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MLS, USL announce return to training update

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Both MLS and the USL have released statements saying clubs can allow players to return for individual training, based on advice from their local and state health authorities.

In MLS, training at club facilities has been banned since March 12 when the 2020 season was suspended but certain clubs can now allow players to return to training facilities.

Games in MLS are currently suspended until June 8 with the current training moratorium set to expire on May 15.

Atlanta United, Inter Miami CF, Houston Dynamo, Portland Timbers, Nashville SC, Orlando City SC and Sporting Kansas City will all welcome players back to training this week and open up facilities for voluntary individual training.

The United Soccer League (USL) announced that teams in the Championship and League One will be allowed to put on “non-contract training in small groups as well as training rooms for player treatment” from May 11. USL had previously canceled its League Two season.

For clubs in certain regions of the U.S. these training sessions will be possible but for many they will not be and that is a very difficult situation for MLS and USL.

In California, New York and other states which still have strict shelter at home orders in place, how can MLS and USL teams ask players and clubs to continue training and be on the same level as teams who have returned? In essence, two thirds of both leagues could be ready to restart games by the end of this month but what do you do about the other teams? Even if lockdown orders are eased in the likes of California and New York, teams there will now be behind other teams across the league who could have been training together for weeks at that point. Does it impact the integrity of the competition?

The road ahead is a complicated one for all sporting leagues across the world but is especially complicated across a huge country like the U.S. where so many states have different orders in place. Perhaps MLS could look at teams in New York and California playing away games for the foreseeable future? It would be tricky to arrange but is perhaps the only way the season will resume before or on the June 8 target.

USL extends suspension of 2 leagues, cancels League Two season

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The United Soccer League announced major changes to all four of its competitions on Thursday, including the cancelation of the League Two season.

The Championship and League One seasons have lengthened their season suspensions over the coronavirus pandemic, with the training moratorium moving to May 15. There is understandably no new target date for the restart of either seasons.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The silver lining is that the USL says both leagues can complete their seasons in their entirety even with the further delays.

In addition, the USL’s Super Y League will not start on July 1 as planned, but could still play in full.

The League Two cancelation comes almost a month to the day after the National Premier Soccer League, the fellow “fourth-tier” outfit in the U.S. Soccer Pyramid, canceled its summer schedule.

The league said it will help facilitate competition for League Two clubs who wish to compete if it’s safe “during the summer and fall months.”

Given the delays into May and the number of clubs who are heavy on college players, it became increasingly problematic to consider a full season. All our best to clubs navigating a season without the game. Come back stronger.

American investor DaGrosa eyes Premier League club

Joseph DaGrosa
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American investor Joseph DaGrosa is well-positioned for his next investment in football, and he’s thinking very big.

DaGrosa exited Ligue 1 outfit Bordeaux and says he passed on buying Newcastle in recent months, also making a pair of big real estate moves just before the pandemic hit.

Had he purchased Newcastle or stayed with Bordeaux, he’d be amongst the many European club owners weathering a terrible climate while waiting out a pandemic.

Instead, DaGrosa sees an opportunity to build around a massive club in the Premier League or La Liga. He’s made his money in turning around companies, and believes that wisdom can be applied here on a broad scale.

“In this environment, given what’s going on with the coronavirus pandemic, we believe there’s an opportunity to recreate City Football Group at a fraction of the cost,” DaGrosa told ProSoccerTalk this week. “Club valuations are already coming down. In many cases, clubs are going to be effectively taken over by their lenders. There’s going to be some great opportunities in the next 12 months, and great opportunities to get world-class players at a fraction of the cost. This is the time to capitalize it.”

Here’s how it would work for his project, which he’s calling Kapital Football Group, “a new soccer platform holding company, to acquire controlling and influential minority stakes in world-class football clubs and academies at deep valuation discounts.”

