USL PRO Goes Coastal with New LA Franchise
The West Coast is getting USL PRO representation next year with the announcement of the new LA Blues franchise, set to begin play in 2011. The club, which had been rumored for about a month to be the newest franchise for U.S. soccer’s new third division, will play in Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium and be coached by Charlie Naimo, the former head coach of the Pali Blues (a professional women’s soccer club) and team general manager.
The club becomes the third division’s fourteenth team and moves USL PRO two teams away from its stated goal of having sixteen for the 2011 season. Being able to field a stable and competitive league for the upcoming year would be a major accomplishment for U.S. soccer, considering that last season there was so much turmoil in the second and third levels. For 2011, the USSF Division 2 Professional League (composed of the USL and NASL) will be replaced with the NASL, while the third division USL-2 will be replaced with USL PRO.
LA will join Barracuda FC (Antigua), Charleston Battery, Charlotte Eagles, Dayton Dutch Lions, FC New York, Harrisburg City Islanders, Orlando City FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers, River Plate Puerto Rico, Rochester Rhinos, Sevilla FC Puerto Rico, and Wilmington Hammerheads in USL PRO.
Notice one thing about the Blues, however, compared to the rest of this list. Los Angeles is the only team on the West Coast. In fact, it is the only U.S. club not on the East Coast, which could cause some major headaches and travel costs for the small start-up. But USL PRO CEO Alec Papadakis promised further West Coast expansion as soon as 2012 and stated LA would be the building block of that effort. Hopefully the team can remain financially competitive until then.
Additionally, the team is located in a city with two other major soccer franchises. Despite the promised Fox Soccer Channel coverage of the league, it will be hard to garner attention in a market already saturated with a product that does not receive enough attention. The club is playing it smart by playing in a small stadium but I wonder where the club’s fan base will come from.
However, I think this is major progress for U.S. soccer. If the Blues can survive and thrive as a west coast division is built, it will help USL PRO reach into new markets and further stabilize the USSF structure. As soccer fans know, a stable soccer pyramid will help this country begin to solidify its hierarchy and regularly produce national team and international club talent in this country. Until that happens, MLS and the rest of American soccer will be a step behind, so welcome to the league LA Blues!