pro/rel

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Miami FC makes surprise move to United Soccer League

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The United Soccer League scored an eyebrow raiser on Wednesday when it announced the addition of Miami FC.

Miami purchased the franchise rights of the disbanded Ottawa Fury, and joins the USL Championship for the 2020 season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva had been an outspoken proponent of promotion and relegation, reportedly offering a $4 billion TV deal to MLS to become an open system. He’s also one of the men who filed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to force U.S. Soccer to adopt the system.

USL president Jake Edwards has spoken about bringing pro/rel into the league, between the Championship and League One. Adding the club owned by Silva, a powerful voice, begs the idea that there are some big things in the oven.

With the move, Miami FC will have to compete with a Major League Soccer team down the street in Inter Miami. They’ll play in the FIU stadium named after Silva.

Here’s what Miami FC president Paul Dalglish said via a team release:

“The decision to join USL gives us two key things.  First, it gives us a stable platform to further expand our academy program and community work, meaning accessible, inclusive and fun family events that bring all of Miami’s soccer communities together.

“Second, it means we’ll be playing 17 home games at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, providing a fantastic experience for the army of loyal fans that have stood by us. We can’t wait to get started and begin the campaign to our add to our trophy haul.”

It’s a far cry from its roots in the NASL as a buccaneer of professional soccer, but provides stability for a team which has finished first in its last five campaigns spread across three leagues: the NASL, NPSL, and the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).

Some see pro/rel as an inevitability given FIFA’s rules and a MLS landscape which is now producing an uneven schedule and a number of markets which seek top-tier teams and have the money and audience to support higher tiers.

And at some point, it must be acknowledged that the USL has a number of markets blocked in their pathway to MLS and could emerge as a righteous competitor or fold into a gigantic tiered system. The addition of Miami in a year Major League Soccer is launching Inter Miami is unlikely to be welcomed by MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Meanwhile, Miami FC’s departure means U.S. soccer landscape will certainly turn an eye toward NISA. The nascent league features Atlanta SC, California United, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Los Angeles Force, Michigan Stars, Oakland Roots, San Diego 1904 FC, Stumptown Athletic, the New York Cosmos, and unnamed teams in Connecticut and Providence.

NISA announced that U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors formally approved Detroit City, Chattanooga, Oakland and Michigan on Wednesday. Detroit and Chattanooga are the two highest-profile grass roots clubs outside the USL and MLS, and widely viewed as bellwethers for independent clubs.

Premier League relegation picture very clear after Saturday morning

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We already knew Fulham and Huddersfield Town were doomed for the drop, but could all three teams be settled come Tuesday.

Weekend wins from Newcastle, Southampton, Burnley, and Bournemouth put the quartet in safe standing, while another Cardiff City loss has the Bluebirds looking at Tuesday as their last realistic hope of survival.

[ MORE: FIFA statement on racism ]

That’s because Cardiff City will visit struggling 17th place Brighton and Hove Albion, whose 10 men were battered 5-0 at home by Bournemouth.

That leaves Cardiff with 28 points and four matches to play, five points behind Brighton who holds 33 and a match-in-hand. Southampton is next closest with 36 points following its defeat of Wolves.

Cardiff City has to take all three points at the Amex Stadium come Tuesday, with its remaining fixtures home to Liverpool, away to Fulham, home to Crystal Palace, and away to Manchester United.

After Cardiff’s visit, Brighton and Hove Albion tangles with Wolves at the Molineux before visiting Tottenham, hosting Newcastle, traveling to Arsenal and hosting Man City on the final day of the season.

There are enough chances for the worm to turn in Cardiff’s favor, but the Seagulls can all but end the Bottom Three drama in 72 hours time.

Wolverhampton Wanderers promoted to Premier League

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Sunday will be a party at the Molineux when Wolverhampton Wanderers host Birmingham City in a 7 am. ET kickoff.

That’s because Wolves are back in the Premier League after a six-year hiatus, clinching top flight status while at home on their proverbial couches (and probably in some cases on actual couches).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brentford scored late to draw third-place Fulham, who can no longer catch the Championship leaders (since November!).

Wolves have a fantastic history, having thrice won the English top flight (predating the Premier League era) with a total of 14 Top Three finishes. It’s won four FA Cups, two League Cups, and was the runner-up in the 1972 UEFA Cup.

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo is in his first season as a manager in England, and has become known as an electric character. He’s previously managed Porto, Valencia, and Rio Ave.

Hopeful third-tier league NISA announces first 8 markets

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The National Independent Soccer Association has announced the first eight markets involved in its chase for Division III soccer sanctioning from U.S. Soccer.

Charlotte, Chattanooga, Connecticut, Miami, Milwaukee, Omaha, Phoenix, and St. Louis will be the markets applying to open play in Spring 2018. The league says it has 15 letters of intent, with the other seven markets opting to wait until the 2019 season to begin play.

[ MORE: Liverpool, Arsenal agree Ox deal ]

The league’s use of the word “applicants” is very loose, as its experienced organizers would not let the possibility of “no” get mixed into an initial release.

NISA will be owned by the teams and run by organizers Peter Wilt and Jack Cummings, and the teams will need to pay six-figure expansion fees to fund the league.

Wilt and Cummins are behind an NASL bid for Chicago, and Wilt helped build MLS side Chicago Fire and is on the club’s Ring of Fire. Cummins is an executive who ran the Chicago Red Stars women’s team, and both men work for a sports advisory firm called Club 9 Sports.

At least one of the aforementioned markets is a known entity from other leagues, NPSL side Miami United, and Chattanooga FC may have a team in the league though there are conflicting reports (A supporters account says yes, the club’s co-founder says there will be an NPSL side no matter what).

Wilt pitched Division II NASL and perceived Division IV NPSL on helping to organize NISA, in the hopes that NISA would eventually become a middle cog in three-tier promotion/relegation.

St. Louis, Phoenix, and Charlotte have USL sides, and Miami has a team in the NASL.

Sean Flynn, the CEO of Miami FC in the NASL, has been an outspoken proponent of pro/rel and is supportive of the idea even with a team in his market.

Top relegation six-pointers on the Premier League docket

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Though 10 matches is plenty of time for a slide in form to dip another side into the drop zone, five teams look set to duke it out for two safe spots in the Premier League.

There are varying degrees of desperation in the bunch at this point. Sunderland is seven points shy of safety and cannot handle many more losses, while Northeast neighbor Middlesbrough is also multiple results from safety.

Hull City is three points back of 16th place Swansea City, while Crystal Palace is four points above the drop.

[ MORE: Should injured USMNT be worried? ]

You can see why Boro made a managerial change with a massive April on the way which includes two six-pointers in four days, both on the road. Those days could swing the drop zone race altogether, with both Swans and Hull having a chance to gain three points, doom Boro, while Palace plays at Chelsea and Southampton.

Swansea City vs. Middlesbrough — 8:30 a.m. EDT on April 2

Hull City vs. Middlesbrough — 2:45 p.m. EDT on April 5

Boro then gets the next six-pointer as well, though it will be looking mighty academic if Sunderland keeps losing and Boro falls to Swans and Hull.

This kickstarts a trio of six-pointers for the Black Cats, who have to hope to be alive when this run starts.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. EDT on April 26

Hull City vs. Sunderland — May 6

Sunderland vs. Swansea City — May 13

Palace could well be safe by now, as their talent really does sit above a relegation race (Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend, and Christian Benteke alone make Sam Allardyce‘s task easier than it’s looked).

Crystal Palace vs. Hull City — May 13