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USL continues expansion with Austin franchise

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United Soccer Leagues (USL) added its second new franchise in as many days as professional soccer will return to Austin, Texas in 2019.

[ MORE: USL aims for more expansion ]

The second-tier league has continued its rapid growth in recent years with the Ottawa Fury, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Reno 1868 FC all joining at the start of the current 2017 season to take the league to 30 teams.

Austin Aztex’s were the last USL franchise in the Texas city but they were disbanded in 2015 after flooding issues at their former home and that team was in fact the second franchise to carry the Aztex name after the former was founded in 2008 but then relocated in 2010 to become Orlando City.

With a new soccer-specific stadium approved at the Circuit of the Americas track (it hosts the U.S. Formula 1 grand prix), Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein will take over majority ownership of the franchise.

Speaking about the new franchise USL CEO Alec Papadakis  believes Austin is an incredibly strong market for soccer.

“The USL’s return to Austin is a major moment for the league as it continues to lead the growth of professional soccer across the country,” Papadakis said. “We could not be happier to be doing so with Bobby Epstein as the new leader of the organization’s ownership group. His work alongside the league’s leadership over the past two years to ensure professional soccer’s long-term stability in an outstanding city with a passionate fanbase has been exceptional, and we are delighted that this day has arrived.

“Bobby was named as one of the most influential people in Formula 1 racing in 2016 by Paddock Magazine, a sign of the high regard he is held by his peers in sport that encompasses the world. He is another outstanding addition to the strong ownership groups that have helped drive the USL toward its goal of being viewed in the same light as the English Championship, Liga Adalante and 2. Bundesliga.”

With San Antonio FC nearby, the rivalry has been renewed and Texas now has its fifth pro soccer team.

Birmingham, Alabama was also added to the USL ranks on Tuesday for the 2019 season and that now means USL will expand to 34 teams for the 2019 campaign as Fresno FC, Las Vegas and Nashville SC will all join for the 2018 season.

USL will launch a new division-three league in 2019, creating a third-tier in the North American soccer pyramid.

Lower level soccer in the U.S. is booming with many USL markets in the running for new Major League Soccer franchises, the North American Soccer League adding three new teams (California United FC and San Diego)  for 2018 and clubs such as FC Cincinnati, Detroit City FC and Sacramento Republic all breaking attendance records.

MLS, European vet Warshaw’s memoir is an exposed nerve

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It’s a well-worn literary cliche to praise a book for taking the reader “behind the scenes” of something normally cloaked in secrecy or treated like an exclusive club.

Yet what former professional soccer player Bobby Warshaw does in “When The Dream Became Reality” cuts to the very core of such usually overblown acclaim. Warshaw taps his typing fingers into his guts to push out every bit of a soccer and human journey, beautiful and ugly, that started in Pennsylvania and headed to California, Brazil, Dallas, Norway, Sweden, and Israel.

For those who’ve watched “Rise and Shine,” the documentary of Jay DeMerit’s post-graduate decision to go from the University of Illinois at Chicago to knocking on doors of professional clubs around England, consider that. Now skip the part about Premier League glory and cover the rest of the story in brutal self-analysis and uncommon truth-telling about the risings and failings of an athlete who believes deeply in his teams (often at the probable expense of his future).

[ MORE: Real Madrid 2-1 Man Utd | Mourinho reacts ]

To open up like that is a challenge around friends (or a psychiatrist). Warshaw does it for the world.

“The fact that it hasn’t ruined my life yet is a plus,” Warshaw told PST.

(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

It helps that Warshaw’s personality lends itself to honesty. Self-confidence gives way to self-deprecation at times, but the former U.S. U-17 midfielder’s growth from Stanford to FC Dallas to Europe and back is laced with vitriol, humor, and a willingness to meet the reader’s life head-on.

So for every entertaining story detailing a foul that led him to five lost teeth and the same number of root canals, or a knock-down drag-out fight with his MLS manager about loyalty and player selection, there’s a bared and raw player questioning whether he’s made the right move. And he goes after his own experience with a savage comb, telling stories about his competitive streak many would swerve to avoid like jagged glass in the middle of the road.

“The theme of the book is we all have taken risks in your life,” Warshaw said. “I’ve done it enough that I’m conditioned that if I’m not scared out of my mind, I’m not doing something right.”

