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Fourth-tier American league UPSL announces June 20 return

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Fourth-tier American league United Premier Soccer League has announced it plans to start its spring season on June 20 in states where it’s legal to do so.

It’s stunning to read given the climate caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the United States right now, but commissioner Yan Skwara says participation will be voluntary and that teams have until June 10 to announce their intention to play in the spring season.

That’s awfully close to the start of play, but these are extraordinary, heavily-charged times.

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The UPSL’s official release reads, “The UPSL Spring 2020 Season will commence in a condensed format starting Saturday, June 20, and incorporating only the states, counties and municipalities where organized soccer is allowed. We are optimistic that play will be permitted in Florida, Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and South Carolina. Other states will be subject to ongoing developments and all locations are subject to change at very short notice.”

Skwara told ProSoccerTalk, “As the social distancing restrictions across the country continue to ease, we have officially initiated a return back to soccer competition. With our announcement today, we are creating an opportunity for those team that are able to compete to do so. This has been a long road over the past few months and we look forward to seeing the players back in the beautiful game.”

The league has canceled its national championship and will spread its prize money amongst the regional champions. It will conclude its competition in late August. It also announced its Fall season would start two weeks later and run into February if conditions around the virus allow it.

Fellow fourth-tier leagues USL League Two and the NPSL canceled their seasons earlier this spring but said they’d revisit abbreviated schedules and unusual competitions if the coronavirus pandemic eased and clubs wanted to play.

The UPSL was founded in 2011 and has over 300 teams across the country. It was nationally sanctioned by the USASA for the first time in October.

What’s up for lower leagues in the United States this summer?

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If you’ve played, coached, or watched soccer in the United States over the past couple of decades, there’s a good chance John Motta had a hand in your competition.

As president of the United States Adult Soccer Association, he’s also being trusted to make wise decisions on when you might be able to get back on a field in a world suffering through the coronavirus pandemic.

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Motta also serves on the U.S. Soccer Federation’s board of directors as the chairman of the adult council, and is also navigating a tricky time as the owner of 30 Dunkin’ Donuts franchises.

We thought now would be as good a time as ever to ask Motta what’s up next for soccer in the United States.

ProSoccerTalk: John thanks for your time. Can you fill our readers in on the USASA and your role within it and soccer in America?

John Motta: “We start from your NPSLs and UPSLs which are the higher premier leagues, the women’s premier leagues, all the way down to the local club leagues in your town and the over-the-hill leagues. Our motto is, ‘We’re the game for life.’ I kinda oversee the board which directs all the policy. I’m also the chairman of the adult council, which is one of the four councils of the U.S. Soccer Federation. I serve on the Board of Directors of U.S. Soccer, representing the amateur players and amateur soccer in this country. It’s interesting, especially with everything going on with the federation now. It keeps me busy.”

PST: Now is an insane time for all of us, let alone trying to plan for how soccer’s going to look once it’s safe to get back out there. There’s no good time for a pandemic, obviously, but right before summer is a sincerely daunting challenge in timing. Where is the USASA in the forecasting and decision-making process?

JM: “We’ve got a U.S. Adult Soccer call next Wednesday and we’re gonna evaluate all our programs for the whole year. We had a historic event that was gonna happen in May: The champions of US adult soccer, which was Newtown Pride, were gonna play the UEFA Regions’ Cup champions from Poland (Dolny Śląsk). We already had to cancel that because of travel restrictions. This was gonna be the first time U.S. Soccer and UEFA combined to have an international event. We were psyched, but now we have to wait another year.

“Also the HankSteinbrecher Cup, which was gonna be played in late May. That’s not looking good, only because I don’t see this blowing over that quickly. I hope it does. Being that it’s two months away, it’s hard to keep it on the schedule but we might be able to wait longer because all the clubs are in busing distance. And the soccer festival, our biggest event, from open divisions to Over 75s, was gonna be held in California this year. Even though it’s scheduled in July, we may still wait until May 1. I don’t see us canceling that until at least a month from now.

