Commentary

Ill-thought out

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Following the Soccer Morning interview Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz did on Monday (full transcript here at PSP), quotes began to appear on Twitter in which he referred to the recent “We deserve Better” protest as “ill-thought of” and “with all sorts of lack of information.”

Like many Union fans, my eyebrows raised.

Ill-thought out

When I was able to listen to the full interview — as opposed to the audio clip released Monday afternoon, a clip that consists of snippets of responses from Sakiewicz that have been edited together so well that it would be easy, if one were not paying attention, to believe that no editing has taken place at all — I couldn’t help but notice that the question Sakiewicz seemed to answer in regards to the protest was actually two questions: “How did you take that protest [1] and what kind of message does it send to the team? [2]”

In talking to people at the Union after the interview aired, I was told that Sakiewicz’s “ill-thought of” response was meant to answer the first question; it was an expression of how, given his medical history, he was personally affected by the death imagery of the protest, which included two coffins bearing Sakiewicz’s name. Like many others, one of the things I learned from watching Sons of Ben: The Movie at its recent Philly premiere was that Sakiewicz was undergoing treatment for leukemia when the final negotiations that resulted in the funding to build PPL Park in Chester were being completed. Several people told me at the premiere that the protest’s death imagery deeply upset Sakiewicz.

I follow Union news as closely as anyone, and if I had seen an article that reported this before I saw the Sons of Ben film, I had forgotten it. And my first reaction was that I was impressed Sakiewicz and the club had not trumpeted this information before. After all, the old “I started this club with a credit card” story is so familiar that it has long since become tiresome. Learning of his battle with leukemia was a part of how, for me anyway, the film helped to humanize the man who is the walking, living, breathing target for every discontent fans feel with the club. And, perhaps, it says something about what is behind his comment in the Soccer Morning interview that he “lives and dies” with how the team does on the field.

Nevertheless, the lengths to which I have just gone in an attempt to understand Sakiewicz’s fumbled and ill-thought out response to the first question about the protest should help explain why the Union CEO’s words have caused such an uproar.

Regarding the second question, I can offer no such mitigating context.

Sakiewicz says, “of course” he understands fan frustration. However, in comparing how the fans feel to how he and the rest of the Union front office feel, Sakiewicz reveals that he does not actually understand the fans’ frustration at all.

“Of course” the frustrations of owners and employees and those of paying fans are not the same. And “of course” when your team’s supporters group organizes a protest, that damn sure better be something you “focus on.”

Here’s the thing: Sakiewicz has been the public face of Philadelphia Union for the entire lifespan of the franchise, he is the one constant as the face of the club. So, if you are surprised or shocked by his latest tone deaf response to the fan protests, well, you haven’t been paying attention. His responses to criticism of anything he is remotely involved in have been marked by a consistent and often confusing hubris.

Has Jay Sugarman been paying attention to the public relations disaster that is his club’s sole continuous contact with its increasingly disillusioned fans? A better question might be: Why should we expect Sugarman to start paying attention now?

There was news

Still, the interview did contain an actual piece of news mixed into an auditory jumble of familiar platitudes.

Was it that the Union opened PPL Park to provide relief for Chester residents after last Tuesday’s storm? No, that undeniably benevolent and admirable deed was widely reported at the time.

Was it that the Union’s relationship with Chester is “excellent”? Haha, good one.

Was it that the search for a general manager — scratch that, a director of soccer — is ongoing? No. As Sakiewicz said, the search for the “very highly experienced, top level, soccer” unicorn, I mean, “man,” is ongoing, whatever that means. We all knew that. We’ve known that for far too long.

Was it that the team has the financial “wherewithal” and “capacity” to compete for players in the international market that will provide immediate on-field help to a club investing “millions” to develop local players that will secure the team’s “future”? Nope. Despite being force-fed that message too many times to count, the current squad (two of this year’s three big signings are loans) and the academy’s minimal influence on it thus far (how’s that Homegrown Player thing working out?) speaks volumes.

