I’ve noticed when writing about the United Soccer Leagues that my posts often end up quite high on Google news searches for USL. This tells me there’s not a lot of information available and articles being written about the league. The USL does a pretty decent job of trying to bring you the news released by the teams themselves, but they’re slow on divulging news about themselves. I explored this issue last December with two articles called USL Growing Pains, part 1 and part 2.
There are many good articles written by bloggers about the USL which are sometimes hard to find. A few professional sports writers also blog about the USL and there is an occasional article written specifically about the USL in publications like the Financial Times.
So, as this division one league tries to find its place in the landscape of soccer in North America, I’ve decided to commit myself to trying to give you a weekly recap of the soccer stories that concern and affect the United Soccer Leagues. I feel the more you know about the league, its teams and their players, the more interested you become in that league and the team you follow. So here we go …
The biggest USL news of the week was the two CONCACAF Champions League games. As reported here, the Puerto Rico Islanders moved onto the semifinals of the competition. Unfortunately, the Montreal Impact had a major implosion in the second half of their game and fell to Santo Laguna 5-2, putting the Mexican team through on aggregate points.
SI.com’s Luis Bueno wrote an excellent article on the success of USL teams and the dismal record of MLS teams in the tournament.
Daniel Feuerstein penned an article for MLS Talk, Why I care about the USL. He does have concerns about a league that once had 29 clubs and is now down to 11. If Traffic Sports pulls the plug on Miami FC, the league will be down to 10 teams.
I do have an argument to that concern. I think the USL is doing a better job of restricting who joins the league by upping the franchise fees. USL is doing a better job screening teams that want to join the league, therefore stabilizing the movement of organizations in and out of the league. So in that regard, even though the league may have fewer teams, it likely is stronger and more stable than it was a number of years ago. Of course that’s disregarding the instability of the economy right now which has destabilized many minor league teams that are not supported by major league teams.
With Barcelona pulling out of their MLS bid, Vancouver’s chances of landing a franchise skyrocketed. The cities left bidding are Vancouver, Portland, St. Louis and Ottawa. Seattle is already gone and if Vancouver and Portland exit to MLS, the loss of those rivalries will be a sad day for the USL.
The Aztex played 2 games against MLS teams this week. First up was a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution.
They also played the Houston Dynamo to a 2-2 draw where the extra week of practice helped the newly formed USL-1 team. The Aztex did have a man sent off in the first half of play but Houston Head Coach Dominic Kinnear met with Aztex coach Adrian Heath and told him he would prefer to play with 11-a-side for both teams being this was an exhibition to help both teams prepare for the season. So the game went on with all 22 players. The call was said to be questionable for a second yellow. What was the official thinking, giving a second yellow in an exhibition game?
The organization also signed signed 24 year old Englishman Eddie Johnson who has spent time with Manchester United but has struggled with form in recent years. The player was brought over by coach Adrian Heath who was Johnson’s assistant coach when he played at Coventry City. (NO! This is not American Eddie Johnson)
The Carolina RailHawks signed Zimbabwe International and former Charlotte Eagles midfielder Joseph Kabwe. Kabwe is a four year veteran of the Eagles USL-2 team.
Tri Soccer fan.com is saying that the team will unveil their new uniforms on Monday and their website should have some photos to display by Monday evening.
The Battery are holding their Challenge Cup which includes three MLS teams, Toronto FC, DC United and Real Salt Lake. I really like that the Battery have sewn together this cup competition which allows MLS teams to come to the nice climate of South Carolina, train, and play good competition in the course of a week and a half. USL.com has a feature on the tournament.
Charleston fell to Toronto FC on Saturday evening, 2-1. The Battery, who have only been in camp for a week, will play their next games on Wednesday against Real Salt Lake and then Saturday the 14th against DC United. Full schedule and tickets are here.
The Battery landed a new sponsor this week, avVenta Worldwide. The uniform is created by Umbro who sponsors and owns a good portion of the USL.
Cleveland City Stars
The Stars named their captain for the season and its former Minnesota Thunder player and all around nice guy Godfrey Tenoff. Tenoff who was just re-signed by Cleveland was Captain for the Thunder in 2007 and takes over for former Thunder player and Stars captain Mark Schulte. Schulte has signed with the much improved Carolina Railhawks.
