The president of the United Soccer Leagues knows full well that his organization isn’t the top level of soccer in the U.S., yet he points out other advantages.
Mar 17, 2009 10:21:35 AM
The recent runs of both Montreal and Puerto Rico to the late stages of the CONCACAF Champions League has cast a spotlight on where the two clubs currently play.
The United Soccer Leagues First Division, or USL-1, is the highest edition of the level of soccer right below Major League Soccer.
Yet to some, the differences are merely abstract. Though MLS teams will frequently loan players out to USL squads, there is no promotion or relegation that will interchange teams from one league to another on a yearly basis.
When teams from the two leagues face each other in Open Cup, or against a similar level of opponents in CCL competition, there’s some evidence of equal footing. No MLS team advanced as far in the CCL tournament
as the Puerto Rico Islanders. DC United faced off for last year’s Open Cup title against another USL-1 team, the Charleston Battery.
«USL, they are the second division league, not as strong, not as rich, not as deep as teams in MLS,» USL president Francisco Marcos acknowledged when he spoke to Goal.com. «That’s true, but there are things we like better in which we have more flexibility, more freedom to do things in a more traditional soccer way than is possible in MLS.»
The USL-1 has featured big-name players such as Brazilian star Romario, and a number of players that have featured in MLS now ply their trade there. Others have worked their way up through the amatuer levels of USL to USL-1 and eventually, MLS.
«What we don’t have is the single-entity restriction to recruit,» Marcos pointed out.
The single-entity structure of MLS often means that all the various club owners have to agree on major moves. This can result in situations that require a lot of compromising and don’t necessarily help an individual club all that much.
The versatility that the USL maintains through avoiding such restrictions means that things can get done more quickly. That has been part of what helped the league assist the Puerto Rico Islanders and turn their struggling club around from a difficult debut season in 2004.
«When they were able to get their problems with the federation resolved… we took them, at a level that we didn’t really at the time believe they were capable of,» Marcos revealed. «They didn’t have enough players in Puerto Rico, enough depth, enough quality. They started recruiting players beyond Puerto Rico.»
The Islanders have been so successful, that the club has boosted the Puerto Rican national team, providing new players and a coach to the small national team. Like it does in basketball and baseball, the small island nation competes internationally as a country seperate from the U.S., though all its inhabitants are U.S. citizens.
«There are some people probably that would say, ‘Well, aren’t we helping another country in CONCACAF develop other than the US?'» Marcos acknowledged. «Our job is not necessarily produce the national team of Puerto Rico or the United States or Canada. It is just a league to be the best we can be.»
Andrea Canales and Luis Bueno, Goal.com