Different Night, Same Story: USL Triumphs, MLS Fails

What else is new? Another night of CONCACAF Champions League Action and another loss for an MLS side while another result is recorded by a side from our second division, USL-1. However we must all cut DC United some slack: without so many key players and then down a man after Devin McTavish’s strange sending off, the Red and Black fought valiantly against a superior Saprissa side. This stands in stark contrast to the New England Revolution who two weeks ago disgraced themselves and their league with their failure to show for a match against Joe Public. Puerto Rico welcomed skipper Peter Villegas, of Metrostars fame back to its side to beat Tauro FC 2-1 despite being a man down for much of the match. Villegas made an instant impact with a goal, and one wonders after how he played last night how the Islanders advanced to this stage without him. After all MLS sides save Houston have proven losing one key player in CONCACAF events is a pretense for excuse making.

But something has to be addressed. MLS apologists continue to make excuses about this tournament after building this event up before it started. The argument was that MLS continuously lost to Mexican sides in the defunct CONCACAF Champions Cup because the event was in the Mexican pre season. But the few Mexican fans I spoke to always countered that their teams were so beat up then and focused on their Clausura tournament that the fact that they beat MLS sides was a strong indication that the gap between the two leagues was actually wider than Americans fans wanted to claim. Considering MLS has now been shown up by its regions second division in the competition MLS apologists were pointing too, I don’t think MLS fans should be chanting “bring on Cruz Azul,” or even “bring on the Montreal Impact.”

USL-1 sides suffer from similar fixture congestion to MLS team. While they do not have Superliga to contend with, the single table format of USL means trips from Bayoman PR to Vancouver are possible, much longer than the longest MLS trip from Foxboro to Carson. Secondly USL-1 generally plays games on Friday and Sunday each weekend to save on travel costs. For example Miami FC will play @ Seattle and @ Portland the same weekend. This scheduling format has been perfected by the PAC 10 in College Basketball who uses a Thursday/Saturday scheduling format.

My round about point is these same scheduling issues have not affected USL sides whose regular season is actually about to end and who are in the middle of a playoff race. For example the Islanders have a must win game this weekend to ensure winning the Commissioners Cup and getting a playoff bye. However they still played brilliantly last night. The week the Montreal Impact faced Real Esteli of Nicaragua, they played at home to the Nicarguan side, home to Miami, at Atlanta and at Real Esteli in Honduras all within six days Yet somehow they survived and used the success to gain momentum for their push in the league. However when MLS sides have similar fixture congestion they tend to collapse and then make excuses. This is a phenomena I cannot explain other than the theorize that MLS teams are so used to justifying failure and trying to oversell the quality of their product the whole spin cycle becomes second nature.

As USL-1 continues to achieve success on the pitch while MLS achieves more and more monetary and marketing success the two models must be integrated together and not merely through MLS expansion to USL cities. MLS must understand why USL teams are having so much success in the CONCACAF Champions League, despite limited budgets and similar fixture congestion.

26 thoughts on “Different Night, Same Story: USL Triumphs, MLS Fails”

  1. I'd encourage more people to follow USL. I'm glad that you after announcing at the beginning of the season that you would track USL on your radio show, and then after the season preview promptly ignoring it for months has done an about face. The league isn't that far below MLS in standard and its top teams like Puerto Rico would actually fare quite well in MLS. Additionally, the league is not run by thieves like MLS.

  2. Of course they are not equivalent, but Tauro FC did just beat an MLS side, and Puerto Rico did just beat a Costa Rican side.

    But the point is that MLS fans constantly base their problems on fixture congestion, when USL faces the same if not greater problems, besides not the sort of travel budgets MLS clubs do.

    I was even guilty at times of spewing MLS' favorite line about the Champions Cup which was “if they played us in our season it would be different.” Right now we are in the heart of both seasons and MLS teams are flunking and Central American, and Mexican teams are not. This happens while USL teams with similar fixture congestion issues to MLS clubs and with smaller budgets for everything including players are keeping their heads afloat.

