Lehigh Valley to Get New Professional United Soccer League Team
By Colin McEvoy on August 20, 2015
The Lehigh Valley is considered one of the founding communities for soccer in the United States. The famed Bethlehem Steel F.C. team, which dissolved 85 years ago, was one of the most successful early American soccer clubs, capturing five Lamar Hunt U.S. open Cup titles from 1915 to 1926.
Now, professional soccer is coming back to the region. The United Soccer League (USL) has announced that its 27th franchise has been awarded to the Lehigh Valley. The team will be owned and operated by Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union, and will play at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium.
“Words can’t describe how excited we are to be making this historic announcement. This is real history,” Nick Sakiewicz, Philadelphia Union’s CEO and operating partner, said to a crowd of more than 100 people at the Goodman Stadium on Aug. 19.
“It’s all about investing into this community, and we want to let everyone know that we are deeply committed to running this team in a first-class, professional manner, as we have done with the Philadelphia Union from day one,” he said.
The team will play starting in the 2016 season, with home games held at the 16,000-seat stadium, which is currently home to Lehigh’s college football team and was the training camp home of the Philadelphia Eagles. Additional details about the club will be announced at a later date, including the team’s name, crest and colors.
The USL team is one of several new professional sports teams to be established in the Lehigh Valley in recent years. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the minor league hockey affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, held its inaugural season last year, and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have enjoyed annual crowds of more than 600,000 each season since its formation in 2008.
“The Philadelphia Union’s new soccer team will play a crucial role in raising the appeal of the Lehigh Valley, much like the IronPigs and Phantoms,” said Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC). “Every community needs quality of life assets that bring people together, create a sense of pride of place, and generate momentum around revitalization and economic and social growth.”
As part of its mission to market the economic assets of the Lehigh Valley, LVEDC helped provide information about the region to the Philadelphia Union as it was researching the possibility of bringing a team here.
“It’s an honor to return soccer to not only one of the most historic, but also vibrant and growing markets in the U.S.,” said USL CEO Alec Papadakis. “With sophisticated ownership and the passionate sports fans of the Lehigh Valley, this club has the formula for major achievements on and off the field.”
The name of the team will be determined by a fan vote contest, which will run from Sept. 8 to Sept. 30. Fans will choose from either one of four pre-selected names, or have the option to write-in their own name. Voting will occur on the Philadelphia Union and the Morning Call websites.
The establishment of a USL soccer team is yet another example of why the Lehigh Valley is a perfect fit for the millennial generation, who often seek cultural amenities in a region. A recent LVEDC study found the Lehigh Valley is a great place for millennials to work and live, as the region is rich with well-educated, well-paid residents from ages 18 to 34.
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