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What’s next for growing American would-be pro soccer clubs like Detroit City?

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As our attention switches from international football back to the club game, a new article coming out of Michigan recalls where American soccer was when the American soccer world hit pause for the World Cup in June.

That’s when the United States Soccer Federation rejected billionaire businessman Rocco Commisso’s plea for a 10-year runway to bring the North American Soccer League to Division 1 league status by virtue of a $500 million investment proposal.

As if on cue, a John Niyo article in The Detroit News drags the so-called “closed system” back to the forefront, and his writing on National Premier Soccer League side Detroit City FC makes an interesting case.

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DISCLAIMER: Before we go any further, it’s important to note I operate a club in the same league as Detroit City, and very much admire how they’ve built what they’ve built there. That said, my opinions may be buttressed by that fact but are not birthed by bias.

The would-be Cliffs Notes go something like this: Detroit City FC wants to move from the short-season, semi-pro National Premier Soccer League to a fully professional league with a longer season. The rub is that DCFC currently only has one path and it’s one neither they nor the lion’s share of their supporters would support at the given time.

That’s largely because the U.S. Soccer Federation has only sanctioned two options above the NPSL: The United Soccer League and Major League Soccer. If DCFC doesn’t want to play a part in either of those organizations, it has no other current option. And while Detroit City has continued to bring huge crowds to its restored Keyworth Stadium whether NPSL matches or friendlies against the likes of FC St. Pauli, Necaxa, or Venezia, its next step is currently stuck in a holding pattern despite the club’s achievements.

And — and this is where Commisso’s offer comes back into play — the USSF has no reason to sanction any league that doesn’t go by its current divisional guidelines, which demand a very wealthy owner and specific stadium requirements amongst other things. Infrastructure and fan support can be built, but asking these clubs to hand themselves over to someone with deeper pockets simply to meet a standard is a real 2×4 to the gut.

“What you’re doing is awesome, but imagine if instead of you owning all of your success, you found a wealthier person to help you meet our standards?”

As we saw when MLS had its Detroit press conference without DCFC, there is no longer the ability to pretend soccer wasn’t already in town. DCFC may seem like an outlier, and may well be one, having had massive success with big crowds in a stadium they renovated themselves. Yet there’s little doubt there are myriad markets in this giant country that wouldn’t mind trying their hands with something new.

Put plainly, there are 172 clubs in the NPSL and Premier Development League alone, few of whom are in markets with MLS teams. Even eliminating the PDL teams with close relationships to MLS and the USL (The USL owns the PDL), and there are still well over 100 teams in play. Sure, some of those may not have the ambition to grow higher, but they are also currently also shackled by having to compete against the former NASL teams who had no alternative outside of the USL once their Division 2 league shut down last winter.

So Niyo’s article asks a question many have posited in the realms of social media: Why not go outside the structure of FIFA?

From The Detroit News:

Building a league outside the constraints of U.S. Soccer’s “Professional League Standards” could be one option for remaining NASL owners — New York, Miami and Jacksonville — and NPSL teams that are looking to grow pro. Detroit City FC was one of at least a half-dozen NPSL teams — clubs from Boston, Phoenix, Virginia Beach and Boca Raton, Fla. among them — poised to join the NASL with letters of intent last fall. But whatever path a new league pursues, it’ll require strength in numbers — at least 10 or 12 teams — and a geography that makes sense.

It’s a major risk, one that certainly is lined with the hopes that the influencers and money people behind the USSF might blink at significant competition.

But it still requires significant salesmanship: Getting top-notch players to commit to a league which severely hampers their international aspirations is a hard sell (The NASL had capped players from 27 countries heading into the 2016 season).

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So, too, is convincing deep-pocketed investors that they are capable of slaying, or at least denting, a big machine which has grown in a dramatic way in the last two decades. If a guy like Commisso, who has since went deep into discussions for a takeover of AC-freaking-Milan, sees the value and necessity of USSF sanctioning, lawsuits or not, certainly most would have the same questions.

Are there enough of the renegade rich to self-sustain a league outside of the MLS-USL set-up, and even get to sanctioning? Probably, as evidenced by Commisso’s belief that he’d be able to go from multi-club ownership of a D-1 NASL to 10 owners within a decade.

And there’s no denying the allure of safety for new markets. NISA founder Peter Wilt left his nascent D-3 league to helm USL soccer in Madison, and it’s easy to envision his safer new venture an almost automatic success.

So would that same group of risk takers be willing to do it outside of USSF sanctioning, without name players?

That’s where DCFC’s status as an outlier might really come into play. For everyone tooting the proverbial horn of MLS’ rapid and impressive evolution in quality — academies and foreign recruitment alike have made the league very entertaining — there’s no doubt that players with the name quality of Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or Carlos Vela still puts butts in seats.

