Checking in on the American Soccer League as the Fall 2016 Season Kicks Off

The American Soccer League claims to be the missing link for American soccer between high school or college and the professional ranks. The league, the brainchild of Matt Driver, also claims to offer professional contracts to players to play on professional teams despite being sanctioned through the United States Adult Soccer Association, which governs amateur soccer.

I have published serious doubts about the league for over two years, on this blog and in other places, and the league has done next to nothing to assuage those concerns. The league’s current campaign, the Fall 2016 season, began this past weekend but some news from the league’s schedule raises the same old questions.

The league started out with a handful of teams clustered in New Jersey and New England: Philadelphia Fury, A.C. Crusaders, EverGreen Diplomats, Ironbound Soul SC, Icon FC, Mass United FC, Rhode Island Oceaneers, and Western Mass Pro Soccer.

Of those 8 founding members of the league, only two still participate in the ASL. Those teams happen to be the personal projects of the two men behind the league: Matt Driver’s Philadelphia Fury and Jim Antonakas’s Mass United FC.

The league played a full season, split between the fall of and spring session, but ejected Ironbound Soul SC before campaign finished. In the league final, Western Mass fell to Icon FC; neither of those teams is still participating in the league.

A projected Fall 2015 season was cancelled but the league returned in the spring on this year with several additional teams to replace those who had left. Delaware Stars FC (original called Delaware Copperheads), Lancaster Lions, Long Island Express, IFK Maryland, Connecticut United FC, New Hampshire Bobcats, and New England FC joined the league to bolster its ranks to 10 teams.

Teams in New England quickly unraveled, though, and NEFC was forced to forfeit every match of the Spring Season. NEFC and New Hampshire Bobcats were also owned by Jim Antonakas, and the Bobcats also ran into some trouble.

Between NEFC and the Bobcats, the teams were only credited with a single win in the Spring Season, which was a forfeit in New Hampshire’s favor when the two teams were scheduled to play each other.

New England FC reportedly missed a league deadline to register players but the ASL still had the team travel to play matches that had already been forfeited. As you might imagine, NEFC players weren’t quite up for this experience and their performances were rather abject.

“A recent game involving New England FC raised eyebrows when the team lost on the road to Connecticut United FC by a shocking score of 14-0. The visitors only brought nine players to the match and were out-shot 50 to 3 (39-1 on frame), while Connecticut managed 274 more passes in the game.”

– ASL Stutters in Second Season

The Bobcats story is slightly different in that the team was credited with scoring goals in game that were not forfeits. On the league’s website (the maintenance of which is notoriously poor), the list of results for the Bobcats either shows a few coincidences or suggests that the team also forfeited matches.

The team lost 7 games by a 1-0 scoreline, was the beneficiary of NEFC’s earlier forfeiture, and then lost to Icon FC 2-1 and to IFK Maryland 3-1.

For some fairly obvious reasons, New England FC is no longer participating in the American Soccer League. In its place, however, the league has added Atlanta Futuro, a team in Georgia with ties to Jim Antonakas. The closest team to Atlanta, Georgia plays in Maryland.

A fairly successful team during the Spring 2016 campaign was Connecticut United FC. CT United was owned/controlled by Greg Bajek, who also owned Icon FC. Bajek, who showcased Connecticut United against a Polish professional side that recently earned promotion into the second division over the summer, is apparently focusing on the team in New Britain and Icon FC is no longer listed in the league’s schedules or standings.

Another team to drop out from the spring to the fall sessions in Delaware Stars FC. The ASL touted the involvement of former professional Jeremiah White but the team fell away, especially on social media. Delaware posted only once to Instagram on June 14, hasn’t tweeted since June 26, and has posted on Facebook just one time since June.

For those keeping track at home, there are now 8 former ASL teams and just 8 current ASL teams. Sadly this league has not learned any lessons since 2014 but hopefully aspiring soccer players will not have to be on the receiving end of 14-0 blowouts this season.

One has to wonder why 50% of all teams in the American Soccer League have failed or left the league. Is that uncertainty creating an environment for players to prosper in their development to a professional quality?

Rochester 1-1 Louisville City FC: Rhinos Concede Late, Settle for a Draw on the Road

Earlier this season, Louisville City FC traveled to Rochester and beat the Rhinos for the first time. After that match on June 18, Rochester head coach Bob Lilley told me that he saw a lot of the grit, determination, and luck that drove his team to the USL Championship at the end of a one-loss campaign. Lilley credited his opponents after that match for getting ahead early and holding on to their lead on the road, a game-plan that worked wonders for Rochester in 2015.

