Commentary / Philadelphia Union II / Union / YSC Academy

The WSFS SportsPlex: Progress and prospects

All photos courtesy Philadelphia Union Communications

Now that the Philadelphia Union has played its home openers for the MLS regular season and the Concacaf Champions Cup, it is time to explain, or re-explain, how Keystone Sports’ Chester waterfront campus has been changed and will be changing. It is now called the WSFS Sportsplex. It is the third comparatively permanent Union construction project in Chester, after the old power plant buildings and the stadium itself.

Late last December the Philadelphia Union announced Sportsplex Phase One was complete after construction had begun last July. First, parking had been moved inland from the riverside to adjacent with the Industrial Highway. Next, the Power Complex practice fields were re-built. They were truncated and reconfigured several times to allow the first team and Union II to continue to train even as the entire space was redone around them.

Already finished

Seven outdoor soccer fields (six full-sized and one for youth) have replaced the two old ones and the adjacent riverside parking (see visual below), as well as the YSC complex in Wayne.

Subject to the schedule needs of the Philadelphia Union itself, Philadelphia Union II, and the Union’s Academy teams, the fields are available for rent by outsiders. Philadelphia’s CASA league is already in place to play there this year according to reports.

Nineteen hours a week are being donated to Chester Union, the soccer team sponsored by the Philadelphia Union Foundation. Further donations to other local community organizations are concretely and numerically earmarked. The turf fields already display goals and field markings for sports other than soccer, with lacrosse and field hockey among them.

Secondary future development

When everything is done, the residents of Chester and surrounding environs will have new places to play basketball, soccer, and other sports.

Earlier public discussions of the waterfront project mentioned making adjacent Union-controlled space available to new businesses providing services to the users of the project’s facilities. Such future detail was not discussed in last December’s announcement. American entrepreneurship being as ingenious as it is, businesses are likely to develop over time. They will echo the Union’s own Yards facility which is directly across Seaport Drive from Subaru Park on Reaney Street. Future lease terms may encourage such entrepreneurship.

The Union Organization celebrates its growth at a barbeque at Subaru Park.

Non-soccer changes

The academic classrooms of YSC Academy have also moved from Wayne into the Union Power Plant, the old power station building that sits at the head of Headhouse Drive.

The cascade of athletic and academic Academy moves to Chester began last September with the new academic and MLS NEXT years. The organization celebrated the moves internally on October 6th with a barbeque (see picture).

December’s announcement asserted that Philadelphia is the only organization in Major League Soccer to have consolidated all its teams and the associated school into a single campus. Many fewer Union vans will now ride the Blue Route.

We describe and explain the outdoor facilities in detail using an artist’s rendition of the future.

  • One championship-caliber grass field abuts Seaport Drive to its north and is adjacent to the Union Power Plant and its Annex to the west. It has a video board and lighting sufficient for night-time video broadcasting that – when connected to the fan and press seating and locker spaces of Phase Two – will serve as the home field for Philadelphia Union II of MLS NEXT Pro. Fan seating (not pictured) and media facilities will  satisfy U.S. Soccer’s Division III 1,500 fan seating and media facility requirements.
  • Two more full-size grass practice fields also abut Seaport Drive. They have lighting sufficient for nighttime play, but not for commercial broadcasting.
  • Three full-size artificial turf fields (infused with cork fragments, not pellets of reprocessed tires) lie between the three big grass fields and the Delaware River.
  • One youth-sized grass field abuts Seaport Drive to its north, the Subaru Park Plaza to its east, and the championship-sized grass fields to its west.
  • YSC Academy’s classrooms now exist within a separated segment of the Union Power Plant building itself.
Anticipating the indoor facilities

Completion of Phase Two was planned for June of 2024, but expectations have changed. Union II expects to play its full 2024 home season inside Subaru Park.

The challenges of building in winter months combined with other emerging spending needs may have delayed matters. The first team’s roster is more numerous than ever during Ernst Tanner’s tenure. It must accommodate both 2024’s potential for schedule congestion and the beginnings of the team’s transition to its next five-year cycle. Each takes money.

And, would it make sense to provide fan seating for Division II’s minimally required 5,000 now and have built in flexibility to accommodate a future move up the soccer pyramid? The club’s most successful sell-ons, Aaronson the Elder and Mark McKenzie, were developed in Division 2, not the current Division 3. The loans-away of Nelson Pierre, Brandan Craig, and Jose Riasco all suggest a need for an intermediate developmental step between MLS NEXT Pro and MLS.

Here are details of the facilities expected for Phase Two.

  • A full-size indoor soccer practice space sufficient to replace spaces currently rented from the 76ers in Delaware
  • Two competition basketball/volleyball courts, each in its turn encompassing two cross-courts
  • Locker spaces, fan seating, media facilities, and concessions areas associated with Union II’s MLS NEXT Pro game field
  • An indoor performance center for resistance training and indoor sprint work. It will be within walking distance of the first team’s current training facility and use the Sports Science staff’s time efficiently
  • A cafeteria for athletes and guests
  • Parking specific to the Sportsplex

The indoor soccer space will occupy most of the area between the westernmost championship-caliber grass field and the old power plant fuel tank and electrical transmission equipment.

A tipping point

Once the Sportsplex is fully complete, Keystone Sports will have shifted from spending to rent facilities it needs from others to owning its own facilities, which can be rented out to generate income. Such progression will be a milestone in the club’s maturation as a business.

One Comment

  1. Great article, love these kinds of in-depth looks into the business side of the club and the long term plans. Absolutely love the idea of the Union developing a team/infrastructure for tier II of American soccer as a bridge between MLS NEXT and the senior team. Much needed, and would have served players like Craig extremely well had it existed this year.

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