Luke Dempsey’s Club Soccer 101 is a Must-Have

In a sport that is wildly partisan and can be frustratingly dry, Luke Dempsey offers a glimpse into the world’s biggest soccer clubs with both respectful impartiality and a refreshing sense of humor in Club Soccer 101. Without boring his readers with mundane or overwhelming details, Dempsey provides useful information in an entertaining fashion. Every American soccer fan should consider Club Soccer 101 either as an introduction to the sport or as a quick read between European matches on the weekend.

The structure of the book, a vignette about each of 101 teams, allows readers to immerse themselves in the identity of a soccer club without getting bogged down by dates and figures. Club Soccer 101 is jam-packed with information but Dempsey does well to present it in an entertaining and digestible manner.

Of particular note for a large segment of American soccer fans (and which definitely piqued my interest in the book), Dempsey covers MLS teams and superclubs from Latin America with the same deference he gives the storied clubs from across Europe. Without missing a beat, Dempsey describes the masses of rave green fans in Seattle or the desperate die-hards in New Jersey who support the Red Bulls in the same tone with which he fills pages with the histories of FC Barcelona and Manchester United.

As a coffee-table atlas of sorts for soccer’s most interesting clubs or as a trove of clever quips to impress your friends while watching matches, Club Soccer 101 is a must have for any fan of the world’s game.

Cuba Falls 4-0 to a Young, Inexperienced Panama Squad

The Cuban national team traveled to Panama to face that squad in a preparation match for the upcoming Caribbean Cup and Central American Cup.

Colombian head coach of Panama’s national team, Hernán Darío Gómez, could only choose players based in that country’s league because Wednesday night’s match was not on an official FIFA fixture date. A further restriction on his selection was Chorrillo FC’s participation in the current CONCACAF Champions’ League earlier in the week.

Cuba never expected to win this match but was using the contest to try out some new faces for the upcoming busy months. As in every case, Cuba’s coaching staff could only choose players from their domestic league because players who leave Cuba are no longer welcome in the national team setup. The island nation is participating in three tournaments in the fall of 2014, though each at a different age level.

The U-17 team dominated the first group stage of Caribbean qualifying for next year’s CONCACAF Championship. Cuba plays three matches of the second group stage of qualifying between September 27 and October 1.

The Central American and Caribbean Games, a sort of regional Olympics, is planning to bring soccer back to its slate of events. A spat with FIFA forced the organizers to drop the sport from the 2010 addition. Cuba is one of 8 nations participating in the soccer tournament that uses U-21 squads with three overage players allowed (born before January 1, 1993. This tournament runs from November 19 to November 28.

The most important of the three, however, is the 2014 Caribbean Cup. 8 teams will compete in two groups before a knockout stage to determine a champion. The top 4 teams will qualify automatically to the 2015 Gold Cup, the 5th place team will hold a playoff against the 5th place team from the Central American Cup to earn a berth to that Gold Cup, but most exciting is the pass to the 2016 Copa América Centenario available to the winner of the Caribbean tournament.

Cuba lifted the 2012 Caribbean Cup trophy over a disappointing Trinidad and Tobago squad and therefore won an automatic place in the group stage of the 2014 edition. The Cubans will have a tough time defending their title but are already preparing for the fight. The 2014 Caribbean Cup starts on November 9 and the title game is on November 18.

 

Squad for Panama on 8/20
Name (Club), Age, Number of appearances – last national team call-up
Kevin Melgar (Tauro FC), 21, 3 caps – preliminary squad vs Peru
Alex Rodríguez (Sporting SM), 24, 2 caps – August 6 match vs Peru
Óscar McFarlane (Pérez Zeledón; Costa Rica), 33, 34 caps – August 6

Porfirio Ávila (Chepo FC), 22, 1 cap – August 6
Nahill Carrol (Tauro FC), 30, 7 caps – prelim vs Peru
Richard Peralta (Alianza FC), 20, 1 cap – August 6
Joshua Hawkins (Atlético Chiriquí), 32, 1 cap – August 6
Chin Hormechea (Árabe Unido), 18, 0 caps – ???
Fidel Escobar (Sporting SM), 19, 0 caps – prelim vs Peru