    MLS has essentially brainwashed a newer generation of football fans in this country. As someone who has followed the league fairly closely since its inception in 1996 I have to say that besides changing the timing rules and building Soccer Specific Stadium, the impact of MLS on US Soccer has been vastly over rated. I'd like that to change, and see the league work once again in partnership with the USL/former A league as it once did and actually some humility when promoting its product instead of claiming they are bigger than they are extorting an amazing $40 for a franchise fee when few teams in the league are worth that amount after being around for over a decade!

  3. Expansion has diluted depth the last few years. Anyways the vast majority of players on Puerto Rico are MLS rejects and would be unlikely to be impact players in MLS. No matter what result Puerto Rico keeps putting up in this competition.

    I have seen little evidence USL wants a partnership.

    The impact of MLS on US Soccer overrated? In what way? 15 of the 18 players that dressed against T&T emerged as pros in MLS (counting Donovan who was limited to reserve games in Germany and Ching who after a rookie year in MLS spent 1 year in USL). Maybe these guys would be just as good (or better) if there never was a MLS but most circumstantial evidence would seem to indicate MLS has had a decent impact on US Soccer (especially in depth).

    Extort? I think that goes a bit far. MLS owners have invested quite a bit in covering losses over some rough years. If several groups are willing to pay $40 million, why should MLS offer a team for less?

    Why are USL teams having “so much success”? Are they that much better at scouting that they're getting better talent at 1/3 the price? Anyways the USL should start to figure out what they'll do if MLS takes away any 2 of Montreal, Vancouver, and Portland. Not many pro teams left west of the Mississippi …

  4. I think the difference between USL and MLS is their approach to the game. MLS is a capitalistic soccer federation, rich people doing what rich people do best, but that doesnt mean that because you havea bydget int he millions of dollars you will acquire th ebest players. Sometimes the best players arn't in colleges or fancy places, they play in streets made of mud… (just ask the mexicans, and all the rest of the latinos).

    USL on the other hand focuses on quality afr more than $$$…. anyways thats just my thought.

  5. Keep in mind the best success for any of us the US National Team has had in a major tournament was in the 1995 Copa America BEFORE MLS existed.

    I've outlined how I believe MLS after being a good developmental league for American players in the early portion of its existence has become a noose around US Soccer the last couple of years and has actually hurt the national team with its tendencies and tactics long ago. I suggest you find those pieces in the archives and criticize if you want to…but I don't feel like rehashing all the reasons why I believe MLS circa 2008 is a worse product for US Soccer than MLS circa 1998. Let's not forget MLS circa 1998 produced the continental champions also while MLS 2008 is producing teams that are getting routed in CONCACAF events. Expansion has a lot to do with it as does greed and the proliferation of money making tournaments run by SUM.

  6. USL takes the players MLS doesn't want. 99% of the time. And 90% of the time those players have no role left to play in MLS. The “focus on quality” idea is nonsense. A handful of international players in USL are probably passed over by MLS as “equivalent” to US role players and sometimes “not worth an international roster spot”. And rightfully so as MLS has some duty to give homegrown players a chance to develop.

    I'm not sure 4th place in Copa America is that much better a result than the QF in WC 2002? I have little doubt the first choice squad of our national team would be just as good if not better without a MLS existing. But I'd argue the depth (players 18-50 in the national team pool) would be worse off. Anyways, that's fairly irrelevant as to whether we should have a solidly pro league here. Like it or not, MLS is not going away. So you're better off clamoring for change from within that worrying about it being around. And I fail to see how USL offers much of a talking point in this discussion. Within a few years the stable USL teams will be in MLS and it'll have few markets of much note remaining (Rochester, Charleston, etc).

  7. My biggest problem with MLS is that it has shifted its focus from developing good young American players which it did in its early days to empire building and representing itself as some sort of super league with great players and charging exorbitant franchise fees for new teams. Again if you watch MLS in 1998 and take away the cheezy uniforms and the stupid clock rules the quality of play was actually superior to it now. However the league continues to put out propaganda which is repeated by so many fans about how far the league has come and how the league is a big player in worldwide circles.