Consider this: For all its growth, MLS’ top performing players remain almost overwhelmingly foreign-developed. Using an advanced rating site like WhoScored, the Top 20 finds only two players with any sort of U.S. or Canadian development in their lockers (and that’s being gracious with Kei Kamara, who came to U.S. for college at the age of 20).

You get to No. 23 before another U.S. developed player, Sean Davis, hits the list. It only gets to seven by No. 40 if you allow foreign-born players who largely grew their games in college soccer (including Mark-Anthony Kaye from TFC’s Academy and York University in Ontario).

Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of quality American and foreign talent which would benefit from more jobs.

As DCFC CEO Sean Mann says in The Detroit News piece: “It was frustrating: Why are there so many obstacles? We’re not zealots. We’re not crusaders to reform American soccer. We just want to play at a higher level. We want to naturally grow. And U.S. soccer doesn’t allow that.”

This nation is gigantic, and there are few fans out there who genuinely believe MLS will stop expanding any time soon. In fact, it’s a safe bet that the long play is to one day announce a knockoff of promotion and relegation within the confines of the Major League Soccer umbrella.

The question isn’t who’s right and who’s wrong. Let’s face it: the answers seem likely to fall along the lines of one’s political alliances. Those who fear the risks of the new and unusual will worry about short-circuiting the current path, while the other side will beg to give ideals and theories a chance at practice in the name of something better.

But something does have to change. Soon, more and more major success stories are going to be held short of their goals because of the current structure. Whether that’s Detroit City or Chattanooga seeking a next level and not finding it, or the Sacramento Republic not getting its shot at MLS, or a fan base and market like Columbus getting waylaid by a slimy contract and inaction from on high, they will keep coming into your news feed.

chattanoogafc.com

And if we keep making the mistake of letting these conversations regress to simple “pro-rel” banter, then we’re all going to lose. And it’s going to take a bunch of risk takers who put aside their egos to find common ground.

Here’s a quick way to put the American soccer landscape in perspective: Look at a map. As this sport continues to grow, and the country’s young players are coached and encouraged by generations of fans who were coached and encouraged by fans themselves, the markets for summer sporting entertainment will continue to explode in the United States (with only baseball to compete with them thanks to the given calendar implemented by the USSF).

Are there more than 26 markets fit to host a top-tier side? Yep. Are there more than the 60-plus when tossing in USL (but subtracting MLS reserve sides)? Yep.

And if Commisso’s offer tells us anything, anything at all, it’s that there are figures out there who love the game and have an appetite for something not currently satisfied by the current structure. So either MLS or the USSF is going to announce its plan for a much bigger league with more than a couple dozen markets, or someone is going to challenge from the outside (Of course, both could happen and that would be very intriguing).

Either way, let’s hope it happens before the next guys who want to take up Detroit City’s example decide they’d rather not rattle their skulls against an unnecessary ceiling.

What’s the solution given the current power and success of the USSF? Your takes are welcome.

Wayne Rooney to captain England in farewell

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Wayne Rooney will captain England in his farewell game against the U.S. national team on Thursday.

[ MORE: Pulisic ready to lead USMNT ]  

Rooney, 33, will win his 120th and final Three Lions cap at Wembley against the USMNT, with the English FA inviting the D.C. United striker back to play in one last game after he retire from the international game in August 2017.

Many have questioned the decision for Rooney to return but England manager Gareth Southgate confirmed he will captain the team when he comes on as a second half sub against the USMNT and that the entire squad felt “it is a fitting tribute” for Rooney.

[ MORE: USMNT’s star trio align at Wembley

England’s all-time leading goalscorer will also wear his famous number 10 jersey, at the request of the playing squad.

The friendly against the U.S. has been named the “Wayne Rooney Foundation International” and Fabian Delph, who will captain England at the start of the game, confirmed he will hand the armband to Rooney and that the players will give him a guard of honor when he comes onto the pitch.

It is sure to be an emotional night for Rooney and his family on Thursday and his farewell game will be a fitting tribute to his 13-year England career.

USA’s star trio align for USMNT v England

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LONDON — Christian Pulisic. Weston McKennie. Tyler Adams.

Those three U.S. national team players are 20, 20 and 19 years old respectively and after coming through the youth ranks together, the USA’s game at Wembley against England on Thursday is set to be the first time the trio will play together for the senior national team.

[ MORE: Pulisic ready to lead USMNT ] 

The future of the USMNT lies in their hands and all three are eager to lead the U.S. moving forward as they’ve been fast-tracked into the squad after the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” Pulisic said. “I mean, I have played with so many of these guys before so it doesn’t even feel that unnatural. It’s just going to be a normal game for us. It’s great to have these guys together and we are looking forward it.”

And all three will soon be playing in the Bundesliga and testing themselves at the highest level in Europe.

