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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.

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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.

WATCH: Miami United midfielder unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.

U.S. Open Cup wrap: “Cupsets” dot second round slate

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There were “Cupsets” in several locations during the early matches of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s second round on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Atleti wins Europa League ]

Two PDL teams, an NPSL side, and a league qualifier picked up wins over USL competition, with FC Wichita, Mississippi Brilla, Ocean City Nor’easters, and NTX Rayados recording wins.

Tulsa Roughnecks 3-4 FC Wichita

The USL hosts led 1-0 and 2-1 through Jhon Pirez and Riggs Lennon, but the pesky NPSL visitors refused to go away. Franck Yayou scored two goals and outscored its pro opponents 2-1 down the stretch in one of the night’s “Cupsets.”

FC Cincinnati 4-1 (aet) Detroit City FC

There was controversy before the game when FCC decided to play in a much smaller venue and limit away tickets to a few dozen, and Detroit used it as a rallying cry to the tune of an early lead through a counterattack befitting almost any league on Earth. Cincy answered big time, but needed extra time to put away the NPSL side.

FC Motown 1-3 Penn FC

Another scare from an NPSL side saw well-traveled MLS man Dilly Duka put the hosts ahead in the 53rd minute, but the visitors scored thrice in the final 11 minutes to move onto the third round.

Jacksonville Armada 1-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies

An old NASL rivalry saw Jimmy Banks’ 58th minute goal carry the Armada into the third round.

Elsewhere
North Carolina FC 3-0 Lansdowne Bhoys FC
Charlotte Independence 1-3 Ocean City Nor’easters
Erie Commodores 1-2 Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Reading United 1-1 (3-4, pks) Richmond Kickers
Seacoast United Phantoms 0-2 Elm City Express
Charleston Battery 1-0 South Georgia Tormenta FC
Louisville City FC 5-0 Long Island Rough Riders
Miami FC2 1-3 Miami United 
Mississippi Brilla 1-0 Indy Eleven
Midland-Odessa Sockers 0-4 San Antonio FC
Nashville SC
2-0 Inter Nashville FC
Colorado Springs Switchbacks
3-2 FC Denver
NTX Rayados 5-2 (aet) Oklahoma City Energy
Duluth FC – Saint Louis FC
Sporting Arizona – Phoenix Rising
Fresno FC – Orange County FC
Las Vegas Lights – FC Tucson
Reno 1868 – Portland Timbers U23
Sacramento Republic – San Francisco City FC

Sources: FC Motown to sign former Trinidad international Julius James

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FC Motown has been busy in 2018, adding notable names like Dilly Duka and Hunter Freeman into the fold ahead of their inaugural NPSL season, and the club isn’t done just yet.

Pro Soccer Talk has learned that the New Jersey-based club has signed former Trinidad & Tobago international Julius James, who last played in 2017 with USL side Sacramento Republic FC.

James, 33, made 16 appearances for the Soca Warriors from 2008 to 2011 and has played for a number of clubs throughout the United States during his professional career.

The University of Connecticut product featured for various MLS teams, including Toronto FC, the Houston Dynamo, D.C. United and Columbus Crew, prior to ending up in NPSL in 2018.

Motown will begin its run of competitive matches on Wednesday, as manager Sacir Hot and Co. host the New York Red Bulls Under-23 side in the first round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Drew University’s Ranger Stadium.

Sources: Cosmos midfielder Danny Szetela joins NPSL side FC Motown

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Uncertainty around NASL has forced a number of players to seek new ventures in their playing careers, and that has become the case for yet another high-profile talent.

[ MORE: Red Bulls make history with big CCL road win over Tijuana ]

Pro Soccer Talk has learned through multiple sources that former New York Cosmos midfielder Danny Szetela has agreed to join NPSL club FC Motown.

The 30-year-old had previously played with the NASL club since its return to the league in 2013. In that time, the New Jersey-native notched six goals and two assists in over 100 appearances for the three-time modern-day NASL champions.

NASL recently cancelled its 2018 season after the league was denied an injunction in appeals court that would have maintained NASL’s Division II status.

Szetela began his professional career back in 2004 when he signed with the Columbus Crew from MLS. Additionally, the veteran has spent time with D.C. United and a brief stint in Europe at Racing Santander (Spain) and Brescia (Italy).

FC Motown has quickly put its name on the map after recently signing former MLS player Dilly Duka, as well as the team’s manager — Sacir Hot — who came up through the New York Red Bulls and U.S. Men’s National team academies.

The club will make its debut in NPSL this season, after maintaining a perfect 22-0-1 record last year in the Garden State Soccer League. FC Motown will play all of its home matches this season on the campus of Drew University located in Madison, New Jersey.

During FC Motown’s current preseason campaign, Hot and Co. have recorded wins over USL side Bethlehem Steel and the New York Red Bulls Under-19 team.