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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 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 several hampers their international aspirations is a hard sell (The NASL had capped players from 27 caps 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 put 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.

Report: USMNT extends Sarachan through 2018

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Earnie Stewart is buying himself some time to land the new USMNT manager, extending interim manager Dave Sarachan through 2018.

Assistants Richie Williams and Matt Reis have also been extended, according to the AP.

[ MORE: Rooney signs for DC United ]

This shouldn’t necessarily cue the news that the United States men’s national team job belongs Sarachan, or is even his to lose, but it does allow Stewart some comfort moving through a series of Fall friendlies against England, Italy, and Brazil amongst others.

Sarachan, who seems widely liked by the young players he’s bringing into the team, has done little to lower his stock since taking over for his former boss, Bruce Arena.

Aside from — opinion alert — minor quibbles with not using his subs well enough to give young players caps and further embed them into the USMNT culture. The former Buffalo Stallions forward from Rochester N.Y. has done a fine job so far.

Sarachan extended through 2018 by US Soccer Federation

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CHICAGO (AP) Dave Sarachan’s contract as interim U.S. soccer coach has been extended through the end of the year by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The USSF said Wednesday it also had extended the contracts of assistant coaches Richie Williams and Matt Reis.

[ MORE: Rooney signs for DC United ]

Sarachan was Bruce Arena’s top assistant and took over when Arena quit last October after the loss at Trinidad and Tobago eliminated the U.S. in World Cup qualifying, causing the Americans to miss their first World Cup since 1986.

The 64-year-old Sarachan has led the team to two wins (Paraguay and Bolivia), one loss (Ireland) and three ties (Portugal, Bosnia-Herzogovina and France).

Carlos Cordeiro replaced Sunil Gulati as USSF president in February, and the USSF hired former American midfielder Earnie Stewart to start as general manager on Aug, 1.

Stewart will recommend a new coach to the USSF board and has not given a timetable for the search.

Sarachan has given debuts to 18 players in six matches, including 10 age-eligible for the 2020 Olympics.

What will hosting 2026 World Cup mean for USA?

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When it was announced that the United States of America, Canada and Mexico will co-host the 2026 World Cup, there was jubilation among the soccer communities in each nation.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

For the first time in 32 years the World Cup would be coming to North America and there is euphoria that a new generation of soccer fans will appear across the three countries.

But focusing solely on the U.S. (which will host 60 of the 80 games in the expanded 48-team format), what will this mean?

A man who knows about the impact of the last World Cup on home soil better than most is Cobi Jones, the all-time appearance leader for the U.S. men’s national team with 164 caps from 1992-2004 and he played for the USMNT in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups.

There is no doubt in his mind as to how significant this moment is for the soccer landscape in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

“It is a historic event,” Jones said. “For a nation to be able to host two World Cups. I understand it is a United bid with the U.S. being part of it having hosted in 1994 and now again in 2026, there are very few countries who are able to say they’ve hosted two World Cups. And for someone like me who grew up in the early 70s and 80s when soccer really was relevant in the United States, I didn’t think I’d see one World Cup, let alone two. It is pretty special.”

[ MORE: Where will the 2026 World Cup games be? ]

Jones, now 47, was 24 years old when the last World Cup in the U.S. kicked off.

He fondly remembers stepping out in front of over 84,000 fans to play for the U.S. against Brazil in the last 16 and wants that buzz to return in eight years time.

“It was pride,” Jones reflected. “The moment I was able to walk out on July 4 into Stanford Stadium, walking out against Brazil and seeing them walk out right next to me as a young man and I’ve got Romario and Bebeto doing their holding hands walk out into the center of the field… then looking up at that moment and seeing a full stadium with the majority being American fans. That was a moment of pride for a sport no-one thought would be successful in the United States. People from all around the world looked down on soccer in the United States. And to see that, it gave incentive to soccer to continue to move forward and grow.”


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Many still look back to the 1994 World Cup as the seminal moment for the domestic game in the U.S. as it launched not only Major League Soccer but whole industries around the sport when it came to media, business and infrastructure.

It was the moment the world seemed to realize that soccer in the U.S. had potential.

“That World Cup impacted me the same way it impacted so many more. It was a wonderful surprise,” Jones explained. “It was an inspiration for more investment in the sport in the United States and maybe a little more respect form overseas. I think as well we saw the legacy that it left behind and you have the United States, basically the 1994 World Cup built from the top down. You had the establishment of MLS and that top down development and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m hoping that with such a long run-up we see the investment from the ground up. More investment into infrastructure into that side of things where we see a grow into youth levels. That would be a logical use of money in my mind.”

The landscape of soccer in the U.S. is very different now compared to 1994.

MLS has grown to 26 teams. Every major league across the world is available to watch on television or online, plus huge summer friendly tournaments pack out stadiums as well as the rapid growth in popularity of the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams.

What’s the next step?

