A View from Afar / Commentary

The ball goes in, the knives come out

Photo: Earl Gardner

You felt the moment arriving long before it did.

(The pass. The dummy. The goal. The scream. The elation. The brilliant, cathartic celebration.)

(The anger. The distrust. The frustration. The sentiment that once again our simple, beautiful game had been superseded by misguided machinations off the field.)

The cynic in you was skeptical this would turn out well.

(We won’t score. We’ll find a way to blow it in the 91st minute. A bad foul, a free kick, a short back line, another body blow game-winner for the opposition.)

(We can’t make a difference. Not in sports, not in life. We are powerless, in thrall to the rich and faceless who are in control. They don’t uphold their end of the social contract to give us the club we deserve, the club that exists because we demanded and supported it.)

But then came a surprise.

(Fabinho, with the cross. Le Toux, perfect dummy. Pfeffer collects, sets … GOAL!!!!! PFEFFER!!!! PFEFFER SCORES!! THE HOMETOWN KID HAS GIVEN PHILADELPHIA UNION THE LEAD IN STOPPAGE TIME!)

(A group of people. A voice. A march. A message. Enact change. Do it now. We’re tired of this nonsense.)

Now here you are on Tuesday, a day and a half after Philadelphia Union’s stirring 1-0 win over D.C. United, after the hometown kid momentarily set the world alight and the high of the moment has passed. You’re left staring at the mess that was there before, reluctantly analyzing and deconstructing it, and trying to avoid coming to the same conclusions you drew before the game.

(What now?)

(What now?)

What changed Sunday?

On the field and in the Union locker room, little has likely changed, save a jolt of relief and confidence for most. This remains a team with the talent to make the playoffs, despite their place in the standings. They still have injury and suspension problems. They still haven’t adequately replaced Amobi Okugo, so the shuffling of center backs and defensive midfielders will continue.

Off the field, much has changed, however. The Union ownership team was called out on national TV by their fans, the TV cameras and the television commentators (notably Alexi Lalas).

The Union’s rapid response showed club management acutely understood this was, to put it mildly, bad. Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz’s immediate public letter did little to abate the criticism that has led to some fans calling for his ouster. In some corners, it only inflamed it. (So what exactly did Rene Meulensteen do for the Union? How much was he paid? Why a reference to him not continuing as consultant for “personal reasons”? Will the findings of his report be made public in some form?)

This situation had been building for a very long time. It really goes back to Peter Nowak’s time, went on hiatus for a bit once John Hackworth took over to repair the damage, and then returned after Hackworth’s firing when Sakiewicz became the Union’s dominant figure in the public perception. Rightly or wrongly, Sakiewicz has become a polarizing figure among Union fans.

Many were skeptical that the influential Sons of Ben supporters group would finally depart from the party line and lead such a demonstration.

But they did. And they did it so cleverly and with such harsh visual symbols that they were able to clearly articulate they were not opposing the players or coaches. Rather, they were calling out Sakiewicz and team chairman Jay Sugarman for setting up their team to fail, something that was as obvious in November and February as it is today.

It was brutally effective.

The knives are out.

What next?

So, what happens next?

Probably a general manager hire, because at this point even winning will not appease a thoroughly fed up fan base. But even then, if the Union hire a general manager in the next two weeks, people will say, “They only did it because the fans revolted. They probably rushed this to answer fan discontent. Who’s to say it’s actually a good hire?” If the Union continue to drag their feet on the hire, people will say, “They don’t have their act together.”

This situation could have been avoided.

It’s one thing to take more than six months to hire a general manager when you’re winning. It’s another to do that when, after missing the playoffs in four out of five seasons, your team is scratching its way out of last place due to gaping roster holes while the team’s controversial and extraordinarily misguided 2014 signing, Rais Mbolhi, clearly a Sakiewicz move, has flamed out out in embarrassing fashion.

(Note: On the off chance a general manager announcement is being delayed because the preferred candidate is still under contract with someone else, recognize that saying this publicly would appease many.)

We could be talking about Zach Pfeffer’s breakthrough here, how his increasingly solid play has made him a legitimate contributor and culminated with Sunday’s game-winner. Or we could chat about about Conor Casey going into beast mode, Maurice Edu’s fantastic night, and Cristian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira, Sebastien Le Toux, and Sheanon Williams all showing a potential return to form.

Instead, we’re still looking at the off-field mess that the Union players and coaches must overcome.

