Saturday, April 13, 2024

Be realistic about goals


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A word of caution is going out to Caribbean football administrators contemplating the establishment of a professional league.

It is coming from Nick Sakiewicz, founder, chief executive officer and operating partner of United States Major League Soccer (MLS) club Philadelphia Union.

He is among the more than 1 000 decision-makers assembling in Barbados for next week’s Soccerex Americas Forum at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

As one who has been involved with the MLS since its inception almost 20 years ago and the head of different American clubs, Sakiewicz brings a wealth of experience that puts him in a position to offer advice on the challenges on running a pro league.

His simple recommendations were to be realistic about the expectations and to ensure there was adequate funding.

“As one of the biggest economies in the world and even in that environment, it’s been a big challenge,” Sakiewicz told WEEKENDSPORT.

“We continue to have challenges growing the sport but we have a lot of wind in our sail with the demographic that is growing and flourishing in the American soccer fan and the diverse ethnic population in the United States.”

The idea of a professional football league in the Caribbean has been mooted for some time.

In recent times, the push has intensified with the establishment of a special CONCACAF Task Force to look into formation of a Caribbean Premier League.

“My only advice in the start-up of a Caribbean league is to be very pragmatic and fiscally sound, make sure you build it to last. Long-term thinking is better than just to get a league up and running. There are a lot of things that go into it,” Sakiewicz said.

“We in the MLS have learnt a lot in the 20 years of operations and you would be wise to pick the brains of a lot of the people who have made the mistakes and have also had success.

“There have been a lot of things we have done right over the years and things that we probably would have done differently along the way but I’d encourage whoever is establishing a Caribbean league to take advantage of those people in charge.”

Among the other prominent names who w ill be at the two-day Soccerex Americas Forum are former England and Manchester United captain Bryan Robson, MLS commissioner Don Garber, CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, MLS medical coordinator John Gallucci, FIFA and CONCACAF ExCo member Sonia Bien-Aime, Relevent Sports chief executive officer Charlie Stillitano, New York Red Bulls head physician Dr Riley Williams, and Orlando City founder and president Phil Rawlins.

The forum, which takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday, has attracted leading football decision-makers in the Americas for an event that organisers say provides two days of unrivalled learning, networking and business opportunities with the aim of uniting the business of football in the Americas.

Sakiewicz said the forum also presented Barbados with an opportunity to show off its passion for football.

Prior to joining with a few others to form Philadelphia Union five years ago, Sakiewicz headed Tampa Bay and New York Metro Stars and teamed up with a small group of executives to form the MLS in 1996.

While the MLS does not have the quality and appeal of other major leagues around the world, Sakiewicz contends that it is now taken more seriously than any time before.

“I’ve seen the MLS grown from a fledgling league. There is no doubt that the quality of the football, the diversity of the international players in the league, the game atmosphere with so many different soccer stadia now in the league are amongst the best in the world,” he said.

“Depending on who you are and what your tastes are in football, MLS fits right in that range as one of the top ten or 15 leagues in terms of on-field quality, game environment, attendances and so on.

“I believe that over the next decade it is going to move up the ranks. Many of us believe that MLS will be one of the best leagues in the world, maybe in the top five.”

Sakiewicz also has great expectations for his own relatively young club, Philadelphia Union.

With our youth academy, we are investing a lot of money with youth development,” he said. “We’re excited about the future and the development of players in the Philadelphia region.”

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