USL Championship

Tim Howard movie
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‘Miracle’ producer bringing Tim Howard’s life story to film

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Amazon has won the rights to make a feature film based on the life of USMNT and Everton hero Tim Howard.

The recently-unretired Memphis 901 FC goalkeeper, 41, has an inspiring story that’s already been told by the man himself in the 2014 book “The Keeper.”

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The idea was hatched 15 years ago when producer Mark Ciardi saw an interview with Howard regarding the player’s success at Manchester United and his challenges with Tourette syndrome.

Ciardi was a producer on sports films like “Miracle” and “Secretariat” as well as the recent Ben Affleck movie, “The Way Back.”

From SportsBusinessDaily.com:

Ciardi said Manchester United has been receptive to the idea of participating, and the hope is the crew will be able to film in Old Trafford next May following the conclusion of the Premier League season. Howard will have a limited role in the filmmaking process as a consultant. “It’s been the easiest major project I’ve been involved in because it’s just my life,” Howard said. “And a moment in my life that I remember fondly.”

Howard moved to Man United from the MLS’ NY/NJ Metrostars in 2003 and took the place of legendary backstop Fabien Barthez, winning two FA Cups, a League Cup, and the Community Shield before moving to Everton.

He spent nearly a decade at Goodison Park, most of it as the Toffees’ No. 1 keeper, before heading back to MLS with the Colorado Rapids. Howard has 121 caps for the USMNT and his performance in the extra time loss to Belgium at the 2014 World Cup is considered one of the greatest shows in U.S. Soccer history.

USL Championship announces provisional July 11 return

USL Championship return
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The USL Championship intends to return to matches with a provisional restart date of July 11, the league announced Thursday.

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The league began its season in March, though three of 35 teams did not play a match while Tacoma and San Diego played two.

There is no indication that the league intends to play at a single location, as MLS reportedly intends with an Orlando restart.

USL Championship sides have been allowed to train in small groups from May 11. USL had previously canceled its League Two season.

Here is the league’s full statement, from USLChampionship.com:

While additional information on competition format, scheduling, broadcast and other important details will be made available in the coming weeks, it’s important to note that the league’s return to play will be conducted in strict alignment with all local and state public health guidelines. USL HQ also remains in regular dialogue with the USL Players Association on all matters concerning player health and wellness protocols and looks forward to continuing those discussions.

To USL supporters across the country, we are grateful for your support throughout this process and look forward to being back in action with you all soon.

 

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.

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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.

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.

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More coronavirus connections to soccer:

USL begins 10th season with eye on future

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The United Soccer League begins its 10th season on Friday with a pair of matches in the Championship; Seattle Sounders 2 will host Reno 1868 and Orange County plays host to El Paso Locomotive.

A lot has changed in under a decade. The Championship division now has 35 teams, while the third-tier League One has another dozen (with 30 more lobbying to get into it the thing).

We caught up with some USL mainstays at all levels to talk about the progress, from league president Jake Edwards to San Diego Loyal co-founder Warren Smith and Pittsburgh Riverhounds coach and serial hardware winner Bob Lilley.

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The coach is a good place to start. Lilley has won titles in the A-League with the Montreal Impact, the USL First Division with Vancouver Whitecaps, and the USL with the Rochester Rhinos in 2015. Now he’s turned around the Pittsburgh Riverhounds ahead of the 2020 season.

He sees the USL’s growth as pay-off for a generation of players, coaches, and owners who were willing to put in the time for the good of the sport, looking back fondly on the role he played in helping ambitious clubs Montreal and Vancouver win on their way to MLS.

“It’s an investment that starts out where you’re just putting pennies in a piggy bank and at some point it grows big enough that it takes on a life of its own,” Lilley said of the USL’s progress. “The increases keep getting bigger, and the last 3-5 years we’ve been really driving forward. We need to find new ways to be meaningful to our market. We need to stay aggressive, trying to keep pushing this thing forward.”

Like Lilley, Smith has done this dance and done it well in a lot of different places. Now the president of first-year side San Diego, he’s overseen the resurgence of the Portland Timbers and the growth of Sacramento Republic.

Smith makes a remarkable claim about what a USL club can mean to a market.

