Press Conference

Sugarman: Curtin likely to return, Sakiewicz ownership stake limited

Photo: Earl Gardner

Jim Curtin will likely return as Philadelphia Union coach next year, Union principal owner Jay Sugarman said during a rare news conference Friday.

In only the second Union news conference he has ever led, Sugarman spent about 40 minutes answering a wide range of questions from reporters, often directly, sometimes circuitously, but generally in a fashion that revealed his philosophies behind decisions but not the specifics on why he fired Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz today.

Here are the key points from that news conference, summarized as concisely as possible.

Why was Sakiewicz fired? 

Sugarman never specified exactly what led to Sakiewicz’s firing, choosing diplomacy over harsh candor by dancing around the issue a bit and praising Sakiewicz’s early work in launching the club. However:

“What we needed now is not what we needed then,” Sugarman said. “There were some issues that were not getting resolved.”

He didn’t specify those issues, and follow-up questions never pried many answers more specific than this:

We don’t always see eye to eye,” Sugarman said. “There are things that are important to me that maybe weren’t always important to Nick.”

Sugarman made clear that fan discontent made a difference. He said he listened to thoughtful fan input while ignoring “flamethrowers.”

“It’s never good when your fans aren’t happy,” Sugarman said. “I do take that as one of the signals that we’ve got to do better.”

Why now? 

Sakiewicz wasn’t fired solely because of the U.S. Open Cup loss. That much is clear.

“That question was why now,” Sugarman said. “Obviously this is not a decision that was based on one game, so that’s kind of silly. There is a lot of thought that has gone into it.”

Again, few specifics were detailed.

What about Sakiewicz’s ownership stake? 

Sakiewicz’s employment contract with Keystone, the limited liability corporation that owns the Union, ended after last season, Sugarman said.

As part of his employment agreement, Sakiewicz had an incentive for that would kick in if the team’s value increased past a certain point. It never did.

Currently, Sakiewicz holds class B shares in the club, but these don’t hold much value. That situation will be sorted out later, Sugarman said.

Sakiewicz has no vote on the team board of directors.

Basically, Sakiewicz is pretty much gone.

Will Jim Curtin return as coach?

Sugarman said any decision on Curtin would be made by the eventual sporting director hire. However:

“Almost all of the candidates that I’ve talked to are going to keep Jim in place,” Sugarman said. 

And that means:

“I have almost no doubt,” Sugarman said, “and I think Jim should have no doubt that he should be preparing to be our coach next season.”

What is Sugarman looking for in a sporting director? 

Sugarman rattled off six traits he wants in a sporting director.

  1. A philosophy on how to win in the MLS salary cap and player acquisition system;
  2. Demonstrated capability in player acquisition, an ability to spot talent and not just overpay for it;
  3. Player development experience;
  4. Insight on youth academies;
  5. Long-term commitment to Philadelphia, rather than treating it merely as a stepping stone;
  6. Strong work ethic. “There’s a lot of work to be done here,” Sugarman said.

Prior MLS experience is not a prerequisite.

He confirmed Octavio Zambrano is one of several candidates for the job, but nobody has been selected yet. He expects to hire a sporting director by year’s end.

Other notable quotes

On spending big to win: “Do you have to spend a lot of money in this league? The answer is no.” 

On who will replace Sakiewicz on the business side: “a leader on the business side who brings something different,” with an eye toward complementing longtime Union financial executive Dave Rowan.

On the club’s profitability: “We’ve never taken a dollar out. I can’t see us taking a dollar out for a long time.”

On whether he will take a more prominent public role with the club: “I will not be front and center for this team, but I understand that it’s important for the fans to know how passionate I am.” He indicated that is something he plans to address.

A model for the Union on the technical side: Columbus.

And about Rais Mbolhi … 

Sugarman: “We did not handle the whole goalkeeping situation well, to put it mildly.”



