Union's support impresses league's head

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Sounders' John Kennedy Hurtado lands on the Union's Sebastien Le Toux, left, as he tries to head the ball. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

SEATTLE - The Union made their Major League Soccer debut last night in Seattle, and MLS commissioner Don Garber is impressed with the impact the first-year franchise has made.

More than 10,000 season tickets have been sold for the 18,500-seat PPL Park in Chester, and the Union are cutting off sales at 12,000. Garber said the team had made great gains not only with soccer fans but with the business community.

"With a recession, who thought they would have a naming-rights deal and pull together some of their commercial partnerships?" Garber said before last night's game against the Sounders FC at Qwest Field. "What Philadelphia has done is a good story - not just for MLS, but for sports in general."

Garber said Philadelphia had long been a desired location for an MLS franchise.

"Major League Soccer wanted a club in Philadelphia since it started, and it has taken 15 years to be able to get to this point," he said. "They have an ownership group and management that is very focused, and they understand the business and have a lot of experience."

One of Garber's goals is to boost the league's television ratings, and he said he believed a team in Philadelphia would help.

"Philadelphia is the fourth-largest market in the country, and we weren't in that market, and it's hard when you can't have those people connect with a club to drive TV ratings and add excitement," Garber said.

He said he was not surprised by the support the Union had received.

"Philadelphia is a sports market, and people love their teams in that community, and it's also a soccer market," Garber said. "It is one of the birthplaces of the sport in our country, and when you connect the dots with all those things, we think that it will lead to success."

 

Homecoming

Union forward Danny Mwanga, the No. 1 pick in the MLS SuperDraft, had a big cheering section. The 18-year-old played at Oregon State, which he said is about a three-hour ride from Seattle.

"This is like a dream come true," Mwanga said Wednesday. "I always wanted to play professional soccer."

He started at midfield.

 

Local ties

Sounders midfielder Stephen King, a two-time Inquirer South Jersey player of the year from Shawnee High, was not active for the game. King played 10 games last year for Seattle, starting three.

"It's tough, but you just have to keep working," King said.

Sounders rookie Michael Seamon, a forward from Villanova, has not joined the team because he is finishing school, team officials said.

Seamon was the 27th selection in the MLS SuperDraft.

 

Exciting time

Union chief executive/operating partner Nick Sakiewicz was emotional when talking before the game about the Union's first match.

"The feeling is hard to put into words, but I feel very lucky to be here and I'm inspired by our fans and players," Sakiewicz said in a statement released by the team. "I feel humbled and never thought our organization would make such an impact on the community in Philadelphia that loves this game."

 

No Fred

When they signed Fred, the Union expected the midfielder to be a big part of their team, although they realized they would start without him.

After receiving a red card in his regular-season finale last year while playing for D.C. United, Fred was suspended for one game.

That meant he had to sit out last night.

"It's a little bit different of a plan and approach without him," Union team manager Peter Nowak said Wednesday. "We miss him, but you have to move on."

Fred is eligible to return April 10 for the Union's next game, against D.C. United, at Lincoln Financial Field.

 


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.