The National Premier Soccer League is the latest entity to help launch a professional league, bringing some of its most successful members together with a couple of NASL teams, and some brand new clubs.
“We support our members’ growth and expansion of their leagues,” said Motta. “This is another opportunity to develop players, coaches, administrators, and referees at the highest level of adult soccer. This is absolutely critical for player development, as it prepares players onto the next level and also for referee development, as this level of adult soccer is the best training ground for referees in this country.”
The founding members of the league are ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, FC Arizona, Miami FC, Miami United FC, Milwaukee Torrent, New York Cosmos, and Oakland Roots.
Dalglish told ProSoccerTalk before the game that he wanted this one bad, and his men went out and worked hosts FC Motown to the tune of 3-1.
“When I won the PDL, we hosted the final,” Dalglish said. “The two MLS Cups were in neutral venues, so this is the first time I’m going to the lion’s den. … You’ve gotta run and fight and scrap til your lungs burn to enjoy it.”
Dylan Mares was named Man of the Match, scoring Miami’s second goal with a terrific free kick. Also scoring were Jeff Michaud and Jonny Steele, who bagged this beauty.
The two sides will meet at Drew University’s Ranger Stadium in Madison, NJ on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.
NASL’s uncertainty forced several clubs, including Miami FC, to reconsider their future in 2018 after the formerly second-tier division cancelled its season due to an ongoing battle with the United States Soccer Federation.
That was when Miami FC 2, which largely consists of players that have been carried over from the club’s professional side, was born.
Miami FC 2 has cruised through much of its 2018 schedule in NPSL, as expected, with just one regular season blemish on its record; a 1-0 defeat to Florida rivals Jacksonville Armada, who also came over from NASL in the interim.
With a strong squad and experience manager in Paul Dalglish, it’s no surprise Miami is playing for the NPSL title.
On the other side of the field though, they’ll meet an FC Motown side that has defied the odds in their first professional season.
Although Motown features a number of former professionals as well, most notably Dilly Duka and Julius James, very few considered the New Jersey-based club a threat heading into 2018.
Instead, the newcomers have gone about their business, also losing just one regular season match, which came on the final matchday before the NPSL postseason.
Motown has had the benefit of playing four of its five playoff matches at Ranger Stadium, winning those four games by a combined score of 10 to three.
With both clubs seeking professional environments in the future, it may be one of the few occasions where Miami and Motown will meet on an “amateur” playing field, but make no mistake about it, neither club fits the standard definition of amateur.
To get a full understanding of one of the country’s most exciting clubs, you have to meet Dan Karosen and Scott Kindzierski — co-founders of FC Motown. Those two are only the beginning of what is quickly developing into a rich soccer culture in the heart of New Jersey, though.
The team name likely sounds familiar, as Motown has quickly risen amongst the ranks of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) elite in just its first season of existence.
Roughly 30 miles from New York City and in the epicenter of the soccer-potent state of New Jersey, FC Motown was founded back in 2012, however, the club’s presence was significantly different than what currently lies before us.
Six years ago, Karosen and Kindzierski — who had previously grown up together and attended Delbarton High School as classmates — found themselves on a local pitch playing in a co-ed sports league.
That was where the the idea for Motown was officially concocted.
The club began competing in the Garden State Soccer League (GSSL), a competitive outlet for a number of top amateur teams in New Jersey. However, it wasn’t long before the duo got the idea to take another leap forward into the realm of competitive soccer, one that the team has managed to conquer in a very short period of time.
Motown merged with the Clarkstown Eagles only this year, after having competed in conjunction with the club in 2017 in the NPSL, to form a side that is on the brink of capturing the league’s title in just its first year.
“The club was generated out of the No-Idea Sports Co-Ed League,” Karosen told Pro Soccer Talk. “We played in that recreation league to have fun and ended up having a really strong team. We wanted to test ourselves at a higher level and joined the Garden State Soccer League.
“We used their promotion/relegation structure to work up their pyramid and started adding more talent. When we conquered the GSSL we joined the NPSL to test ourselves in a national league, and take another step up the U.S. Soccer pyramid.”