With a 2015 playoff match and that June game in Rochester as context, the two teams faced off in Louisville on Saturday.

In the 13th minute, Steevan dos Santos picked up an errant pass from Kadeem Dacres in the center circle intended for Aodhan Quinn and immediately looked ahead. Dos Santos hit a well-timed pass with the outside of his right foot into the path of strike partner Christian Volesky. The pass split Louisville’s two central defenders, Sean Reynolds and Paco Craig, and Volesky ghosted in between them. One step inside the penalty area, with goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh rushing off his line, Volesky coolly finished with the right instep.

Aside from the goal, the biggest moment of the first half occurred in the 38th minute. Louisville’s Andrew Lubahn, who scored the only goal of the match in Rochester earlier in the season, went down in Rochester’s 18-yard box under a challenge from Mike Garzi. Lubahn and his team’s fans adamantly believed the play deserved a penalty.

Louisville City FC fans have often reverted to bashing the performances of match officials this season despite sitting high in the USL Eastern Conference. The Lubahn-incident late in the first half on Saturday night will no doubt be seen as yet another log in the fire for Louisville but referee was thoroughly, but rather evenly, poor on the night.

While there may have been a strong shout for Lubahn’s penalty, the officiating crew missed three possible bookings in the final five minute of the match. In the 88th minute Ben Newnam fouled dos Santos from behind close to midfield on the near side of the field to prevent a Rochester counter. In the 90th minute Dominic Samuel beat Dacres on the far side of the field and the Louisville winger chased Samuel down and dragged him to the ground him from behind. In the first minute of stoppage time, dos Santos was fouled hard and late by Craig in the attacking third.

Louisville may feel aggrieved by the non-call in the first half, but the entire league suffers from the lack of quality officiating.

In the 85th minute, central defender Joe Farrell did see a booking for a foul about 22 yards from goal. Ben Newnam took the free kick that caromed off Tomas Gomez’s near post. Louisville central midfielder Guy Abend got his head to the rebound and directed his the ball into the ground, which may have deflected off Vasili Apostolopoulos. The ball bounced up at the top of the six-yard box and Paco Craig was on hand to crash the net and finish the equalizer late in the game.

In the 67th minute, Louisville forward and former Tottenham academy player Cameron Lancaster caught Rochester’s Sofiane Tergou with a clear elbow to the face. There was a long stop in play as Tergou received treatment on the field. Both trainer Doug Graham and assistant coach Gavin McInerney showed the extent of the injury on Tergou’s face to the fourth official but there no was booking on the play.

In a bit of childish retribution, Apostolopoulos caught Lancaster with an elbow on the next available play and was duly shown a yellow card.

 

Chandler Hoffman has been the go-to striker for Louisville to cope with the loss of 2015 USL MVP and Golden Boot Winner Matt Fondy. Against Rochester, Hoffman had a number of chances but either rushed his shot or stumbled over the ball. In the 65th minute right back Ben Newnam dribbled into space in the channel and sent a good, low cross into the center. Hoffman made a run to meet the ball at the near post but somehow rifled his shot well wide of the frame from close range.

In the final minute of the game, the third minute of stoppage time, Louisville wasted a three on one break. A Louisville player drove up the middle of the field before dishing the ball to Hoffman on the left. Hoffman appeared to almost overrun the ball before taking a left-footed shot from 19 yards out that dribbled wide of the goal.

In a positive sign for Rochester, dos Santos and Volesky continued their on-field chemistry. During the recent loss at home to Richmond, dos Santos attempted to pull rank and take the penalty instead of Volesky. Volesky’s poorly-struck penalty was easily saved by Richmond’s Matt Turner and dos Santos can be seen on the replay reacting very poorly to Volesky’s decision.

Against Wilmington at home last Saturday, the pair exchanged assists for each other as the Rhinos downed the Hammerheads 2-0. That connection produced Rochester’s early goal in Louisville and will be key to the Rhinos looking towards the postseason.

The 1-1 draw is not a poor result for Rochester but the fans are right to be upset the team could not hold out for all three points. With difficult trips to Cincinnati, Charleston, and Charlotte on the horizon, the Rhinos need to take momentum from the good showing in Louisville into the next home match. A decisive victory over an inconsistent Pittsburgh Riverhounds team on Saturday will put Rochester in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot.

Looking at the 2015 NASL Fall Season Schedule

On Tuesday, January 20, the NASL announced the schedule for the 2015 Fall Season. Each of the 11 teams in the NASL this year will play each other twice for a total of 20 matches. Because of the odd number of participants in 2015, one team will have a bye and will sit out during every regular 5-game weekend fixture list.