Pedro Jeanine (San Francisco FC), 20, 1 cap – August 6
Josiel Núñez (Plaza Amado), 21, 21, 1 cap – August 6
Juan De Gracia (Arabe Unido), 28, 4 caps – August 6
Hécgar/Edgar Murillo (Tauro FC), 20, 0 caps – prelim vs Peru
Justin Simons (San Francisco FC), 16, 0 caps – prelim vs Peru
Richard Rodriguez (San Francisco FC), 18, 0 caps – prelim vs Peru
Francisco Narbón (James Madison University), 19, 1 cap – August 6
Adonis Villanueva (Río Abajo), 21, 1 cap – August 6

Ismael Díaz (Tauro FC), 17, 0 caps – prelim vs Peru
Edgar Yoel Barcénas (Arabe Unido), 20, 1 cap – August 6
Abdiel Arroyo (Arabe Unido), 20, 1 cap – ???
Angel Patrick (Árabe Unido), 22, 0 caps – ???
Armando Paolo (Arabe Unido), 24, 1 cap – prelim vs Peru
Ameth Ramírez (Plaza Amador), 20, 0 caps – August 6

 

Cuban squad vs Panama
Walter Benítez is the normal head coach but the squad was directed by assistant coach Rolando Ayllón

Name (Club), Age, Number of caps

4 Goalkeepers:
Diosvelis Alejandro Guerra (FC Artemisa), 24, 0 caps
Arael Argüelles (Cienfuegos)
Anoide Sardiñas (Ciego de Ávila)
Danilo Baró (Camagüey)

9 Defenders:
Renay Malblanche (Holguín), 23, 14 caps
Michel Márquez (Isla de Juventud), 27, 0 caps
Hanier Dranguet (Guantánamo), 31, 23 caps
Jorge Luis Corrales (Pinar del Río), 23, 20 caps
Yennier Rosabal (Granma) 31, 2 caps
Dairon Blanco (Las Tunas), 22, 0 caps
Yenier Márquez (Villa Clara), 35, 44 caps?
Yasmany López (Ciego de Ávila), 26, ???
Orisbel Leiva (Ciego de Ávila) ?????

9 Midfielders:
Félix Guerra (Granma), 25, ???
Alberto Gómez (Guantánamo), 26, 24 caps
Yannier Martínez (Villa Clara) ?????
Armando Coroneaux (Camagüey), 29, 15 caps
Miguel Ángel Sánchez (Isla de la Juventud), 27, 1 cap
Liván Pérez (Camaguey) 24, 4 caps
Pedro Darío Suárez (La Habana), 22, ???
Jesús Rodríguez (Ciego de Ávila), 25, 1 cap
Tomás Cruz (Ciego de Ávila) ?????

4 Forwards:
José Ciprián Alfonso (Pinar del Río), 30, 4 caps
Yoandri Puga (Isla de Juventud), 26, 3 caps
Ángel Rodríguez (Ciego de Ávila), 23, ???
Ariel Martínez (Sancti Spiritus), 28, 39 caps

 

Lineups for Wednesday’s match that ended Panama 4-0 Cuba.

Oscar McFarlane;
Ángel Patrick, Jorshua Hawkins, Richard Peralta, Porfirio Ávila (Eric Davis, 46′);
Amílcar Henríquez, Francisco Narbón (Juan De Gracia, 60′), Josiel Núñez (Richard Rodríguez, 67′), Hecgar Murillo (Abdiel Arroyo, 60′);
Yoel Bárcenas (Darwin Pinzón, 46′), Armando Polo (Ismael Díaz, 46′)

Diosvelis Guerra;
Jeniel Márquez, Renay Malblanche, Jorge Luis Corrales, Yasmany López;
Alberto Gómez, Tomás Cruz (Livián Pérez, 55′), Yennier Rosabal, Jesús Rodríguez (Félix Guerra, 54′);
Ariel Martínez, Yoandir Puga (José Ciprián Alfonso, 68′)

Cuba did well to stymie Panama’s attack through the first half and into the beginning of the second half. A combination of the Panamanian reinforcements introduced into the game and Cuba’s players tiring undid that hour-long hard work.