The current Motown squad is led by Dilly Duka and Julius James — two former MLS professionals — who have been cogs for Motown all season as they aim to capture an NPSL title on Saturday. They’re joined by a healthy mix of current and former collegiate standouts that are also complimented by players that previously played in Poland and Uruguay.
That group includes midfielder Matt Nigro, who was recently named NPSL Golden Ball winner (Player of the Year), as well as
Meanwhile, the club’s manager — Sacir Hot — has a professional background of his own after briefly playing for the New York Red Bulls and coming up through the ranks of the U.S. Soccer youth national team system.
That’s what makes Motown such a unique setup. They aren’t the traditional “amateur” club and that’s what makes them so special.
And while NPSL boasts a number of clubs with significant professionals in their squads, most notably New York Cosmos B, Jacksonville Armada U-23 and Miami FC 2, Motown is proving to many other clubs across the league that even the new kids on the block can make noise when competing against the upper echelon.
“This first year has to be considered a smashing success for the club on the field,” Karosen said. “Expectations were very high given our talent level, but beating the Cosmos and making the national final four stamped the season.
“Our primary goal as owners is to give our players a good experience with our club. Hopefully our talented players enjoyed the season and they certainly all gave the blood, sweat and tears that we asked for them.”
Hot has had to orchestrate how the club balances a compact schedule that features a full NPSL and GSSL schedule, on top of playing several matches in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup.
Without much time to work in training sessions, and the majority of the club working other jobs on the side, like any other lower-level team Hot has somehow found a way to get his club to buy into Motown’s winning mentality, which has propelled them through the entire season.
The diverse mix of talent in the Motown squad is undeniable, ranging from former professionals to a fourth-year medical student.
“Yes, it was only a matter of getting the group of players to buy-in and sacrifice some of their normal 9-5 life tendencies to give us the best chance to win the NPSL title,” Hot told PST. “Hani Nasr (a fourth year medical student) has been able to balance both, and that exemplifies how committed all of our guys are.”
2018 appears to be just the beginning for Motown’s ambitions though. With a club that already features several former professional players, a professional atmosphere is what the organization is seeking.
Motown has already knocked off a New York Cosmos B side that features many players that previously competed with the club’s NASL side in the NPSL playoffs, and now faces another NASL-generated club in Miami FC 2 in their first-ever NPSL final.
Club president Oliver Papraniku has already begun discussions about a potential opening in a league being explored in 2019, which would run through NPSL at a professional level.
While the details of the league are still a bit murky due to the U.S. Soccer Federation’s distinct laws on division classification, which currently constitutes professional clubs as ones in the top three tiers of the American soccer pyramid, Pro Soccer Talk has learned through multiple sources that an NPSL professional league is very much in the works.
“We are currently working on the possibility of joining the new NPSL Pro League in 2019 and also the possibility of working with David Villa’s ‘DV7 group’ on future soccer-related projects,” Papraniku told PST. “We know that FC Motown is in a great area with lots of youth soccer and passionate fans of domestic and international soccer.
“We want to grow FC Motown as a way to help develop talent but also inspire the next generation of young players who come to our games and see a pathway to the pros.”
For now though, Motown benefits from boasting a team that has players that have experience in big matches, with Duka, in particular, playing a key role in the club’s 56 goals scored this season across 17 matches in all competitions.
Before Duka was orchestrating goals for Motown’s potent attack, he was in MLS with a number of top clubs, including Columbus Crew and the New York Red Bulls.
An ankle injury derailed his opportunity to continue in MLS for the current season though, and that’s when Motown became the ideal choice for a player that was born and raised not too far up the road.
“FC Motown’s story is great because we’re a group of players looking for competitive leagues to stay fit and we’re out here competing in a local league making it more competitive,” Duka said.
For any lower-level team, sustainability is the name of the game. And while Motown has a ways to go before it can really establish itself on the U.S. soccer scene, a victory in Saturday’s NPSL final would go a long way towards achieving that goal.
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.
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.”
This bid is in no way associated with Chattanooga FC.
Our commitment remains to our community, our fans, and the city we love.
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.
“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.
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:
It's never been about the money with @ChattanoogaFC. From day one it's been about doing something great for the city in a long-term, sustainable way. That will continue to be our path and refuse to put it all on the altar of buying our way up.
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.
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.