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PST survey results: Lower leagues, and that darned pyramid

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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:

Arsenal sign defender Mari on loan from Flamengo

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Amid an ongoing and injury crisis at center back, Arsenal have signed defender Pablo Mari on loan from Brazilian club Flamengo until the end of the season.

[ MORE: Spurs complete Bergwijn transfer from PSV ]

Th 26-year-old Spaniard spent three seasons on the books at Manchester City, where he never made a first-team appearance and instead was sent out on loan three times, before moving to Flamengo last summer. Flamengo won both the Brazilian league title and the Copa Libertadores during his six months at the club.

Mari’s loan agreement has an option to make the move permanent this summer.

[ MORE: Woodward’s house attacked by Man United fans with flares ]

Arsenal have been without defenders Calum Chambers, Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney, for quite some time due to injuries. Shkodran Mustafi went down with an ankle injury during Monday’s FA Cup victory over Bournemouth and will miss some time as well.

Spurs complete Bergwijn transfer from PSV

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After 18 months without signing a single player, Tottenham Hotspur sure are making up for lost time.

[ MORE: Woodward’s house attacked by Man United fans with flares ]

The club announced on Wednesday that 22-year-old Dutch winger Steven Bergwijn has been signed from PSV Eindhoven, marking Tottenham’s second signing of the January transfer window. Midfielder Gedson Fernandes arrived from Benfica earlier this month.

Bergwijn is a dynamic wide attacking player who put together the best season of his younger career last term (14 goals in 33 league appearances) and followed it up with another solid six months at PSV (5 goals in 16) before Spurs came calling. He arrives a day after Christian Eriksen officially departed Spurs for Inter Milan, and Bergwijn will wear the no. 23 shirt, which stood vacant for less the 24 hours in Eriksen’s wake.

The fee for Bergwijn has been reported at $32 million, making him a relatively low-risk signing in the world of today’s transfers, though his mere presence signals a significant departure from the club’s standard operating practices of the past.

[ MORE: Report: Chelsea may ask Abraham to play through injury

Do Spurs fans have Jose Mourinho to thank for chairman Daniel Levy’s newfound free-spending ways? Not even Harry Redknapp could convince Spurs’ frugal owner to spend in this manner, let alone the likes of Mauricio Pochettino or an Andre Villas-Boas. While requesting and demanding — and getting — big-money signings has been a common theme of Mourinho’s management career, Spurs didn’t seem like a place he’d simply continue to operate in that way.

Rather than learn a new trick himself, it would appear Mourinho taught Levy one instead.

USWNT opens Olympic qualifying with win over Haiti

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The USWNT was rusty, that much was clear. Vlatko Andonovski still made sure they took care of business.

Four different goalscorers delivered a 4-0 victory over Haiti to begin CONCACAF Olympic qualification, putting the United States in front of Group A early. Lynn Williams picked up a goal and assist, proving useful on an otherwise sputtery evening for Vlatko Andonovski’s attack.

Just 78 seconds into the game, Williams charged down the right flank and crossed to Christen Press at the far post for the opening goal. Williams’ assist came without the use of her left shoe which she lost while holding off a defender for the bobbling ball.

Despite the early lead, the United States seemed somewhat sluggish as Haiti built themselves into the match. There were few chances on net after the opening goal through the half-hour mark.

Haiti nearly caught the U.S. napping on a corner as the ball found the back of the net on 20 minutes, but the goal was somehow ruled out. It appeared to be for offside, but since it’s impossible to be offside from a corner, there must have been another reason for the official ruling. Nonetheless, it was a clear sign for the USWNT that they needed to pick up the level of play.

The U.S. continued to struggle after halftime, creating very little in front of net. There was a half-chance for Lloyd near the penalty spot but a quality tackle by Kethna Louis put that to bed. Then finally they put the game to bed on a corner, not coincidentally coming just five minutes after Megan Rapinoe entered the fray. Rapinoe delivered a corner to the doorstep where Williams headed in well under pressure, moving her upper body away from goal against the motion of her lower body to reach the delivery.

Another Andonovski substitute paid dividends however as Lindsey Horan scored, again coming off a corner. They played it short and Horan headed from a significant distance out, the ball squirting past the goalkeeper Kerly Theus and Louis who tried to clear off the line. It was clear that Haiti had begun to tire and the USWNT was taking advantage. Up front, Carli Lloyd had a poor game, unable to get involved in attacking play, but she found the scoresheet in stoppage time, bagging a header off a Rapinoe cross in the 93rd minute to finish out the scoring.

Emily Sonnett replaced Kelley O’Hara with 10 minutes to go for Andonovski’s final change, and the USWNT saw the rest of the match out. They have two matches remaining before the knockout stage, set to take on Panama on Friday before the group stage finale against Costa Rica on February 3. The top two teams in the group reach the knockout phase with the semifinals to begin on February 7.

Report: Chelsea may ask Abraham to play through injury

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Chelsea has so far come up empty in its search for a striker, so desperate times may call for desperate measures.

Tammy Abraham, who has been a revelation this season with 13 Premier League goals, went down with an ankle injury late in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal last weekend. The club has tried desperately to find a striker before the Friday transfer window closes, and while the Blues have been linked with Edinson Cavani and Krzysztof Piatek they so far have not had any success in finding a replacement.

Therefore, according to Matt Law of The Telegraph, Chelsea may ask Abraham to play through his injury against Leicester City this weekend. The match is a vital one as Chelsea, sitting fourth in the Premier League table, looks to put separation between themselves and Manchester United while also chasing the third-placed Foxes who sit eight points clear.

The thinking appears to be that Chelsea has a 16-day break between the Leicester City match and their subsequent game against Manchester United in mid-February thanks to the Premier League’s two-week break at the start of the month.

Earlier this month, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted regret for not resting a banged up Marcus Rashford, choosing instead to bring him off the bench in an FA Cup match against Wolves. Reports after the match confirmed that Rashford was carrying a single stress fracture in his back at the time of the appearance, and he was hauled off 16 minutes later with scans after the match showing his appearance against Wolves worsened the injury. He now he faces two to three months on the sidelines.

Abraham has also slowed of late after being so heavily used this season. The 22-year-old has logged a massive 2,359 minutes across all competitions this season, including 1,843 out of a possible 2,160 in Premier League play. Abraham scored his first 11 Premier League goals in his first 14 matches of the season, but has just three goals in the last 10 games.

Chelsea has Michy Batshuayi as a natural replacement for Abraham up top, but Frank Lampard has used him as solely a bench option the entirety of this season. Batshuayi has made 14 Premier League appearances this season, but has logged just 138 minutes across those matches. When used as a starter in cup action, Batshuayi has four goals in four domestic cup starts. Olivier Giroud is also on the roster, having made just five Premier League appearances this season.