    USL is brought into the discussion because it is partially volunteer run minor league that somehow is achieving better results than MLS in the current continental competition. Why? USL leaves its clubs alone, let's them sink or swim, and because many USL clubs pick up players that are victims of the MLS salary cap. Several players in USL are good enough to play in MLS but cannot fit between the low salary and high salary players. I do not believe 99% of USL players are not good enough to play in MLS. How many USL games have you watched through the years, and how do explain Puerto Rico going to Costa Rica and getting the type of result an MLS team has never gotten if 99% of their players, which include some very familiar names are not good enough to play in a league who itself is not highly regarded globally?Besides USL's fixture congestion is as bad if not worse than MLS because as I stated it is a cheaply run minor league and the teams typically travel in the most economical way possible. Yet instead of the laundry list of excuses we get from MLS these teams actually try to compete in the CCC.

    Of course MLS has better overall players and teams than USL. But as you state soon MLS will be in all the current USL markets except the very small ones, how does MLS whose product has already been diluted by expanding from 12 to 14 manage to give us a respectable product with 20 teams?

    I've been a fan of MLS since 1996, seen my team contracted and yet stuck with the league. I've for years spouted out the talking points when arguing with Mexican or Euro-snobish fans but as time goes on I realize so many of the critiques of the league that I long defended were on the money.

  8. I have watched the weekly USL game on FSC for 3 years. Plus the occasional US Open Cup games that they stream for free.

    Please show me some proof that salaries are so high in USL. I'd guess it's rare for a player to make over 50k/yr. Maybe a few per team, sometimes playing indoor too (though that'll be harder now with MISL fracturing). The top 16 players on most every MLS team make more than 50k/yr. The last couple on the 18 man senior roster are young players making the minimum. They're probably no better or worse than solid USL players. Most within a few years become USL regulars. My 99% figure is speaking towards USL player becoming regular players for MLS teams. Like Velez & Mendes. It happens from time to time with central defenders and goalkeepers (who develop later) but it's rather are nowadays with attackers (Alan Gordon, Brian Jordan, etc). Please don't give me examples over 5 years old. I'll give credit to USL in increasing its professionalization the last couple years but for a while it was sending very few to MLS.

    Let's look at the Puerto Rico roster. I don't see many players that gave up playing time in MLS to go to USL. Gaudette, Jones, Miranda, Hansen, Noel, Gbandi, Elcock, Yomby, Behonick , Telesford- pretty sure all were cut from MLS in recent years. “MLS reject” is harsh, but fair. Some were probably cut because they took up international spots. Villegas was at times ok in MLS but is now 32 and wasn't that missed. Delgado was drafted, can't remember if he came to camp? Krause was undrafted. The rest are mostly low-profile international players – Atieno, Steele, Jagdeosingh, Marcelin, Henry. Few are in their prime age. They might make it in MLS, but MLS isn't heartbroken that they're playing in USL first. I'll stand by my claim that the vast majority of players that make their way into USL weren't “wanted” by MLS. As in thought to be useful as part of the 16-man core of the team. And I'll stand by my claim that 90% of the time MLS is right, they wouldn't ever make that 16-man core. I didn't say 99% of USL players can't play in MLS. Just that they weren't wanted by MLS. And the vast majority of the time MLS was right. They weren't going to stick around and be core players.

    The depth in MLS is much better now than compared to 1998. The end of those rosters back then was pretty bad. MLS hasn't recently had the same class of international players as in 96-98 and expansion has pushed the limit of MLS depth, but the league has made many strides compared to that 12 team league in 98 that was a setup for economic collapse.

  9. I've never said USL salaries are high. I've said players that get cut in MLS because their 33k is a cap savings are picked up by USL clubs and these players are more useful for their clubs than the developmental guys making 12k or 17.7k in MLS who end up filling those roles when injuries take place.

