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Leagues: MLS

Thoughts on the United Soccer Leagues – T.O.A. Situation


As we have seen from the excellent reporting by Kartik and Brian Quarstad this week, the future of the United Soccer Leagues is very unclear and very much up in the air.

Whether or not some will admit it, the USL is very important to American soccer. Some have said the USL has no reason to exist, and that Major League Soccer and the USSF — the latter of whom sometimes seem to be allergic to work — can hand both the professional game and player development. That’s wrong, they can’t. American football get away with the existence of only one domestic professional league — and yes, I am aware of the United Football League — because of the prevalence of college football in this country. Every town in America has American football of some sort, be it the Oakland Raiders or the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, everyone in every corner of America has a team to follow. You could make the same analogy with baseball and it’s plethora of minor leagues — my city, Charlotte, has four teams in it’s metro area. MLS isn’t blessed with this luxury, no one is going to follow college soccer with the passion of college football because the gap between it and the professional game is so much greater than it is in American football, and soccer was late to the party in setting up a deep-rooted, vastly supported minor league system. People of Wilmington aren’t all of a sudden going to cheer for DC United’s prospects after they’ve been cheering for the Hammerheads, a team which represents Wilmington and the Cape Fear region first and foremost, for fourteen years. MLS needs the USL to help fill out the areas of the country it can’t reach or has no interest in reaching.

The USL has existed in one form or another since 1986. Throughout the years teams have come and gone — though one, the little known DFW Tornados of the PDL, has become American soccer’s great survivor — but overtime it has become an important part of American soccer culture spawning cornerstone clubs like the Charleston Battery, Des Moines Menace, Portland Timbers, Rochester Rhinos, and Seattle Sounders (and that’s without mentioning the Canadian clubs). It’s importance and impact must not be understated.

I believe that the Team Owners Association and NuRock will work out a compromise. The TOA needs the USL — it’s future is not as the mythical MLS2, nor can it compete with MLS — and while the USL could probably stomach the hit given that it’s importance lies in the Premier Development League and not the professional divisions, it would come away from the schism significantly weakened by the departure of it’s biggest, but not most important, markets. I think NuRock needs to handover the reigns of the First Division’s day-to-day operations to TOA and allow them to market the league but still keep a watchful eye over it. This would free up NuRock’s time and energy to focus on PDL, the bedrock that the entire USL structure stands upon. That said, something is going to have to be worked out in Atlanta for anything to happen.

If, and it would be very unfortunate for all involved, especially the fans, the two cannot come to an agreement don’t rule out a possible move to the upstart National Premier Soccer League by TOA. The NPSL was founded in part by some disgruntled USL clubs, including the one time highly-thought-of Chico Rooks, but none of those clubs exist today unless you count the Arizona Sahuaros who have been in and out of the league. Brian and Kartik discussed this possibly on the podcast this week, but it’s unlikely to happen given that the current NPSL set up is meant to keep costs as low as possible.

I hope the two parties can work this out, it would be a big blow to American soccer if they were to self destruct over a disagreement. All we can do for now is watch, and wait.

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    April 1, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Lee…that was one of the most ignorant things I have ever read. You
    know nothing about soccer. Please get a new hobby.

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    March 21, 2012 at 3:27 am

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  3. Jason

    October 1, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    “well the mls is abandoning the single ownership thing.”

    What? What the HELL are you talking about?

    Single ENTITY? That’s not going away anytime soon. That’s a business setup that helps them from a player procurement/cost standpoint and a leaguewide marketing/sales standpoint.

    Do you mean “multiple team ownership?” Or do you mean “league-owned teams?”

    When Miami and Tampa Bay were contracted and the Hunts took over Dallas, MLS was out of the league-owned team scenario. And the multiple team ownership scenario has been dwindling over the years, to the point where it’s just the Hunts owning Columbus and Dallas now and AEG owning LA and half of Houston.

    So what, exactly are you talking about in all lowercase letters?

  4. daniel

    September 30, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    well the mls is abandoning the single ownership thing. i mean they started there are only few teams that are still under one ownership.

    the mls needs the salary cap right now because it does not need to suffer the same mistakes that the nasl made.

