Wednesday

Garber: MLS plans to expand to 24 teams by 2020

22 Comments

After New York City FC was announced, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said the league planned on taking a break from expansion.  However long that break lasts, the league now plans on expanding by 20 percent by the beginning of the next decade, with 24 the new magic number the commissioner provided at half-time of Wednesday’s All-Star Game.

In what’s become an annual event, Garber spoke to ESPN at halftime of tonight’s game, this time answer questions from analysts and former U.S. Men’s National Team standouts Alexi Lalas and Kasey Keller. There Garber spoke of the league’s plan to eclipse the FIFA standard 20-team league six, explaining the league plans to add four new franchises by 2020:

“These expansion clubs have brought new ideas that have contributed to our strategy for growing the league and the addition of new markets has expanded our geographic reach while increasing our fan base …”

“The strength, passion and vision of the MLS ownership group is the foundation behind the success of our league … We look forward to adding new partners with the same commitment to the sport and love of the game.

“As MLS enters a period of accelerated growth, the addition of new teams will allow us to expand our geographic coverage, grow our fan base and help us achieve our vision of being among the best leagues in the world by 2022.”

That geographic coverage will almost surely address one of the league’s current deficits: a lack of teams in the southeast. Orlando has made a major push of be the league’s next expansion destination, with the Orlando City Soccer Club group headed by Phil Rawlins hoping to play as early as 2015. A potential return to Miami has also been speculated, with former LA Galaxy star David Beckham’s name linked with a possible successor to the defunct Miami Fusion.

While the biggest message for fans in potential expansion markets will be the potential for MLS soccer in their home town, the broader implication from Garber’s Wednesday comments concerns the league’s ambition. Previously content to build to 20 teams, the league has set its sights higher before the 20th team has even taken the field.

Though some will quibble with the idea of a league being allowed to build beyond a 20th team, the U.S. has always been seen as a unique market, both in terms of is size and the challenges soccer has to take root. Announce plans for another stage of “accelerated growth,” Garber is signally not only an intent to grow into that unique market but also leverage the stability the league’s established over the last seven years to grow beyond previous expectations.

So where do we go from here? From MLS’s release:

The process to determine a future MLS expansion market will be selected on the basis of multiple criteria.  Factors taken into consideration include:

  • Committed and engaged ownership;

  • A comprehensive stadium plan;

  • Demonstrated fan support for professional soccer in the market;

  • Support from sponsors, television partners and other constituents;

  • Geographic location;

  • A strategic business plan for the launch and successful operation of the club.

Potential quarterfinal match-ups drawn in U.S. Open Cup

2 Comments

If Sporting Kansas City’s going to go all-Seattle on this competition, they’re going to have to win at least one big game on the road. After today’s draw in Chicago, any potential quarterfinal matchup the U.S. Open Cup holders will get in the competition’s quarterfinals will require them leaving Sporting Park.

Today in Chicago, the quarterfinal schedule for the Open Cup was set, with the winner of Sporting’s Wednesday match against USL PRO’s Orlando City SC set to travel to the winner of Wednesday’s match in Bridgeview, where Chicago will host Columbus.

The other Round of 8 possibilities:

  • The Revolution-Red Bulls winner will travel to whomever advances from Philadelphia’s visit to D.C. United.
  • Charleston Battery are the only lower-level side with a chance of hosting a quarterfinal. If they upset Real Salt Lake, they’ll host the winner of Chivas USA and Carolina.
  • And if Portland handles the Tampa Bay Rowdies, they’re going to Texas. They travel to the winner of FC Dallas’s derby with Houston.