    You are right about the depth being better in MLS then during the 96-00 period, but I'd argue the player development and commitment to growing the American game in MLS was much much much greater then than now. For example MLS has much more meaningful partnerships with the A-league, PDL, etc and also with local youth clubs and the US Development Academy than it does now. MLS did grow American players and that should be its role. My biggest issue is that the league now is off on its own tooting its horn about its competitiveness which cannot be backed up by any meaningful results and really turning its back on player development by buying more and more foreign players. Strangely at the same time more and more young American players opt to skip MLS even after 2-3 years of NCAA Soccer and try their luck in Europe. True more opportunities and recognition of the American player exists now abroad, but I think this also reflects on MLS salary structure and the fact that guys like Arguez (who didn't play at all for DCU in 2007 and then played in his first game with Hertha Berlin) and Szetela (who played 18 minutes for the Crew before the U-20 WC in 2007) seemingly get lost in MLS. Brek Shea is now the latest. That's why more and more guys are doing what Jared Jefferey and Andrew Jacobson did: they aren't high profile players by any means but they feel they have more of chance to develop if they go to some smaller European club then get lost in MLS.

    The league has to change. That's the bottom line. The arrogance of Garber/ Gazidis and the continued expansion and playing through international breaks is making the league look comical. As I've said before MLS despite all its international partnerships seems to operate as if they are in a vacuum. Time to wake up and get with the program guys!

  10. Comparing Saprissa and Tauro is nonsense but comparing Saprissa and Alajuelense is not. Nor comparing Tauro and San Francisco.

    Saprissa beat an MLS side while Alajuelense (currently on top of Saprissa on the Costa Rican League) was beaten by PR Islanders.

    Tauro beat an MLS Side while PR Islanders beat Tauro while San Francisco (panama) tied 1-1 with Mexican Pumas

    On the Lamar Hunt cup, Seattle and Charleston (USL) beat MLS teams and Charleston got 2nd place. while other MLS teams were beaten by USL-1 sides and even USL-2 Crystal Palace Baltimore

    I'm not saying that USL is better than MLS but the gap is shortening and MLS is loosing credibility.

  11. Oh I forgot…

    Jou Public smashed New England, and caribbean soccer is not known to be superior than MLS.

    MLS fans should not be surprised if next year's Champions League only gives 2 or 3 spots to American Teams

  12. Being a true soccer fan who follows the game, I can say that USL is a better standard and more entertaining to watch than MLS. The teams and players play to win and they play quality soccer. Every MLS team as the same style of play, which is boring to watch. It is like the players have a sense of entitlement once they make it to MLS. I guess this year they got a wake up call, because the USL First Division was much better qulaity than MLS. MLS should take note at what the so called “little guys” are doing. I hope that these leagues don't get together in the future. Keep the competition going. If MLS ends up in some of their markets, there are plenty of other cities that would fit them well. Hopefully, the media takes note of this.

  13. and Anorthosis got a draw at Werder Bremen, but the Cypriot league still isn't close to Bundesliga standards

    Saprissa is actually financially a tier above Alajuense due to Vergera's investment. They compete around the same standard but in higher profile matches Saprissa usually has more veterans that can rise to the occasion.

    Most MLS fans (not the internet hardcore fans) don't care yet about this Champions League. Look at the attendance #'s for these games. I hope they take MLS down to 2-3 team at most. MLS doesn't have the depth to worry about this event during the fall.

    MLS players have little financial incentive to perform in these events. They try but deep down many don't seem to care. CONCACAF Champions' League is a great idea that's just a few years too early.

    And to be exact, cutting someone at 33k in MLS isn't saving any money against the cap. That's the min salary on the 18 man roster and teams are charged for 18 players no matter what. What happens is the 25 year old borderline player at 33k gets cut and replaced by a 22 year old at 33k who the MLS team thinks has more upside and can give near similar production, hopefully better within a year or two. The MLS team deems the 25 year old not worthy of signing on to that next tier (the 60-100k nonguaranteed salaries).

    Joe Public had a couple guys with great pace who seemed to catch a depleted New England team unprepared. Once behind New England were missing too many attacking weapons to mount much of a challenge as Joseph was double marked and 3rd choice Tierney was way too slow to stop anyone on the left flank. This doesn't mean Joe Public's team could waltz into starting spots in MLS. They're definitely a significant team in the region as they produce some talented though raw players.