And that’s not to say writing with such candor was easy. Warshaw admits that at least one of his editors, MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle, was sent a draft not for word work but to make sure the book wouldn’t shove his career into a wood chipper.

“I was so scared the whole time,” he admits. “Sick to my stomach on a daily basis, minor panic attacks. I’m not a religious dude, I’m not very faithful, but I had this one general idea that I feel these things and I’m scared to death to put them out there but everyone else feels them too. Trust that these are universal feelings. We all feel them and we never talk about them enough and it might do some good for the world. I had that little seed of faith in the back of my mind.”

[ MORE: Is it Spurs at Wembley, or against Wembley? ]

Personally, from a reader’s standpoint, I can tell you I went from, “I’d like to read what about that guy on Twitter’s career” to “Wow, I’m glad I read about that guy on Twitter’s career and I tore through the thing.” It’s not necessarily just for the love of soccer, but for the connections on a personal level. In some ways “When The Dream Became Reality” feels like a study in the sociology of soccer, and the way American personalities function within it. Moreover, it carries lessons for those who are passionate in whatever chosen field.

Given his willingness to speak his mind, Warshaw will likely spend a good long time in the American soccer world should he want to continue in media, coaching, or something else. For a better taste of his personality, here are his thoughts as PST quizzed him on his journey and the state of American soccer.

PST: You’ve starred in college, been a first round MLS SuperDraft pick on a roster, barnstormed onto the consciousness of Sweden’s top clubs as a surprise forward, dealt with promotion and relegation battles, and then came back to American soccer’s second-tier. What are the things you learned about players who “make it” versus those that don’t?

Bobby Warshaw: “I’ll give you three different things. One: some people are just really freaking good. We like to think it takes some passion or some drive but some people don’t work hard and just…. Fabian Castillo, right? Not a great teammate, but he was just really freaking good at soccer, and really fast. Some people are just born with something.

“Two: there are some guys who just by sheer force, and I was one of them, they work hard enough to get good. It’s repetitions. If you pass me a ball 10,000 times, I’m going to get decent enough at trapping it. They just stay after it every single day. They had no business being a professional except they just worked harder.

“The third part is having a coach who believed in you. You can make a World Best XI of guys who never saw the light of day just because they had a single coach. I think about this with Pulisic a lot. We think he’s great but there’s no chance that Christian Pulisic is the best 18-year-old to ever come out of this country. He’s just the only one who had a coach who played him at 18.”

(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

PST: So as someone who played at one of the best schools in the country, repped the U-17 national team out of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and raved about the facilities at FC Dallas, what’s your take on player development here?

BW: “The first moral decision is what is our end game? Do we care about winning a World Cup that much that we’re willing to rob 2,000 kids a year of their high school life? Wouldn’t we all want to go back and live high school and college? And here we are taking these kids out of school and sticking them in random academies. For what? What’s our end game? To win a World Cup, which we’re probably not going to do anyway? We have a really important moral decision. Do we really want to get rid of college soccer? We’re making a huge sacrifice for something I’m not sure we will get or is worth it anyway.

“The flip side is probably the best thing that every happened to American soccer and that’s the mechanization of youth development. One thing America does really well is build machine-like enterprises. The second that Brazilians and Italians got off the streets and started playing in Academies means all of a sudden this is an industry we can compete in. Maybe everyone else having the same urge is what really helps us.”

PST: We love college soccer, but also because of the potential for atmosphere that might not come from playing a U-18 game for an academy. Do you really think the future for NCAA soccer is in jeopardy?

BW: “I’m gonna steal a line from Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn. College soccer should be the best reserve league in the world. Who’s got more money to put into something than Stanford, Maryland, Indiana, and UCLA? Why don’t we harness that and make it a real league and make it like USL, where it’s an academy for everyone 18-22?”

PST: You comment in the book about waking your sixth grade teammates up from a sleepover to have an early morning training session, so work ethic clearly wasn’t an issue for you. But what was it like when you went from Stanford student to “This is my profession” at FC Dallas?

BW: “I’m not sure I ever saw it as a profession. I knew logically that it was a profession and things happen that say it was clearly a business. For me personally it was never a profession which I think is why I always struggled so much with it. The people that accepted it was a business, I think fared much better and survived much longer. The second you get out of thinking this is living the dream, or having some wonderful passion, is what helps people survive a lot longer.