Here’s U.S. Soccer’s layout along with the 16-game schedule of matches that take place next Wednesday:

U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinals Schedules

New England Revolution (MLS)/New York Red Bulls (MLS) winner at D.C. United (MLS)
Maryland SoccerPlex; Boyds, Md.
Wednesday, June 26 at 7 p.m. ET
OR
New England Revolution (MLS)/New York Red Bulls (MLS) winner at Philadelphia Union (MLS) 
PPL Park; Chester, Pa.
Wednesday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Sporting Kansas City (MLS)/Orlando City SC (USL PRO) winner at Chicago Fire (MLS)
Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.
Wednesday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. CT
OR
Sporting Kansas City (MLS)/Orlando City SC (USL PRO) winner at Columbus Crew (MLS)
Columbus Crew Stadium; Columbus, Ohio
Wednesday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Carolina RailHawks (NASL)/Chivas USA (MLS) winner at Real Salt Lake (MLS)
Rio Tinto Stadium; Sandy, Utah
Wednesday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. MT
OR
Carolina RailHawks (NASL)/Chivas USA (MLS) winner at Charleston Battery (USL PRO)
Blackbaud Stadium; Charleston, S.C.
Wednesday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers (MLS)/Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) winner at FC Dallas (MLS)
FC Dallas Stadium; Frisco, Texas
Wednesday, June 26 at 8:00 p.m. CT
OR
Portland Timbers (MLS)/Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) winner at Houston Dynamo (MLS)
BBVA Compass Stadium; Houston, Texas
Wednesday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. CT

Fourth Round Schedule

New York Red Bulls (MLS) at New England Revolution (MLS)
Harvard University; Cambridge, Mass.
Wednesday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m. ET

Philadelphia Union (MLS) at D.C. United (MLS)
Maryland SoccerPlex; Boyds, Md.
Wednesday, June 12, at 7 p.m. ET

Columbus Crew (MLS) at Chicago Fire (MLS)
Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.
Wednesday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m. CT

Orlando City SC (USL PRO) at Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
Sporting Park; Kansas City, Kan.
Wednesday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m. CT

Houston Dynamo (MLS) at FC Dallas (MLS)
FC Dallas Stadium; Frisco, Texas
Wednesday, June 12, at 8 p.m. CT

Chivas USA (MLS) at Carolina RailHawks (NASL)
WakeMed Soccer Park; Cary, N.C.
Wednesday, June 12, at 7:15 p.m. ET

Charleston Battery (USL PRO) at Real Salt Lake (MLS)
Rio Tinto Stadium; Sandy, Utah
Wednesday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m. MT

Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) at Portland Timbers (MLS)
JELD-WEN Field; Portland, Ore.
Wednesday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m. PT

U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round draw: What it means for your MLS team

2 Comments

U.S. Soccer announced potential fourth round U.S. Open Cup pairings on Wednesday, but given the way home venues are decided for each round, the future can often be a little muddled. You can check out the official announcement here, but here’s another way to look at it: MLS’s 16 teams; who they play; what happens when they win.

Chicago Fire – The 2011 finalists face USL PRO’s Charlotte Eagles on Wednesday in Rock Hill, S.C. If they win, they host the winner of USL PRO’s Dayton Dutch Lions’ visit to the Columbus Crew.

Chivas USA – The Goats will be at USL PRO’s L.A. Blues next Tuesday in Fullerton. If they advance, Chivas will play at the winner of the LA Galaxy’s visit to the NASL’s Carolina Railhawks.

Colorado Rapids – Colorado makes an expansion scouting trip on Tuesday, visiting USL PRO’s Orlando City SC. With a win, the Rapids will play at defending champions Sporting Kansas City or host the PDL’s Des Moines Menace.

Columbus Crew – If they best the USL’s Dayton Dutch Lions next Wednesday, the Crew will either play at Chicago or host USL PRO’s Charlotte Eagles.

D.C. United – Play at USL Pro’s Richmond Kickers on Tuesday. Win and United host the victor of the PDL’s Ocean City Noe’easters’ visit to the Philadelphia Union.

FC Dallas – They’re on the road at the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers on Tuesday. If they win, Dallas gets to host the winner of the PDL’s FC Tucson’s trip to play the Houston Dynamo.

Houston Dynamo – If they eliminate FC Tucson on Wednesday, they’ll either visit FC Dallas or host the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

New England Revolution – They visit USL PRO’s Rochester Rhinos on Tuesday. Should they win, New England welcomes the winner of the PDL’s Reading FC’s visit to the New York Red Bulls.

New York Red Bulls – NY1 play Reading on Wednesday. If they advance, they’ll be in the road, either at New England or Rochester.

Philadelphia Union – Philly will host the PDL’s Ocean City Nor’easters on Tuesday. If they advance, the Union visit either D.C. United or USL PRO’s Richmond Kickers.