Pulisic is already a star at Borussia Dortmund who top the German league, McKennie is carving out a wonderful career for himself at giants Schalke and Adams is expected to join RB Leipzig from the New York Red Bulls in the January transfer window.

With their career paths all taking a similar trajectory, McKennie believes they can look back on lessons they’ve learned together in their days with the U.S. youth national teams.

“It is something we’ve talked about and we’ve all looked forward to it,” McKennie added. “It is always nice to play with people you know and people you are familiar with and have been playing with since you were 15 years old. If we look at the journey we went through, Tyler and I didn’t go through the journey Christian did, but back in residency days Tyler and I shared some moments and it is always nice to step on the field together.”

After missing the friendly against Bolivia in May, where Pulisic and McKennie played, Adams is eager to get the band back together too.

“It hasn’t happened quite yet and everyone is talking about it a little bit, we are excited to play together. We haven’t played together in a while now,” Adams smiled. “They played together in the Bolivia game and they did well, so it is going to be exciting to step out on the field with them.”

When the trio — who are all expected to start at Wembley on Thursday — do step onto the field, they are not youngsters who will be ushered into the game.

They are expected to lead the USMNT against England, with McKennie and Adams likely to play in central midfield and Pulisic playing as a no.10 or off the flank.

At 20 years of age both Pulisic and McKennie realize that with their already strong careers in Germany’s top-flight they’ve been thrust into leadership roles extremely early on in their international careers.

They are ready to embrace it.

“Leadership really doesn’t have anything to do with age, I don’t think,” McKennie said. “Leadership is how you carry yourself on and off the field and how you represent yourself on the field also. You could be quiet off the field and on the field you could be bossing people around and giving commands and saying ‘here, left, right, that way’ and I guess the way you present yourself on the field, people that are watching the game can tell if you’re a leader or not. I think I am a person that can be a leader and Christian is also a person that has a leadership role. We have many guys on this team that vibe off each other and we listen to. It is a big opportunity for us to take on and I think we are doing a good job of it.”

Their opponents on Thursday, England, have been through a monumental squad rebuild of their own in recent months under Gareth Southgate. That resulted in a run to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and a fourth-place finish. Adams believes the USMNT can look to the Three Lions for inspiration between now and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“It is a similar blueprint, for sure, you see a lot of young guys doing well and a lot of young players in England doing well in Germany and vice versa,” Adams said. “A lot of guys are getting opportunities now and that is the same as we want to do. The more experiences we have in big games like this, the better it will be for the future.”

In terms of Adams following his buddies to the Bundesliga, the New York Red Bulls star was coy on any upcoming move but he is looking forward to stepping up to the next level with his close friends.

“Anytime you can challenge yourself against the best players in the world and showcase yourself and your talent, whoever could be watching, it is exciting,” Adams said. “For me, I am focused on what I’m doing right now with MLS and obviously we are at an important part of the season. After that, should be exciting. I am excited for it.”

Everyone connected with the USMNT are excited to watch Adams, McKennie in Pulisic in action together for the full national team.

Premier League player Power Rankings: Week 12

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Our latest batch of Premier League player Power Rankings are here, as we’ve had a little time to digest the displays from last weekend over the early stages of the international break.

[ MORE: Full Power Rankings archive ]

There are plenty of new entries at the top of our rankings due to some big weeks for players finding their feet with new clubs.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League and based on them actually playing in the previous Matchweek. If they didn’t play due to injury or suspension, they aren’t going to make this list. Simple.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


  1. Raheem Sterling (Man City – Even
  2. Xherdan Shaqiri (Liverpool) – New entry
  3. Fernandinho (Man City) – Up 13
  4. Salomon Rondon (Newcastle United) – New entry
  5. Bernd Leno (Arsenal) – New entry
  6. David Silva (Man City) – Up 1
  7. John Stones (Man City) – New entry
  8. Bernardo Silva (Man City) – Up 12
  9. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Up 5
  10. Sergio Aguero (Man City) – Up 1
  11. Lucas Torreira (Arsenal) – Down 6
  12. Anthony Martial (Man United) – Down 10
  13. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 4
  14. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Down 2
  15. Erik Lamela (Tottenham) – Down 2
  16. Felipe Anderson (West Ham) – Down 11
  17. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – New entry
  18. Sol Bamba (Cardiff City) – New entry
  19. Lewis Dunk (Brighton) – New entry
  20. Callum Paterson (Cardiff City) – New entry

USMNT, Wigan defender Robinson out injured

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U.S. left back Antonee Robinson will miss Thursday’s exhibition at England and next week’s match against Italy after spraining his right ankle in training, an injury expected to sideline him for four weeks.

[ MORE: Pulisic ready to lead USMNT

The 21-year-old defender was hurt during training on Tuesday, the U.S. Soccer Federation said.

Robinson plays for Wigan in England’s second-tier League Championship. He made his U.S. debut in May and has six international appearances.

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