“I don’t think I made that many logical decisions about it. I’m probably going to dislike myself one way or the other, and I know I’ll dislike myself more the other way. I wish I could say I had some super logical way I thought about it, but you do what you think is right. It didn’t always work out that way, but I made the decision and went for it.”

PST: At what point did you think about those decisions making for a good book?

BW: “You read about my ex-girlfriend in the book. We’re sitting in DC last February at Politics and Prose, and I’m grabbing a book and Sarah’s there and I’m like, ‘This would be so cool to have a book.’ Then I came back from Israel and my dad made the comment, ‘Why don’t you take five months and travel the world and make this book?’ Fast forward to April, I’m in Harrisburg, practice is over at 1 o’clock, I opened my notebook in a coffee shop and I just started doing it. All of the sudden I had 10 chapters. Those were the 1, 2, 3 steps that really got the ball rolling.”

“I didn’t mean to write a real book. It was a collection of essays, the Israel story, the Brazil story, these funny things, and then the relationship chapter, the sexuality chapter, and a chapter on racism that got cut. Just basically these things I don’t feel professional players talk about honestly enough.

“Like I’m leaving professional soccer now and this is everything I have in my soul, here you go.

And then all of the sudden George Quraishi at Howler said I think we can do more, write a real story of journey and exploration and human growth and character. I said I didn’t think I have that in me but I’ll try. It grew, which was really scary because at first this book wasn’t me.”

PST: And putting it out yourself?

BW: “I didn’t think it was that big a deal. I was tired of working with managers, agents, and bosses. What can they do that I can’t? It would be nice to be in a Barnes and Noble but I didn’t write it to make money. I wrote it to tell a story. I always thought it would be cool to have a small business. Hopefully you got the theme from the book is that I’m a guy who says just go for it.”

Learn more about his book here.

NASL announces club in SoCal; USL expands into Birmingham

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In a day of (probably) inadvertent “Can you top this?”, both the North American Soccer League and the United Soccer League added new clubs.

In the NASL’s case, we’ll see their entrant earlier as California United FC is set to debut next Spring, joining the San Francisco Deltas and the unnamed San Diego club helmed by Eden Hazard, Demba Ba, and friends.

[ MORE: Real 2-1 Man Utd | Mourinho reacts ]

CUFC will announce its colors and crest in the next few weeks, and says it’s a big proponent of promotion and relegation. That piggybacks off fellow NASL club Miami FC and NPSL club Kingston Stockade’s petition to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The USL is bringing a club to Birmingham, Alabama, for the 2019 season, a club which will have a relationship with existing NPSL club Birmingham Hammers (which debuted in 2016).

According to the USL web site, the Birmingham club will be run by “Jeff Logan, co-owner of the Birmingham Barons baseball team; James Outland, founding and managing partner of New Capital Partners; and Lee Styslinger, III, chairman and chief executive officer of Altec, Inc.”

VIDEO: Drogba scores a laser free kick from 35 yards

Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
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Even if most of the physical gifts that made him arguably the best striker in the world for a not-so-insignificant period of time — the strength, the burst of pace, the leaping ability, the change of direction for a man his size — have gone, Didier Drogba‘s still got his right foot, and a bag full of skill, that’ll never depart him.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundupFriday | Thursday ]

Case in point: the goal he scored for Phoenix Rising, the USL club of which he’s a part-owner as they try to secure an expansion place in MLS, a 35-yard, flat-line laser from a dead-ball situation.

[ MORE: Sunday’s MLS schedule is chock-full of important matchups ]

He might not wheel away in celebration with quite the same pace and vigor as he used to do, but few players in the world can hit a ball that hard, and most of those who can, can’t keep it under the crossbar after hitting it over the wall. Once more, all hail King Drogba.

 

Underdogs FC Cincinnati complete Open Cup semifinals field

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Weather meant the NASL-USL showdown in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup was played well after the other three semifinalists had been decided on the pitch.

The NASL’s Miami FC was at home for Wednesday’s quarterfinal against the USL’s FC Cincinnati, but that didn’t help the outcome as FCC did its job as visitors in the first half before finding a winner in the second.

Senegalese striker Djiby Fall kept up his rampant season with a close-range goal as FCC advances to host MLS side New York Red Bulls on Aug. 15.

[ MORE: Latest on Neymar ]

Fall has 14 goals in 18 appearances for FCC.

The other semi features Sporting KC and the San Jose Earthquakes, and will be played on Aug. 9.