Second half substitute Darwin Pinzón opened the scoring in the 67th minute before Juan de Gracia doubled Panama’s lead in the 70th minute, only 10 minutes after stepping on the field. Pinzón fired his second and Panama’s third just 4 minutes later to underline a hectic 7 minute period for Cuba’s defense.

Cuba ventured forward a few times after conceding those 3 goals in rapid succession but couldn’t force McFarlane into making saves. Panama capped the thorough victory with a first minute stoppage time goal from Ismael Díaz. The Cuban defense looked in shambles in the second half of this match but hopefully the team can take something from this game going forward.

Even this under-strength Panama squad is likely more talented than most teams Cuba will face in the upcoming Caribbean Cup. Cuba played Guatemala on Saturday night in another preparation exhibition match.

Surveying the Soccer Scene: The Role of the United States Adult Soccer Association

We all know about Major League Soccer (MLS), the North American Soccer League (NASL), and USL Professional Division (USL Pro). These leagues are sanctioned as professional circuits by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF, U.S. Soccer). But what about the murky depths below these professional leagues?

U.S. Soccer does not sanction amateur leagues directly; that responsibility falls to the United States Adult Soccer Association. The USASA governs amateur soccer through state level associations split into four geographical regions. A handful of large states are split into two bodies: California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

“The USL’s Premier Development League and the National Premier Soccer League are USASA-affiliated but are designed to promote a higher lever of competition than the state organizations.”

United Soccer Leagues is an important partner of the USASA. The Premier Development League, W-League, Super-20 League, and W-20 are all USL operated leagues that USASA administers. PDL runs a short season of 14 matches during the summer months to accommodate collegiate players, its main source of talent.

The National Premier Soccer League is another amateur men’s league that also runs a short season during the summer. NPSL is governed by its existing teams and, as such, expansion bids and other important matters are voted on by a committee of its member clubs. Its website, which is echoed on the USASA site, claims: “The NPSL is sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the governing body of soccer in the United States.”

USASA also sanctions the Women’s Premier Soccer League, an independent national women’s league that contains clubs affiliated to MLS clubs, PDL clubs, and ECNL girls’ youth clubs.

USASA oversees 11 local/regional “Elite Amateur Leagues,” some of which boast clubs and competitions with impressive history.
Coast Soccer League” in Southern California
Cosmopolitan Soccer League” around New York City
Long Island Soccer Football League
Maryland Major Soccer League
Michigan Premier Soccer League
Rochester District Soccer League” in Western New York [that's me!]
San Francisco Soccer Football League” in Northern California
United Soccer League of Pennsylvania
United Premier Soccer League” in Southern California
Washington Premier League” in the DMV (Metropolitan D.C., Maryland, Virginia area)
Evergreen Premier League” in Washington (which you should check out)

The odd names of “Soccer Football League” hearken back over a hundred years when these leagues were founded. You read that right, some of these leagues have been active for over a hundred years and were a staple of American soccer throughout the rise and fall of countless professional leagues.

These “elite” leagues hold a special designation among local or regional amateur leagues but are still often a lower quality of play than NPSL or PDL. That is not to say the players in these leagues are hacks; the simple difference is that USASA-sanctioned “premier” leagues PDL and NPSL are primarily devoted to developing college-aged players.

The country’s 55 member associations are divided into four regions; Northeast/Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, South, and West Coast. In case you were wondering, the 50 states plus an extra in each of CA, NY, OH, PA, and TX add to up the 55 total. Each association governs amateur leagues within its territory. For example, New York West oversees men’s leagues in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and the Southern Tier.

The four regions hold qualifying tournaments for clubs that are interested in potentially participating in the U.S. Open Cup. Because of the expanded field in the cup, USASA teams had 10 berths in the tournament in 2014. Each of the four regions had two entrants and two additional clubs qualified as USASA wildcards: NY Greek-Americans, Icon FC, Des Moines Menace (the PDL powerhouse qualified through an amateur “reserve” side), Schwaben AC, Red Force, NTX Rayados, Cal FC, PSA Elite, Mass Premier Soccer, RWB Adria.