“The difference between us and MLS, just because of where they are choosing to have to put their teams, I think New Mexico United means more to the whole state of New Mexico than most MLS teams mean to their particular cities. We’re able to electrify communities and bring people together, uniting and celebrating the people of the region.”

To Smith and Edwards, it comes down to the variety of top minds running clubs.

Smith says that less than a decade ago, the investors in the room were coming from soccer backgrounds. Now, it’s others who see the investment as sound.

“In 2012 at the annual meetings, the room was full of soccer fans, soccer people, more soccer people than business people,” Smith said. “Since then with the success of Orlando and Sacramento, we’ve seen an influx of more experience and different sports experience. There’s a lot more sophistication, and the league has chosen a good group owners who want to grow the brand. The USL was good football then, but it’s even better now.”

Edwards said the league likes “to hang its hats” on its ownership groups, who in turn have had to learn from the successes and mistakes of their forebearers while also recognizing that this giant country has a plethora of soccer cultures.

“You’ve got to listen first and foremost,” Edwards said. “You’ve got to spend the time in the community and learn it before you launch to learn what it is they want out of a football club. You have someone who owns the team but really they own the team.

“Ultimately they’ve got to listen and be amongst the community and let the fan base have a voice. Our clubs can be such a great representation of their communities. There’s a real sense of pride people have in their communities that they might not have an outlet for, and the football club gives them that outlet. Go down and be with six or seven thousand people, and wear your colors and show your passion to be from Louisville, Albuquerque, Austin, or Oklahoma City.”

What Edwards stresses is doing expansion “the right way” over the long-term, angling to grow and grow to make a massive impression when all eyes are trained on the United States for the 2026 World Cup in North America.

“What do we want to look like when it arrives?” he asks. “We will see between now and the World Cup, a few more expansion markets like Providence, Buffalo, Des Moines, and some of you haven’t heard of yet. League One is a huge focus for us. We’ve gone from 10 to 12 teams, and now we have 30 markets that are actively lobbying to bring League One to their communities.”

Lilley says it helps that the soccer has improved tremendously since he was a player in the early 90s, pre-MLS.

“It’s just a whole different landscape now,” Lilley said. “You know the movie ‘Slapshot?’ Some of the start of me coming into the pro soccer environment — NASL was done. MISL was just shutting done — in the late 80s, some of the fights and some of the stuff going down on the field was comparable.”

The players are better, and the coaches, too. Three of his former players, in fact, have gone on to coach in MLS (Mauro Biello, Mark Watson, Nick Dasovic).

Lilley has seen the tactics grow from when he instituted a flat back four in the late 1990s after seeing it become all the rage in Europe. He’s worked past three at the back, five at the back, you name it, but it’s only in this last stage of the USL that he’s seen big changes in coaching (so credit to whom for still winning).

“From 1997 to 2010, whatever I saw from a team early in the season a lot of times it would be the same thing later in the season,” he said. “That’s not the case. I think it makes everyone better when new ideas… everyone’s trying to win and that’s the expectation of owners. It’s not okay just to make up the numbers.”

Bob Lilley
Lilley coaches Pittsburgh in the U.S. Open Cup (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Lilley says that’s why he’s sure to instruct his players on being functional outside of a base system. He switches it up on them.

What drives him?

“Trying to survive,” Lilley said. “Trying to win so I can stay in it. I try to build flexibility in my team. I think part of growth is not just giving guys game but trying to give them information tactically. There’s so much tape out there, we’re always looking for an edge. Sometimes with the team, if you play the same way all the time and it’s not quite working, and then you change, you can send them in a tailspin, ‘Well what’s wrong? What did we do?’ but if you tell them you’re preparing them and looking for an edge, well, good players adapt to the environment, to the coaches, to the system, to the weather, to the referees, to the opponent. It’s hard to prepare for us because we do a lot of things well.”

So as the league drives forward into Year No. 10, there is a collection of executives, staff, and coaches who’ve been through the proverbial war and are smarter for it. There’s been attrition, of course, but now there’s stability.

And it’s Edwards’ job to remember where they’ve been as much as where they are going.

“When I think back to the wild west days, the boom or bust days, it was a core mission to get away from that,” he said. “We’ve done that, but we’re still in growth mode.”