The Philadelphia Union has no interest in being Sounders FC East.
Major League Soccer’s 16th franchise is fully aware of the accomplishments of the 15th franchise, on and off the pitch. But team president Tom Veit said Tuesday that the Union will go its own way.
“As much as we admire a lot of the different teams, and Seattle, we really didn’t use anybody as a model,” Veit said. “We’re in a unique situation here, and we tried to look at different people in different groups and then tried to think of how to adapt things to our nature. So, I don’t think we looked at Seattle as a model: Here’s what we want to be. We kind of say in our offices: We want to be what the Philadelphia Union is going to be.”
Still, MLS added to the inevitable comparisons by pairing its two newest franchises for this season’s First Kick game, having the Union make its debut at Qwest Field at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
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In advance of that game, The Olympian had this conversation with Veit (some answers edited for length or clarity):
Question: To what degree did the Union study what made the Sounders successful in Seattle?
Answer: “We met with the Sounders crew a year and a half ago – even before they started playing – and spent some time in Seattle and was real impressed with the way they wanted to do business. But we looked to a lot of different teams, because everybody has some uniqueness to them.
“Seattle has obviously a great city and the Sounders have done some great things. They’re connected with the Seahawks; they’re playing in the stadium with the Seahawks. So the dynamics are a little bit different.
“We looked at Toronto and what they’ve been able to do. We looked at Houston. We’ve kind of looked at everybody in the league and checked the pros and cons and then tried to adapt it to our situation.”
Q: One of those differences is the stadium situation. Seattle plays in a downtown NFL stadium; you have a new soccer-specific stadium in suburban Chester.
A: “We’re less then 15 miles from center-city Philadelphia. The transportation hubs are all there. It’s part of an economic redevelopment. There are plenty of places we think could be successful in the area, but the stadium and the area I think is a perfect fit.”
Q: We’ve talked mostly about off-field issues. Did you study how Seattle bucked the trend of MLS expansion teams struggling early?
A: Our team manager – Peter Nowak – was part of the only MLS expansion team to win MLS Cup in their first year (the Chicago Fire). I’m sure again, Peter looked at a lot of different things.”
Q: Even if you don’t compare yourselves to the Sounders, will fans inevitably make comparisons?
A: “I think it’s definitely a standard by which others will be measured. And we hope that next year when Vancouver and Portland come in that they’ll be measured against Philadelphia’s success. You know, a lot of times it’s who came in last who’s the last successful one.
“Toronto was the success that Seattle was being measured against. But I think the standards were pretty well set in Major League Soccer the last few years. You look at the teams that come in – or the relocation in the case of Houston – with Seattle and Toronto, all very successful franchises. And hopefully, we can continue to raise the level of those coming in behind us.”
Q: You mentioned the Northwest rivals coming in next season. Who are Philadelphia soccer fans fired up about playing?
A: “Our (home) opener with D.C. United (on Saturday) is a little over an hour train ride stadium to stadium; and New York Red Bull is an hour and a half train ride stadium to stadium. Those are built-in rivalries right off the bat.
“With Toronto’s success, people are excited to measure us there. And then you have the New England Revolution. I think we’re looking for a very robust rivalry of the Eastern Conference.”
Q: Did the threat of a work stoppage dampen enthusiasm for your launch, and how excited is everyone now that they know the season starts Thursday?
A: “It was very interesting as we went through: We didn’t see tickets (sales) slow down, we didn’t see the buzz slow down. I think people believed we were going to find a way to get it done. And now, it’s picked up even more because people know Thursday night they’ve going to turn on the TV and get to see the Union for the first time.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808