On Wednesday, August 19, Nick Sakiewwicz, the Philadelphia Union’s CEO and operating partner, met with Lehigh University President John Simon and United Soccer Leagues CEO Alec Papadakis to announce the usage of the Lehigh Valley as the location for a USL expansion club and Philadelphia Union owned affiliate.
By organizing this team owned affiliate, the Union are ceasing relations with current minor league club Harrisburg City Islanders after five years in order to be a bigger influence on player development and strategy.
This is what Sakiewicz said after the official announcement:
“This was a decision that we carefully studied and analyzed all possible options. In the end, we’ve chosen an extraordinarily great soccer community in the Lehigh Valley that is underserved for professional soccer.
I want to thank the Harrisburg City Islanders for being such amazing partners for the last six seasons. It’s going to be exciting to play each other as rivals.”
The Lehigh Valley holds sentimental and historical value to local soccer fans ever since the area was tagged as being a leader in bringing forth the new age of soccer in the U.S. with commemorations going out to Bethlehem Steel FC which won a total of 22 titles from 1913 to 1929.
The new club will play at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium –the current home of the college football team – but will lease the venue on a year-to-year basis as they continue to search for a soccer specific stadium. However, the new club will practice with Philadelphia Union at PPL Park.
The Union are now able to be a key part of the club’s coaching which helps create players to fit right in to the Union’s very complex jigsaw puzzle of players. This shows commitment to the long term development of the Union organization as they look to expand as a club.
The Harrisburg City Islanders was once home to midfielders Antoine Hoppenot and Jimmy McLaughlin along with current starting defenseman Richie Marquez.
While in the USL, Marquez led the Islanders to the USL Pro Championship game. He also led the entire minor league in minutes played with an astonishing 2,520 by playing the full 90 in 28 games. This year, Marquez has played 13 games for the Union while starting in 12 and has gathered 1,134 minutes of playing time while picking up a red card in the midst. Marquez is living proof as to how important of a moment this is for the future of Philadelphia soccer. The Union is now the ninth MLS team to open its own USL affiliate.
The Union will hold an online fan vote to choose both the club’s name and colors in September.
Watch the entire Union press conference right here: