Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Rival Lines: The Brotherly Game introduces Philadelphia Union

Rival Lines
Match Preview: Philadelphia Union v AFCB
15 July 2015
Blogger Interview: The Brotherly Game
Twitter @BrotherlyGame

It has been a little while since we have had a Rival Lines feature on Cherry Chimes so I thought it was time to start the new season of these features with an interview with the Brotherly Game which is worked on by Eugene Rupinski. Eugene is certainly looking forward to seeing the Cherries play Philadelphia Union at the PPL stadium and he's even a big fan of a fellow Polish player who signed for the Cherries this summer.

CC: Who are the owners of Philadelphia Union and how big is the home support?

BU: The Philadelphia Union are owned by a consortium of local businessmen. Jay Sugarman is the primary owner of the club, having made his money with iStar Financial – a real estate investment trust. His partner and the guy driving the organisation is Nick Sakiewicz. Sakiewicz is a very polarising figure here, as a lot of the blame for the club's poor player acquisition decisions often falls on him. He does himself no favours by getting into verbal spats with fans, who have had numerous protests regarding his involvement with the club. There are other investment groups that are stakeholders, but Sugarman and Sakiewicz are the main men.

CC: Is it exciting to be in a young league that is still developing and with Philadelphia Union only being founded in 2007 - you are making history all the time?

BU: It is exciting, and sometimes it's easy for the fans here to forget that the club and the league are so young. While founded in 2007, the club didn't take the pitch until 2010 - so there are only six seasons of experiences to draw from. The Union (and Major League Soccer as well) are building a culture around the game. Some of it gets its roots from England and the rest of Europe, some of it gets its roots from Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and some of it is uniquely American.

PPL Park with bridge in the background.
CC: What is the Lamar Hunt Us Open Cup and how important was it for Philadelphia to win it?

BU: The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is the American equivalent of the English FA Cup. It's an open tournament, and for the past 102 years teams have fought to hoist it. There have been amateur clubs from the Philadelphia area that have won it in the past - Bethlehem Steel FC won it a record five times in the 1910's and 1920's, and the Philadelphia Ukrainians won it four times in the 1960's. The Union wanted to take their place among those legendary clubs and got within inches of winning it last season, hitting the woodwork tied 1-1 late in regulation and losing 3-1 in an overtime heartbreak to the Seattle Sounders. The Union are back in the quarterfinals this season, and we are all hopeful to witness the club lift its first ever major trophy later this year.

CC: What can you tell us about Jim Curtin your current manager at the club and how do his teams like to play?

BU: Jim is a Philadelphia area native and spent eight seasons in MLS as a defender with the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA. He became interim manager last season when former manager John Hackworth was sacked, and Curtin was formally brought in as manager in November of 2014.

The fans here love and respect Jim. He doesn't sugarcoat things, he doesn't dodge questions, and he has worked hard to get the Union headed in the right direction on as well as off of the field. There's a belief in his abilities to lead this club, which isn't something the fans have had much of it n seasons past.

The Union are still finding their identity a bit, but Curtin being a former centre back emphasises defense first, so you'll see the midfielders and forwards often tracking back to cover when dispossessed. That's not to say it's all bunkering and grinding out bore draws – the Union do have creative midfielders in Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira that can carve open a defense when given a chance.

CC: How has the team been doing this season are you still hopeful of making the play-offs?

BU: The team got off to a terrible start, going 1-7-3 over their first eleven matches. They have since turned it around, going 4-3-1 and giving the fans hope of making the playoffs. Since six out of ten teams in each conference go to the playoffs, the Union are still very much in the thick of the playoff race. That being said, it's an uphill battle and one the club has won only once in its history. Cautious optimism seems to be the attitude lately.

CC: Which players are the best in the team and the ones we should look out for?

BU: It all depends on who is healthy. Venezuelan striker Fernando Aristeguieta has shown flashes of brilliance but has also missed a significant amount of the season injured. Sebastien Le Toux is a speedy winger with a nose for goal, however he's also missed some time lately as well. Ex-Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu is now playing centre back, and can quickly turn a defensive situation into an offensive one.

CC: How good do you think the MLS Eastern division is now in terms of the talent that is in the league?

BU: In terms of talent I think the Eastern Conference is weaker than the Western Conference. There are more recognisable names in the Eastern Conference, but those are a small fraction of the players and I think the teams with quality top to bottom are mostly Western Conference teams. If you look at a team like the Seattle Sounders, they don't have real weaknesses. They recently lost Clint Dempsey to suspension and Obafemi Martins to injury, and they still find ways to be competitive and win. Not many Eastern teams have that depth.

CC: Would you like to see more British players in the MLS or have they not been that good?

BU: I think most people here recognise British players since the English Premier League has been and still is the best soccer viewing in English here in the United States. When David Beckham came, it helped push MLS and soccer into the forefront of the American sports conscience. Guys like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are also names that Americans know and will go to see and also help improve the quality of the league. I also think of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Dom Dwyer who weren't exactly huge names when they came but have made their mark on the league.

All that said, I think Americans are less concerned with where a player comes from and more with how well he plays. We could care less if you're English or Eritrean – as long as you help our team win we're fans.

CC: How surprised were you when you found out that AFC Bournemouth from the Premier League were to play Philadelphia Union this summer?

BU: It was a bit of a shock, but we had an idea when during the Bournemouth versus Charlton Athletic match we spotted Nick Sakiewicz with Jeff Mostyn in the owner's box during the television replays here. Once we saw that, we figured Bournemouth would be our summer friendly.

CC: Which players in the AFC Bournemouth team have you heard most about?

BU: Personally I have followed Artur Boruc since I'm Polish and he is on the Polish National Team, and I think a lot of Americans know him from his time with Celtic in Scotland. Other names we know are Christian Atsu, Matt Ritchie, and Sylvain Distin.
PPL Park under floodlights.
CC: How much do you think Bournemouth fans will enjoy PPL Park?

BU: PPL Park is a wonderful venue. The stadium is small and intimate, and there isn't a bad seat to be had. The Commodore Barry Bridge serves as a beautiful backdrop to the six year old stadium, and there are plenty of vendors inside the stadium selling beer and food (yes, even cheesesteaks). Union fans are generally friendly and tailgate out in the parking lots before and after the matches. That being said, don't go too far from the stadium. Chester has some very bad areas, and it's easy if you're unfamiliar with the area to wind up in a bad part of town. Stay close to the park, hang out, and have a great time!

CC: Thanks for your comments Eugene. I feel a lot more knowledgeable about Philadelphia Union now. I'm not sure about the cheesesteaks, but I have heard they are legendary and some AFCB players tried them out the other day. To read up further about our new friends in Philadelphia visit the Brotherly Game website. I have also written some AFC Bournemouth club history and an insight to the team for the Brotherly Game which should be posted on their site at some point today.

Finally, it's great to see the new AFCB home kit. Have the queues started for it already? It should sell like hot cakes! We've also put up an interview between Richard Hughes and new Development squad signing Filippo Costa on the right side panel of the blog.

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