Portland Timbers – USL PRO’s Wilmington Hammerheads come to town on Wednesday. If the Timbers win, they’ll either visit the Sounders or host the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Real Salt Lake – Rio Tinto welcomes the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks next Tuesday. If RSL wins, they’ll host the winner of the San Jose Earthquakes’ visit to USL PRO’s Charleston Battery.

San Jose Earthquakes – Should they win in Charleston, San Jose will play at the winner of Atlanta’s visit to Real Salt Lake.

Seattle Sounders – Last year’s finalists visit the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday. If they win, the Sounders will welcome the winner of the Wilmington Hammerheads’ visit to the Portland Timbers.

Sporting Kansas City – The defending champions host the PDL’s Des Moines Menace on Tuesday. Should they win, Sporting will host the winner of Colorado’s visit to Orlando City.

Wednesday international preview: For the degenerate soccer-watcher in all of us

4 Comments

Let’s say you don’t have to go to work tomorrow. What would you do with your day? Get all those errands done? Finally clean up the house? Maybe this will be the year you get your taxes gone before April 15?

Probably not. Call it a hunch, but I’m since you’re the type of person that comes to ProSoccerTalk, you’re much more likely to sit around all day and watch soccer. Cup of Nations, World Cup Qualifying, or just run of the mill friendlies – it doesn’t matter. Since national teams don’t get together that often, hardcore soccer addicts are going to try to cram in as match possible.

So let’s entertain that. Let’s assume you’ve got a couple of displays in front of you and can access any game you want. Let’s also assume that your better half, little ones, and pets completely leave you alone. Which matches would you watch? Which matches should you watch?

Starting very early in Asia, here are PST’s recommendations.

All times Eastern. Please consult your physician before trying to watch all these games.

5:20 a.m. – Japan vs. Latvia (Kobe)

If you’re going to make Wednesday into a marathon, skip that highly anticipated 4:30 a.m. Nepal-Pakistan kickoff, sleep an extra hour, and see Asia’s best team host one of Europe’s worst. At 102nd in the world (for whatever FIFA rankings are worth), Latvia’s not going to be much of a challenge for the Samurai Blue, but for a chance to see what Asia’s best is building for the next World Cup, this might be worth an extra cup of coffee. Alberto Zaccheroni has his team eight points up on the competition in Asia. Only one point short of qualifying, this team is already starting to look toward Brazil 2014.

Players to watch: Japan: Shinji Okazaki (right, F, Stuttgart), Shinji Kagawa (M/F, Manchester United, Keisuke Honda (M/F, CSKA Moscow)

9:00 a.m. – South Korea vs. Croatia (London)

For what could be one of the best-played games of the day, the key for both coaches is to see their teams taking the match seriously. Croatia head coach Igor Stimac, new to the position, saw his team stumble at home to Switzerland in their last friendly. Korea’s Choi Kang-hee will be using the match to evaluate how to approach the final four matches of the team’s qualifying cycle.

Players to watch: Croatia – Luka Modric (M, Real Madrid), Dejan Lovren (D, Lyon), Darijo Srna (RB, Shakhtar); South Korea – Ki Sung-yeung (M, Swansea City), Son Heung-min (F, Hamburg), Park Chu-Young (F, Celta de Vigo)

source: Getty Images10:00 a.m. – Mali vs. Nigeria (Durban)

The day’s first Cup of Nations semifinal should be the round’s best match, the two teams’ skill-plus-style combination likely to produce a fluid, entertaining affair. Nigeria’s semifinal spot came at the expense of tournament favorites Cote d’Ivoire while the Malians reached the final four after a penalty kicks victory over the hosts.

Players to watch: Mali – Seydou Keita (right, M, Dalian Aerbin), Modibo Maiga (F, West Ham United), Mohamed Sissoko (M, Paris Saint-Germain); Nigeria – John Obi Mikel (M, Chelsea), Victor Moses (W, Chelsea), Emmanuel Emenike (F, Spartak Moscow)

12:00 p.m. – Chile vs. Egypt (Madrid)
The coaches are the focus for this one. For as much admiration Bob Bradley’s garnered during a turbulent time in Egyptian soccer, he is starting to see more criticism of the team’s on-field performances. In recent matches against Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the Pharaohs lost by a combined 7-2. For Chile, former Universidad de Chile head coach Jorge Sampaoli is set for his third match in charge, with La Roja set to resume World Cup Qualifying in March.

