PORTLAND, Ore. – When the Philadelphia Union got in a fight in their final preseason game against Costa Rican club Belén, a video of the brawl sparked headlines across the American soccer community.
Nobody with the club said much about the incident at the time, but Union president Nick Sakiewicz finally gave me his side of the story in an exclusive interview Sunday evening. We also addressed a few other big issues on the eve of the Union's third season.
A lot of fans saw the video of the fight in the game against Belén. From your perspective, what happened, and did anything happen as a result of the incident?
No. I don't think it's a big deal. It was a game that was reffed by a non-accredited referee, and the game got out of hand. We tried to play soccer for 30, 35 minutes, and finally you can only get kicked so many times before you start kicking back. That's what we did. It's not a big deal.
I'd like to get your view on a major issue regarding player development and acquisition in Major League Soccer. A lot of teams in the league have gone to Europe this offseason for big signings, including Portland with Kris Boys and most recently Chicago with Arne Friedrich.
You have gone to Central and South America, and also brought in two homegrown players. Do you sense that there is a difference of philosophy between the Union and other clubs, or is this just the way things happened in this particular offseason?
I think that's probably just the way it turned out this year. We recognize that there's a significant market in Central and South America. Right now, given the financial challenges of the world out there, it is a good time to pick up some high-value talent at a good price.
We happen to have strong relationships with them and we take advantage of them. We have strong relationships in Europe, too, but I think there's a lot of really exciting talent down there [in Central and South American] from an offensive, attacking standpoint.
How important is Diego Gutierrez in that?
He's a key cog to it. The reason Peter and I brought him in here was specifically the identification and acquisition of those types of players. And that's not to say there aren't terrific players in Europe – there are, of course. But we needed offense, we needed power up front, and those are the pieces that the guys felt we needed. So we think there's a lot down there.