By Kevin Kinkead
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Major changes are coming to the Philadelphia Union’s partnership with affiliate club Harrisburg City Islanders, sources tell CBSPhilly.com.
Talks have reportedly been taking place for several months between members of both front offices.
And while it was originally believed that Philadelphia might cut ties completely with the USL Pro side, it seems like the solution might not be that extreme.
One scenario described to me would see Harrisburg’s operations essentially relocated to the Delaware Valley, placing the club within earshot of both PPL Park and the Union academy. The club would practice in Chester or Wayne, where the technical staff can keep a close eye on loaned-out Union players. This plan would cut travel significantly and place the club’s minor league partner under a more streamlined, umbrella-style structure.
But with no outright purchase, the club may keep its branding, and the limiting roster rules would remain intact. Instead of partnering with existing clubs, many MLS teams are starting to build their own USL Pro teams in order to fill an entire roster with reserve and youth-level players.
One source, close to the situation, says the club may even continue to play home games in Harrisburg, despite relocation. The team has limited facilities, and literally plays on an island in the portion of the Susquehanna River that flows through the city. A plan for stadium upgrades is in the works, but there’s no time frame on how long construction would take, and it’s not known whether or not local politicians are even onboard with the project.
Other sources say the Union wants more control over player-development within Harrisburg’s setup, but executives there need financial promises from Philadelphia to get city council to buy into the stadium renovation plan.
It’s not known whether the Union has the financial resources to do that, or to instead start its own USL Pro team.
It’s also unclear whether the Harrisburg front office and technical staff would remain intact if any assimilation takes place, or whether the Union would assign new coaches and executives to the club.
Union CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz alluded to the restructuring in late October during an interview with Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald.
Here’s the key excerpt from the article:
“Sakiewicz said he expects the partnership with Harrisburg to continue, and to see “more investment by us in them.” But he also warned that the organization “has challenges, principally their stadium – their stadium is awful.”
“If they don’t get a stadium built soon, we’re going to have to make a decision to either stop the relationship or maybe partner with them and move them, because they can’t compete in USL with that building,” he said. “I don’t know that we have to buy them out – if anything we’ll grow our relationship with Eric [Pettis, the team’s president]… I could envision us becoming more of a presence in their ownership, absolutely, but the linchpin of that is the stadium. We are not going to invest in a team that has that kind of a stadium with no hope of getting out.”
Sakiewicz touched on the stadium issue as far back as March of 2013. Michael Bullock of the Harrisburg Patriot-News wrote about the joint press conference between the Union and Islanders for Pennlive.com.
Here’s the relevant passage from that piece:
“Plus, Sakiewicz strongly suggested that his organization is willing to help the City Islanders locate and harvest the resources necessary to improve upon and modernize their current playing facilities.
Whether that’s at Skyline Sports Complex, where the City Islanders have spent their entire nine-season existence, or elsewhere.
“We’ve got to get a proper stadium and playing field done here,” Sakiewicz said. “We are very committed to helping Eric and his people do that.”