Players to watch: Chile – Alexis Sanchez (F, Barcelona), Humberto Suazo (F, Monterrey), Arturo Vidal (M, Juventus); Egypt – Mohamed Aboutrika (M, Bani Yas), Gedo (F, Hull City), Mohammed El-Nenny (Basel)

1:00 p.m. – Spain vs. Uruguay (Doha)

The match means nothing (except €4 million the Spanish federation banks for playing it in Qatar), but each team’s brought up almost all of their big names. Xavi, Xabi, and Iker are out, but the rest of the Spanish stars are here, giving players like David Villa, Alvaro Negredo and Pedro Rodriguez a chance to nail down Spain’s striker spot. Expect an entertaining though not particularly intense match. It’s being played in Doha, after all.

Players to watch: Spain – Andres Iniesta (M, Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (M, Barcelona, Sergio Ramos (D, Real Madrid); Uruguay – Luis Suarez (F, Liverpool), Edinson Cavani (F, Napoli), Diego Godin (D, Atletico Madrid)

1:30 p.m. – Burkina Faso vs. Ghana (Nelspruit)

One of Africa’s legendary sides faces a team making their first semifinal appearance, with Burkina Faso’s Stallions hoping to slide on their glass slippers on Wednesday against the Black Stars. Ghana is the new tournament favorite (with the elimination of Cote d’Ivoire), but having reverted to type slightly in the quarterfinals, it remains to be seen whether the Ghanaians allow themselves to be draw into a coin flip they could lose.

Players to watch: Burkina Faso – Alain Traore (F, Lorient), Jonathan Pitroipa (W, Rennes), Bakary Kone (D, Lyon); Ghana – Asamoah Gyan (F, Al Ain), Kwadwo Asamoah (M, Juventus), Wakaso Mubarak (W, Espanyol)

source: Getty Images2:30 p.m. – England vs. Brazil (London)

It’s England. It’s Brazil. So it’s a big deal, right? Given the other games on the Wednesday’s schedule, I’m having trouble justifying too much excitement for this one, even if it’s going to be Ashley Cole’s 100th cap. Slowly, he’s catching up to Beckham’s 115. We’ll see if he can hold Leighton Baines off long enough.

Players to watch: Brazil – Neymar (right, F, Santos), Ronaldinho (M, Atletico Mineiro), David Luiz (D, Chelsea); England – Wayne Rooney (F, Manchester United), Steven Gerrard (M, Liverpool), Joe Hart (G, Manchester City)

2:30 p.m. – Netherlands vs. Italy (Amsterdam)

Louis van Gaal’s continued Oranje makeover will be reflected in his lineup on Wednesday. The omission of a player like Wesley Sneijder isn’t surprising, but players like John Heitenga and Nigel de Jong are also finding it difficult to re-establish their place in this team. The likes of Adam Maher, Stefan de Vrii and Bruno Martins Indi are likely to see time against a talent-rich Italian attack.

Players to watch: Netherlands – Robin van Persie (F, Manchester United), Kevin Strootman (M, PSV), Ron Vlaar (D, Aston Villa); Italy – Mario Balotelli (F, Milan), Andrea Pirlo (M, Juventus), Gianluigi Buffon (G, Juventus)

3:00 p.m. – France vs. Germany (Paris)

This is a great test for both sides. While Joachim Löw may take this chance to look at some players who don’t normally make his starting XI (perhaps giving Rene Adler a start in goal for Manuel Neuer), Germany has still reached a level where they should expect to go on the road and perform well even against the France’s world (and even in a friendly). France have gotten results from Spain and Italy in their last two matches. Another strong performance will further consolidate the team behind Didier Deschamps.

