PHILADELPHIA – When Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz first scouted the city of Chester for a potential stadium location, he noted a distinct dose of skepticism.
“A lot of people rolled their eyes and said, ‘You’re going to do what, where?’” Sakiewicz recalled.
Since then, there have been far fewer skeptics as PPL Park – the Union’s gorgeous stadium along the Chester Waterfront – has emerged as one of the premier soccer-specific stadiums in MLS.
And Tuesday at Philadelphia City Hall, Sakiewicz and his partners were further rewarded for their vision as the league announced that the 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game will be held at PPL Park on July 25.
“We thought we had something special in that building when we built it, and the fans have made it really special,” Sakiewicz said following the press conference that featured MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Chester Mayor John Linder. “I think this is a testament to how popular it is and what a great environment it’s been. It’s electric when you go there. And for the All-Star Game, it’s going to be electric times 10.”
Sakiewicz said he first expressed interest in hosting the MLS All-Star game last summer. Throughout the bid process, there was some stiff competition from other teams in the league, but when it came down to making the selection, Garber said, “this was the right time and the right place.”
“I think it’s one of the great small stadiums in the country, one of the great small stadiums anywhere in the world,” the Commissioner said. “We’re very, very proud of that facility.”
PPL Park’s capacity is 18,500, which is relatively small for an international event like this; the game will broadcasted in 130 different countries and will provide a significant economic boost to the cities of Philadelphia and Chester. But Sakiewicz, who has talked about expanding the stadium in the future, said he believes they’ll be able to fit close to 20,000 for the All-Star Game.
Either way, PPL’s intimacy is one of the reasons it’s such a well-respected venue – and, according to Union manager Peter Nowak, the reason why it’s a better place to host an All-Star Game than, say, an American football stadium.
“I think it’s in the place where it’s supposed to be,” said Nowak, who coached in the 2004 and 2006 All-Star games at RFK Stadium and Toyota Park, respectively. “It’s not 70,000 people, but I think the most important thing is to have an atmosphere like we have every single week.”
And the reason why PPL Park consistently has such an intense atmosphere is because of the fans – led by the Sons of Ben, the club’s first and largest supporters group.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Nutter – who called PPL Park a “first-class” facility and the city of Philadelphia the “greatest sports town in the United States” – implored those in attendance to sing the “Doop song,” like they do after goals.
The Sons of Ben then filled the room with their catchy tune as others clapped along. Moments earlier, it was no surprise when Sakiewicz said getting the All-Star Game is a reward to those fans, and that he has no doubt they will bring the same kind of passion and enthusiasm to support the league’s all-stars on July 25.
“We’re humbled we’ve been awarded this event,” the Union CEO said, turning to Garber. “And I promise you, Commissioner, we’ll make you proud. This will be one of the best All-Star games ever.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org