The local soccer and sports community got a kick out of the Philadelphia area's being awarded a Major League Soccer franchise yesterday.
"This is huge," said David MacWilliams, men's head soccer coach at Temple, adding, "And it's about time."
MacWilliams, who played for the Philadelphia Fury and the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the old North American Soccer League and who coaches youth soccer, has visions of thousands of youngsters streaming into the proposed new stadium in Chester to catch the soccer fever.
"Once it's in your blood, it stays in your blood," he said.
At Villanova, men's soccer coach Tom Carlin is also excited that fans will be able to see some of the best soccer players in the game up close. But Carlin, who grew up in the area, says he does not expect the as yet unnamed soccer franchise to threaten the Eagles' popularity any time soon.
"You listen to 610 [WIP], and I don't hear anybody talking about soccer," he said.
Indeed, one common sentiment among sports executives around town is that to survive, let alone thrive, the new soccer team will need to muscle its way into the sports pages and sportscasts to command its share of fans. That could be no easy task in a city that already boasts its share of pro teams: the Eagles, the Phillies, the 76ers, the Flyers, the Phantoms, the Wings, the Soul and an indoor soccer team, the Kixx.
"It's tough to get the attention of the media and therefore the public," said Kixx president Jeff Rotwitt. "The novelty of their arrival will create enough publicity early on. The real issue will be the second year and the third year. What will they have to do to sustain the hoopla?"
That said, Rotwitt said he and the Kixx welcome Major League Soccer to Philadelphia.
"We're excited," he said. "It strengthens the soccer community. To date, we've been carrying the banner high but alone."
Another local sports executive who says there is enough room, in theory at least, for the new team to carve its niche is Peter Luukko, president of Comcast-Spectacor, parent company of the Flyers and the 76ers.
"We certainly have the population base to add another team," Luukko said. "That said, when you are the fourth player, it will take hard work."
Part of that hard work, he said, will be tapping into the financial mother's milk of corporate partnerships and sponsorships.
"Philadelphia doesn't have a lot of corporate headquarters, so you can't pick four or five corporate partners, you need 100," Luukko said. "From that standpoint, they'll need to do what the rest of us do."
MacWilliams and Carlin, the two college soccer coaches, will leave those concerns to the executives and owners of Philadelphia's newest sports franchise. They are much more concerned about the action on the pitch, and MacWilliams says he thinks other fans will be, too.
"The timing is great, especially with the attention David Beckham has brought to soccer and the MLS," he said.