DaGrosa aims to buy “an anchor club, most likely in the Premier League,” and then invest in three to five satellite clubs in Europe and South America. He’d also invest in nine academies, three in Asia, three in Africa, and three between North and South America. He didn’t rule out investing in MLS if the valuation proves fruitful, but DaGrosa is also “taking a real hard look” at USL clubs.

“If we can put that together we’ll have a formidable group that can rival City Football Group,” he said.

The CEO and co-founder of GACP Sports, DaGrosa starting eyeballing clubs, including Spanish outfit Getafe a couple of years ago. That didn’t work out during the due diligence stage, which led him to Bordeaux.

He calls running the Ligue 1 club “a fantastic learning experience for the world of European football.”

“Today we have a better appreciation for the importance of legacy of the clubs as well as the importance of the fans contributing to that success,” he said. “And thanks to that experience, we now look for those same qualities in the clubs we are looking to acquire next.”

A rumored 2019 deal to buy Newcastle didn’t work out, but DaGrosa is still laser-focused on making his impact on the global game.

What kind of club is he eyeing? Is it strictly about the best bang for his buck, or does the appeal and history of the club carry significant weight?

“Legacy is a big part out of it,” he said. “I’m even more sensitive today given our experience at Bordeaux. We always understood the legacy and passion of the fans, but all clubs have a special place in the history of the cities and communities in which they are located. In some cases, they are the lifeblood. In the U.S. you think of the Green Bay Packers. I have a much better appreciation for legacy in the history of the clubs we are looking to require, particularly in the Premier League. It’s less important in the U.S. where you don’t have multi-generational ties to one club, but it’s still important.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

There’s keen interest in the United States, as DaGrosa stresses what many investors have noted: The 2026 World Cup is going to drive interest in the potential of this country both here and abroad.

We asked DaGrosa why, given that, he wouldn’t dive into Major League Soccer? He’s not ruling it out, but expressed concerns with the franchise fees and revenues in the short-term. Building a club here takes a lot more investment, risk, and patience than, say, a century-old club that holds sway in its region.

“You can build a club (in MLS) that’s going to cost 500 or 600 million bucks,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re paying 10 times revenues. Or you can buy a club like Bordeaux established in 1881 that has a remarkable history, pedigree, and is a brand known around the world, for 1.6 times revenue. When you look at the metrics it’s hard, not impossible to make a compelling case for MLS over the short-term. If you have a lot of staying power, there’s money to be made but clubs in general are going to trade as a function of their broadcasting rights revenue, and we’re just not seeing that in the U.S. at a rate required to justify the valuation.”

DaGrosa believes in the American soccer market and says the system is on the verge of becoming an elite talent exporter, comparing its potential to that of a current font further south.

“Other markets are going to open up,” he said. “Most of the great clubs in Brazil were insolvent before the effects of the coronavirus. There’s a movement to privatize clubs and we feel there’s going to be an opportunity to get the really top names in Brazil. Those satellite clubs are designed to be good investments in their own right but the name of the game is to secure world class players and Brazil is one of those markets that can immediately supply world class players. The U.S. is a market that can do that in five to seven years.”

DaGrosa’s interest in the Premier League is deep-seated, and has only grown given his expectations for how well the league is equipped to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The PL will emerge as the strongest league and there may be some good deals to be had,” he said. “There are going to be financially distressed owners throughout football globally. There will be some lenders that are going to be scared to death who’d love to create a win-win with someone with capital. If the market is down 20-30 percent, segments of the public market that will be down 30-40 percent, football could be down 50-75 percent. It’s a great time to buy with dry powder so after the acquisitions you can build up a world-class team at a fraction of what it would otherwise cost. In our discussion with investors, we can essentially buy today and invest 25-40 cents on the dollar relative to what we would’ve paid six months ago.”

That’s when he was in “mid-to-late stage discussions” with Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley and his partners about the northeast outfit.

DaGrosa insists that Ashley was “first-class” in negotiations despite many reports about his combustible nature.

