CHESTER, Pa. – In a conference call with reporters back in February, Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said that “building a practice facility is our single top priority right now.”
At the same time, he pointed to an “inconsistent” relationship with the Chester government as a potential landmine to building the facility outside of PPL Park, the team’s home stadium and preferred location.
But six months later, the Union have finally broken ground on the project, with construction at the PPL Park parking lot beginning two weeks ago and Sakiewicz calling their issues with Chester “water under the bridge.”
“We had some challenges with the city last year but we were able to get past those challenges,” the Union CEO told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s all good now and we’re finally in the ground. It took a little bit of time but you’ve got to be careful not to do something and then after you build it, you’re like, ‘Oh jeez, we could have had a better solution if we just waited.’”
Sakiewicz added that part of the holdup was also due to some internal deliberation as to where the practice facility should be built. One initial idea was that the team would be well-served by having the first-team training grounds next to their youth academy, YSC Sports, in Wayne, Pa.
But when Sakiewicz and the rest of the franchise’s higher-ups figured out that logistically “it was going to be really problematic to build everything in one place,” they zeroed in on the PPL Park parking lot, the most convenient option for the Union players.
Sakiewicz expects the facility, which will house “two top-quality grass pitches,” to be ready for use by the end of October. The project also includes renovating the nearby annex building to house the team’s executive offices, which he said will take closer to a year. And, “in the longer term,” Sakiewicz said, the Union are thinking about the “development of another structure that can house the team with more locker rooms.”
In the meantime, the players will continue to locker out of PPL Park but are excited about the prospect of not piling into a van to make a 10-minute drive to get to Chester Park (their current training field) on the days they don’t practice at PPL.
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“It’s important to this club to have a field where we can just walk out of the door and be there that isn’t our stadium field,” interim manager Jim Curtin said. “It should feel special when you play on your game field, and sometimes when you play on it every day, it loses a little bit of how special and important that is on game day.”
Curtin added that having a beautiful facility like that could be “an important recruiting tool” for “big-time foreign players.” But Sakiewicz said that it won’t necessarily be a “game-changer” in that regard.
“Our brand is pretty darn strong already,” the Union CEO said. “We beat out two [UEFA] Champions League teams for the services of Mr. [Rais] Mbolhi. But the setup is going to be nice for the players. It’s going to be a nice environment.
“It’s the equivalent of an office for a player. If you have a nice office and you have a nice place to go to work every day, you feel good about it.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.