North American Soccer League

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NASL launches new suit against U.S. Soccer board

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The North American Soccer League continues to decry corruption from the United States Soccer Federation, putting more pressure on the federation’s establishment ahead of a massive presidential election next week.

The NASL announced a lawsuit against the USSF board members on Tuesday in a blazing 69-page document, accusing the board of a “breach of the directors’ fiduciary duties to the USSF’s members.” It flies in similar circles as Hope Solo’s brazen weekend complaint.

The lawsuit also demands that U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, MLS commissioner Don Garber, and “any additional Defendants identified during fact discovery” cannot be reimbursed by the USSF for damages or defense costs.

Saying the directors “have abused their positions as governors and stewards” for the development of soccer in the U.S. by protecting the interests of Major League Soccer, the United Soccer League, and Soccer United Marketing.

The league also asserts that the USSF board has consistently interfered with the NASL’s business practices, allowing the USL to operate as a D-II league under a plan to one day reach a D-II standard while refusing the same to NASL.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson’s cheeky Bremen goal ]

It also claims that the vote on divisional sanctioning had a “preordained” result and hurriedly organized by Gulati without proper information for the board members and without all members at the meeting.

The suit tears into the much-maligned MLS-SUM relationship.

“Notably, the Board has allowed SUM to use the USSF’s most valuable assets — rights in the FIFA World Cup and U.S. national teams’ television broadcasts and ticket sales — to enrich and empower MLS to the competitive disadvantage of rival leagues, as well as depriving other USSF member groups of potential funding.”

All but one board member, John Paul Motta, was named in the suit: Gulati, Garber, presidential candidate Carlos Cordeiro, and USMNT legend Carlos Bocanegra are the names most know, while Stephen Malik, John Collins, Donna Shalala, Valerie Ackerman, Daniel Flynn, Lisa Carnoy, Richard Moeller, Jesse Harrell, Timothy Turney, Christopher Ahrens, and Angela Hucles are less familiar.

Exhale.

The league, which had stood as U.S. Soccer’s lone second-tier organization for some time, has been battling the USSF since the federation took away its Division II status.

What’s wild about the entire ordeal is that the public’s interest has certainly paid extra attention to the NASL’s concerns since Bruce Arena and the USMNT bombed out of World Cup qualifying. The federation has little momentum — but plenty of influence and money — to fight back, and relatively small stories like complaints about the bizarre and unorthodox MLS transfer system have become big anchors for those seeking change in the federation (In this vein, we imagine Gulati and the federation might be agreeing with Geoff Cameron’s vibes right about now).

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.

Timbers make it official: Savarese is the new boss

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The Portland Timbers have made it official, announcing the hiring of New York Cosmos architect Giovanni Savarese as the successor to Caleb Porter.

Savarese, 46, led the Cosmos to three NASL Championship Games in his first run as a manager, following a playing career that included stops at Millwall, NY/NJ MetroStars, and Swansea City. He attended Long Island University, and was capped 30 times with 10 goals for Venezuela.

[ BLANC: I turned down USMNT talks ]

He’s an intriguing hire for Portland, who won an MLS Cup but suffered from inconsistency under the highly-regarded Porter (twice missing the playoffs but twice earning the West’s No. 1 seed). While the Cosmos regularly spent well, Savarese navigated the uncertain waters of a nascent league with regular success.

From Timbers.com:

“I am both excited and proud to become the head coach of the Portland Timbers, and this is an ideal fit and outstanding opportunity for me as I take the next step in my coaching career,” Savarese said. “The passion, ambition and support surrounding this club is truly inspiring, and I am sincerely honored and grateful for this opportunity to lead it on the pitch and to build on the club’s history of success for the community and the incredible supporters of the Portland Timbers.”

The hiring has been rumored for some time. Though Savarese was loyal to the Cosmos, the NASL’s future has been hung in the hands of the legal system for some time due to a bold lawsuit against U.S. Soccer Federation. The NASL contends that the relationships between the USSF, Soccer United Marketing, United Soccer League, and Major League Soccer have conspired to stop the NASL from competing with MLS as a D-1 league.

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.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. preview ]

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.

[ MORE: All #SaveTheCrew news ]

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:

SF Deltas: One year, one championship, one-and-done

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The San Francisco Deltas did work in its first season in the NASL, and will leave the soccer landscape with a 100 percent title to season ratio.

Deltas chief executive officer Brian Andrés Helmick announced that the Deltas will not play a second season on Friday, little more than two years after announcing the team’s existence.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Canadian manager Marc Dos Santos led San Francisco to second place in both the Spring and Fall seasons, and the Deltas beat the New York Cosmos to claim the 2017 playoff title.

The NASL has been denied Division II status by the United States Soccer Federation, though appeals have been lodged. The league’s future is being monitored by many in the U.S. soccer landscape.

Saying he’s “eternally grateful,” Helmick wrote a post on Medium.com:

This is a very sad moment because it is definitely not the desired outcome. However, there’s a lot to be proud of and I hope it will leave a lasting effect on all of you. Not just as the startup soccer team that went on to win a championship on the field, but as the team who did all they could to benefit the community off the field.

FC Edmonton has also left the NASL, and may not participate in any league next season as their owner questioned the business’ sustainability and blamed the market. Tom Fath said the club will not be in the USL, either.

“As for the Canadian Premier League, I love the idea, I think it’s important for Canada. But what we require is it to be sustainable. We need to be sustainable. Whatever we do, it won’t be USL. And the NASL is not sustainable in Edmonton.”

Read the NASL’s reaction to the departures here, as Rishi Sehgal says the league is changing its business structure during a “time of change” and expresses hope that it will win its court appeal against USSF.

These are reminders of the perilous and tenuous nature of start-up soccer in America. With wild travel fees and so many entertainment options sewn into the fabric of the country, the course has to be well plotted for a team to be successful. Support your local club.