The format is similar to the 2015 Spring Season that the NASL released on Wednesday, December 20. The spring campaign will see each team play each other once for a total of 10 matches before the mid-summer break in league play.

Since the NASL instituted the split-season format in 2013, the season has generally maintained a length from the beginning of April until the start of November.

The 2015 spring campaign will last from 04/04/15 until 06/13/15 and the 2015 fall campaign will last from 07/04/15 until 11/01/15.
The 2014 spring campaign lasted from 04/12/14 until 06/08/14 and the 2014 fall campaign lasted from 07/12/14 until 11/02/14.
The 2013 spring campaign lasted from 04/06/13 until 07/04/13 and the 2013 fall campaign lasted from 08/03/13 until 11/02/13.

The total NASL schedule has fluctuated only very slightly since its inception between 26 and 30 games for each team (not counting New York’s 2013 season).

2011: 28 total games
2012: 28 total games
2013: 12+14, 26 total games for 7/8 teams
2014: 9+18, 27 total games for 10 teams
2015: 10+20, 30 total games for 11 teams

The 2015 Fall Campaign will see each team play 20 games, 10 at home and 10 on the road, across 18 weeks. This format requires each team to play two mid-week games during the split season, an increase from just one in 2014.

There are three Friday night matches that are parts of the regular 5-game weekend fixture list. None of the teams that play on Friday will have played since the previous Saturday except for Carolina, who play the Sunday before: August 30 and September 4.

The league will play two games on Tuesday nights, Atlanta hosting Minnesota on September 15 and New York hosting Ottawa on September 22. Atlanta doesn’t play the weekend before that match while Minnesota plays the Saturday before. Both New York and Ottawa play on the Saturday prior their Tuesday meeting.

Teams will compete in 18 Wednesday night games to round out 20 total mid-week matches. Only two Wednesday night games feature a team that played the previous Sunday, all other teams playing the Friday or Saturday before. This ensures that for all but those two games, teams will have at least 3 full days in between games to travel, recuperate, and train between league fixtures. The two exceptions are when Edmonton hosts Ottawa on August 2 before hosting Indy on Wednesday, August 5, and when New York hosts Atlanta on October 4 before Atlanta hosts the return fixture on Wednesday, October 7.

Despite the difficulties of have an odd number of teams, the NASL maintained its commitment to a balanced schedule and proper rest between matches.

Analyzing the 2015 NASL Spring Season Schedule

The NASL released its schedule for the spring campaign of the 2015 season on December 17, 2014. The league will have 11 teams for the spring split and each team will play 10 games.

In 2012, the NASL regular season had a balanced schedule, in which each of the 8 teams faced the other 7 teams four times (twice home and twice away) for a total of 28 games. The season lasted 25 weeks from April 7 to September 23 and contained regular season 112 matches.

The NASL split season format was introduced for the 2013 season but was altered to accommodate a break during the 2014 World Cup. Throughout Latin America, most leagues cut the regular double-round-robin schedule down the middle with a brief break in between. These leagues, like Mexico’s Liga MX, split the season in half and crown a separate championship for each short tournament.

America’s second division has not yet played an equal spring and fall schedule because of mid-season expansion and the 2014 World Cup. In 2013, the NY Cosmos joined the league for the fall season only while the league shifted the break earlier in order to pause competition while on eyes were on Brazil.

The 2015 spring season will feature 5 matches each weekend with one team sitting out each week. In order to maintain the structure in the NASL schedule, one of the 11 teams must observe a bye each matchday.

Between April 4 and June 13, the league will hold 55 games. Only one match is scheduled for Friday evening, the NASL’s Canadian derby as Ottawa Fury SC hosts FC Edmonton on May 29.

With the professional schedule structure in place, there are clearly no instances of teams playing games on back-to-back nights or two games in one weekend as happens in USL PRO. New Minnesota United FC signing J.C. Banks recently told Doherty Soccer that the league’s scheduling was an important selling point in his move to MNUFC. Banks said that the congested schedule in USL PRO, where he played 4 seasons with Rochester Rhinos, threatened players’ health and often didn’t provide enough time for rest and adequate training.

The 2015 spring campaign will last from 4/4 until 6/13

The 2014 spring campaign lasted from 4/12 until 6/08
The 2014 fall campaign lasted from 7/12 until 11/02

The 2013 spring campaign lasted from 4/06 until 7/04
The 2013 fall campaign lasted from 8/03 until 11/02

The 2015 season looks a lot like the beginning of the 2014 season even though there’s no World Cup this year to justify an early break,

The total NASL schedule has fluctuated only very slightly between 26 and 28 games for each team.