  1. Still don’t trust anything this guy says. I believe change is here when it is done not just said. However, I guess its a start. Beginnings have to come from somewhere.

    • I have always pulled for Liverpool since I was a little kid…root for them through thick and thin…when they lose I’m sad when Brendan Rodgers signs Mario Balotelli I scratch my head…when they win I am happy – then I go to bed and wake up and hey let’s move on… I don’t lose sleep.
      This club is the alpha and omega for me… Our Union. They matter more to me than any team I’ve ever loved.
      You are a Doctor, Dr. Union. Have you not been trained to believe in the power of accurate observation? My process as an RN informs every aspect of my life: Assess, Diagnose, Plan, Intervene, Evaluate. Over and over and over and over again.
      What happened today was right…and necessary.. 220 joules of electricity converting the staccato death knell rhythm into something more sustainable… time will tell if the patient is okay what the prognosis will be…but make no mistake the patient is alive…and we have the majority owner to thank for that.
      I see this as a great day- a great opportunity to begin anew.

      • Staci Klemmer says:

        Alpha and Omega. Yup, me too.

      • I get that jolt of electricity whenever I speak the Union or PPL Park. I mourn the end of the season and wish for an extra post on PSP all winter long. I hope this is just one small step in the journey upward.

      • Accurate observation is good. But actual results are better. Agreed it is a good start and I will try to have hope, but it is hard with this club sometimes.

      • James Lockerbie says:

        Removing Nick is like removing a ingrown toe nail. I had another analogy but thought better of it. This should renew our hope in this club at least he is making an effort to improve the organization

      • As someone who suffers from ingrown toenails frequently, this analogy especially hit home to me.
        For the analogy to continue, though… after the ingrown nail is removed, you need t clean out the infection it caused and then take care of the toe going forward so as to prevent a recurrence. The ingrown nail is removed; we’ll see, I guess, if the prescription of antibiotics – so to speak – clears up the infection.

      • James Lockerbie says:

        I love this site

      • LMAO! I needed that!

      • James Lockerbie says:

        As a 9-1-1 operator I try to avoid comparing my work to what I witness as a Union fan for fear of scaring, offending and being misunderstood. Having said that I love your post and it is spot on!

      • “They matter more to me than any team I’ve ever loved.”

        Roger that. My wife is more than a little jealous of the Union. In fact, she often mutters under her breath, “I really hate the Union.” Loud enough for me to hear, though. Does she hate soccer? Nope. She just knows that when she’s talking to me, there is a decent chance that my thoughts are elsewhere….on my beloved mistress. Flaws and all.

        Union….I wish I could quit you.

      • ElPacky…nice to have you back. Thought you were out for a while… As usual great post…I was at the C.O.D. following the game..The place was packed, snack bar was hoping… I ate too many cookies and took a nap. When I woke up… The place empty…the Sacked Sac news emptied the C.O.D….hey… Dude.. Here’s my car…

      • Zizouisgod says:

        Liverpool? Really? I would have never guessed that.

    • You guys just make me smile. I love this site too James L.

  2. For what’s it’s worth I can I’ve with this.
    For now.

    How I will feel in March may be different.

  3. I think we need to give Sugarman a break. While he’s the owner and any blame ultimately lies with him, he’s not Daniel Snyder or Mark Cuban. He prefers to hire someone to be the face of the franchise and operate the day to day business of the club, and remain in the background. He’s not “cheap”. He simply is what he is – he’s not a Russian billionaire. So we need to accept that.

    The main thing I blame him for was riding Nicky Sak this long. But I’m sure Sak kept assuring him that things are on the right tract and to trust the process or some BS like that. Finally it got to the point where it was abundantly obvious that Nick didn’t know what he was doing and now Sugarman had to put an end to it. So now let’s see what’s next.

    Are the Union’s problems all solved? No. But this is the biggest change the organization has ever had – and the one that was at least 12 months overdue. Let’s hope the new sporting director takes this team in the right direction.