USASA is a mainstay of American soccer and provides a valuable place in the organization of the sport. Amateur soccer at the highest level, whether developmental or recreational, runs through the United States Adult Soccer Association.

Surveying the Soccer Scene: The Role of U.S. Club Soccer

U.S. Club Soccer is an independent soccer governing body that works alongside the existing frameworks already in place (MLS, USSDA, USASA, NASL, USL Pro, NPSL, USL PDL, ASL, PCSL, EPLWA, USMPSUNSAMSL…all right, I made up that last one up). While following the same four regional divisions in its Board of Directors that U.S. Adult Soccer Association utilizes (North Atlantic, Midwest, Southeast, and West), USCS has a strong principled philosophy that separates it from the rest of the pack.

U.S. Club Soccer believes in the power of its member clubs. USCS’s philosophy is summed up in the following bullet points published on its website.

  • Soccer clubs are the primary vehicle through which players are developed.
  • Too much time has been spent governing competitive soccer rather than encouraging its growth.
  • The business of the day-to-day development of top youth players rests with the club.
  • A business-friendly environment must be created
    • to develop programs and services which assist the club and player,
    • to provide a minimum of rules and regulations to assure basic fairness,
    • and to allow clubs the flexibility to build programs that meet their needs.
  • Clubs must work together to grow the club system.
    • This includes speaking with a collective voice on important issues affecting them; assisting clubs organizationally and technically through our technical committee, staff, and club services programs; and coordinating player development with national teams and professional clubs.

If I may paraphrase: Clubs are the true source of innovation to develop best practices. Clubs themselves know what path is best for their organization and the players therein. The governing body should be supportive but not overbearing or micromanagerial, as the clubs with ambition will succeed given the proper baseline and development assistance.

This is a fairly laissez-faire attitude [one to which I may not always ascribe in national politics] but one which is apt in this instance.

The clubs that participate in U.S. Club Soccer leagues are not exclusive. That is to say, clubs often field teams in USCS youth leagues while at the same time operating teams in the US Development Academy, USL’s Super Y-League, Women’s Premier Soccer League, or any other combination of letters in American soccer’s alphabet soup whether listed above or not, whether real or imagined.

In that regard, it does not serve USCS’s interests to demand things from its member clubs. If the restrictions are too arduous or annual dues too high, clubs would simply choose to participate in a different league. U.S. Club Soccer operates best when clubs (those that meet certain logical and logistical minimum guidelines) choose to participate, instead of ending up there as the last resort or seeking the least worst option.

USCS has programs designed not only to help identify young talent for the u-14 national team (the id2 program), but also has initiatives that promote ambitious and well-organized clubs to the opportunities for better competition in order to develop their players. The National Premier Leagues program is the perfect example of the realization of the USCS philosophy; the Pre-Academy Leagues are the particular pinnacle of that system.

Because strong youth clubs wanted a better platform for their younger players, U.S. Club Soccer designed new regional leagues. Most of the clubs that joined these leagues also participated in the USSDA at higher age divisions. This initiative was successful and U.S. Soccer was able to easily transition into a national u-13/14 age bracket for the Development Academy structure in large part due to the existing infrastructure from USCS’s Pre-Academy Leagues. [You can read my previous posts about the importance of the Pre-Academy Leagues here and here.]

The entry cost to participate in a USCS league is not prohibitive, meaning that clubs can decide their participation based on geographical and competitive considerations. This low cost also means that clubs don’t have to worry about sunk cost when considering pulling teams out of USCS leagues.

This is an American soccer landscape that has recently seen the NASL prop up 4 of its clubs when Traffic Sports USA had at least a majority stake in Carolina RailHawks, Atlanta Silverbacks, Minnesota United FC, and Fort Lauderdale Strikers and has seen MLS buy out the Chivas USA franchise from Jorge Vergara. In this context, the independent nature of U.S. Club Soccer is refreshing.