2011: 28 total games
2012: 28 total games
2013: 26 total games
2014: 27 total games
2015: 10+?

The league has set itself up for a headache with the fall split of the 2015 schedule.

If the league remains with 11 teams, NASL could double the spring campaign during the fall, playing each other team home and away. This format would still require a team to sit out each weekend and would probably have to feature one or two mid-week fixture dates in order to wrap up a 30-game regular season by the beginning of November.

If the league adds a 12th team for the fall campaign, as reported by Neil Morris with regard to the creation of a team around the Los Angeles market, circumstances change. The 12 teams could play each other once for 11 games or twice for 22 games.A 22 game fall season would mean a 32 game full season for the NASL, which is a considerable increase over recent years.

Another option, regardless of whether the Los Angeles team materializes, is to abandon the balanced schedule. If the league decides to go an unbalanced route, teams may face certain opponents more often depending on geographic proximity or presumed rivalries. The NASL would join USL PRO and MLS if it released an unbalanced schedule for the 2015 Fall campaign.

 

Cuban National Teams Competing in Four Tournaments

At the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, Cuban soccer will be competing on four fronts. Cuban U17 and U20 national teams both qualified for full CONCACAF tournaments out of smaller Caribbean tournaments. A U21 squad will compete in the Central American and Caribbean Games in late November in Mexico.

With a chance to enter the 2015 Gold Cup next summer in the United States, Cuba’s full national team kicks off its play in the 2014 Caribbean Cup on November 11.

 

Cuba’s U17 finished 3rd place in the U17 Caribbean Cup, a qualifying tournament for the 2015 CONCACAF U17 Championship. Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Lucia will represent the Caribbean Zone in that regional tournament.

Cuba bested Dominica (4-0) and Suriname (2-0) to advance out of the first group stage of Caribbean qualifying for the CONCACAF tournament. In the second round of group play, Cuba demolished Guadeloupe (5-0) and defeated Martinique (1-0) before losing to Jamaica (0-3). By virtue of finishing second in Group B, the Caribbean Lions qualified for the full regional tournament.

As a consolation of sorts after already advancing to the CONCACAF tournament, Cuba beat Saint Lucia (2-0) on October 26 to win third place in the Caribbean competition.

Cuba’s U17 team will play in one of two groups of 6 teams early next year for the opportunity to qualify to the 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup in Chile.

In addition to the five teams from the Caribbean that have already qualified, North America’s three teams (Canada, Mexico, and the United States) enter the CONCACAF tournament automatically. The final two entrants from Central America are still to be decided in three weeks, but Honduras are in as tournament hosts and Costa Rica has assured its passage through one of two qualifying groups.

 

Cuba’s U20 national team also finds itself in the upcoming CONCACAF tournament. Though the squad started its qualifying campaign rather unceremoniously back in June, Cuba somehow squeaked through.

Cuba was placed in a qualifying group alongside Martinique, Barbados, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. After two draws to open the group in late June, Cuba’s 3-1 win over Martinique earned the Lions passage into the second group stage.

In that second round of group play in September, Cuba defeated Curaçao (1-0) before losing to Suriname (0-1). Cuba entered its final group stage match against Trinidad and Tobago with its future uncertain. The young Soca Warriors had already clinched their own qualification and may have taken their foot off the pedal, allowing Cuba to grab the early lead in the game. Though Trinidad and Tobago did battle back for a draw, Curaçao’s victory over Suriname meant Cuba finished second in Group A.

In an odd happenstance, Cuba’s U20 team won the consolation match against Aruba (2-1) to finish third overall in the 2015 CONCACAF U20 Championship Qualifying Tournament in the Caribbean.

Cuba will be joined by Haiti, Aruba, Trinidad and Tobago, and hosts Jamaica from the Caribbean. The three North American teams (Canada, Mexico, and the United States) enter the tournament automatically while Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala qualified out of Central America.

Cuba kicks off its 2015 CONCACAF U20 campaign in early January. The Cuban hopefuls face Mexico on January 10, Honduras on the 12th, Haiti on the 15th, Canada on the 19th, and El Salvador on the 22nd.

The tournament features two groups of six teams each and the group winners automatically advance to the 2015 U20 World Cup in New Zealand. The next four best teams are seeded based on group stage results. These four teams play (1 v 4, 2 v 3) and the winners of each match also advance to the World Cup.

There is a tough road ahead for Cuba’s u20 team but the isolated island nation does have a track record recently at the youth level.

Cuba qualified for the 2013 U20 World Cup in Turkey and even though they finished with 0 points and a -9 GD, the squad showed well for a program with such limited resources.

