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USL releases home openers for 2018 season

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It’s been a busy few weeks for USL with the introduction of several new clubs, and now with the arrival of the 2018 season just a few months away we can finally dissect some of the schedule.

The league released a portion of its schedule on Friday ahead of the upcoming season, which will feature six new clubs.

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Atlanta United 2, Fresno FC, Indy Eleven, Las Vegas Lights FC, Nashville SC and North Carolina FC have all joined the second-tier division, while Orlando City B and the Rochester Rhinos have each taken a hiatus for the upcoming campaign.

Below is the full schedule of home openers for every USL team heading into the 2018 season.

Friday, March 16
Rio Grande Valley FC vs. Saint Louis FC
Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Portland Timbers 2

Saturday, March 17
Charleston Battery vs. FC Cincinnati
Charlotte Independence vs. Ottawa Fury FC
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. LA Galaxy II
Fresno FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Louisville City FC vs. Nashville SC
New York Red Bulls II vs. Toronto FC II
North Carolina FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
OKC Energy FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Orange County SC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Reno 1868 FC vs. Swope Park Rangers
Sacramento Republic FC vs. San Antonio FC

Sunday, March 18
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Richmond Kickers

Saturday, March 24
ATL UTD 2 vs. New York Red Bulls II
Las Vegas Lights FC vs. Reno 1868 FC
Nashville SC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Phoenix Rising FC vs. OKC Energy FC
Richmond Kickers vs. Indy Eleven
San Antonio FC vs. Saint Louis FC
Swope Park Rangers vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC

Saturday, March 31
Indy Eleven vs. FC Cincinnati
LA Galaxy II vs. San Antonio FC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds vs. Penn FC
Real Monarchs SLC vs. Portland Timbers 2
Saint Louis FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Toronto FC II vs. Ottawa Fury FC

Saturday, April 7
FC Cincinnati vs. Louisville City FC

Wednesday, April 18
Portland Timbers 2 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC

Saturday, April 21
Penn FC vs. Charleston Battery
Ottawa Fury FC vs. North Carolina FC

Report: Indy Eleven likely to join USL with NASL’s future in doubt

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As NASL awaits its ongoing court case against the U.S. Soccer Federation, the league’s uncertain future has many wondering if there will be a 2018 season.

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It seems as though one club isn’t taking any chances in the event that there isn’t, as Indy Eleven appears set to join USL ahead of the upcoming league year, per Soc Takes.

The report states that Indy Eleven will likely be introduced next week when USL comes out with its 2018 league schedule, and the addition of the club would bring the growing division up to 34.

The club has yet to comment on their future in NASL, or potentially USL.

Several other clubs have already joined USL ahead of the 2018 campaign, including future MLS side Nashville SC, Las Vegas Lights FC and Fresno FC.

As things stand, NASL would be down to six clubs entering their league season — assuming there is one. Two of those clubs, California United FC and San Diego 1904 FC, have yet to play an official match as they prepare to debut in 2018, while the New York Cosmos, Miami FC, Jacksonville Armada FC and Puerto Rico FC continue to anchor NASL as veterans of the league.

Veteran Dutch defender Braafheid cancels contract to come to U.S.

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Plenty of soccer players around the Europe are linked with vague moves to leagues in the United States and Canada, but it’s rare to see what happened on Wednesday.

FC Utrecht in the Netherlands announced that it had mutually terminated the contract of defender Edson Braafheid after Braafheid decided to “permanently move” to the U.S. with his American wife and kids.

“My family is very important to me, that has now been shown again during the holidays,” Braafheid said in a statement. “Together with my American wife and children, I permanently move to America and I want to take the time to come to a definitive decision about my football career. The feeling has been playing through my head for a long time. This, combined with the small number of minutes of play, made me decide to cancel my contract.”

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Braafheid came up as a professional with Utrecht and after a strong run at FC Twente, he earned a place in the Netherlands National Team as well as a move to Bayern Munich. But the German adventure didn’t pan out and Braafheid has bounced between clubs, struggling to find regular playing time for the past seven years.

It’s unclear which club he could go to, although one logical landing spot, at least on a trial basis, would be the Philadelphia Union, considering their technical director is Dutch-American Ernie Stewart.

But aside from the LA Galaxy, which are reported to be re-signing Ashley Cole, there probably aren’t many clubs looking at signing an aging left back to their roster for the upcoming season.

For Braafheid at least, he can consider himself one of the few to cancel his contract and journey to the unknown in the U.S.

PST survey results: Lower leagues, and that darned pyramid

Photo credit: Detroit City FC / Twitter: @DetroitCityFC
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The results of PST’s Big American Soccer Survey are in, and our staff will be walking through the results of thousands of votes in a series of posts this week.

We didn’t realize you could acronymize it to BASS, or else we would’ve done it sooner. Today’s BASS questions deal with lower leagues and pro/rel.

[ MORE: All Big American Soccer Survey posts ]

Before we get to the results of three intriguing questions regarding domestic soccer, let’s talk a bit about the mercurial nature of our blossoming-if-haphazard soccer country.

Do you want a team, or do you want a culture?

Those ideas aren’t mutually exclusive, but too often the expectation that starting one will ignite another turns out to be foolhardy.

We’re in the Wild West of American soccer right now, make no mistake about it, and the frontier is far from settled.

