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Chattanooga FC ready to face challenge from USL D-III

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The next battleground for the future of lower division American soccer was identified Friday night, and it’s located along the Tennessee River.

Chattanooga FC is an undisputed success for lower league soccer. The 10th-year National Premier Soccer League club is a four-time league finalist and seven-time conference winner.

[ MORE: USL’s Cincy reportedly to add Adi, Alashe ]

More important, however, is CFC’s status as proof that division doesn’t have to matter if your club can bring a crowd. Chattanooga averages 4,000-plus fans, has drawn more than 18,000 fans to a single game, and boasted more than 12,000 for a friendly with Atlanta United at 20,668 capacity Finley Stadium.

If there was a club likely to control its own destiny in American soccer, it was this one. Heck, CFC’s success put the city on the map for USMNT and USWNT matches, and the club was actively pursuing a professional future. Board member Bill Nuttall admitted that CFC was being “courted by both” USL and NISA as recently as November.

Ah but that conditional if.

Enter a couple of shocking tweets. On Friday, Chattanooga FC announced that general manager Sean McDaniel was leaving the club, and that an investor from Utah had acquired the rights to put a USL D-III team in the market. Nuttall left, too. The club was not involved in the bid.

[ MORE: Shipp leads Seattle by NYC ]

McDaniel had no comment, other than to tell ProSoccerTalk he’ll release a statement later in the week.

Chattanooga chairman Timothy Kelly said that McDaniel and Nuttall occasionally butted heads with the rest of the club — there were “serious philosophical differences” between the parties — but left no hints that anything major was on the horizon.

“There was nothing other than we knew the philosophical rift existed,” Kelly said. “We certainly feel betrayed … but we’re relieved not to have the rift.”

Kelly said the philosophical differences were innate, and connected to how the board members viewed the club. As a microcosm, McDaniel did not hold open tryouts in 2017, in defiance of the board’s wishes to best scout local talent.

Complicating future plans for McDaniel and the club, assuming the report is true, would also be a fundamental difference of opinion on USL and its new third division USL D-III.

[ MORE: Mitrovic in, Rondon out at NUFC? ]

“We’re big fans of the notion of an open system and promotion/relegation, and I deeply believe that the franchise system is what’s fundamentally wrong with American soccer,” Kelly said. “We’re not going to sacrifice our principles for personal gain.”

USL replied to PST in an email:

“We look forward to meeting with USL Division III ownership groups during the USL Mid-Year Meetings in Atlanta next week. Both the league and its owners are excited to bring the thrill of professional soccer to these new markets. We will provide a more formal update on USL Division III, including exciting new cities and league details, following our Mid-Year Meetings.”

McDaniel also served on the National Premier Soccer League board, and submitted his resignation on Thursday night. NPSL chairman Joe Barone spoke with PST, and said McDaniel had been less active in league matters in recent months without informing anyone on the board of any reason for his absence.

“Chattanooga is a model organization not only for the NPSL but for soccer in general in the United States,” Barone said. “The fan base and community support are what make Chattanooga, and it’s tough to replicate that with a new club whether you’re Division 4, 3, 2 or 1.”

Lower level clubs continue to seek the most attractive path toward becoming bigger players in American soccer. Peter Wilt’s departure from NISA has put the nascent league in uncertain territory, the NASL remains on hiatus, and other leagues are still negotiating the start of professional play.

USL D-III is an intriguing option for clubs due to a lower budget and entry fee, and has announced Toronto FC II, Tormenta FC (Georgia), FC Tucson, and unnamed clubs in Madison (Wisc.) and Greenville (S.C.) as founding members for 2019.

[ MORE: Simeone bidding on Simeone? ]

Kelly expressed serious doubts about the chances for success of a new club in Chattanooga, and said reaction to the challenge of a second club has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“We have always been fundamentally about Chattanooga as much as we’ve been about soccer,” he said. “We’ve said we’re totally dedicated to our local market. We said we’d never leave. This is not a franchise that is going to parachute in and parachute out. We’re fundamentally in tune with Chattanooga. We’re dedicated to grassroots up, as opposed to franchise down.

“We’ve spoken to all the staff members, all the stakeholders, and the expression of support has been warm and universal,” Kelly said. “We expect we’re going to win this fight.”

Put differently, from another CFC owner:

Again assuming the reports are true, it’s a puzzling fight for USL D-III to pick as it launches for 2019. As the second-tier USL sees success for many of its club and continues prolific expansion, trying to start a third division club in a market with a decade-old fourth division club is a head scratcher unless it was possible to cherry pick CFC and drop it into its first season.

American club soccer still is the Wild West, though, and any area’s club needs to be prepared for a battle from big dollars regardless of its success. Major League Soccer is trying to expand into Detroit despite (and maybe because) NPSL side Detroit City FC boasting wild attendance figures and hosting friendlies against Venezia, FC St. Pauli, and Club Necaxa.

