During City Hall event, Union owner says Philly 'will be a great soccer city'

During City Hall event, Union owner says Philly 'will be a great soccer city'

On Tuesday afternoon, Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney briefly stopped what he was doing to sit down with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and three Philadelphia Union executives: owner Jay Sugarman, sporting director Earnie Stewart and chief business officer Tim McDermott.

With the Union preparing for their eighth home opener Saturday vs. Toronto FC (4:30 p.m., CSN), Garber was in town to tour the Union's new training complex and visit for the first time YSC Academy, the Union-affiliated private high school for youth academy players. He then paid a visit to City Hall to meet with Kenney, who proclaimed March 7 as "Philadelphia Union March to Soccer Day," and take questions from broadcaster Tommy Smyth and fans, along with other members of the panel.

Afterward, Sugarman said he was thrilled for the opportunity to participate in an event like that with the mayor, who was presented with a Union jersey and touted the Philadelphia International Unity Cup, a World Cup-style tournament featuring teams of different immigrants that debuted last year. (Kenney also touted his relationship with Union goalkeeper John McCarthy's father -- his college roommate.) And it is Sugarman's hope that, even though the Union play 20 miles away in Chester, the franchise's relationship with the city only grows stronger.

"We continue to try to bring this whole region together," Sugarman said after the panel ended. “Last year you saw us put an Uber lot together for people who needed to get to the game in other ways. We tried to get some public transportation to really make it a lot easier for someone in Center City to get down there. We still have a lot of work to do.

"But Philadelphia is one of the largest cities in the country and [soccer] is the world's biggest sport. The opportunity and potential here is enormous. To hear [Mayor Kenney] is a fan, to hear he's committed through the Unity Cup to the sport in Philadelphia, that can only help. All those roads lead to the same place, which is Philadelphia will be a great soccer city."

Sugarman seems to understand there may be an uncovered sector of Philadelphia residents who would like to become more invested in the Union but prefer not to make the I-95 commute to Talen Energy Stadium and deal with the hassle of traffic getting in and out of the complex.

That's why the club began a partnership with Uber last year and hopes, in the future, to possibly create a new train station by the stadium, as well as a waterfront "campus" to better serve tailgaters.

"We're trying to work on some train alternatives that will get you dropped off right at the stadium," Sugarman said. "That would be my dream -- to march to the match from a station that's literally right next to the stadium. We have the train tracks. We just need the will. 

"We're trying to build a campus, so you can come before the game, be at this incredible place and then actually stay after the game. So that's on us. We've continued to acquire properties around there to really start building a sense of, 'Hey, you can spend an entire day with your friends, with your family.' We're not fully done there but that's the vision."

When the Union were first awarded an MLS franchise and laid out their stadium plans in 2008, it came with waterfront development along the Delaware River. To the dismay of many, those plans were then tabled, in large part because of the economic crisis at the time. But speaking with reporters from City Hall, Garber sounded optimistic that Sugarman and company will be able to revive them in some form, citing D.C. United's recent long-awaited stadium groundbreaking as proof that patience is vital.

"One thing I've learned over time is that it's really difficult to develop large projects in major metropolitan cities," the MLS commissioner said. "But if you're focused and you have a good plan and you're patient while being diligent, eventually it all gets done. You saw last week we broke ground in D.C. and that took us 20 years. I spent some time with the group today and got a sense of what the development is going to be like on the waterfront. Jay referenced it. I'm very confident that it will get done and that area will look very different five years from now than it does today."

Despite the waterfront development setbacks, Garber praised Sugarman and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell for the initial plans to create the Philadelphia Union and a stadium in Chester. And Sugarman, for his part, believes the franchise has taken the necessary steps to since evolve with the development of a new training complex, training fields and YSC Academy, which Garber said compared to some of the top European academies.

"I think some people don't really know how much progress we've made," the Union owner said. “To have [Garber] come down here and see the field, see the training complex, see the school, see the youth facilities, and to really understand the commitment we've made to be a long-term success in the league is great.

"It's important for the league to understand we're going to be a top-tier team for a long time."

Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

USA Today Images

Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

CHESTER, Pa. — It’s almost too fitting that Brian Carroll has decided to become a financial planner in Indianapolis.

For the retiring Union midfielder (see story), it’s a perfectly unassuming job for a perfectly unassuming guy. Someone who, without shin guards and cleats, always looked more like a business manager than a pro athlete anyway. An underappreciated, underrated, never-flashy player who was damn good at soccer and leaves the sport as a “pioneer for the game in this country,” according to Union head coach Jim Curtin.

“Having the opportunity to coach him here in Philadelphia, being around him, to work with him, it’s been a real honor for me,” Curtin said Thursday. “Once you reflect back on his career, the trophies that he’s won, the caps he’s received for the U.S. national team — he’s a true professional, a guy who always played the game with a smile on his face but also was kind of a quiet killer on the field.”