On Sunday night, they showed that, with a little more help, they might just be capable of doing it, but it won’t be easy.


  1. alicat215 says:

    How come I immediately thought of Crocodile Dundee: Thats not a knife….this is a knife!

  2. needs more than a GM to salve this wound. Sugarman needs to set forth a credible plan for investment by him or put the team on the market. spend or sell. and don’t call hiring a GM spending.

  3. It’d be huge if Sugarman showed his face again. Even bigger if Sak wasn’t by his side. That’s what I want. I don’t need to read or hear Sak’s comments anymore. I know he’s spinning the same old web. Sugarman is the enigma in this, what’s his take. What’s HE thinking?

  4. Andy Muenz says:

    Although it has been said elsewhere that the SOB’s should have taken the protest inside the stadium, I respectfully disagree. Inside the stadium it becomes something against the players and it must be remembered that at least until the transfer window, these are the players that are the Union. By protesting outside the office building, they are showing that it is management they disagree with.
    As far as the comment, “But even then, if the Union hire a general manager in the next two weeks, people will say, “They only did it because the fans revolted.”, don’t forget, it was the fans who helped get the franchise in Philly to begin with.

    • Couldn’t agree more with your second point.

    • I don’t give a crap if they hire a GM in response to fan pressure. I only care about whether 1) it’s the right guy; and 2) whether they give him the support he needs to do what needs doing.

    • I agree with leaving the protest outside. It was noticed. No sleight against the actual team. That was taken well.

    • james lockerbie says:

      He is speaking to the darn if you do darn if you don’t position Sak steer himself into by waiting till the protest give any type of update on the g.m situation

      Had Sak said something like, with Rene’s help we have narrowed down the pool to three guys we’re just not ready to name them yet. The march may not have taken place he could have bought himself some time.

      The hiring of a Director of soccer ops would have be accepted as a good idea not a forced situation.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Great points, Andy.

    • I was happy to see the protest ended (as far as I could see) at the entrance to the game.
      Very good job of making their feelings known without dumping on the players – especially considering how many of them stepped up in a way we havent seen in a while.

      • It also gives the SOB’s a chance to step the protest up in the future. If they would’ve gone full boar, they would’ve played their whole hand at once. Put a little pressure on Sak and politely let him know that’s it can come inside the stadium on Aug 16 (the next national game) if this crap continues.

      • But when and if you bring it in, it better not be half-assed.

      • John Ling says:

        I think this is a really good point that probably shouldn’t be lost.

      • Alicat215 says:

        You know Sak snaking their critical tifo last year plays into this………….Sak said yoink…………I’ll take that……..know your role bitches! I’m not even an SoB and that bothers me til this day……..it was a clear warning of what your dealing with here…….pretty f#&ked up too!

    • Alicat215 says:

      The players are an extension of the FO, ask the Sunderland supporters, or Newcastle supporters, or the Dortmund ultras this year……….they seem to understand this. Your not hurting the players’ feelings……they are big boys, professionals and know that it’s part of the job…….they are the end product of the FO. All of this “hurt the players feelings” crap is pathetic……….Ed Rendell was right.

  5. Because if they hired a general manager they would have to pay a general manager.

  6. Great One says:

    The GM will obviously help, but unfortunately he’s working with the same small pool of money (less his salary of course, which must now be accounted for).
    We need an injection of money. Keep the team Jay, but sell at least 50% to some people with real funds for a franchise. You made your money, get out of the way and let the big boys have their turn.

    • The big boys. This is so simple and so elegant. So true. Just step aside and let the big boys take over.

    • hobosocks says:

      I think you’ve got it backwards. The last teams to have won the MLS cup are LA, Houston, RSL, Colorado, Columbus, and SKC. Of that group, LA is the most successful of course, but it is also the only team that really spends big money. Other big spenders have not experienced the same level of success.
      It doesn’t matter how much the U is willing to spend unless they do so wisely, which they clearly cannot do at this time. A good GM is way more important than an open wallet.

      • alicat215 says:

        and we get back to the whole vision, philosophy, and plan argument again………….

      • Great One says:

        I will amend my statement, bc I agree with you. Having the best GM won’t be ALL that we need, without ownership who does every single thing on the cheap.

      • alicat215 says:

        I agree with you GO, my point was that if we get a good GM….the first thing he probably does is say hey: lets have a vision, a philosophy, and a plan to augment here. If the FO doesn’t give GM support needed to carry out said vision,plan, philosophy…..why do a job with one arm tied behind your back?…..who will want to take that job with these clowns in charge of the purse strings?

