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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.

[ MORE: Atlanta 1-1 Seattle ]

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).

[ MORE: LAFC 0-0 Portland ]

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.

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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.

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal field set

Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP
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The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is down to one non-MLS entrant after LAFC fought past Sacramento Republic’s dogged effort to make it two, twice equalizing en route to a 3-2 win.

[ MORE: TFC extends Bono ]

Louisville City won a battle of USL sides in Wednesday’s final day of fifth round action, knocking off Nashville SC by a 2-1 score.

Now attention turns to the quarterfinals, where USL champions Louisville City will face the Chicago Fire on July 18.

All four quarterfinals will be staged on that day, and the winner of Louisville-Chicago will face the winner of the duel between Philadelphia Union and Orlando City.

The other side of the bracket shows Houston Dynamo against Sporting KC, and LAFC against the Portland Timbers.

Chicago and KC have won the cup an MLS-best four times each, while Philadelphia has finished second twice.

The remaining quarterfinalists have not advanced to a USOC final.

U.S. Open Cup: RBNY thumps NYCFC; Nashville knocks Colorado out

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The New York Red Bulls have resumed residence in their derby rivals’ heads.

The Hudson River Derby was decidedly one-sided as RBNY buried NYCFC at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, moving onto the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s results ]

But first: a Cupset.

Nashville SC 2-0 Colorado Rapids

A Michael Azira own goal and Ropapa Mensah insurance marker sent Anthony Hudson’s Rapids crashing out of the Open Cup at USL competition.

New York City FC 0-4 New York Red Bulls

Woof, Mr. Vieira. This is the sort of loss that drives you to Nice.

One month and one day since the Red Bulls crushed their derby rivals 4-0 at home, they duplicated the score line.

Vincent Bezecourt scored in the second minute, Aaron Long just after halftime, and Daniel Royer twice in the final three minutes to give RBNY a four-star win.

Atlanta United 3-0 Charleston Battery

Tata’s kids didn’t have any problem with their USL visitors, as Andrew Carleton, Ezequiel Barco, and Romario Williams all scored to set up a fourth round date with Orlando City.

Columbus Crew 2-2 Chicago Fire (Chicago wins 10-9 in PKs)

An entertaining 120 minutes led to a wild, 11-round penalty kick shootout. Richard Sanchez saved Logan Ketterer’s 11th round effort after scoring his own effort, a 17th-straight conversion between the two teams.

In regulation, Nemanja Nikolic scored twice for the Fire while Cristian Martinez had a goal and assisted on Adam Jahn’s marker for Columbus.

FC Cincinnati 0-0 Minnesota United (Loons win 3-1 in PKs)

One of MLS’ new boys visited next season’s debutants, and there was little to separate the two at Nippert Stadium. Cincy hit the bar with its first effort and Bobby Shuttleworth stopped the second. Spencer Richey made a save on the Loons’ third effort to give Cincy hope, but Shuttleworth made another save to send Minnesota through.

Elsewhere
Miami United 0-3 Orlando City SC
Houston Dynamo 5-0 NTX Rayados
San Antonio FC 0-1 FC Dallas

U.S. Open Cup wrap: Louisville ousts Revs, DC dodges “Cupset”

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Three of eight Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fourth round matches are complete following Tuesday night action involving USL and MLS competition.

[ MORE: World Cup stadium guide ]

Louisville City 3-2 New England Revolution

The USL hosts overcame a fifth minute concession and 26th minute own goal with a pair of equalizers, and took hold of its “Cupset” with a Brian Ownby 62nd minute marker.

Mark Segbers opened the scoring for New England before Oscar Jimenez leveled the tie. An own goal put Brad Friedel‘s men back on top, but Cameron Lancaster made it 2-2 in the 37th minute.

But Ownby’s goal, well, it was befitting of a big moment in the nascent life of Lou City.

DC United 1-1 North Carolina FC (NCFC wins in PKs)

Ian Harkes scored an Open Cup goal for the second successive season, but his first half goal was met in the second by Marios Lomis seven minutes from stoppage time.

The match went to penalty kicks after 120 minutes were in the books. David Ousted stopped NC’s second effort and the visitors his the cross bar with their fourth shot. Harkes then sent his chance to clinch it wide of the frame, but Bruno Miranda netted the fifth effort.

Philadelphia Union 5-0 Richmond Kickers

Philly built a 4-0 halftime lead, cruising to a win on the strength of five goal scorers: Jack Elliott, David Accam, Anthony Fontana, Marcus Epps, and Jay Simpson.

The Union lost consecutive finals in 2014 and 2015, and move on to another quarterfinal round.

Freddy Adu scores first USL goal for Las Vegas

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Freddy Adu appears to have found himself a decent home out in the desert, and he’s found the back of the net for his new club.

The 29-year-old scored his first goal for Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday night during the team’s 4-1 win over the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, which just happened to be his birthday.

Meanwhile, Vegas goalkeeper Ricardo Ferrino thought he’d take the game into his own hands — or in this case feet — when he attempted to dribble the length of the pitch in the 50th minute.

Unfortunately for the keeper, his plan didn’t work out.