Perhaps the news was that Sakiewicz still refuses to acknowledge his role in acquiring Rais Mbolhi — which he absurdly calls good “business” (mentioned six times) and also “the right” and “very good” decision (albeit one made by “Jim and Chris,” even though Curtin was interim coach at the time and Mbolhi, when he was unveiled, made sure to thank “Nick, and Chris as well, ’cause they had to work a lot, but finally we made it”)? No, anyone paying attention has heard this fable propagated many times before. Still not news.

No, the news that came out of the interview was Sakiewicz’s none-too-subtle suggestion that a deal was about to be announced that would see Fernando Aristeguieta stay with the club: “I’ll say that a decision has been made, but we just made it. So we are going to be announcing that shortly.”

Since the incredibly surprising news last week that the Venezuelan striker’s loan was expiring some time soon, his future with the Union has been in doubt. Sure, Jim Curtin has made it clear he values Aristeguieta. Curtin (and many fans) see a future for a player whose hard working, minor-injury-be-damned mentality clearly fits into the mythologizing Philly sports fans (myself included) like to build around their players. But Aristegueita has missed eight of 19 games this season.

Do you gamble on a player who currently stands at a goal every 285 minutes when what you need to truly compete is a cold-eyed killer of a finisher? Well, from what Sakiewicz said, it looks like the Union are taking that gamble.

And that’s news.

A big thing

Minutes after Sakiewicz’s interview was broadcast live, Curtin gave his weekly press conference ahead of tonight’s US Open Cup game (full transcript here at PSP). The last question he was asked concerned Aristegueita’s status. Curtin, cognizant of his role as head coach, and, no doubt, mindful of ongoing negotiations, said “Nothing I can really talk about here. It’s…Things are still ongoing, and you guys know what I think of Fernando. So, we’re pushing.”

One man, who claims to have no role in signings and has pushed responsibility to his coach whenever things have gone sour, says “a decision has been made,” and that an announcement will come “shortly.” Another man, who was described by the first as one of two people in charge of “work on the team, on the first team side,” says only minutes later, “things are ongoing.”

So, here’s the final thing: Forget for a moment about whatever is happening on the negotiating front with Aristegueita. Think simply of how one man, who must walk into the locker room every day and project ultimate authority if the Union are going to succeed on the field — and so provide the “amazing experience” Sakiewicz described in the interview — was so baldly and tactlessly undermined by another man in charge.

It may seem like a small thing, but it’s a big thing.

21 Comments

  1. Nick’s prevailing philosophy seems to say whatever 1. Makes himself look good 2. Whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear. Regardless of context and facts he will do that consistently. It is one of the few things we can count on as Union fans.
    .
    This philosophy extends how the Union is run. I wish Union fans would understand this when they say the front office isn’t listening to them. The front office is always listening to them and is usually trying to appease the fans in the quickest, cheapest and splashiest way available. Look at bringing back Letoux or our big signings like Adu or Nik Saks actual bafflement why people criticized him for signing Mbohli. “I thought you guys hated MAcmath? I got you a world class keeper. What do you want?”
    .
    That is the true frustration of being a Union fan. It’s not that the lack of interest from the front office. It is that the office is only interested in quick cheap shoddy fixes designed to return the fanbase to 2011 levels of enthusiasm. Long after that ship has sailed.

  2. The Realist Brian says:

    IT’S A HUGE THING, Ed! And BRAVO.
    .
    My challenge to you and others who have season tickets is do you have the courage to drop your season tickets? That is the only way to force change. Look at Toronto and how they dropped down to ~6K fans did they start trying to make changes positively. The exception is they have the financial resources to weather that storm. I believe that a ticket boycott and merchandise boycott WILL have financial implications and force these guys to sell.. Like Tampa and NY/NJ Metrostars. Hit them where it hurts, and have the courage to do so. Sugarman doesn’t care. And Sak is a fucking moron.

    • Thanks, but no. In my mind, boycotting the games would be cutting off my nose to spite my face. Despite Sak being such a — I can’t even think of a horrible enough noun right now — I still have fun going to the games. When I no longer have fun, that’s when I give up my tickets.