    The MLS-USL gap has narrowed, mostly due to MLS expansion, USL contraction, and expanded MLS rosters keeping more of the decent college kids in the pro ranks until age 25. If MLS bother to raise the cap (but more importantly the senior roster limit and min salary) and picks off 2 USL markets, that gap will quickly grow large again. USL isn't anywhere near a position to challenge MLS for a merger. For all the ways it can be argue the gap is small, I'm still not sure why MLS should care?

    I don't think the league really cares what the die-hards think. It's a bit sad but as long as they limit losses, keep costs down while building stadiums, and positiion themselves in the right market, it really won't matter in the long run. The casual fan going to games and watching on ESPN2 doesn't really care who Tauro FC are and if they can beat Chivas USA in some other tourny.

    One of these days I might consider writing regularly but for now I “blog-hop”.

  14. John, I like your enthusiasm but what markets are out there for USL?

    When they try to set up shop anywhere near “MLS markets” (SF near SJ, Virginia Beach near DC) the teams can't last. Rochester nearly went under this offseason. USL will end up with some sort of pro league based upon Rochester, Charleston, and maybe markets like Austin, Cary (Raleigh-Durham) but all the big markets will belong to MLS. I'm not sure how that's going to draw the media's attention? I don't see how USL stands a chance competing against what MLS is building. That's why an established club with 10k+ fans and a new stadium like Montreal is still going to have to pay a heft expansion fee. A bit unfortunate but that's reality.

  15. MLS's failure may be expanding too quick. The quality of their product on the field may be the downfall of their league. The novelty of having an MLS team in your hometown will eventually wear off if it is not compelling enough entertainment to watch on the field.

  16. MLS is garbage. Honestly for all the flash and flair and big TV contracts its trash. USL is a better game. True its slower and lack the star power but the on the ball skill and team game is better. The results in a meaningful competition speak for itself. Montreal, a mid table USL team beat a team 2-0 that crushed MLS' second highest rated side in the table 4-0 in their last outing.

  17. Undrafted is clearly an MLS kool aid drinker.

    Here is the bottom line:

    Beyond DPs and maybe 2-3 players per team, almost no difference exists between MLS and USL players.

    Secondly because of the salary cap and roster limits, USL has a much more stable setup and the teams generally play with one another for longer. For example, Vancouver, Charleston, and Montreal have had the same core of players for years while MLS team are constantly in flux.

    Thirdly, USL clubs are used to fixture congestion and traveling cheap and being forced to play in less than ideal conditions. That fits this continental championship perfectly.

  18. USL is a much better league than the know nothing MLS as the very funny and good Ives called them. The bottom line is this: USL teams have more continiuty and play by more consistent and logical rules so despite having far less money it is logical they would do better in a competition against teams from the rest of the region than MLS teams do.

  19. Those USL players must be very unlucky not to be making the 100k/yr the typical average MLS starter makes. I'll stand by my claim that most anyone in USL that could get into one of the top 16 salary spots on a MLS team would be there if they could. Some MLS management and scouting is inept but some of you guys are way overboard in your low opinion of MLS. In terms of the global soccer market, the difference is small, but it's there.

  20. Let’s take the debate between the leagues away. We need both MLS and USL to be strong long term either as a merged entity or working closer together to reach the full potential of club football in the US.

    Let’s cheer for teams from both leagues and laud the accomplishments of both leagues going forward. This is what needs to be done.

    Regarding undrafted's last point he is wrong. I know of several USL players that would have fit in a higher than 17th or 18th spot in MLS and got released either to bring in another foreign player or just to balance the cap. The 100k average salary is a joke. That includes the skewed DP numbers.

    undrafted is extreme in his defense of MLS, but the USL types here saying MLS sucks need to heed my advice from above. Both leagues get ridiculed enough by the eurosnobs. No need to piss from within.