USCS does not rely on the patronage of a handful of clubs and therefore would have few qualms about dismissing clubs that don’t meet its basic standards. Perhaps this freedom is only possible within a system of amateur and youth development leagues, but a similar approach might also be successful at a semiprofessional level.

By standing firm to its simple obligations and not trying to expand beyond what makes sense for existing member clubs, U.S. Club Soccer-organized leagues can focus on benefiting those clubs instead of exacting memberships dues. Instead of a carousel of new clubs replacing failed enterprises, USCS leagues are mostly stable from year-to-year. This type of continuity stands in stark contrast to the collapse of USL Pro’s Antigua Barracuda FC, VSI Tampa Bay FC Flames, and Phoenix FC just last year (not to mention the failures of FC New York and the three Puerto Rican clubs in 2011).

Rather than assuming the role of snake-oil salesmen, claiming the impossible and promising the moon, USCS leagues can be honest with their member clubs and those clubs are honest brokers in return. At the very least this straightforwardness could be applied to ameliorate some of the negative aspects of the professional American soccer minor leagues.

Is the American Soccer League for real?

The inaugural season of the American Soccer League kicks off next weekend with three matches slated for Saturday, August 23.

In those matches AC Crusaders hosts Philadelphia Fury, Icon travels to Mass United, and Newark hosts the Evergreen Diplomats. Western Mass Pioneers and Rhode Island Reds have a bye the first week of the season.

Oh wait, you haven’t heard of these teams before? That’s because none of them plays in an existing professional league. Only 2 of the founding 8 clubs recently participated in a league higher than a local or state amateur circuit. Those two are Rhode Island from the NPSL and Western Mass Pioneers from the USL PDL.

Don’t feel bad if you aren’t familiar with these teams. The league refers to some of its own clubs by multiple names, so it seems even they aren’t too familiar.

On the league’s schedule page the teams are listed as: AC Crusaders, Evergreen Diplomats, Icon, Mass United, Newark, Philadelphia Fury, Rhode Island, Western Mass Pioneers

On the league’s “Teams” page, the teams are listed as:
AC Crusaders, Evergreen Diplomats, Icon, Mass United, Ironbound Soul, Philadelphia Fury, Rhode Island Oceaneers, Lusitanos Pro Soccer

The league’s “About Us” page on its website uses three quotes from Sepp Blatter without context to provide the philosophical basis for the league and attempts to justify the money clubs will waste in this venture. Sepp Blatter is widely corrupt, openly sexist, and generally an awful administrator of the game we all love; he’s really the inspiration for your league?

The league kicks off in 8 days and its website is woefully incomplete. Only 2 of the clubs have even partial profiles on the league’s website. It shouldn’t be any surprise that those 2 clubs have the same owner, which brings us to Matt Driver.

Driver is the owner of Atlantic Soccer Factory, a “soccer education” company from southern New Jersey. ASF evokes divided opinion among parents who have coughed up thousands of dollars in fees for Driver’s programs throughout the years.

Driver is the godfather of the American Soccer League but maintains ownership of ASF, which operates the AC Crusaders team. In addition Driver is the owner and head coach of the Philadelphia Fury team. How professional is this league when one man is a head coach, owner of two teams, league president, and league CEO?

The ASL, through Driver, attempted a hype train earlier in the year about challenging USL Pro as the country’s division three league. That will never happen.

The ASL cannot meet USSF’s guidelines to receive sanctioning as a professional league. As such the league should not refer to itself as a professional league. For the coming season, the ASL is sanctioned as a high-level amateur league.

The ASL is an amateur league with apparently professional teams, but even that designation may be in name only. Teams in the ASL will pay players and will operate during the school year so as to prevent collegiate athletes from participating but are hiring inexperienced office staff to run their operations.

Driver is quoted in a news story on the league’s site as saying, “We’re looking for players who are graduating from college, or maybe will come into this league as an alternative to college.” MLS clubs are finding it difficult to convince potential HG players from forgoing college for a soccer career but this shoddy upstart league can. Makes sense.

The fully professional and storied soccer club Rochester Rhinos offers general admission tickets for games against other fully professional clubs in the USL Pro hosted at Sahlen’s Stadium, a soccer-specific stadium, for $10.

