The Philadelphia Union might have to play the first home game in its existence at Lincoln Financial Field next year.
Union president Tom Veit confirmed a Washington Post report that the team has explored the option in case the 18,500-seat soccer stadium under construction on Chester's waterfront runs behind its completion date or the proposed opening date schedule from Major League Soccer does not accommodate the team's already tight construction deadline.
"Right now everything is running on schedule construction-wise, but we are on a real tight schedule and with MLS yet to announce opening day dates, we just want to make sure that we are covered," Veit told the Daily News. "If we have to open on a certain date that doesn't meet our deadlines then that is a problem, so we are just making sure we do our due diligence."
Home dates for the 2010 MLS season were scheduled to be announced yesterday, but the league is holding off to finalize issues with the Union and Toronto FC. Toronto is scheduled to undergo field renovation.
Veit noted that talks with Lincoln Financial Field officials have gone smoothly and they are willing to accommodate the team if need be.
Veit also confirmed the Post's report that the team explored playing at 52,000-seat Franklin Field on Penn's campus, but noted that the 68,594-seat Linc is a more suitable fit.
"The Eagles have been great," Veit said. "We know with the Gold Cup having played there and it being a possible venue for the World Cup, it would be the perfect place for us to start the season. If it does have to be a possibility, they are ready to accommodate us."
Said Don Smolenski, the Eagles' chief financial officer, "We have had conversations and we welcome the opportunity to be helpful to Philadelphia Union in anyway we can."
MLS will open its 30-game regular season with a single game between two teams yet to be announnced on Thursday, March 25, the league said this week. Home openers for all clubs will be released next week, and the complete MLS schedule will be released in early 2010. The league also will break during the group stages of the 2010 World Cup beginning June 11. The regular season ends Oct. 24.
With the addition of the Union, the league has 16 teams, divided into two eight-team conferences. Each team will play every opponent at home and away.
The stadium issue also could impact the Independence, an expansion team in Women's Professional Soccer that will share the Chester facility.
Independence owner David Halstead said he is "aware of the situation" and noted he has also taken the necessary steps to seek out alternatives. The WPS season starts in March. The Independence has been in contact with Widener, West Chester and Villanova as possible venues, but Halstead said discussions are in the preliminary stages.
"We are in touch with our partners on the Union side, we are extremely excited to play in Chester and ultimately that will be our home," Halstead said. "However our season begins and ends earlier than that of the typical MLS season so it is prudent on our part to explore other venue options."
Groundbreaking for the stadium was in December, but only a fraction of the facility has been completed.
"This would not be a great surprise in light of the complexities involved with a project of this scale," Chester Mayor Wendell Butler Jr. said of a potential alternate site for the openers. "We look forward to being the permanent home of the Philadelphia Union when the stadium is completed."