  4. Old Soccer Coach says:

    At first glance the six boxes a candidate has to check to satisfy Sugarman seem thorough and specific. I have a natural curiosity, but I respect the owner keeping the dirty laundry in the closet, and at this point what is the point of airing it in public. It will not help moving forward.
    The only thing we can say for sure is that the Union are not standing pat. The rest in the future.

  5. I’m glad that Jim got the vote of confidence. He knows the league and knows what it takes to win. This is a good start…let’s see where it leads us.

    Dark Horse: Keep an eye on Bob Bradley. North Jersey guy…been a nomad in Europe for the last 5 years. He knows the league well, knows world soccer well. Might be looking to start settling in as an executive at this point. Would be a great hire.

  6. I’m encouraged by this – a big move but without totally blowing up a team that showed signs of life toward the end of the season.
    It certainly cant get much worse than how things were going this spring.

  7. Personally, I think the while “we are cheap!” storyline is overblown.

    Yes, we will never be NY or Toronto.

    Yes, we are going to be frugal and try to find players for cheap.

    But you know what? You can win that way. And you know what else? Edu, Nogs, Barnetta, Chaco are some pretty damn good players. So we can clearly bring in talent no matter how cheap we are.

    Throw in the fact we were looking at a 6 figure transfer fee AND salary for Beyoda, I don’t think “we are cheap!” is that accurate a rallying cry.

    This is why I am so hard on Curtin. Looking at that spine of talent – Edu, Chaoc, Nogs – we really shoulda played better football than we have most of the year. I put that on the coach.

    • Seven figure, actually, as I recall. I thought I read Bedoya was set to make over a million.

      • If Nantes hadn’t backed out of the Bedoya deal we would have had the 6th or 7th highest salary budget in the league.

  8. The Chopper says:

    The move had to be made, no doubt. However, what is not being addressed is this, the biggest thing Nick and Jay did not see eye to eye on was operating capital. Sakiewciz was very vocal to the inner circle in Chester that the. club needed more money.

    And not just money to sign players. but money to fill out an understaffed and overworked front office structure.

    Yes Nick needed to,go, but that money problem isn’t going away.

    • James Lockerbie says:

      Nick has a history of being lest then truthful so lack of funds may have been his excuse for his short comings

      • The Chopper says:

        Lack of funds may also be the reason the Sporting Directot position is not filled. No top candidate wants it. You will either get a first timer with no experience (Albright) or someone desperate for another chance (Zambrano)

  9. The Little Fish says:

    Sugarman did what we all thought was impossible. He jettisoned Sak. He’s pretty smart actually. Not just because he fired Sak but also because the way he structured Sak’s original employment contract, etc. Very smooth.
    And let’s face it. Who would want to be Technical Director/GM under Sak. Seriously. That no doubt had a bearing on the quality of candidates under consideration. NOW the “wish list” gets much more interesting. I’ll bet Sugarman has gotten numerous phone calls over the last 24 hours. Don’t you all think?
    I’m extremely excited about the direction of the team. Sak was a real buzz kill.

  10. All of it makes a nice brochure, but until they build out the FO with experienced soccer minds, it’s all but words and air.

    Curtin is a nice USL level guy. Albright should be learning the ropes, right now he’s the Moneyball fat kid without the math skills. Nice and local, like your WaWa.

    I’ll get excited for a new SD. And a director of scouting. Some scouts. Maybe assistant coaches who aren’t throw ins for player acquisitions. And then they can go get some players. Retain Nogs. Edu can start walking. They’ve got three games/losses to evaluate players.

    Clock’s ticking.

  11. This is both good news and totally necessary… this press conference that is. I agree with everyone that he needs to prove, and back up what he said, but with Sak’s firing… in my mind… he has earned the right to a restart, and a little bit more rope. I am curious and anxious, and actually a little excited about what COULD be next.

Leave a Reply

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