“It’s unfortunate in one respect that the deal didn’t go forward,” he said. “With a guy like Mike Ashley you might get punched in the face but you’ll never get knifed in the back. At the time it was disappointing the deal didn’t go forward. It was on our side that a major backer pulled out at the last minute but hindsight is 20-20. Better to be lucky than smart because we probably dodged a short-term bullet.”

Now that twist of fate and timing may launch a wildly ambitious project in the next 12 months.

USL League Two exec: ‘Still our intent to play in 2020’

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The United Soccer League can wait a while to make the wisest decision on the seasons for two of its leagues, but a third carries a running timer.

The fully professional USL Championship and USL League One are delayed through at least May 10, a date that costs the developmental USL League Two only 13 matches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

League Two operates at the unofficial fourth tier of American soccer and has long been a showcase for top college players wishing to maintain their eligibility. Tim Ream, Graham Zusi, and Geoff Cameron are among a long list of USMNT veterans to have played in L2 — formerly called the PDL — before going pro.

The problem is that the season is played in a tight window between the end of college spring semesters and the recalling of players for fall. And each week that passes in May shrinks the window for clubs, some of whom are filled with a majority of out-of-town players.

Throw in the variety of obstacles for small clubs spread across a gigantic country in the coronavirus era and you’ve got a significant challenge.

The National Premier Soccer League, a fellow “fourth-tier” operation, announced earlier this week that it was “canceling” its 2020 schedule and re-evaluating how it can support its clubs should they want to play this summer. The UPSL postponed its season’s start to May 2, though that’s looking quite early, too.

So we talked this weekend with USL vice president Joel Nash about plans for the summer with League Two. He says a lot of clubs are raring to play once it’s safe, and that they will find the right road together.

“Our first priority has to be the health and wellness of everyone involved with our league, but based on the feedback we’ve received from our owners, it’s still our intent to play in 2020,” Nash said.

He says that some clubs or even entire divisions may find that it “makes sense to forego participation in this year’s competition” and that the USL will support those clubs.

“Our decision-making going forward will be rooted in the information we receive from public health experts.  We’re in regular communication with local, state, and national health authorities, as well as the CDC. We also sit on a national COVID-19 task force comprised of medical, legal, and operational experts from U.S. Soccer, Major League Soccer and the NWSL, to ensure that we are all aligned, and sharing guidance and best practices. Based on the information we receive, and the input of our owners, we’ll continue to make decisions that put the health and safety of our players, supporters and staff first.”

Could that mean an odd league season structure or some unusual competitions? Maybe. This is an atypical time in the world.

“We may have to get creative with our competitive format, but that’s true of everyone in sports at the moment,” Nash said. “We’re in daily conversations about how we can all work together give our clubs as many games as possible. … We are going to prioritize getting the greatest number of games in for the most number of L2 teams that want to play. We will then work with our owners to identify other non-L2 teams that we could supplement for additional games.”

USL extends suspension of Championship, delays start of League One

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The United Soccer League is prolonging its season suspension of the USL Championship and delaying the start of USL League One.

The Championship was originally suspended for 30 days in the wake of the coronavirus. That’s been extended through May 10, while the third-tier League One was set to begin March 27.

Wednesday’s move signals a shift that could reverberate in American soccer, as it explicitly cites the Center for Disease Control’s weekend recommendation not to gather in groups of more than 50 for eight weeks.

[ MORE: Previewing the USL season ]

League One postpones seven match days, while the Championship stands to miss out on nine total match days.

From a USL Championship press release:

We will continue to monitor ongoing events, receive guidance from local, state and national health authorities, and participate in a national task force comprised of other professional sports leagues and organizations from around the country.

The USL announcing a move like this independent of Major League Soccer is interesting, especially as numerous national and regional leagues eye their summer calendars in suspense.

The CDC guidelines may loom large, and the USL has set a precedent in wisely following them.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

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