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USL League One takes its first strides

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What does success look like for USL League One?

The newly-minted third level of American soccer, below Major League Soccer and the USL Championship, debuts Friday with South Georgia Tormenta FC hosting Greenville Triumph SC.

[ MORE: PST chats with League One commish ]

Put plainly: There have never been more professional players plying their trade in the United States and Canada. Between MLS, USL, the Canadian Premier League, and select teams in the NPSL and PDL (not to mention the looming specter of NISA), jobs are there.

So what does that mean to the third tier in the United States? Good question, me.

Well first off, there are certainly names you’ll recognize. John Harkes is the manager of Greenville. American soccer architect Peter Wilt runs Forward Madison SC. One-time USMNT prospect Conor Doyle is with Chattanooga Red Wolves.

But really this feels like a chance for players who might’ve normally washed out of MLS, USL, or — once upon a time — the NASL to get a second look at growing their games at a professional level. Much like the New York Red Bulls have been lauded for producing gems from within their PDL and USL structure, League One can serve as that vehicle.

In other words, rejection by one wonky manager who only signs behemoths or European players won’t signal the end of a promising career built up through academy or college roots.

That’s not terribly sexy, though, and in truth more eyes will be trained on things like attendance figures, viewer counts, and the quality of goals that cut through the mess of highlights on social media and TV (a robust start-up TV deal will help League One here).

It will be interesting to see how USL League One teams handle success. Some, like Toronto FC II and Orlando City B, are just here to develop players for parent clubs, but most markets are going to have big ambitions. Certainly commish Steven Short and Co. will want to grow the league as a unit, rising tides raising all ships, but what happens when USL League One gets its own FC Cincinnati or Sacramento Republic? With no promotion and relegation, will the USL Championship find room for them? And how is the league equipping itself for those tests?

And player success: When a team is off to a roaring start and an MLS club offers a significant fee for the leading scorer’s services, a fee that might fund the roster for a year, how does a front office handle that for its fans?

A massive front office and cozy relationship with MLS will help, and USL owner Alec Papadakis is back on the U.S. Soccer Federation’s board of directors. Short has set himself up to be the right conduit between USL League Two (nee PDL) and the Championship. It’s not cynical to say that these facts strengthen the league and will also make owners think twice about their status in a very safe place.

Still, Friday night is an entertaining one even for those who have a pony in another part of the race, whether NISA, NPSL Pro, or some other nascent organization. Several new clubs and some old familiar faces — looking at you, Richmond Kickers — are taking shots at stardom in a combustible but growing climate.

WATCH: Asprilla scores terrific bicycle kick on USL cameo

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Portland Timbers forward Dairon Asprilla has had to spend some time in the USL Championship this season, and the second tier would probably like to see Gio Savarese keep the Colombian in Major League Soccer.

[ REPORT: Liverpool to sell Keita? ]

Asprilla scored twice and added an assists on Saturday night in a defeat of Eric Wynalda’s Las Vegas Lights, and he put up a near picture perfect bicycle kick on the highlight reel.

Watch as he sets himself up, willingly or not, for the endeavor before splashing a shot in the side panel for an amazing aesthetic.

Nashville SC to keep its name, unveils logo for MLS 2020

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Nashville SC will remain Nashville SC when it moves into Major League Soccer next season, the USL club announced on Wednesday.

Nashville SC’s logo is an N wearing headphones — I apologize if I’m wrong here, but that’s what I see — as the Music City becomes a welcome addition to the United States’ top flight.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Stunningly The fans wanted to keep the name of the club they’ve been supporting for a few years, and former Liverpool executive Ian Ayre announced that the club will keep a color from its crest as well.

“Gold is our primary club color, and we need to own that color in the sport. As we grow as a team we want to be recognizable by our color, our name and our values as a club.”

What do you think? It certainly could’ve been worse! We look forward to the building up of a regional rivalry with FC Cincinnati, Atlanta United, Sporting KC, and maybe one day Saint Louis FC.

USL’s Nashville SC will not take Gutman on loan due to MLS disapproval

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Earlier Saturday, MLSSoccer.com posted an article on MAC Hermann Trophy winner Andrew Gutman signing with Celtic, but curiously did not mention his loan destination.

In fact, no destination was mentioned. Gutman’s quotes mentioned “my loan in America.”

That destination was Nashville SC, the soon-to-be Major League Soccer club currently participating in the second-tier United Soccer League.

Key word: Was. Because even though Nashville announced the move, it had to walk back the idea on Saturday.

Since the club cannot say anything else, let’s venture down the road a little bit.

