For now, more questions than answers as news of professional soccer in the Lehigh Valley breaks. Here’s what we know, and what we’re asking:
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
I first heard the news yesterday, while debating the “best minor league cities” on Twitter. I thought I might be able to “break” some news, but a quick session with Mr. Google revealed that our friend Greg Joyce from Lehigh Valley Live had the news on Saturday. And, there was a follow-up and a Philly.com update. Today, the Morning Call got into the act.
The news is this: The Philadelphia Union of the MLS–the top level of soccer in the United States–will start a minor league, team controlled, support team in Bethlehem in 2016. They’ll play at Goodman Stadium on the campus of Lehigh University, and play in the USL, the top level of professional minor-league soccer in the United States. The USL season starts at the end of March, and continues for 31 or so games (14-16 home dates) through mid-to-late September. They play mostly on Saturdays and Sundays, with the occasional Wednesday game thrown in over the summer. Usually, just one game per week (home or away) unless the Wednesday is added in. Some exhibitions, or “friendlies” are usually in there, too.
The Union currently has a USL affiliate in Harrisburg, the “City Islanders” who are looking to build a new waterfront stadium. There are “PDL” (Development League) teams in Allentown (the LVU FCSonic) and Reading (Reading United AC). The Reading team has an affiliation with the Philadelphia Union.
I’m sure we’ll get some answers to the following questions at tomorrow’s news conference at Lehigh (the University, not the region shortened by laziness). But for now, here are my questions:
- Is the Lehigh home permanent? We know that the Union want full control of the player development, coaching and all factors therein. That’s part of their reasoning to start their own USL team rather than just continue with the Harrisburg affiliation. But, will they be happy at Lehigh permanently? Do they view the new “Bethlehem Union” as a business such as the IronPigs and Phantoms, or is it more for the team’s benefit, and they just want the easiest thing (more like a team-season-long equivalent of the Eagles holding training camp at Lehigh)? The answer to this question will likely answer my next two questions.
- Will the soccer team be happy with Lehigh? While all seemed hunky-dory with the SteelHawks at Lehigh and Stabler Arena, it was not always so: Changes to the parking situations and sub-par food and drink offerings were brewing behind the scenes at the antiquated facility. I’ve not been to Goodman, but I’ve got to wonder if this is the “end game” or just the “starting point.”
- Will the fans be happy with soccer at Goodman? I suppose if the facility can handle Lehigh Football it can handle the crowds the soccer team will bring. But, will fans who are used to the comfort and amenities of Coca Cola Park and the PPL Center Arena be comfortable enough to purchase season tickets and come back again and again for soccer? I think this question applies to both the “hard core” soccer fans as well as “casual fans” just as we’ve discussed with minor league baseball and AHL hockey at the new arena.
- Will they be any good? It’s hard to say. The Union hasn’t been the strongest MLS team to date, but if they’re serious about building, then there should be some quality players about. Harrisburg, the current USL affiliate, has been a Championship finalist in 2011 and 2014. At this point, I’m at least as optimistic as I am about the IronPigs or Phantoms ever winning a championship, and maybe a little less confident than I am with the SteelHawks.
- What will happen in Harrisburg? If you read the above link, the team is trying to get investment (read: state money) to help fund their riverside project. What will happen to that team and that plan with this news? It doesn’t impact us directly in the Lehigh Valley, I guess, but…
- What about a riverside stadium in Allentown?!? Once you’ve seen the renderings at the Harrisburg site, get a gander at the riverside facility in Pittsburgh. Highmark Stadium is the home the the USL (same league, hint hint) Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Much of the riverside property in Allentown is in the “improvement zone” which saw the construction of the arena, as well as so many other buildings and plans. It’s not out of the question, you know. If the “Lehigh Valley Union” are to be run as a business, they’ll likely explore this option.
- During the time they play, will they get Goodman all lined out for soccer exclusively? Or, will football markings continue for spring practices and whatnot? I suppose, even if they were to build a soccer facility in Allentown, along the river, in the “Improvement Zone” for tax and funding advantages, that it would remain “multi-purpose” and could be used for field hockey and lacrosse and concerts–so the purity of a soccer-only field is probably something in my dreams. For the record, I prefer a natural pitch to an artificial one–as if I get a say.
- What will the team name be? Bethlehem Union? Lehigh Valley Union? The latter seems too close to the current Lehigh Valley United. Will they reincarnate the “Bethlehem Steel FC” moniker of yesteryear?
- What will happen to the Sonic and the Reading Team? These PDL teams will likely remain in place, playing their home games at High Schools as they currently do (LVU at Whitehall and Reading at Exeter). But, I’m interested to see how Lehigh Valley United youth soccer gets involved with this, and will it be at the expense of the other local youth soccer clubs?
- Will the expensive concessions follow the Union? Many of us have made the trip to Chester to see the Union at PPL Park–a soccer-only facility right on the river (sound familiar?). The one thing nobody liked about it? The $9 hot dogs. Seriously, the food and drink at that place are priced through the roof. Let’s not let that follow them North to Bethlehem.
- What will ticket prices be? In Harrisburg, a USL game costs just under $10 per game with a VIP-Reserved season ticket, and single game around $12 for non-reserved seating. In Pittsburgh, season tickets on the midfield stripe will run you about $17 per for 14 home matches, but a GA ticket on a season-ticket basis is more like $7. For a single game in Pittsburgh, you’re likely to pay $13-$25 depending on where you sit and how much Ticketmaster adds. I’d estimate somewhere in between for the new Lehigh Valley Soccer Club.
See you at the football stadium,
Categories: Kram's Korner - From the Club Level