  5. Pubvalpub

    September 19, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    There does not exist right now in the USA a credible, established, propertly-run soccer league. MLS is much closer than any other organization, but is not bullet proof. A well-run rival league is 1) a real threat to the MLS, and 2) good for the game because it will push MLS to make the changes necessary to be a more credible organization.

    The best thing the Team Owners Association could do for itself and for soccer in this country is to form a truly credible professional soccer league. They do this by:
    a) solifying “core” solidarity (the core group of owners is great and must remain unified),
    b) bringing in a small “second wave” of owners with the same vision as the TOA and with a good market for growth and profitability (bring in ownership groups from NYC, Connecticut, Detroit, Ottawa, whereever, to grow the league and become national in scope),
    c) appeal to soccer fans not attracted to MLS – by the markets entered and/or by branding the league as the ‘purer’ form of soccer (call yourself the American Premier League, honor international dates, don’t institute a salary cap and avoid single entity or corporate ownership, allow a “third wave” a teams in a 2nd division and institute promotion/relegation).

    Thus the TOA manages a professional league and the USL is left with what it deserves – the PDL. If the TOA manages its assets well and fans respond, thier league expands and improves in quality and, eventually, challenges the oft-criticized and very mediocre MLS.

    To me, this is the ideal situation – MLS competing with a well-run, “pure” soccer league. Only the threat of being relegated to a second division of American soccer can force MLS to adopt the changes necessary to escape mediocrity – abandon single-entity ownership, accepts promotion and relegation, and significantly loosen the purse strings.

  6. Samantha

    September 19, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    I didn’t even read

  7. Vnice

    September 4, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Lee…that was one of the most ignorant things I have ever read. You know nothing about soccer. Please get a new hobby.

  8. Lee

    September 4, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    USL is a waste of time and space. Anything USL does, MLS and the USSF can do better. The USSF has academy teams spread throughout the country and promotes the national team as a brand name that is the “home” team everywhere.

    USL’s death would be a good thing for American soccer. It would allow the MLS brand to spread itself into places like Minnesota, North Carolina, Atlanta and also get back into Florida. It is MLS that promotes the sport with clever marketing, a real TV contract, and Sportscenter highlights/good TV audience and brand recognition and USL that no one knows are cares about.

    The teams from USL-1 and USL-2 can either be moved to MLS or replaced with amatuer teams playing in the area. USL’s youth system is obselete now that the USSF has its own development academy club team system and even if this is resolved, the USSF should step in and shut USL down, forcing the youth teams to join the USSF system and the pro teams to either join MLS or drop down to the amatuer ranks.

    That would be the best solution for the American game and growing the brand.

    • Bobby

      September 4, 2009 at 6:40 pm

      Wow, where do I start with this?

      Losing teams is never, ever good for the sport. It has been explained on this site, maybe 10 times in the last month, that the USL is much more than the USL First Division. It’s over 400 teams, each of which fields at least twenty players. If you see good in all those players — male and female — losing a chance to play, well, you don’t really want the sport to be a success here.

      MLS owners aren’t going to accept USL-1 and USL-2 teams simply “moving” to MLS, not ever. Many MLS owners paid roughly $40,000,000 for their expansion fee, they aren’t just going to let someone in.

      Replacing professional teams with amateur teams would ruin the development of the game. Do you think the same players are going to stay and play for nothing? No, no chance.

      No youth team is “obselete”, particularly not the current crop of USL teams who’ve just sent two players to Everton on full transfers.

      “(T)he USSF should step in and shut USL down”.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      September 5, 2009 at 11:23 am

      If you knew something about the USSF Development Academy you’d realize it costs a ton of money to join the setup. Like anything that involves the Federation, the process is highly political and some of the best youth clubs which have the best inner city or barrio development programs are in Super Y or Super 20.

      As far as MLS “spreading its brand,” once they can crack, let’s say a 1.0 cable rating consistently, we can discuss USL or any potential replacement league being folded to promote a national brand.

      Furthermore, the USSF nor MLS currently have a program like PDL and have no plans to develop one. USL going out of business would mean PDL disappears and a vital portion of the US Soccer Development System disappears.

  9. soccer goals

    September 4, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    I hope that they resolve this situation.

  10. mitch howard

    September 4, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Good article, good points made, excellent examples; Wilmington, Coastal Carolina, Rooks, etc… Any chance Des Moines might go USL I or 2?

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