      • alicat215 says:

        Look how freaking good Columbus is!!!!!!!!! Vision, Philosophy, Plan……

    • Ok, but who are the big boys? There’s a reason we have the owners we do. Nobody else is lining up–and why would they?

  7. For Sak to be a polarizing figure there has to be a substantial number of Union fans who are pro Sak? Who the hell are these people.

  8. please don’t keep the team, Jay. just sell it and make your money.

    just re-read Dan’s July 2013 small market piece – I don’t think we are accepting it or getting used to it.

  9. I consider the SOB protest a complete and unqualified success. It tells the ownership: “Fans of this team are so fed up that even your most devoted and ardent supporters have reached their limit.” It got a ton of media attention, with Alex Lalas, on national TV, calling out Sackiewicz as target for the fans exasperation. It obliged him to put out a letter to communicate with the fans. In the short-term, this is as much as we could possibly expect to accomplish.

    But this team is not going to be fixed quickly. We have a number of holes to fill, and we can’t even begin filling any of them until M’Bolhi gets sold in July. So anyone who expects anything else of Sak at this point has unrealistic expectations. Even if they DID sell the team, that ain’t happening overnight.

      my comment yesterday cannot be overlooked.
      just because we get a kitschy standard form letter we cannot stop applying pressure….
      Mr. Sakiewicz’s response to Kevin Kinkhead is basically a thumb in the nose, TV cameras are out of town now– “GO JAM YOURSELVES… I’m not to blame.” Don’t point your finger at me.”
      He absolutely took his ball and turned around and stuck his thumbs in his ears and waged his fingers at us….
      ….”Nah Nah Nah Nah-you can’t touch me..I got the ice cream and you can’t have none.” What a dimwit we are dealing with here.
      The very definition of ignorance and arrogance. The worst kind of guy to have in a bunker with you. A narcissist not willing to die for his comrades.
      This is not new from this guy… we have to continuing applying pressure. The SoB CANNOT just be happy we got this letter.
      The next home game TiFo : We Are Waiting!

      • Jim Presti says:

        +1 His arrogance is unbelievable. I’ve worked under a few people with a similar personality and I left work everyday infuriated. I would love to hear what former players and FO staff have to say about his professionalism in-house. I can’t imagine glowing reviews.

      • alicat215 says:

        keep the foot on the neck!

      • alicat215 says:

        A big Tifo that says: SAK GTFO

      • I think the point of the protest, as a whole(i.e. not just Sunday’s march) should be the ousting of Sak. The situation the team is in, is a direct result of his actions at the top. By his response Sunday, and the others since then, it is clear he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get that he’s the problem. He doesn’t get that WE know he’s the problem. I’m not even sure he thinks there is a problem. So, for the protest march being a success, I’d have to say not by a long shot. A nice letter to the fans acknowledging they are upset. A few words about change to writers. None of this has brought about actual change. None of this is recognition of the problem, Sak. The protest was a nice parade.

      • alicat215 says:

        ALL4U, I’ll take you one step further dude. You have stated that the team is in the situation they are because of actions by people at the top………I hold them all accountable: the FO, the coach, and the players…………they are all the same. Even Sak has said it in his letter…..he keeps referring to the club as “we”. The vitriol has to be cast on all of them….the “we”. Until then, nothing will change. Until supporters INSIDE PPL Park demand change……whether through chants, tifos, or money, or not attending…….nothing will change.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Fan pressure won’t change anything if ownership is determined not to let it. The only thing democratic about the situation is that each dollar invested by an owner casts one vote. Hence the controlling interest individual makes the calls.

      • Alicat215 says:

        Completely agree OSC, I don’t really think Sak and the OG are phased one bit by all of this. From what I gather on Sak, I bet he’s mildly amused at it. The only thing that will make these guys budge is their bottom line………

      • I see your point Ali, but I have a hard time blaming Curtain. Curtain was offered a job. A job he wants (to be a MLS coach). Ok, you can say some of this year’s woes are his fault. Maybe he’s not a good coach. Maybe he is. I can’t say from all of the distractions this year. Dui’s, red cards injuries. I don’t think you can get a fair assessment of Curtain from what had transpired so far. But what has transpired over the previous four years can all be laid at the feet of the F.O. The F.O. has put him and Albright in this position. Have they both done poorly? I couldn’t say. You give some one a pile of shit and tell them to turn it to gold. They try. It doesn’t work. Is it a surprise when it’s still shit? It’s the F.O. that put them in this position. A position the F.O. created in the first place. So for me, the buck stops with Sak/Sug.

