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."

Union's Haris Medunjanin suspended 2 additional MLS games

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Union's Haris Medunjanin suspended 2 additional MLS games

CHESTER, Pa. — Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin only lost his mind for a few moments but the outburst will cost him a few weeks.

During his weekly press conference Wednesday, head coach Jim Curtin said Medunjanin will be suspended an additional two games for his vociferous arguments with the referee June 2 in a 3-1 loss in Atlanta.

Medunjanin only played 19 minutes that game before being ejected, and then served the normal one-game red-card suspension in a 2-0 loss to Toronto on June 8. Because of the severity of the offense, he’ll now also miss Saturday’s home tilt vs. Vancouver on Saturday (5 p.m., PHL17) as well as the Union’s first-ever trip to expansion Los Angeles FC the following week.

The league has not yet announced the three-game suspension but Curtin said the team “recently got word” that an appeal from the MLS Players Union was denied.

“I don’t agree with it but we have to live with it,” Curtin said. “I think for Haris, it’s the first red card in his career, which says a lot about who he is as a player.”

Curtin referenced an incident last June when Medunjanin showed his honesty by asking referee Sorin Stoica to rescind a red card handed to D.C. United’s Luciano Acosta. The Union midfielder claimed Acosta didn’t kick him and didn’t deserve to be sent off, even though the initial ruling would have significantly helped his own team. 

Perhaps that was one reason why Medunjanin blew up at the same referee who called a questionable penalty on Auston Trusty before showing Alejandro Bedoya his second yellow card for what appeared to be a minor dissent, effectively ruining the Union’s chances of winning in Atlanta.

“You can go through a lot of things to say it’s a little harsh to get three games,” Curtin said. “But we have to live with the decision and now we move on missing one of our best players. That’s challenging as a team but we’ll have to make up for it as we move forward.”

Medunjanin certainly showed his worth in this past Saturday’s 2-1 U.S. Open Cup win over the New York Red Bulls (MLS suspensions don’t carry over to the Open Cup), scoring a beautiful goal and adding a secondary assist.

Bedoya also had one of his better games vs. the Red Bulls, teaming well with Medunjanin in the central midfield to lead the Union into the Open Cup quarterfinals. Back from his own one-game suspension, the Philly captain will now likely partner with Warren Creavalle in the midfield for the next two games.

The 27-year-old Creavalle had played sparingly for much of the year before enjoying solid stints vs. Atlanta and Toronto. 

“He’s been playing very well in training,” Curtin said. “He’ll step up and do a good job. And obviously, Derrick [Jones] will be in the picture as well if we need to close out the game.”

Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

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Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

CHESTER, Pa. — Alejandro Bedoya and Cory Burke led the way Saturday night, as the Union eliminated the New York Red Bulls from the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win at Talen Energy Stadium in the Round of 16.

"It was a very good win against a very good team," said Union manager Jim Curtin. "Survive and advance mentality. We’re three wins away from a trophy, which is something to be proud of."

After taking down the Richmond Kickers to open the tournament, the Union’s victory Saturday sends them to the quarterfinals on July 18, where they will host either regional foes DC United or Orlando City.

• The win was a continuation of an eye-popping 12-match Open Cup unbeaten streak for the Union, who haven’t suffered a regulation loss since 2014. When it comes to the Open Cup, the Union are hard to beat, which they showed against the Red Bulls. 

• Despite it being an Open Cup game, the match had MLS regular-season flavor. The Red Bulls hit the field with a strong starting lineup that included Tyler Adams, Kaku and Luis Robles. In return, the Union dressed Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Andre Blake and Ilsinho.

• Those lineup decisions made for an exciting but fruitless opening half. Both teams worked to strike on the counter by using pressure to jar the ball loose. Led by Fafa Picault, the back-and-forth equalled 17 total shots, with the Union claiming eight of their 11 attempts from inside the box. 

• Eventually, the Union those attempts would begin going in. In the 52nd minute, the Union took the 1-0 lead, when working down the right side into Red Bulls territory, Bedoya cut to the middle and slid possession over to Medunjanin. The veteran faked out his defender and ripped a shot that appeared to deflect and beat Robles.

• The goal seemed to unlock something in the Union. Nearly 10-minutes later, Burke made it 2-0 when a Bedoya pass found him between two defenders. Burke, who had been on the doorstep of a goal all night, broke away and slipped his shot to the right. Bedoya finished with two assists. 

"He’s playing at his highest level for us," Curtin said. "He’s taken a bigger leadership role and tonight was an excellent game from him. Our team will go as our central midfield goes." 

• To catch up, the Red Bulls called on some heavy artillery. In the 60th minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips subbed in for Daniel Royer. He scored in the 77th minute, cutting the Union’s defense, then the lead, in half.

• The Union look to carry Open Cup momentum into the MLS regular season, when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 23 at Talen Energy Stadium.