“Long may it continue” — Talking USL growth with Jake Edwards

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Jake Edwards sees the growth of the United Soccer League. He’s impressed, but far from sated.

The 41-year-old league president sounds more like a man focused on quality than quantity these days, though there’s little denying the USL’s rise beyond 30 teams is impressive.

In the battle to lay claim to markets, Edwards can’t help but note the strength of those markets as more important. Anyone can place a team in a city, or invite a group into a league, but fostering clubs that will endure? That’s a worthwhile target.

Edwards spoke with PST about that and more this week.

PST: Jake, let’s start with an outstanding week in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The USL has made no pretense about aiming to succeed in the tournament, so how did it feel to watch so many of your clubs win?

Jake Edwards: “It was a good week. We have nine clubs that have progressed to the fourth round. The U.S. Open Cup remains a very important part of the season calendar for our clubs. The last two non-MLS clubs to win the competition were the Rhinos and the Richmond Kickers, and Battery have been in the finals.

“The new clubs that have come into our league over the last year or two want to make their names and have a good run. It remains a vital part of this landscape. I sit on the committee, and the committee members and I discuss how to expand the awareness, perception, and value of this competition and there are some things that are being kicked around.”

PST: Surely there’s only so much you can say about those plans, but can you give us an idea of what you’d like to improve about the tournament?

Edwards: “One of the big things we need to address is the broadcast of the games and the exposure it gets. We have some at the very later stages of the competition, but we need to work that out in the earlier rounds. We had some challenges with the platform the federation used to showcase the games. We need to bring these games to a much wider audience.

“Another thing is we need to make sure we are playing those games in the right stadiums. The reward for a lower division team is to play a high division team in a big stadium. Perhaps they wouldn’t get that opportunity normally.”

PST: Let’s talk about USL3, the third division project you plan to launch in two summers. Your league hasn’t been shy about the project, sharing meetings on social media, and letting regions know what you’re doing in their town and when you’re there.

Edwards: “It’s important that we have people at the league office who are going across the countries, meeting with cities, with mayors, with investment groups in a number of communities we’ve identified and a number who’ve invited us there.  We’ve been working on this for the last 18 months, and we intend to launch the league in 2019. We’ll start to make announcements as we progress toward the fall this year. As a league and a group of clubs in the USL, we’ve strived hard to represent the game in the right way. I think people have seen that, and they believe they can also have a club in those communities that will be well supported. There’s no need to that behind closed doors.”

PST: Growth is important, I get that, but the benefits of growing in numbers are navigating the massive obstacle which is playing on such a gigantic continent.

Edwards: “I played in the UK for many years and you’re never that far from another club. It’s a much smaller country heavily populated with football clubs, but the major focus of our expansion push is to recognize the size and scale of North America and to understand as much as we are the world’s game, we have some inherent challenges and major ones are the landscape, the weather, and other sports that might drown you out.

“We’ve focused on the regionality and building those derb.y games. It’s been great to see this past year the amount of fans who can travel and support their teams away from home. We’ve seen that in Louisville, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, and between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, even Sacramento and L.A. that’s not that close. There are lots of markets at D-2 and D-3 level that can reduce our travel and costs.

“We’re working towards a three conference model and getting there within the next season or two to see the benefits of that regionality.”

PST: What’s the thing that isn’t being noted enough about USL, in your opinion? When you read an article, what leaps out as ‘Why aren’t they talking about this?’

Edwards: “The explosion of attendance and support that our clubs are getting in these communities. We’ve worked hard at the league levels to work with our clubs to engage the fan base, but what we’re seeing now is an engaged local ownership group at each of clubs who are making the requisite investment into those clubs. We’re seeing that pay dividends. We’re averaging about 6,000 fans a game, with a 30 percent increase in attendance, sponsorship, and engagement in our communities. We’ve had 1.5 million through our gates last year, and are on track to pass two million this year.

“Long may it continue, and I think it will with the new crop of team coming into our leagues in the next few years.”

PST: Obviously being with NBC we’re major fans of the Premier League. What’s your take on your hometown club?

Edwards: “I was born in Manchester, and I’ve always been on the red side of the city. I’m glad to see them back on track and into the Champions League next year. I was a lifelong supporter of the club. I used to go watch them in the 1980s when there were terraces. They were not as good as Liverpool in those days.

“I played against them a couple of times back in my playing days which was a big thrill for me. It’s nice to see them back where they belong. It’s funny enough when I was at Exeter City we played them in the FA Cup at Old Trafford, we drew 0-0 in 2005-06. (NBC Sports broadcasting wizard) Rebecca Lowe on NBC Sports, who does a great job, her husband Paul Buckle who’s now a head coach at Sacramento, he was my teammate at Exeter.”

Klopp reveals love for Anfield, Liverpool’s goal in victory

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With the Phillipe Coutinho situation compounded by shaky defensive displays, it hasn’t been too much fun for Liverpool fans recently.

Jurgen Klopp thanked Liverpool’s fans for delivering a fine atmosphere at Anfield to get a much-changed Liverpool side over the line against Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Mourinho – “Let horses run freely” ]

With a UEFA Champions League playoff second leg against Hoffenheim on Wednesday coming up, also at Anfield, Klopp rested five players for the game against Palace.