      • Jim Presti says:

        How can you except Curtin or Alight to succeed when they aren’t given the proper tools and [financial] resources to build a roster. That issue is all on the FO

      • alicat215 says:

        Jim makes plenty mistakes………..and he is an extension of the FO.

  10. The Chopper says:

    Sak is the guy in the cross hairs. Deservedly so. His errors on the soccer side have been costly and only magnified by his arrogance when addressing these issues. Fans would be happy if he was gone, and there would likely be some improvement in operations if he was removed.

    That being said, he is the face of the franchise and is in that position because the team owner wants no part of it. So Nick will take the hits for his screw ups, but will also take the hits for Jay Sugarman, who simply does not have enough money to compete in this league and has no intention of selling or giving up majority control of the franchise.

    What little money this club has, can be spent more wisely and effectively. But at the end of the day on this budget, long term success is not in the cards It’s not just spending more on players, it is spending on technical staff, training facilities, better medical attention, scouting, front office etc. Without the upgrades, the mid to the bottom of the table is where it will be for the long term future.

    At this point, I am sure that Sak would like nothing more than to have someone else in charge of football and be in front of the fans and media. He can slide back into the world of sponsorships and stadiums where he has a much better track record. But his owner won’t pay for anyone else to take the job, so he remains front and center and in the cross hairs.

    • Jim Presti says:

      I truely believe that if Sak wasn’t so arrogant, so smug, so self-satisfied, and took ownership for his mistakes, the fan base would likely cut him so slack and stop crucifying him at every opportunity. He’s, in short, a pathetic leader. The worst type of CEO. He may have had business success elsewhere, but his personality – at least conveyed during interactions with Union fans and the media – is abhorent.

      • The Chopper says:

        Agreed 100%.

      • John Ling says:

        I agree. “I screwed up” – when said earnestly – does a lot. Especially if it’s followed up by, “…and here’s how we’re going to fix it going forward.”
        Two examples come to mind. The first is the Sixers. “Hey, here’s our plan. We are going to absolutely suck for a few years. At the end of that, if we’re right we’ll have a bunch of fantastic pieces we can build a dynasty around.” The fans have, by and large, accepted it. This coming year, though, I think the tanking has to end or the fans will revolt. But until now, Josh Harris, Sam Hinkie, and Brett Brown have been as honest as possible with the fans about the overall plan; and the fans have responded with patience.
        Example #2 is the Flyers. I can’t recall them ever coming out and actually saying, “We screwed the pooch” but there have been plenty of times that their actions have spoken for them. Before the salary cap, they were always willing to throw money at a mistake to make it go away. Fans never questioned Ed Snider’s willingness to spend money – both to make the team better, and to fix mistakes. (The Flyers problem is that they never really adjusted to the salary cap, and quickly found they couldn’t just spend Comcast’s money to gloss over mistakes any longer.)
        In fact, I’ll give you a third example. The Union. After Sugarman appeared at the press conference last winter, just about everybody saw it as a positive. The owner sees the mistakes, and he wants to fix them. The problem really is that all of that turned out to be empty promises. But imagine how much different that could’ve played out – if they had made a Sporting Director hire in January or February and so on. We’d likely be singing a different tune right now, all other things being the same.

      • +10
        Great examples and completely true. Had they hired a qualified (ie not a Sak-ophant) full time Sporting Director in January things wouldn’t appear as dire as they do today.

      • Jim Presti says:

        I’m trying to refrain from making an broad judgements about the man without really knowing him personally, but from the interactions with the fans that I’ve seen and read, its almost a “you can’t F*** with me” attitude. “I’m above the masses, above indictment, and cannot be questioned or criticized.” Again these are terrible traits to have as a leader of a company or organization. I will gladly send some reading material his way if I didn’t think he’d wipe his ass with it just out of principle.

    • Yuck, you make that sound so real. 🙁

    • Dr. Union says:

      While Sugarman may not be providing the right people, Sak also is not doing his job. Neither of them are doing their jobs and should both be ousted. However, I have no remorse for Sak because it is his decisions that got us here. This has been a long time coming and it has taken way to long for people to put proper pressure on the front office and it needs to continue. While they have no money with the right combinations of ingenuity, player development, and some thought process this could all have been avoided.

