Joel Lindpere’s left arm is inscribed with the tattoo “Believe in Destiny." Lindpere got the ink last year, but it somehow seems fitting that the New York midfielder chose those poignant words, especially given where the first-place Red Bulls are right now.
There have been times, however, where fans of the franchise struggled to believe and hope that Red Bull Arena would ever happen. But destiny, in the form of a beautiful 25,000-seat stadium, is more than just a belief. It's here.
And here, too, is Nick Sakiewicz.
Sakiewicz returns to New Jersey on Saturday, nearly five years after he left his post as New York general manager during the franchise’s most successful run to date. The club reached the playoffs five out of six seasons during his tenure from 2000 to 2005, and played host to the MLS heyday of Clint Mathis and U.S. National Team star Tim Howard.
But gone now are the red-and-black colors of the MetroStars lapel pin he always wore on his suit jacket, replaced with the insignia of the Philadelphia Union. He’s the CEO of an expansion team that will soon move into its own soccer-specific stadium, and he carries a full set of emotions when it comes to talk about the Red Bulls’ new stadium he fought so hard for during his days in New York
“My deep satisfaction is that we accomplished something great together for the people and soccer fans of the area,” Sakiewicz said about his return to Harrison this weekend, where the Red Bulls host Philadelphia Saturday afternoon. “That is what I'm most proud of, and no matter what anyone says, they can never take that away. Together, we ultimately won because we had the burning desire to get it done, despite all the people that criticized and tried to destroy the project along the way.”
Sakiewicz worked as an executive with sports entertainment giant AEG after his stint with New York, but he was pulled back into soccer with Philadelphia. Alongside principal owner Jay Sugarman, Sakiewicz said he was largely responsible for a number of fundamental issues for the Union franchise, including the finalization of the expansion agreement for the team with MLS.
But so much of his past is inevitably linked to the New York/New Jersey market, where he plowed through a series of roadblocks to lay the groundwork for Red Bull Arena.
The burst of the technology bubble. The economic and political chaos of 9/11. Three New Jersey governors. And frequent sparring with state government officials reluctant to see the team move out of Giants Stadium.
But Sakiewicz didn’t get out New York scot-free. There’s a fair bit of online criticism skewering his unrealistic goal of opening the stadium in 2001, which was bumped back year by year until his infamous “60-90 days” claim planted New York soccer fans in Giants Stadium purgatory for nearly a decade.
But few can argue Sakiewicz wasn’t there from the beginning, and his arrival in Harrison on Saturday provides much more than validation to his critics.
New York soccer doesn’t need Sakiewicz. The Red Bulls still thunder along even as he sticks a shiny Philadelphia Union pin to his suit, or while he helps shape a young franchise into the rival of the club he once adored. It’s business as usual for both.
But the stadium? That’s something more. Perhaps that was his destiny all along.
“All those people have moved on in some form and fashion, but I’m still here standing,” Sakiewicz said. “Funny how life is.”