Frank De Boer‘s side had won on their last three visits to Anfield in the Premier League and although former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke missed a glorious chance went it was 0-0, Sadio Mane score the game-winner in a dogged Liverpool display.

There was no doubt who was the hero for Klopp: “Anfield helps a lot I think today it was the difference.”

Getting into more depth about his teams display, Klopp was pleased with the defensive display and Liverpool’s patience as well as lauding the scrappy nature of their game-winner as substitute Dominic Solanke made an impact and Mane pounced.

“It was a hard job to do,” Klopp admitted. “I have no idea how much we had the ball but it was a lot. We need to be creative and we had our moments in the first half and we knew we had to be a little more patient and we have to switch the sides again because they were quite deep and defended well but we had the moment and didn’t score, but didn’t give a lot of counter attacks away. Second half we adjusted a little bit and did it better.

“The first part of the second half was really good but how it is, we’ve had games like this, against Crystal Palace already, where one counter attack kills you. We were really awake, concentrated in these situations and defender well. Then you have to… I loved the goal, to be honest. We could have scored more but I love the goal because it wasn’t a clear situation, it was a counter-pressing situation. Dom [Solanke] is awake to get his foot in so Sadio can score the easy goal in the end. We had other chances where we could have scored more often. It was difficult but I am completely happy with how the boys did the job today.”

Sadio Mane popped up when Liverpool needed him and with the Coutinho saga rumbling on — Liverpool turned down a $145 million bid from Barcelona on Friday — Liverpool proved they can not only continue to create chances in attack without Coutinho but also proved they can defend better than they have been with defenders Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno and Trent Alexander-Arnold all rested on Saturday.

Klopp will need another balanced display this week to get Liverpool past Hoffenheim and into the UCL group stage, and he will need another lively atmosphere from the Anfield faithful to help get his team over the line.

Brace-bagging Chicharito soured by officiating at St. Mary’s

Adam Davy/ PA via AP
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West Ham United nearly pulled off a stunning comeback with 10 men, a late concession making Javier Hernandez’s two-goal day a little less sunny.

The ex-Manchester United man scored in both halves for his first scoring match day in the Premier League since 2014.

[ RECAP: Saints 3-2 West Ham ]

The first came after teammate Marko Arnautovic was sent off for an elbow, while Chicharito’s second marker was followed by Southampton earning its second penalty kick of the match when Pablo Zabaleta interfered with Maya Yoshida‘s attempted header in the box.

Hernandez was not pleased that the Hammers’ game effort down a man went for nothing on the table. From the BBC:

“When you are running most of the game with 10 men, the penalty decision is harsh. We spoke about Marko Arnautovic’s sending off, it is not completely a red card.

“It shows the character of this team that we do not give up. You have to look at the positives and to look forward. It is hard with 11 men but with 10 men it is even harder. I gained motivation and confidence and happy I scored two but the result is what stays in your head.”

Both goals were classic Chicharito, as the relentless Mexican striker was on the scene to beat his marker to two rebounds. West Ham now sits bottom of the Premier League table through two matches.

Burnley 0-1 West Brom: Robson-Kanu scores, sent-off in win

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  • Robson-Kanu scores, sent off
  • Burnley outshoots WBA 18-8
  • Baggies complete just 100 passes

Hal Robson-Kanu‘s late goal helped West Bromwich Albion to a bit of smash-and-grab at Turf Moor, where the Baggies beat Burnley 1-0 on Saturday to improve to 2-0 on the young season.

Robson-Kanu did his best Cristiano Ronaldo, scoring as a substitute and then getting a red card to doom his team to 10 men.

Tony Pulis almost out-did his stingy self, as West Brom completed 253 less passes than the hosts.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Burnley was better early, middle, and late, as Sam Vokes cued up Johann Berg Gudmundsson for a shot that fizzed just wide, and then Gudmundsson was stopped by Foster moments later.

Matt Phillips helped set the table for Robson-Kanu’s goal, winning a 50-50 ball into the path of the Welsh striker.

Robson-Kanu then bodied the ball around some poor Burnley defending and then beat Tom Heaton on a ball he normally manages to handle well.

The striker was then sent-off in the 83rd minute for an elbow to the head Matt Lowton.

 

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Bournemouth 0-2 Watford: Hornets sting late to nab win

Steven Paston/PA via AP
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  • Richarlison scores 1st Hornets goal
  • Capoue makes it 2-0
  • Hornets out-attempt AFCB 20-6

Two goals in the final quarter-hour, one from new signing Richarlison, helped Watford to a 2-0 win over hosts Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday.

Etienne Capoue scored Watford’s second goal with an 86th minute marker.

Bournemouth is one of four clubs so far to start with zero points through two matches. Watford has four points, ahead of Liverpool and Southampton on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Watford’s Tom Cleverley had a chance early that Nathan Ake blocked, and then Benik Afobe‘s in-tight finish was blocked by a sliding Miguel Britos.

Andre Gray burst down the right of the box to cut left for Richarlison, and the Brazilian collected a second chance while prone to make it 1-0 to the Hornets.

Capoue made it 2-0 with a low rocket in the 86th minute, giving Marco Silva‘s men insurance after collecting Steve Cook‘s softly headed clearing attempt.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]