  11. Amobi Ribiero says:

    In terms of a FO structure, in comparison to the rest of the league, the Union must look ridiculous. They have a young coach and a young technical director in place. That combination does not happen anywhere else in the league without a massively experienced GM. I don’t think they’re that ridiculous to have two inexperienced guys getting their toes wet at the same time. With that being said, what we all know and what they won’t admit is that Sak is the GM. And he’s poor at his job. Now, if he in fact is not the GM and they are relying on Curtin and Albright to run the show then that’s just ridiculous.

  12. I think there’s more to come from the SOB’s and eventually it will be inside of PPL Park. Their efforts got coverage during a nationally televised game. Commentators are asking questions and fingers are being pointed at Sakiewicz and crew and MLS. Most of the comments I’ve read from other blogs and sites nationally speak to the passion of the fans and supporters group. It can’t escape the leagues notice that the name Sakiewicz may not be the best thing for MLS moving forward. One can hop it hasn’t escaped notice.

    Sell this franchise to a competent and financially competitive ownership!!


    • alicat215 says:

      I hope so, but I’m not confident they will…..especially after what one of their cappo’s said about stopping at the stadium….”we are here to support the players”…..gives them nice cover to keep the beer flowing and ignorance is bliss!

    • Yes the SOB president basically went out of his way to say this is as far as it goes barring some unforeseen future disaster

  13. I was at the game… anyone have a link of what Lalas said?

    • alicat215 says:

      I remember he started the commentary with something along the lines of: “tonight we are in Philadelphia and the natives are restless…..”……no shit?

    • james lockerbie says:

      In not so many words he was basically called Sak an a** clown!

      • Nick Sakiewicz says:

        Assclown? Youse don’t think I’m doing a good job? Go fuck yourselves. And fuck Lalas, too. Ginger bastard.

      • Steve H. says:

        F – grade for that effort

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Yeah come on… a Sak impression.. gotta be so much better than that

      • Alicat215 says:

        I agree……but try this: picture it being said by some angry dude named Nicky Sak from the north east, notice he used “youse”, and it becomes pretty funny

  14. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Hmm. Do we have a stadium? Do we have a practice venue? Do we have an effective stadum operations group, a competent ticket office, a good customer service organization? Did we have any of that in 2008? There are fora for season ticket holder Q & A s. STHs get surveyed once a year for suggestions. Changes are made in concessions as long as profits are increased, food and otherwise.
    True arrogance would be to ignore the SoBs completely, which ownership is legally entitled to do. How long did the former owner of the LA Clippers do whatever the hell he pleased and how long were the Clips terrible? He sold only because the league was going to throw him out, and realized 2 billion dollars, yes, with a B, last I bothered to read about it.
    Sakiewicz has been less than successful as his own GM.
    He did not supervise his first coach effectively. He did not put up a red flag when hiring him that the guy won a championship in his first year and was none the less not rehired.
    He apparently discounted the point that the only sustained success in a specific player’s career was with the player’s national team, that the player in a club environment, living everyday and practicing everyday as part of a specific group of fellow players and technical staff, was repeatedly unable to win and hold a starting job in spite of the quality demonstrated on the pitch in not one but two particular international tournaments of a certain prominence. He probably asked what combination of circumstances and facts might explain the anomalies, but he chose the act in spite of the warning signs. (Yes, hindsight is 20:10.)
    He was arbitrarily impatient with his second coach’s inability to instantly solve problems on the pitch with holding leads, problems that perhaps originate with a need to emphasize scoring to group that is not consistently proficient in doing so. Changing coaches has not improved that specific performance to any noticeable degree over the longer term.
    My last thought to share goes back to early in season number one, the announcement of the exhibition game against Valencia, a game that never happened. That experience plus the general culture of opacity in Major League Soccer generally means they will not be open prematurely about much of anything. We fans have got to figure out which reporters have sources that are reliable, the way Eagles fans have Ray Didinger and Phillies fans, Jim Salisbury. Those roles relative to the Union are sill evolving, and there are many fewer man-hours devoted to covering the Union than there are to the other pro teams. Curtin is working on the open-ness in the culture. He gets it that Philly sports fans are very used to having some idea what’s going on. He deserves full credit for getting that. The team would display superior intelligence were it to keep him on as the primary communicator for the franchise once his tenure as a coach is finished, whenever that change occurs.

  15. The Black Hand says:

    This is tremendous fodder for The Union Bible…

Leave a Reply

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


%d bloggers like this: