with that building,” he said. “I don’t know that we have to buy them out – if anything we’ll grow our relationship with Eric [Pettis, the team’s president]… I could envision us becoming more of a presence in their ownership, absolutely, but the linchpin of that is the stadium. We are not going to invest in a team that has that kind of a stadium with no hope of getting out.”

This sounds like the kind of project that Richie Graham would lead, to me. Graham is the owner of YSC Sports and he built the Union academy. He is the second-largest stakeholder in the Union ownership group behind Jay Sugarman. Graham generally stays out of the spotlight, but he’s been influential in Philadelphia’s youth setup.

The City Islanders announced in March plans for a new $14 million dollar 4,500 seat stadium on City Island, where the team’s current home, the city-owned Skyline Sports Complex, is located. The announcement said the stadium would not use city funds. I’m told local Harrisburg politicians have no money and no interest.

The home grown situation

One or more home grown players could be gone this winter.

Cristhian Hernandez is the likeliest candidate. He’s played just 26 senior team minutes since signing his HGP deal in 2012. He was born in Mexico and could seek opportunities there.


Zach Pfeffer has played 238 minutes in nine total games over three seasons. He spent the 2013 campaign on loan to Hoffenheim.

Zach Pfeffer would be a big loss. He’s played just 238 minutes in nine games over three seasons. Hoffenheim loan included, the 19 year old has been in the system for four years with no real push into the senior team. While you wouldn’t give up much on the field, this would be more of a symbolic departure.

I haven’t heard much about Jimmy McLaughlin, who has spent most of his time on-loan to Harrisburg.

The trade that didn’t work out

Sources tell me that the Union were considering a mid-season “sign and trade” type of move.

This is a mechanism you see in the NBA, where a player on an expiring or short-term contract signs an extension and then gets shipped out to another team.

It’s the same way the Union re-acquired Sebastien Le Toux in 2013.

I’m not sure who the player was. But it my understanding that another team approached the Union, and the front office liked the deal, but it fell apart for some reason. I think the player in question probably did not want to sign an extension as a condition of the deal. It’s my understanding that the front office was trying to move Zac MacMath. Amobi Okugo was also on an expiring contract. Ray Gaddis signed a new deal with Philly. There are a number of players that this may have applied to.


  1. Some very interesting nuggets here. Keep up the good work Kevin and keep digging.

  2. Nice to see that the new practice field is ready for the Union to use in time for their playoff game this weekend.

  3. Kevin Kinkead, Dave Zeitlin, and everyone at PSP are just excellent at what they do. You guys all do such a great job. Thanks so much!

  4. The only reason to release a Homegrown player is cash flow. I’m all in favor of maximizing your assets, but these guys have too much upside to just toss aside if you ask me. It’s unfortunate because it’s unclear whether the Union have improved or stunted their development after signing these 3 players so young.

  5. Since this topic was brought up, what specific benefits do the Union get from their affiliation with the City Islanders? I understand it provides a team in somewhat close proximity to loan players out, and maybe provides a friendly each season (and an opponent in USOC if the brackets work out). Also got Sheanon Williams out of it, but even guys like Yann Ekra always seem to be on the cusp, but never even in the match day 18 let alone the starting IX. Would it be better to buy the Islanders (with some structure) and rebrand or to start from the ground up with a Union II?

    • Typing this knowing it’s crazy talk, but if the Union wanted to start its own USL Pro team, it would be great if they’d get that team to play in Chester and build a new stadium downtown. I bet they’d get way better attendance in Northern Lib / Fishtown or University City area.

      My sense is that they don’t have the cash to make that happen.

  6. Richie Graham has everything you want in leadership of the franchise: deep local ties, passion for the game, resources & a proven record of success with YSC. Sure would make a great CEO.

  7. What exactly are we “celebrating” @ Chickie’s & Pete’s (huh?)? Freedom from playoff games interfering with our busy lives – for the 4th year out of 5 and 3rd in a row? Hooray.

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