    USL + MLS = strong American club game

    USL vs MLS = self destruction

  21. The salary numbers for MLS are available

    Count the 11 highest on each team. Most all are near or >80k. The 6th highest (the average starter) is almost always >100k. Guys #15-18 are often at 30k and are hired with a view to future performance and might get their spot at the expense of a slightly better player (who sometimes goes to USL, sometimes looks for other work).

    Where are those USL salary numbers?

    I'm all for USL doing things right and striving. But I don't see how either way it'll have much impact on MLS.

  22. Man undrafted, do you work in the league office? I've seen similar posts on Ives by you where it is obvious the success of USL has gotten totally under your skin.

    So undrafted, are you devastated Tauro FC who eliminated mighty MLS side Tauro FC got beat by lowly USL side Puerto Rico?

    Honestly if your claim is true that the best player in USL would be the 17th best player on an MLS team then MLS is a complete sham of a professional league and ought to be shut down if players 17-28 on a team achieve better results than players 1-17. Seriously, then MLS teams playing their reserves should still almost always beat USL sides in the Open cup, and USL sides should be slaughtered in the champions league.

    The clear lesson is that undrafted roots against USL, wants soccer to fail in the 40 plus markets USL/PDL represent so MLS can swoop in and expand there and also will defend MLS to no end. Good job, I hope they are paying you well.

  23. Why don't some of you go to USLDiscussions.com where I've been analyzing the USL for a couple of years. Including in depth analysis of player transfers and player qualities.

    I love what the PDL does. It has very little to do with USL1 & USL2. Comparing pro leagues with summertime amateur leagues for youth players is apples and oranges.

    MLS teams have little depth. Some teams like Colorado and historically Chicago and Dallas go into the 20s with quality players. Others have next to nothing on their developmental rosters, like Chivas.

    USL1 has gotten a bit better in the last year or two. But I'll stand by my claim that the standard USL team (Montreal is a bit of an exception) has a payroll of what I'd generously guess is 500-700k. USL teams usually have somewhere between 0-2 players that would be regular players in MLS. The typical 6th best player on a USL1 team wouldn't get a top 16 contract on a MLS team. Actually most of the time that player had tried and washed out of MLS. That doesn't mean the gap is huge or that USL1 teams can't compete. They can. But many of the statements about USL pro teams the last few weeks have been near ridiculous. Most seem to come from people who don't watch MLS or USL but have a foreign league as their focus. Or occasionally from some immature youngsters who like their local USL team. I'll stand by my claims in good times and bad (for MLS international results).

    Chivas-Tauro: 1st leg had Chivas starting Thornton, Paladini, Chiles. Were missing Galindo, Razov, Marsch, Zotinca. 2nd leg had Chivas starting Kennedy (who's ok), Braun, Ebert. Again missing those listed for the 1st leg. Missing your two strikers and midfield leader will cripple any team. And noone at Chivas had a plan to replace Guzan. Wicky has been injured and might be a bust. Guys like Chiles & Ebert will probably never be regular starters in USL. I'd guess I'd guess Mendoza, Nagamura, Thomas, Bornstein, Eskandarian, Galindo, Kljestan, Marsch, Razov, Talley, Vaughn, Zotinca, and Flores are clearly better than typical USL starters. Suarez too a year ago though with injuries and aging who knows (same for the now heftier Thornton). So I count 13 players on Chivas USA who when healthy are USL standouts. Good USL players would rank around 14th on Chivas this year. I'd put I'd put Harris, Curtin, Kennedy, Burling, and Nurse as likely regular starters if in USL. The rest of Chivas USA is probably garbage and I'm not a fan of Preki's drafting. Chivas wasn't able to field a team of players 1-17, they're backup attack was impotent, the team had little cohesiveness (or motivation), and a few scrubs that had to play were liabilities.

    Over time you guys will see. But many here are just hyping a few results to downgrade MLS and care little for USL. My posts over USL's forum site will show you that I do actually care about that league. I have some issues with USL allowing a trail of unpaid bills (Rochester, Virginia Beach) and overnight teams (San Francisco), I do wish it the best. I don't think a bidding war rivalry betwen 2 pro leagues helps soccer develop in the USA right now.

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