First year “professional” team Philadelphia Fury offers general admission tickets for games against other “professional” teams in a makeshift league hosted at a local high school for $9.

Does that math make sense to you? I think there’s more than one dollar difference in the value offered by the Rochester Rhinos and the Philadelphia Fury.

Is the ASL for real?
Unfortunately I think it is and that will be bad news for most of these teams. I don’t expect the league to survive into its second year next fall if it actually manages to play out its full first season.

I am encouraged by soccer clubs that want to turn professional and are looking for a cheaper alternative to what if currently available through NPSL and PDL. When a league is scrounging for member teams, it is incentivized to mislead prospective team owners. Allowing inexperienced amateurs to operate professional soccer club offices is irresponsible and when these clubs fail it will poison the well for future attempts to grow soccer in the United States.

2014 USL Pro Attendance Update: Week 19

Here is the basic list that will satisfy most fans of American soccer and American soccer numbers. Right here at the top of the post I have listed out each of the clubs in USL Pro in terms of average announced home attendances over the course of the season (through week 19). After each team name in parentheses is the number of home games followed by a colon and the average attendance figure. Go nuts.

1. Sacramento Republic FC (9):     13123
2. Rochester Rhinos (10):     5530
3. Orlando City SC (10):     4713
4. Charleston Battery (9):     3847
5. OKC Energy FC (10):     3738
6. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (10):     2708
7. Richmond Kickers (11):     2536
8. Wilmington Hammerheads FC (9):     2379
9. Arizona United SC (11):     2240
10. Harrisburg City Islanders (10):     1894
11. Charlotte Eagles (10):     793
12. Orange County Blues FC (10):     782
13. LA Galaxy II (10):     687
14. Dayton Dutch Lions (11):     499

The league’s total attendance through week 19 is 440,605

The league wide average attendance (buoyed at the top by Sacramento’s early-season matches at Hughes Stadium) is 3147.18.

The median team average is 2459, the average between Richmond Kickers and Wilmington Hammerheads FC, though this number doesn’t really tell us too much while each team has hosted a different number of games during the season.

The average of team averages above the median is 5171, that is the mean of team averages for teams above the median is 5171.
The per game average of all of the games hosted by the 7 teams above the median is 5036.41

The average of team averages below the median is 1325.
The per game average of the 7 teams below the median is 1311.17.

Again, the league’s total attendance through 19 weeks is 440,605.
Over 140 matches, the league has a per game average of 3147.18.

Without Sacramento Republic FC home matches included, the total league attendance drops by 118,107 to a less impressive 322,498.
With no Sacramento, the league wide per game average falls to 2461.82, a decrease of 685.

The league’s highest attendances are Sacramento’s three sell-outs at Hughes Stadium against Harrisburg City Islanders, LA Galaxy II, and Arizona United SC: 20,231.

The league’s lowest attendance is Dayton’s match against Orlando City on June, 22 which only drew an announced attendance of 275.

Sacramento’s sell-out is nearly 74 times larger (73.57) than Dayton’s lowest draw.

 

Anything else y’all think is noteworthy?
Any of figures I should keep track of in addition to the ones listed above?

Jacksonville Armada FC Names José Luis Villarreal Head Coach

Jose Luis Villarreal Head Shot-2
The future of the NASL looks bright if all expansion clubs can follow Jacksonville’s lead. On Wednesday afternoon the club, which will begin play in the second division league, announced the hiring of Argentinian coach José Luis Villarreal. Villarreal boasts an impressive CV as a player on multiple continents and valuable experience coaching a storied South American team.

ARMADA_FC_RGB
Jacksonville had already laid down a strong foundation before Wednesday’s announcement. Back on February 18 of this year, the club unveiled its name and logo after an extensive period of fan input. Club owner Mark Frisch and general manager Darío Sala proudly displayed the crest and explained the that the organization was “honored and proud to reflect the suggestions of our fans in our team name and logo while aligning with the history and tradition of this region.”

On Wednesday afternoon the club built a solid framework on top of the existing foundation. Continue reading