The team also signed goalkeeper Evan Bush from the University of Akron.
Rumors still persist that Cleveland has not found a bigger home for the team and will return to Krenzler Field on the campus of Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio. Krenzler field only seats 1,680 and the USL has a requirement of its first division teams to play in bigger stadiums. Now I hear word that Cleveland will announce their new venue this week for the 2009 season. Let’s hope it’s not fill-turf and doesn’t have American football lines.
I’m a bit worried about this franchise. The USL suddenly pulled the USL-2 franchise up to USL-1 when they knew the Atlanta Silverbacks wouldn’t be back for a 2009 season. Cleveland still seems to be lagging behind the rest of the league in many other aspects. The organization didn’t name a coach until recently and only have 18 rostered players, most of them coming from USL-2 and PDL teams.
The deadline is Sunday evening for Miami FC. As I’ve reported, the team’s owner, Traffic Sports out of Brazil, has seen enough financial bleeding and is pulling the plug on the team if they don’t have 5000 season tickets sold by Sunday evening. This is a nearly impossible task as pointed out by Minnesota Thunder president Manny Lagos who told me recently there are a number of MLS teams that don’t sell 5000 season tickets.
There was news this week that Barcelona FC of Spain had pulled their bid for an MLS team in Miami citing the bad economy. I contacted Marcos Ommati, PR director for Miami FC, who has been working tirelessly the last two weeks trying to save the team. I asked him if he thought it would make a difference with Traffic Sports that Barcelona had pulled their MLS bid. He told me he really had no idea but he was hoping as much. Now word is coming from those who attended a rally for the team this weekend, that this indeed may be true and Traffic may give the team one more go for the 2009 season. It seems a lot of people may have been holding off buying tickets knowing there was an MLS team coming to town in a year. Now that they know there will be no MLS, will they get behind their USL team and purchase tickets? That’s the million dollar question. The deadline is Sunday night so we should know soon. However, it might take a while for Miami FC officials to meet with their Brazilian parent company to make a final decision.
Michelle Kaufman from the Miami Harold says southern Florida needs to start supporting their soccer teams. That’s something they have not had a history of doing.
Nic Platter remains with DC United and news from Steven Goff’s Soccer Insider told us that Platter was likely to take the 20th spot on the roster. United contacted the MN Thunder this week and requested that Platter be allowed to travel with the team to Charleston for the Charleston Cup taking place this week. Platter did not start in the opening game against Real Salt Lake but did end up playing a good portion of the game as United’s keeper. Louis Crayton was injured and Patter entered, holding the team even for the first half. After more injuries to DC United plus 2 red cards, there was little Platter could do to keep things even for United as RSL scored 3 second-half goals reports Kyle Sheldon, PR Manager for United and writer of Behind the Badge.
Minnesota also picked up 2 more players this week. Lawrence Olum was purchased from the Portland Timbers and Andrew Peterson from the Columbus Crew.
I also conducted an audio interview with Thunder head coach Donny Gramenz. Gramenz talks about the additions to the 2009 roster.
Former Thunder player Kyle Zenoni has called his career at age 25. MSC has the the interesting story.
The organization announced they will play the New York Red Bulls in a friendly on March 20. It had previously been announced the team will travel to play the San Jose Earthquakes on March 14.
The Timbers picked up former LA Galaxy goalkeeper Steve Cronin for the 2009 season. Cronin had recently been released by LA.
The team also announced the re-signing of Japanese forward Takayuki Suzuki and veteran midfielder Shaun Higgins. The Timbers also agreed to sell the contract of midfielder Lawrence Olum to the Minnesota Thunder.
Puerto Rico Islanders
No news from the Islanders this week except for their big win over Marathon. I really wished the league would tell the Islanders they need to have an English version of the website.
The Rhinos signed two more players this week, defensive midfielder Chris Nurse and forward Tai Atieno. Atieno, 23, played for Puerto Rico last season but was traded to Charleston. The Battery then transfered his contract to the Rhinos for an undisclosed fee. Nurse is a veteran English player.
The Whitecaps have flown to Africa for their pre-season training. The team will play three matches while there.
The bigger news may be that Vancouver’s chances of becoming the next MLS franchise went up considerably when Barcelona pulled their bid.