[ MORE: USL League Two plans to play ]

“And the USASA National Amateur Cup, which has grown in popularity because of the automatic berth in the Open Cup, the Steinbrecher Cup, and $15,000 in prizes. That usually happens in August with the elimination rounds happening now, which obviously they are not. Maybe we push that final in October to give all the teams in the states the opportunity to hold their qualifiers. That’s what I’m going to recommend to the board on Wednesday. I think they’ll agree, hopefully they’ll agree. When this is over everybody’s gonna wanna do something, anxious to play soccer and watch games. Postponing everything (for a year) is not good idea right now.”

PST: How about all the local leagues that carry so much weight in their communities? New York City and Maryland have institutions. I know the league in my home town of Buffalo (the BDSL) is a monstrous part of summer here with many divisions and promotional/relegation. What advice would give players wondering what their summer holds?

JM: “We definitely contacted our insurance provider to give us some guidance. It takes one incident, let’s say a player is playing and catches it, claims he caught up from playing soccer and passes away. That’s a tragedy and a huge lawsuit, right? That’s why we postponed all activities until April 30. In a couple of weeks, we will have to get together and maybe again extend that. But we’ve told our members if they go out and play, they are on their own because our insurance company wasn’t going to cover anything for the month of April.”

PST: As a soccer lover, how do you feel at an emotional level, watching leagues contemplate their summers and clubs contemplate their present and futures?

JM: “I’ll be honest: In the 1990s I owned a Division 3 professional team, the New Hampshire Phantoms. I think they still exist today in the USL amateur league. As a former owner of a team, you rely on games and your sponsors rely on your playing. I know the difficulties of running teams in the NPSL, even the UPSL. Even though they aren’t classified as professional, they run their teams in a professional manner. I’m saying to myself, Wow, here are these owners that put all this capital up front to run these teams and now they are just doing nothing. I own Dunkin’ Donuts shops, luckily they are open cause it’s called an essential business but I can imagine what it would be like if I have to close all my doors. How will I survive? There’s no difference with lower league soccer clubs. Hopefully they will survive. Every day that goes by it just kills me because I know they want to get on the field and this damn virus is keeping us all locked up.

PST: What else should people know about the USASA right now?

JM: “They should know that we’re doing everything we can. I gotta call from (a professional league) the other day to talk about the possibility of a combined event or schedule, and we are in the process of contacting our insurance company. I’ll jump over a mountain to play soccer, so hopefully we can get something done this summer once this is over.”

UPSL playoff match abandoned after coach punches referee

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A United Premier Soccer League playoff game was abandoned after a referee assault in Maryland on Saturday, the latest in a long line of referee abuse stories.

A player from Mass United had been shown a red card, and a member of the club’s coaching staff punched the referee.

UPDATE: The league released a statement condemning the incident and vowing to stand with its referees.

The match between Mass United and World Class Premier FC (Maryland) was a Northeast Championship match, and would send a winner to the UPSL’s national finals in Miami.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The match was tied at 1 around halftime when the referee stopped play after a foul led to a skirmish between players.

According to a source, the referee mistakenly removed a red card from his pocket when he meant to show a yellow. Before the referee could correct himself, an assistant coach punched him in the face. The game was abandoned and the win awarded to World Class Premier.

The UPSL is considered to be the fourth-tier of the American Soccer Pyramid and is sanctioned by the United States Adult Soccer Association.

EDIT: An earlier post said the UPSL was in the fifth-tier of the pyramid. The league was given higher sanctioning earlier this Fall.

Referees in Berlin protested increased incidents of violence earlier this year, while Franck Ribery and Neymar have both been suspended for making contact with officials. In 2014, an American referee was killed after a player punched him in the face after a red card incident. The player was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Here’s how it looked from the local angle in Maryland, with The Montgomery County Sentinel reporter Carlos Alfaro Rodriguez on scene. He confirmed the incident with ProSoccerTalk.