[ MORE: Pochettino hopeful for signings as injuries pile up, deadline looms ]

In a lot of ways it’s unsavory, but not terribly unique: The World Hockey Association of the 1970s saw all of its teams fold save the four who would join the National Hockey League. The “sport of the future” truly is here, and early adopters aren’t granted free passes to the present.

As the number of teams in the NPSL and Premier Development League continues to rise and more markets prove they can draw crowds, this is going to keep happening for some time. And upward mobility happens: The PDL’s Ottawa Fury moved into the NASL in 2014, and now plays in the USL. The NPSL’s Nashville FC and PDL’s Richmond Kickers now have entities in the USL.

Yet it doesn’t have to feel good. It’s America, and USL D-III has every reason to aim for the Chattanooga market. Why an investor would pick this particular fight, however, leaves plenty to the imagination. What’s to come from the presumably impending announcement from McDaniel in Tennessee?

DISCLAIMER: The author operates a club in the same league as Chattanooga FC.

Serie A to impose 33-percent pay cut for players, coaches

Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images
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Serie A announced on Monday that it has agreed a 33-percent pay cut for 19 of its 20 clubs’ players and coaching staff for as long as the league’s coronavirus suspension lasts.

[ MORE: Report: Premier League prepares for June return ]

Juventus was the lone club to abstain from voting on the measure after previously agreeing to cut its players’ salaries by an amount equal to the monthly wages of March, April, May and June.

The league said in a statement that the reduction in wages paid to players and coaches was “necessary to safeguard the future of the entire Italian football system.”

“The intervention … foresees a reduction of one third of the total gross annual salary in the event that it is not possible to resume sporting activity, and a reduction of one sixth… if the remaining matches of the 2019/2020 season can be played in the coming months.”

The statement also reiterated all sides’ desire to continue and compete the 2019-20 season once it is deemed safe for all involved parties to do so.

“There is a confirmed willingness to bring this season to an end and to get back to playing, without running any risks, only when the sanitary conditions and the government’s decisions will allow so.”

U.S. prosecutors allege bribes in 2018, 2022 World Cup votes

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NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors revealed new details of alleged bribes paid to FIFA executive committee members to gain their votes for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup and charged a pair of former 21st Century Fox executives with making illegal payments to win broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

[ MORE: Former U.S. TV execs indicted on charges of World Cup bribery ]

An indictment unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn says Nicolás Leoz, then president of the South American governing body CONMEBOL, and former Brazil federation president Ricardo Teixeira received bribes to vote for Qatar at the 2010 FIFA executive committee meeting.

Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, president of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body CONCACAF, received $5 million in bribes to vote for Russia to host in 2018 from 10 different shell companies that included entities in Anguilla, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, the indictment alleged. Guatemala federation president Rafael Salguero was promised a $1 million bribe to vote for Russia, according to the indictment.

Leoz, who died last August, avoided extradition, as have Warner and Teixeira. Salguero pleaded guilty in 2018 to two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and one count each of racketeering conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Alejandro Burzaco, former head of the marketing company Torneos y Competencias, testified in 2017 that all three South Americans on the FIFA executive committee took million-dollar bribes to support Qatar, which prevailed over the U.S. 14-8.

[ MORE: Report: Premier League prepares for June return ]

Former 21st Century Fox Inc. executives Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez were charged Monday with making payments to CONMEBOL officials to obtain broadcast rights bidding information from a co-conspirator whose identify was not identified in the indictment.

ESPN had U.S. English-language television rights to the World Cup from 1994-2014, but Fox in 2011 gained the rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. After the 2022 tournament in Qatar was shifted from summer to late autumn, a time when it is likely to get less attention in the U.S., FIFA awarded Fox rights for 2026 without competitive bidding.


Also charged in the indictment, handed up by a grand jury on March 18, are former Imagina Media Audiovisual CEO Gerard Romy; and the Uruguayan sports marketing company Full Play Group SA.

The indictment includes charges of wire fraud and money laundering. The charges against Romy and Full Play also allege racketeering conspiracy.

“The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades,” William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement. “Over a period of many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks, and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of soccer. Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate.”

Since the first indictments were announced in May 2015, there have been 26 publicly announced guilty pleas, many from former soccer officials, including CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer.

[ MORE: Son Heung-min to complete military service in South Korea ]

CONMEBOL president Juan Ángel Napout and Brazil federation president José Maria Marin were convicted following trials. Napout is in prison in Florida and Marin was released from a prison last week. Some individuals await sentencing.

Lopez was CEO of Fox International Channels, a 21st Century Fox subsidiary, and Martinez was president of Fox International Channels and an executive of Fox Latin American Channel Inc. They are accused of joining with Full Play to pay million of dollars in bribes to CONMEBOL executives in exchange for rights to the Copa Libertadores, South America’s annual club championship.

