Standing on a rooftop overlooking the site of the Philadelphia Union's future stadium, I couldn't help but see the pieces being put into place for a club that should help revitalize soccer on the East Coast.
As cranes lowered ten-ton cement blocks into place to piece together the Union's stadium, you could stand inside the unfinished building and see the vision. The seats in place, the Sons of Ben filling the East section of the stadium, the capacity crowd's roars echoing from the banks of the Delaware River.
There is reason for optimism not just because of a stadium, but because of what sounds by all accounts to be a clear vision of the future. From fan relations, to youth player academy programs, to the presence of an MLS Cup-winning coach in Peter Nowak, the Union could very well be poised to hit the ground running much the same way the Seattle Sounders.
Of course, the Union still don't have a single player yet, and but when you pay a visit to Chester, and see the stadium being built, and you look at the excitement in Peter Nowak's face when he talks about the team's future, it is easy to believe.
It isn't just Philadelphia that stands to gain. D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls are getting ready to add the kind of rival that can only serve to motivate them. With D.C. United struggling to secure a stadium as well as struggling to reach the playoffs, and with the Red Bulls struggling to get anything right aside from the building of its beautiful Red Bull Arena, Philadelphia just might offer the type of motivation to help D.C. and the Red Bulls reach new heights.
It might seem early to talk about Philadelphia, but the countdown is on. The Union's debut in Seattle is just four months away and the vision club officials have for the team is an exciting one, and if Philadelphia comes close to realizing that vision, MLS will be a better league for it.
Now, onto some Friday Free Kicks:
The quest to fill vacant head coaching positions is underway for several MLS teams and don't be surprised if D.C. United is the first of the clubs to fill its position. Who is leading the race for that job? There have been plenty of names mentioned, but it is tough to imagine D.C. hiring anybody but Richie Williams or Curt Onalfo.
Is there really a chance that Williams could make the jump from New York to take the D.C. job? Absolutely, especially if New York drags its feet much longer in hiring a general manager (a hire the club wants to make before choosing a head coach). Teams such as D.C., Toronto FC and Kansas City will be looking to fill their coaching vacancies sooner rather than later with the MLS Expansion Draft looming, and preparation for the upcoming MLS Draft a priority. If the Red Bulls don't act fast on hiring their front office, they could find that several top coaching candidates are off the market.
Chad Marshall won his second straight MLS Defender of the Year award earlier this week and while he was a no-brainer selection in 2008, his selection this year was a bit puzzling. Yes, he's one of the most dominating defenders in the league, but this year he simply missed too much playing time. He played in just 18 games this season, and wasn't in the lineup late in the season as he recovered from an injury. There were other defenders whose bodies of works this season were simply better. Geoff Cameron and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado each played in at least eight more matches than Marshall and were just as vital to their teams' defenses as Marshall was to the Crew's. Voters dropped the ball on this one.
SBI will name its MLS coach of the year, MVP and Best XI next week but one award we will give our pick for is MLS Comeback Player of the Year. Our vote goes to D.C. United captain Ben Olsen, who made a courageous comeback from career-threatening ankle injuries. Chivas USA goalkeeper Zach Thornton did a good job to go from back-up to MLS goalkeeper of the year, but coming back from mediocrity isn't quite the same as coming back when there was a chance your career was over, which is what Olsen did.
Red Bull Arena moved a step closer to completion, with its roof being completed today as the last of 94 roof panels was installed.
The 25,000-seat stadium is expected to be completed in mid-December. The Red Bulls will make their debut at the stadium on March 27th against the Chicago Fire.
Some bad news for SBI Readers: The long-anticipated Edgar Castillo edition of The SBI Questions has been put off indefinitely. There's still a possibility it will be done before the end of the year, but we weren't able to get it done now. SBI is working hard to line up some new interview subjects and we plan to have the series back very soon.
That's all for now. What do you think of the Philadelphia Union's impending arrival? Think the Union will be a hit right from the start? Looking forward to the rivalries that will be born? Agree that Chad Marshall shouldn't have won MLS defender of the year, or did he get your vote? Counting the days until Red Bull Arena opens?
Share your thoughts below.