Chicago Fire had Gutman’s “Homegrown” rights, having nurtured the player from 2012 until he left for Indiana.

But Gutman’s profile grew beyond his desire to stay in MLS, and trials with Rangers and Celtic saw the 22-year-old fullback sign with the latter. Unable to secure him a permit in Scotland, Gutman was loaned to Nashville.

No problem there, right? Get the kid some playing time, a potential answer to the United States men’s national team left back problems.

Wrong. Gutman will need to find another home — there are plenty of clubs he could sign with, including Chicago — outside of the transfer window because Nashville is going to MLS next year and the league does not approve of his move to Celtic.

It’s a terrible look for the league, and not a great high-five to one of its new members (who paid a boatload of money to join the club).

“Hey guys, you know that guy you signed? He belongs to another club. No, he didn’t sign there, but if he ever comes back to America, our rule is that that club has first dibs.”

USL League One readies for Opening Day

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The start of any new league is an arduous process, and can be akin to a labor of love even for those in executive positions.

On the heels of our discussion with the Canadian Premier LeagueProSoccerTalk headed south of their border to chat up Steven Short, the senior vice president of USL League One.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

The USL rebranded its top league as the USL Championship and its college-aged U-23 league the PDL as USL League Two, making way for a new group of professional sides in USL League One.

Short headed USL League One’s journey from zero teams to 10, with the debut season coming in late March and at least two more teams set for 2020 debuts in the Rochester Rhinos and Penn FC.

Following the USL League One journey has been a pretty wild ride; It’s a huge challenge and extremely complicated, and began with Short and his crew traveling across the United States to evaluate markets.

He jokes that he could write a book about the process, and we’d certainly encourage that.

“What we’ve learned is how far our game really reaches,” Short said. “We had a chance to sit down with fans in 40-plus markets, have a beer with them, talk about what they want in a team, and build a league from the ground-up. For us to do that on our journey across the country is something special that we’ll always remember.”

“No path was exactly the same, but they all ended up with the same result.”

Short said there were three important parts of the criteria for a market, starting with ownership “that’s local and in the market and knows how to run a business within that market.”

The league looked at stadia, and whether the market has enough population to properly support a team.

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The league announced teams with varying amount of surprise attached to their markets. Getting NISA head Peter Wilt to leave the nascent league to start Forward Madison FC in Wisconsin was a huge get, and luring the 26-year-old Richmond Kickers into the fold was equally notable.

Eyebrows were raised when the league became the home for MLS reserve sides Toronto FC II and Orlando City B, as well as a new team in the same vein for FC Dallas in the form of Frisco-based North Texas SC. And eyebrows nearly popped off the collective forehead when the Chattanooga Red Wolves arrived on the scene, a direct rival to established Tennessee side Chattanooga FC.

Throw in teams in Tucson, South Georgia, and Lansing, and you’ve got storylines for days. And some big questions.

For one, how do you govern a league where some teams are aiming to become the next big club in American soccer, while others are perfectly content as developmental sides for another league’s big teams?

“From Day One the focus of the league was putting a competitive and entertaining product on the field, winning on and off the field, whether that’s identifying players to move up to the first team, or putting 4-6,000 people in the stadium on any given day and creating an inclusive atmosphere that the whole city wants to get behind,” Short said. “I wouldn’t say that it is respective only to the three MLS teams in our league, but we look at every expansion club and they know what our league wants to be. We work with our clubs to find out what they want out of it.”

There’s also the matter of managing that same group of diverse ambitions on both a day-to-day and big picture basis. The odds are that at least one of the clubs is going to have a wildly successful first season, inspiring supporters to dream of a move to the USL Championship. And others may find that their first foray into professional players yields a substandard team.

So, is the view more macro or micro?

“Depends on the day,” Short said. “Yes you’re looking at holistically what it will take to launch the teams, and March 29 for our first match and how we as a league can make sure the fans can have an amazing environment, and showcase our teams to American soccer. And daily we’re in communication with the clubs to make sure they have what they need. … We’re not favoring one over the other. Everything leads to the long-term vision of the league.”

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

Short noted his excitement to communicate with the Rochester Rhinos about building a new home and getting back to the pitch in 2020, as well as the buzz building around new teams.

“You have brand new teams like you’ll see in Greenville and Madison, and you’ll see teams like South Georgia Tormenta taking the step to the professional level,” he said. “Richmond and Toronto who made the move into League One from the Championship. There’s a diverse crowd that only adds to this league.”

USL League One kicks off Friday, March 29, with South Georgia Tormenta FC v. Greenville Triumph SC in what the league will certainly hope becomes a geographic rivalry. The clubs are located within a 4-hour drive.