With the release of the United Soccer Leagues 2009 D1 schedule and accompanying Fox Soccer Channel tv schedule, USL shows once again that MLS is not the only game in town. USL proves again that it carries a lot of weight when it comes to professional soccer in the U.S. The USL infrastructure is strong enough to continue to be a thorn in the side of MLS. It has major partnerships with European clubs, its own youth and development leagues and a Women’s league.
Unfortunately, the USL at the professional soccer level, has a lack of innovation and leadership. There’s no backbone and no guts. It has the same losing business model as MLS. It suffers from an identity crisis, just as MLS does.
The key statistics to follow this year will be the same as it has been for every year that MLS and USL have been existence, attendance and television ratings. The next significant key statistic to follow is how many goals are scored per game (Offense brings sports fans in the U.S.).
In order for one of the leagues to stand out and become mainstream, they must solve the puzzle. It is the greatest sports conundrum in the history of modern American sports, why can’t soccer make it in America?
The pot of gold is out there, it is buried at the end of the rainbow, but the rainbow is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. MLS and USL will never be able to count on what’s happening with soccer leagues everywhere else around the world to be able to discover the treasure. They must figure out how to market soccer, the beautiful game, to American sports fans and not just soccer purists and/or soccer enthusiasts.
The most interesting stories to follow from USL and MLS are its business dealings. Both leagues are so lost in what direction they want to go. There is intrigue involved at every corner of every new stadium being built, both the small ones and the bigger ones. Sometimes, the strategies involved with play calling, coaching and watching games does not match the intrigue and strategies involved with which developing soccer areas of D2 and Premier of USL are next to breakout and become new soccer havens.
Who will be this year’s Cleveland City? and What will be the next small city to emerge as having the label of a pro soccer city, like Austin?
To its credit, the USL’s D1 is hanging around. Even as it struggles for its survival, it deserves to get attention when it makes news. Today it made news and showed all of the U.S. soccer fans that it will maintain an appropriate schedule. With its organizational strength, the USL is indicating a commitment to provide a high level of pro soccer for fans in North America and the Carribean to enjoy.
USL and its teams have worked hard in recent years to gather business sponsorships and marketing parterships with major and minor companies. It has also made tremendous leaps on the international stage and in the U.S. through its participation in sanctioned pro and open league tournaments.
USL has earned a right to be mentioned in the same breath as MLS. It’s too bad that what USL is inhaling is the same kind of poison that MLS is swallowing. The lifespan of these leagues is hanging in the balance.
USL is trying to put a veil over the real issues, just as MLS is doing. New ideas must replace the stale ones if soccer wants the big piece of the sports action in the U.S.