Players to watch: Germany – Mesut Ozil (M, Real Madrid), Philipp Lahm (D, Bayern Munich), Thömas Müller (F/M, Bayern Munich); France – Karim Benzema (F, Real Madrid), Franck Ribery (W, Bayern Munich), Hugo Lloris (G, Tottenham)

4:00 p.m. – Honduras vs. United States (San Pedro Sula)

Steve’s got you covered on this one:

source: Reuters9:00 p.m. – Panama vs. Costa Rica (Panama City)

Panama’s the newcomer to this level of the tournament (the one team in the final round that didn’t qualify for 2009’s Hex), but as they showed at the 2011 Gold Cup, they’ve got the players to qualify for Brazil. One of the keys will be getting three points at home instead of settling for draws. Against an experienced Ticos team, Julio Valdés will need to make his team rises to the occasion. By the opening whistle, Panama’s players need to realize the stakes. Slipping in round one could come back to haunt them in November.

Players to watch: Panama – Blas Perez (right, F, FC Dallas), Gabriel Gomez (M, Junior), Felipe Baloy (D, Santos Laguna); Costa Rica – Bryan Ruiz (F, Fulham), Alvaro Saborio (F, Real Salt Lake), Michael Umaña (D, Saprissa)

9:30 p.m. – Mexico vs. Jamaica (Mexico City)

This could get ugly. Jamaica would have a hard time matching up with El Tri under normal circumstances, but this is the Hex opener, on the road, against a Mexico team that has gone beyond winning. This team is starting to push itself for results. They not only want three points from these games, they want to perform in a way that puts them in a conversation with the world’s best. Unless something fluke-y happens early, this should be a multi-goal victory for the tournament favorites.

Players to watch: – Giovani dos Santos (F, Mallorca), Javier Hernandez (F, Manchester United), Hector Moreno (D, Espanyol); Jamaica – Rodolph Austin (M, Leeds United), Nyron Noseworthy (D, Watford), Jason Morrison (M, Aelesunds)

MLS, USL announce Reserve League, USL PRO integration

7 Comments

A winter of rumor produced its end product on Wednesday when Major League Soccer and United Soccer Leagues established what MLS is calling “a groundbreaking, multi-year partnership,” one that will address the problem of Reserve League relevance that’s plagued the program since it was reintroduced in 2011.

Starting with the 2013 season, each Major League Soccer team can form partnership with an affiliate USL PRO club. That affiliation will see at least four players placed in the third division on a “long-term loan.” While MLS clubs are not required to enter into a partnership, those that do will forgo participation in the 2013 Reserve League.

United Soccer Leagues operate USL PRO, the 13-team league the functions as the third-tier of the U.S. Soccer pyramid. USL also operates the Premier Development League,W-League,Super-20 League and Super Y-League.

The Sporting News’ Brian Straus reports four teams are expected to form affiliations this season, agreements which “will be customized to meet the needs of the respective teams.” Twelve other Reserve League teams will play home-and-home series with a USL PRO partner, while two more reserve league teams will play USL PRO’s Antigua franchise once each.

All interleague games will count in each competitions’ standings.

One Major League Soccer team will not participate in the deal and will only field a team in the Reserve League. Specific affiliations and pairings are expected to be announced later this week.

“This partnership represents the first step in a long-term alliance between MLS and USL PRO to connect domestic professional soccer through a system that benefits player development, competition and the overall business of our sport ,” MLS Executive Vice President of Player Relations & Competition Todd Durbin said Wednesday in a statement released by the league.  “Over the past several years, USL PRO has made great strides in restructuring their league in a manner that serves to complement the objectives of MLS.  This is a win-win for all involved, and it demonstrates our strong commitment to growing North American professional soccer at all levels.”

For Major League Soccer, the agreement should enhance competition for players participating in the Reserve League. Whereas before players would play a lightly-regarded 10-game schedule, now prospects can play in a more competitive environment, be that through a full third division schedule or with the enhanced competition of the home-and-homes (which can only be seen as a starting point for what will happen in the future).

For USL PRO (and the United Soccer Leagues), they get a credibility-boosting affiliation as well as a pipeline to player talent that would have previously languished in the reserve league. They also get a valuable business relationship with the Major League Soccer, one that should lead to a better on-field product.

Expect to see more from us on this deal in the coming days. For now, the news is the revamp of the MLS Reserve League, a change that forms a first of its kind link between the top and third divisions.