“I would say now soccer has got the full acceptance. I still think we are in a little bit of a transition and everyone is still trying to get a grasp of where soccer is at in this country,” Jones said. “When I was growing up nobody gave soccer any kind of respect and you were an outsider if you were into the sport. It grew into the fact where you got the development that now it’s like ‘okay, you’re cool and hip’ if you like soccer because it’s a little different. Now I think we’re at a point where we are just on the cusp of where it is starting to turn and on the edge of where it could be mainstream. We are seeing full stadiums, MLS is growing soccer-specific stadiums non-stop. But I still think there needs to be a transition where it is a day-to-day topic amongst the general population.

“We have it already if you ask people ‘do you watch MLS or such and such team?’ and people will say ‘oh no, I don’t, I’m not a fan of that’ or ‘oh yeah, I’m a fan.'” Just the fact that it’s not ‘oh, what’s that?’ is a massive change in this country!” Jones chuckled. “People know now. You could say ‘LAFC’ and people will say, ‘that new team in LA!’ and that’s a change. That’s big. Now we have to get it to the point where it’s on a daily basis where people are talking and there’s no hesitation at all about saying ‘did you see the game today?’ and that’s the next big step for soccer in the U.S.”


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Whether or not the 2026 World Cup will bring the sport into the mainstream conversation on a permanent basis remains to be seen, but one area Jones believes cannot be neglected is attracting players and interest from communities which have previously been left out.

With kids currently at the age of nine or ten possibly able to play for the USMNT at the 2026 World Cup as a teenage star a la Christian Pulisic, no community in the U.S. should left out of what promises to be an exhilarating eight-year journey.

“Off the field, we have got a long runway [until 2026] and as resources are put towards the growth for the game, I’d like to see more in the youth game but particularly into those undeserved communities or whatever you’d like to call it. The urban population. Just to expand the reach of soccer into those communities and possibly bring others who don’t have the chance to even just play the game or even just to build the sport more,” Jones said. “Let’s not forget, what we are starting to see in this day and age, a perfect example is someone like Pulisic, going into the national team at aged 17 or 18, and showing that they can play well. If that happens and the timing happens to be just right, basically a nine-year-old today will be able to play in the 2026 World Cup.

“We need to make sure our reach, our coaching, our philosophy, it’s the youth today and along that whole runaway up to 2026. The journey starts now and don’t leave people behind. Don’t leave those underserved communities behind. Let’s make sure the diversity is there. And by diversity I mean making a concerted effort to get into areas where people wouldn’t normally reached by U.S. Soccer because the thought of ‘oh, they’ll find us’ that isn’t working anymore. You’ve got to go out and find those players and show them what they need to do and where they need to go.”

Although there is plenty of focus on 2026 and having a U.S. team able to compete and do well, Jones is eager to remind everyone that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar comes before that.

Jones believes the USMNT cannot afford to miss a second-straight World Cup and expects his former teammate Earnie Stewart to focus on the here and now as well as the future in his new role as General Manager.

“There is going to be a lot of excitement about it being here in the United States [in 2026] but we have to remember that 2022 is right around the corner. There will be a focus on the players and the general plan going forward. That entails the next 18 months. The next World Cup doesn’t start four years from now. It starts two years from now,” Jones said. “We do not want to skip over this World Cup. The last thing the United States needs is the disappointment of not being at two World Cups. We need to start the focus now on the short-term and the long-term, and that’s part of the reason why the addition of a GM and Earnie Stewart being hired in that new job, he can keep the focus on both.”

What should USMNT fans being hope for from their team in 2026?

Jones was part of the 2002 World Cup squad which reached the quarterfinals before being harshly knocked out by Germany. In the modern era that is the USA’s best-ever finish in a tournament.

If the future USMNT replicate that finish, then surely the fans from all over the U.S. who are attracted to watching a team on home soil will stick around for a lot longer.

“On the pitch I’d like to see the U.S. do well and at that point if they can get beyond the quarterfinal stage and get into the semis,” Jones said. “We have a great crop of talent who are actually playing on a consistent basis in Europe and in the U.S. with the likes of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, all of these type of players who I feel can contribute on the pitch in the future along with some of the older players you see now. You will see a good U.S. side that won’t disappoint. I would like to see them go beyond the quarterfinals. That would be a success.”

Venting and lamenting the USMNT’s World Cup absence

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Maybe it’s the fact that the night’s already surreal, with the American and North Korean leaders holding a historic meeting and the common bond being a 57-year-old nicknamed “The Worm” who is known for being an excellent rebounder and starring in a movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but the dawn of this summer’s World Cup feels exceptionally dreamlike.

Let’s get some things out of the way: Even with the United States men’s national team failing to make the tournament, I’m still very excited about the World Cup. I’m leaning toward hitching my wagon to Serbia’s dark horse status, but also want to be four years’ worth of correct when it comes to Germany.

I’ve also learned you can navigate the sports version of the grieving process — acceptance is tough, but the hope part is easier — and still ride pretty high on the anger and frustration part of it all.

[ MORE: Sporting Lisbon drama increases ]

Anything can happen in a World Cup. We saw that with the USMNT escaping its Group of Death in 2014 and Costa Rica doing the same, but I can’t help look at this tournament as a chance lost for both CONCACAF and the U.S.