Carroll’s pedigree certainly is impressive. Two-time MLS Cup champion. Four straight Supporters’ Shields. Nine straight playoff appearances. Fourth-most MLS appearances in league history. Sixth-most minutes.

But when you stack him up against some other guys on the all-time leaderboard of games played (Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Steve Ralston, even his brother-in-law Chad Marshall), it’s fair to say he doesn’t get the same kind of national recognition. What gives?

“Because he goes about his business in such a quiet way, he isn’t a guy who is loud on the field or loud in the locker room, he’s just a lead-by-example kind of guy, and often those guys don’t get a whole lot of credit,” Curtin said. “[But] he’s a guy who anybody speaks about him in the game has nothing but positive things to say. Everybody has a Brian Carroll story, and they’re all positive. There are not a lot of guys that end their career with that — with not one person that you would ever meet that would say a negative thing about them. He’s been a guy who’s gone about his business the right way — an example of so many young players to learn from in our country.”

Even if he might not always get league-wide attention, anyone who ever played with Carroll certainly knows what he’s all about. Five years ago, then-Union teammate Danny Califf said he was “one of the most underrated guys in the league, and he has been for a long time,” before adding: “He’s happy to sit back and be in the playoffs and win championships — and let everyone else talk about the other guys that don’t.” Two years later, when Carroll was the team’s captain, Amobi Okugo revealed that everyone called him “The Iron Man.” 

But for Carroll, always a picture of humility, none of that stuff ever really mattered. And if he did fly under the radar, that's just fine with him, too.

“I think I have some athletic ability, thank goodness, but I’m not the fastest, the tallest or the strongest,” said Carroll, who remarkably was never shown a red card in any of the 370 games he played. “What I brought was consistency, work ethic and fulfilling my role to the best of my ability and me doing that enabled other guys to fulfill their roles and succeed at their roles. I’m happy and thankful that I was able to lead my team to some trophies, whether it be Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup.”

It’s a testament to his work ethic that the 36-year-old defensive midfielder continued to play at a high level as recently as last season. And although his playing time completely dried up this year, he holds no ill will toward the Union about that. If anything, he’s enjoyed the chance to step into a new role that’s involved coaching up his younger teammates at practice.

“I knew coming in these past couple of years my role was gonna change and be more supportive, still helping to lead,” he said. “One thing leads to another last year and I was a little bit more involved than what was planned. Then this year, it just kind of went according to plan — supporting the guys and helping them out in any way I can.”

Because of how he filled that role, many people speculated that he would transition directly into coaching or into a front office job. But while Carroll said he explored that path, he said the best thing for him to do with his family right now is to move to Indianapolis, where his wife is from.  

Of course, that could always change.

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Curtin said. “I know he’s moving into the financial world. I’m hoping he’s not sitting in a cubicle but if he is sitting in a cubicle, the door’s always open to come back here on the field to be a coach because he has so much more to give.”

He still has a little more to give as a player, too. Although he hasn’t played all season, Curtin said Carroll will likely play in Sunday’s 2017 finale vs. Orlando City SC — for his 371st and final MLS appearance.

“I think it’s important for him to get on the field, so we will find a way to make that happen,” Curtin said. “I kind of half-joked about starting him and seeing how long he could possibly last being out a lot this year. But he’s been sharp in training the past couple of weeks, so it’s great. 

“He’s an experienced guy, so no matter where you put him on the field, he deserves for our fans to give him a proper send-off. And I know they will.”

Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

USA Today Images

Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

Keegan Rosenberry’s nightmare season has come to an end. 

The second-year right back, who has floated in and out of favor with Union manager Jim Curtin throughout the 2017 campaign, has been suspended for the final game of the regular season on Sunday against Orlando City, for what Curtin deemed “unprofessional” behavior on social media.

“His activity on social media prior to kickoff was inappropriate,” Curtin said. “It’s something that won’t be tolerated. It's a decision that he made, one that he’ll be held accountable for. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful to the guys in the locker room.” 

Shortly before the Union’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire last Sunday, in which he wasn’t tapped to start, Rosenberry tweeted a photo of himself on the bench with an unhappy look on his face and the headline, “(Need some caption help)”. The image, which also included defender Richie Marquez, was viewed as a veiled comment on his lack of playing time. 

It’s since been deleted.

“He’s a great young player that I think will learn from this,” Curtin continued. “But as professionals, we are held to a standard. To do that right before kickoff is not something [Union sporting director Earnie Stewart] and I will tolerate.”

It’s been a rough year for Rosenberry, who, after playing every minute of the regular season in 2016, was benched in favor of a more defensively stout Ray Gaddis after the Union’s first six games. The 23-year-old 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up only managed five more starts and eight appearances following his early-season struggles. 

Although he made a five-game comeback through August and September, an ankle injury knocked him back out. He finished the season with one assist and four shots.

Now, he’ll miss the finale.