Photo: Mike Servedio
The second annual Supporter’s Summit was held at PPL Park on Thursday night. John Hackworth, Rob Vartughian, Nick Sakiewicz, Gabriel Farfan and Chris Albright made up the panel that faced questions about PPL Park, playing under John Hackworth vs. Peter Nowak, scouting 11-year-olds, visiting fans, bringing beverages into the stadium, and even the day’s news of the trade of Lionard Pajoy for Danny Cruz.
The panel first took questions that were submitted in advance before opening up the mic to those in attendance. I recorded the session, but with everything going through the PA and the sound bouncing around an empty stadium, not to mention jets flying overhead, the recording has more echo than I’d like. So I’ve quoted where I can and otherwise paraphrased what was said.
There were no huge revelations in the two hour session, but the 100 or so fans who did turn up were treated to a rare open forum with the coach and management of a professional sports team, fact that many of them didn’t take for granted and thanked the panel for their time.
On the Pajoy – Cruz trade
Hackworth: “I can’t thank Lio enough for his contributions….He’s been a class act every step of the way…It was a tough decision. But when we look at these opportunities when they come up, Danny Cruz is 22 years old. He’s 22 years old with a lot of the same skills that Lio possesses…Long term this is something we’re going to benefit from.” Hackworth would later say that Danny Cruz would definitely be available on Sunday to face his former team. He also mentioned that the trade came together very quickly, and even as of Wednesday it wasn’t final.
One of the more interesting notes that came up during the discussion on parking was Nick Sakiewicz saying that Lot B is zoned to be part of a mixed use commercial development in the future. He pointed to the lousy economy as a reason why the project hasn’t been started yet. He also said that Lot A would eventually be paved.
On visiting fans
A few people complained about the way the stadium is divided when there are away fans in section 133. There is apparently a lack of amenities, including a women’s bathroom and access to some of the better beer selection, without having to walk half way around the stadium. Sackewiecz said they would look for a solution. He also talked about being disappointed with the way the league requires teams to hold 500 tickets for visiting fans and that very few teams bring anything close to that many to PPL Park. Noting that the Union leads the league in percentage of capacity used, Hackworth said that the biggest problem for the club is having tickets available for those who aren’t season ticket holders.
On stadium expansion
Sakiweicz explained that while the season has not gone as hoped on the field, off the field the team is “doing very well,” implying that stadium expansion might be financially feasible. He then explained the locations around the stadium that could be expanded on, including adding more suites and a possible second tier above the stadium club on the Land End. He went on to say that while it is possible to ad a second level above the River End, he has heard from the fans that they like it the way it is. He didn’t rule out an expansion of the River End involving a possible beer garden or party deck.
On the tax issue with Chester
Sakiewicz says, “What we are going through with the city is a sign of the times,” referring to the downturn in the economy. He did claim that no matter what, any additional costs might be required of the team from ticket and parking taxes would not be passed on to the fans.
On the interim tag of John Hackworth
Sakiewicz says, “I don’t really want to address the interim thing. But I’ll tell you this: I have a coach. He’s terrific. He’s been with us since day one. I’m not interviewing and I’m not accepting resumes. I’ll leave it at that.”
On the difference between playing for Hackworth or Nowak
Before anyone could even answer this question, Garfan and Albright literally laughed out loud. Both players stressed that the communication is much better under Hackworth. They talked about knowing where they stand within the team and the overall preparedness over the course of the week and then on game day.
There were a bunch of other fun moments/interesting quotes/and random facts as well.
- On the trade process: “It starts with the coach and it ends with the coach.” — Sakiewicz
- “We believe our future players will come out of our Academy system.” — Sakiewicz
- On firing Nowak, Sakiewicz said, “The decision was made quickly and at the right time.”
- On another signing before close of the international transfer window, “We have a full compliment of foreign players right now. We’re focused on the players we have right now. We love the locker room we have right now.” — Hackworth
- A young fan asked Hackworth if the team was scouting players as young as him (age 11) and admitted that his club team had taken down a few Union Academy teams. Hackworth asked where he played and assured him he’d have someone check out his team.
- There’s no real plan to allow even unopened bottles of water, but fans can ask for a cup of ice water from any concession stand for free.
- Many of the fans who asked a question piled on praise for the improvement in the team under John Hackworth and expressed the hope that he would be given the coaching position on a permanent basis. A comment that the night was turning into a Hackworth love fest drew a big laugh from both the audience and the panel.
- The first question that came from the audience basically asked why Freddy Adu was not playing up to his potential, with the questioner admitting that his section booed the winger whenever he takes corner kicks in front of Section 119.