This is subjective, and please feel free to disagree, but the domestic buzz feels minimal compared to a tournament with the United States in the field. In terms of the average sports fan, you can scream Messi or Ronaldo all you want, but the tournament is being sold here like an El Clasico with flags.

We’ve reached the point in the World Cup cycle where I worry how many kids, both fans and players, in that pivotal age bracket of 8-12 are going to potentially miss out on their formative Dos A Cero in Jeonju, or Landon Donovan versus Algeria moment.

The beauty of being a sports fan is the images and characters created by your team or nation on the biggest stages.

For Americans of my generation, we’ve seen our country in every World Cup since we were in grade school. Even tournaments where the USMNT didn’t really ring a bell, like 1994, the World Cup drew us into side stories. I remember sitting in my Uncle Jim’s living room, hoping against hope that Italy would top Brazil, and being fairly bummed when Roberto Baggio sent his effort over the bar

I also often feel compelled to point out that Baggio was the third Italian to miss, and that Italy goes out in the Round of 16 if he doesn’t equalize in the 88th minute and complete his brace against Nigeria in extra time, then scoring the winner against Spain in the quarters, and both goals against Bulgaria in the semis.

And here’s the thing: I barely cared about soccer in 1994. I didn’t start playing until high school, and didn’t fall in love with the USMNT program until qualifying for the 2002 tournament.

There’s a vivid American memory from every World Cup after ’94 for me, often in the form of a question.

1998: “Did we really just lose to Iran?”

2002: “How did the ref miss that %^&%^& handball on Frings?”

2006: “Brian McBride is really bloody”

2010: “AND DONOVAN’S SCORED, OH CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?”

2014:

2018 is gonna be anger and disbelief, a generation deprived of its World Cup from perhaps the easiest qualification format by a defiant coach, his haughty replacement, and a group of players who showed enough effort to get the job done on average once every other game.

Frankly, this probably sounds absurd to some European and South American nations considering some of the World Cup droughts, some still active. Ryan Giggs never played in one. Alfredo Di Stefano, George Weah, and Ian Rush were shut out. Even in the expanded format, current big names like Darren Fletcher, Arda Turan, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Christian Pulisic missed his first World Cup? Boo-hoo, say Austria and Wales. David Alaba will be 28 the next time he gets to attempt qualification for his first. Gareth Bale will be 31 and Aaron Ramsey 30.

Robbie Keane got one World Cup. Marcus Hahnemann went to two.

So, yeah, American soccer fans have had it pretty good. I don’t want this to read like, “my tap water in Western New York could be better” when in reality I’d welcome a full-time job of delivering fresh water to the half-globe or more where it is needed by real, true human beings (including Michigan). Rooting for Serbia because the U.S. or Wakanda didn’t qualify is an acceptable enough outcome.

The 2026 World Cup could be coming back to the United States for the second time in 32 years despite this country still just figuring out the sport’s allure. We’re fortunate in so many ways. And, frankly, there’s a very good argument to be made that the country’s federation could use the second swift kick that would come from failing to make a World Cup then blowing a World Cup hosting bid despite overwhelming stores of influence and money.

But for now, all I can think about is what we won’t have this weekend. Very few, if any, city blocks shut down for outdoor viewing party. A similar amount of beer-soaked phone videos of bar celebrations. No John Brooks canceling out Andre Ayew’s late equalizer. No Jermaine Jones rocket against Portugal. Not even a hope-giving moment from substitute Julian Green versus Belgium (Silly dual nationals).

Don’t forget: Some said dual nationals like John Brooks didn’t “care” enough (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

No first World Cup for Pulisic. Maybe no World Cup ever for Eric Lichaj, Bobby Wood, Tim Ream, Danny Williams, and Darlington Nagbe.

I mean, shoot, at least when the USWNT took its step back it was just a missed medal at the Olympics, not an entire month of sadness.

The whys are myriad: A national program that got high on its own FIFA rankings supply. A divide between proponents of players playing at the highest level and those who refused to push players there because of the money it made them or their domestic clubs. No one knows if Matt Besler would’ve become the best defender in USMNT history with a move to West Ham — and we do love him for his one-club heart — but there sure is some “What if?” there.

But it’s not about the whys here. It’s about the “What ifs?”

What if the U.S. was drawn in Panama’s place, needing to get past Belgium or England, let alone Tunisia, to make another knockout round? I’m genuinely happy for Panama, even with their ghost goal being the difference, but CONCACAF would likely rather see the Yanks’ buttressing their World Cup host bid with Pulisic as poster boy.

What if the U.S. was drawn in Mexico’s place, a veritable Group of Death for Arena and his proponents to measure himself against Klinsmann and his?

Or what about Costa Rica’s spot, with Neymar’s Brazil joining underachieving Switzerland and dark horse Serbia on the docket?

What if that kid who’s choosing whether to dedicate himself to high school football, basketball, lacrosse, or soccer, doesn’t bother to get misty-eyed for the red, white, and blue because he’s going to opt to go to the Orioles because Croatia-Argentina doesn’t have any significance to him?

$%^$.