      • Great One says:

        Games are definitely fun and we all love having a team here and the stadium is gorgeous (location aside). I completely see your point of view, and find myself considering that side of the argument often.
        .
        My question to you is, if fans stopped going to the games and it was what initiated change in leadership for sure, would you go along? If not, do you consider yourself prioritizing “having fun” over “winning” (while still having fun, albeit later on)?

      • No, and yes, respectively. I consider myself strictly a consumer, not some agent of change. The Union is just entertainment for me (as is the kvetching on PSP). If they win, great; if they don’t, oh well. If it stops being fun, I’ll go watch the Spinners. For those emotionally invested in the club enough to want to boycott, good on you. I guess I’m not that deep.

      • I appreciate your honesty and this is exactly what I speak of when talking about the ‘shiny happy people’ down PPL Way.
        .
        I believe this is a large majority of the STH fanbase which is the troubling part. A boycott is not imminent because too many people view the experience as a good time.
        .
        This is not about a good time for me. It is about excellence and I cannot be part of the problem any longer. Some view this as quitting on the team and its not- I still watch- I still love the Union but I cannot pay money any longer for an organization run so bass ackwards and then be made to feel as though I’m the one out of line.

      • I gave up my season tickets awhile ago. For me, it’s not about winning or losing or having fun/not. It’s about the spectacle of “good” soccer. I realized at the time that the Union was not interested in anything resembling what I wanted. The off-season deals just confirm it. “Good” soccer does come to PPL occasionally just most times from the visiting team which is fine. I still appreciate it, but I don’t need to spend the same money for a week’s vacation down the shore trying to catch those few fleeting moments.

  3. Was there even a purpose to this interview from the Union side? Were they promoting anything? All it did was cause more damage and further isolate the fans. Suge needs to put the gag order on Sak.

    • Whether or not it was in direct response to this I don’t know, but Kevin Kinkead was on Soccer Morning last week talking about the Union’s financial woes, and the state of the team in general. He wasn’t spitting fire the way he was on Twitter last night, but he did touch on a lot of similar topics – Sak, Sugarman and IStar Financial, the Academy being funded by Graham, the shoestring way the franchise is run, new players not being able to be added until existing players are cleared out – generally a whole bunch of stuff that didn’t exactly paint a good picture of the Union organization.

      .

      So, I can imagine after that conversation, either Jason Davis or his producer reached out to the Union, or maybe to Sak personally, for a response and this is what they got. I don’t think anyone (certainly not Davis, and definitely not the Union PR team), expected it to go down quite like this, but Sak’s appearance on the show to discuss these topics wasn’t totally out of the blue.

      • That makes some sense, I don’t listen to the soccer radio shows at all so I didn’t know the background. But even so, everyone I follow who were listening were just waiting for him to screw up the way he did. Par for the course, I guess.

  4. They could probably use some of that Mbolhi money to hire a good PR guy. Sak should stick with making deals with applesauce and beer companies.

  5. Before I watch or read any interview with or pertaining to Sak I know what’s going to be said, and even though I know it’s all BS and Fluff, it still PISSES ME OFF.

  6. I am now leaning more toward dropping my tickets (full season / founding member). I mean it this time. This is so unacceptable. It’s one thing to be clueless or bad at your job (two things Sak obviously is)… but to then disparage your fans time and time again!?! To act like we are stupid, and don’t remember past statements or interviews!?! To expect us to just gobble up your constant bullshit?!? Seriously WTF.
    .
    This team has to be more valuable to Sak and the gang as cash in a briefcase, then it does to them as continuing to be the actual owners, doesn’t it?!?
    .
    CALLING ANYONE WITH MONEY… PLEASE BUY THIS CLUB. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.

  7. Wow – Ed… – ‘baldly and tactlessly undermined’ – perfectly said.

  8. “Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.” Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina.

    Sell this team to a competent and financially competitive ownership!

    FREE THIS FRANCHISE!!!

  9. Great read. Your passion for this team creates an attention to detail which creates the kind of bright light scrutiny this ownership team need.

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