“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” Lopez’s lawyer, Matthew D. Umhofer, said in an email. “The indictment contains nothing more than single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr. Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial.”

Steven J. McCool, Martinez’s attorney, said in an email: “We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as the charges against him are nothing more than stale fiction.”


Carlos Ortiz said Full Play intends to plead not guilty at Thursday’s arraignment and his client “looks forward to vigorously defending itself against all of the charges at trial.”

A lawyer for Romy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Fox Sports also did not respond to a request for comment.

Romy is accused with joining his alleged co-conspirators to pay a $3 million bribe to Jeffrey Webb, the former president of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body CONCACAF, for media and marketing rights to home World Cup qualifiers in the Caribbean for the 2018 and 2022 cycles. Webb pleaded guilty on Nov. 23, 2015, to several counts and awaits sentencing.

Van Dijk wants to be remembered as ‘a Liverpool legend’

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Virgil van Dijk is setting his sights as high as possible, aiming to first bring the Premier League title back to Liverpool and to then be remembered as a “legend” and “one of [the club’s] greatest servants” when his playing career is finished.

[ MORE: Former US TV execs indicted on charges of World Cup bribery ]

The 28-year-old Dutchman is well on his way to following up last season’s PFA PL Player of the Year award with Liverpool’s first top-division title since 1990 — provided the 2019-20 season is completed after being suspended due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — and he appears to have a keen interest in how he will be remembered in the hearts and minds of the club’s most ardent supporters for years and decades to come.

[ MORE: Report: Premier League prepares for June return ]

Van Dijk wasn’t at all hesitant to throw around the L-word when speaking to Spanish media outlet Sport this week:

How would you like to be remembered?

“As a Liverpool legend. I want to achieve incredible things here. We have a fantastic team, we don’t lack anything, we have all the tools necessary to on winning: a coach that we identify with, a versatile squad, a style of play that breeds victories, a stadium and supporters that play their part. Yes, I would like to be one of those players that return to Anfield after retiring. I see club legends at games and I feel part of a really big family.”

I have read that you love Disney. It’s quite a contrast to your life as a footballer…

“I like Disney films and I love taking my kids to Disneyland. Seeing them so happy makes my day. I was seven or eight when I went there for the first time and it was fantastic but we did not go much as it was so expensive. I took my wife when we first started dating. We got drunk in a hotel… it was memorable. I like simple things so why complicate things? Why be negative when you can enjoy life and be positive? That’s something I have learned with the years. I always try to be positive. Life is too short to always look at the negatives.”

Another few years of performances at his current level, and Van Dijk should have no trouble talking his way back inside Anfield anytime his heart desires for as long as he lives.

Former U.S. TV execs indicted on charges of World Cup bribery

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
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NEW YORK (AP) A pair of former sports marketing executives of 21st Century Fox have been indicted on charges they paid bribes to soccer officials to obtain confidential bidding information during FIFA’s sale of U.S. television rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

[ MORE: Report: Premier League prepares for June return ]

Charges were unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn against former 21st Century Fox Inc. executives Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez. They are accused of making payments to officials of the CONMEBOL, South American soccer’s governing body.

ESPN had U.S. English-language television rights to the World Cup from 1994-2014, but Fox in 2011 gained the rights for 2018 and 2022 tournaments. After the 2022 tournament in Qatar was shifted from summer to late autumn, a time when it is likely to get less attention in the U.S., FIFA awarded Fox rights for 2026 without competitive bidding.

Also charged in the indictment, handed up by a grand jury on March 18, are former Imagina Media Audiovisual CEO Gerard Romy; and the Uruguayan sports marketing company Full Play Group SA. The Justice Department said the indictment includes charges of wire fraud and money laundering. The charges against Romy and Full Play allege racketeering conspiracy.

“The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades,” William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement. “Over a period of many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks, and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of soccer. Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate.”

[ MORE: Son Heung-min to complete military service in South Korea ]

Lopez and Martinez are accused of joining with Full Play to pay million of dollars in bribes to executives of CONMEBOL in exchange for rights to the Copa Libertadores, South America’s annual club championship.

“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” Lopez’s lawyer, Matthew D. Umhofer, said in an email. “The indictment contains nothing more than single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr. Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial.”

Steven J. McCool, Martinez’s attorney, said in an email: “We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as the charges against him are nothing more than stale fiction.”

Lawyers for Romy and Full Play did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Fox Sports also did not respond to a request for comment.

Romy is accused with joining his alleged co-conspirators to pay a $3 million bribe to Jeffrey Webb, the former president of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body CONCACAF, for media and marketing rights to home World Cup qualifiers in the Caribbean for the 2018 and 2022 cycles. Webb pleaded guilty on Nov. 23, 2015, to several counts and awaits sentencing.