That’s unavoidable in a country so big, with travel costs so high, where the most established league is a whopping two decades old and support is far from traditional.

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American soccer tends to lean on its success stories, and understandably so. Portland, Seattle, and Kansas City are among myriad wonderful tales for a nascent culture.

But support is so much more than one set of fans, or players, or an owner. Look no further than Rochester, where an annual playoff team in a soccer specific stadium has suffered under the weight of unsatisfied MLS expectations.

Or San Francisco, a one-and-done champion of the NASL.

Or Austin, which failed to support a USL team but is emboldened at the idea of getting another city’s MLS team.

Or Dayton. Or Wilmington. San Antonio Scorpions. Atlanta Silverbacks.

(We’re going to conveniently leave out the teams dropped into a city by a league in order to battle for a market because this is America and we just need Borussia Butte competing for market share with Montana Monterrey United).

Each of these “failures” has a story, and we’re not naive enough to pretend each falls on one reason. Some American cities, accustomed to having the best example of any particular spot in their region via the NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL, simply won’t support a league which wouldn’t rate in the Top 20 — or way worse — on a global scale.

We like to blame leagues more than anyone which is insanely easy given the closed structure of every league and the highly-magnified nature of Major League Soccer as a torch holder. Sometimes it’s deserved (the handling of Columbus, the handling of Columbus, as well as the handling of Columbus). Other times, probably not.

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It would take a much longer post than this to figure it all out, and much brighter minds than mine. In fact, one of our biggest flaws as a soccer community is pretending to unveil a universal fix inside of one big lightbulb.

If we had to proffer some easy fixes, they would be this

chattanoogafc.com

— Support your local club. I don’t simply mean by buying tickets, though that certainly helps, but by allying with the cause of improving support in your area. It might seem odd to be a group of four friends starting a supporters’ group for your third- or fourth-tier club, but the team will love it and your enthusiasm just might make someone else come back for seconds. Believe us, we’ve heard the arguments about quality of play, etc., but at some point desire for the development of our culture starts at home. Look at Chattanooga (right), Detroit City (at top), and even Sacramento for this. Look at Columbus while it’s being tortured, too, and look it in the eye. Maybe MLS wouldn’t have given Columbus a market had the league started up today, but it did 20 years ago and we’re fairly sure the business isn’t hemorrhaging money and the fans haven’t quit on the idea of the Crew.

Detroit is really an incredible example, and it’s pertinent as MLS entertains expanding to the city with an organization which isn’t Detroit City FC. Full disclosure: I’ve run a club which has staged a derby with DCFC, and I’ve watched the Motor City outfit go from “Detroit should have a soccer team” to “I bet we could fund restoring a neighborhood stadium and sell it out” to defying critics about what’s possible for a fourth-tier (for now) club. And without as much first hand knowledge from this writer, Chattanooga’s growth predates DCFC’s story with some striking similarities. If either club’s ownership was unable to move forward, I have no doubt their fan bases would rally to keep the clubs alive.

— Support your local soccer-first organization, too. If there’s a group running a program in low-income areas or aiming to elevate the quality of youth soccer without demanding $4000 per player and the pipe dream of maybe being seen by FC Porto’s North American marketing director (then maybe look into whether they do good work with donations, or if the donations make sure the “technical director” has a nicer house).

So to the questions, which show an appetite for the game at all levels and a desire to move toward an open model. And again, this demands you support your local club, because the idea that Major League Soccer is going to ask its owners to risk their investment dipping into a lower tier is improbable. We’re not saying we wouldn’t love it. And we’re not saying we won’t keep asking for it. But change in American hierarchy, especially when it comes to big money, takes a lot of work and lobbying.

Yes, I realize I’ve glossed over the pro/rel part in one paragraph, but let’s be very, very real here: You entered this discussion with a very pointed opinion on promotion and relegation in America. The results of the survey say most of us want to see it, but I couldn’t convince supporters it’s a bad idea or detractors that it’s necessary. I will say this: It’d be great if leagues found a way to make it work despite the massive travel costs that would multiply a successful team’s path upward. With loads of respect for the idea and how successful the open pyramid is in other countries, few if any have to deal with the gigantic landscape of the US of A (let alone several Canadian teams as well).

According to our voters:

Whitecaps announce USL affiliation with expansion side Fresno FC

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The Vancouver Whitecaps will continue their stake in USL next season, but it won’t be with their current affiliate.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out with the Portland Timbers ]

The Western Conference side announced on Friday that it will bring a new affiliate into USL in 2018 as Fresno FC makes its debut in the Division II league.

In the wake of this decision by the Whitecaps, the club’s current USL side, Vancouver Whitecaps 2, won’t be returning to the league in the near future.

“First of all, we would like to thank every person who has worked tirelessly with Whitecaps FC 2 over the past three seasons,” said Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi. “With both the USL and Canadian soccer landscapes evolving, now is the right time to make this change for our club. We are delighted to be working with Fresno FC, where the USL will provide the opportunity for high-level competition that will benefit our first team in MLS in the future. We expect that the internal competition for playing time at Fresno FC will provide a tremendous and challenging environment for our top young players.”

The relationship between Vancouver and Fresno will operate similarly to the club’s former status with Whitecaps 2, which allows the senior team to send players down and sign them to MLS contracts when seen fit by the club.

Former MLS manager Frank Yallop serves as general manager for the new USL side, while Adam Smith has been named Fresno’s first head coach.