Cuba’s U20 team turned a few heads at the 2013 qualifying tournament in Puebla, Mexico. Finishing the tournament in fourth place earned the Caribbean Lions a berth in that dubious World Cup. Creative forward Maykel Reyes was particularly impressive and he has continued his participation with the national team program.

 

Cuba’s under 21 team will take part in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico, in November. There is heavy overlap between the squads for these two competitions.

The 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games is organized into two groups of four teams. Cuba, which starts play on November 19, is in a group with Costa Rica, Haiti, and Venezuela. This tournament uses U21 teams with up to three overage players allowed in the 20-man squad.

 

Cuba’s full senior national team qualified for the 2014 Caribbean Cup by virtue of lifting the trophy in 2012. Though that surprise title run was in part due to Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago under-performing, Cuba has a strong opportunity to qualify for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Kicking off on November 11, Cuba faces French Guiana, Curaçao, and Trinidad and Tobago. The top two finishers from each of the two groups advance to next year’s Gold Cup while the better of the the third-placed teams squares off against Honduras for the final berth into the full CONCACAF tournament.

Cuba’s youth teams have both managed to qualify for important Caribbean tournaments and the senior side has performed in recent competitions. However it is difficult to predict whether Cuba is fully prepared for the Caribbean Cup since the team didn’t participate in the qualification cycle.

Jacksonville Armada FC Announces Miguel Gallardo as First Player

Miguel Gallardo was unveiled Tuesday with Jacksonville Armada FC

Miguel Gallardo was unveiled Tuesday with Jacksonville Armada FC

The 2015 NASL expansion team announced on Tuesday, October 21 that goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo is the first-ever Jacksonville Armada FC player. Gallardo will lead Jacksonville after playing four successful seasons with Orlando City SC of USL PRO.

“It is an honor to be the first signing in Armada FC’s history,” Gallardo said on Tuesday.

Gallardo initially joined Orlando City ahead of its inaugural season in 2011 in USL PRO. The 6’1″ goalkeeper played with the Austin Aztex in USL-1 for two seasons before moving with the club to Central Florida. With Orlando, Gallardo amassed 51 wins and 32 clean sheets in 82 appearances over his four seasons. Miguel Gallardo led the City Lions from the back en route to three regular season titles and two playoff championship trophies in USL PRO.

Gallardo apparently did not impress head coach Adrian Heath quite enough to earn an MLS contract alongside Kaká, Salvadoran national team star Darwin Cerén, and 2014 USL PRO MVP Kevin Molino. His four years leading the third division league with Orlando City, however, mean that Gallardo is among the strongest goalkeepers outside of MLS and will lead Jacksonville in the club’s first season.

Armada FC’s General Manager Dario Sala was glowing about Gallardo joining the club. “We are proud to welcome Miguel as our first signing. He encompasses all that we are looking for in our players – a well-developed skill set, strong character, leadership ability, a great résumé and a desire to be a part of our team and our community.”

There are few better players to build a defensive core around than the 29 year old goalkeeper. Gallardo not only put up impressive numbers but formed a powerful connection with Orlando City’s fans. Jacksonville Armada FC are hoping to capitalize on both Gallardo’s career pedigree and his personal characteristics to form the backbone of their squad.

“Today is an incredible moment in the history of the Armada FC and a key building block as we assemble a team that Jacksonville will be proud to call its own,” said Jacksonville Armada owner Mark Frisch.

Armada FC plans to fill out the rest of its 27-man roster by January 2015; look for future announcements about which players will join Gallardo on Jacksonville’s squad in the coming weeks.

Puerto Rico National Team Kicks off Caribbean Cup 2014

After a hiatus of nearly 2 years, since the conclusion of the previous regional tournament, Puerto Rico’s national soccer team is ready to contest the 2014 edition of the Caribbean Cup.

Puerto Rico has a relatively easy pass in the first stage of the competition. Los boricuas face off against Curaçao, French Guiana, and Grenada in Group 4. All group matches will be played from September 3-7 in the Juan Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

The top two teams from each of the four groups, along with the top ranked third-placed team, move on to the next phase of the tournament. Puerto Rico should be able to see themselves out of this group stage playing at home.

Below is the squad called in by national team head coach Victor Hugo Barros.
Name, player age, national team appearances (Club team or college)

Goalkeepers:
Eric Reyes, 22 years old, 9 caps (Unattached)
Matthew Sanchez, 20 years old, 0 caps, (Loyola University)
Luis Fiol, ??, 0 caps (Criollos de Caguas FC)

Defenders:
Joel Rivera, ??, 0 caps (Bayamon FC)
Juan Velez, ??, 0 caps (Criollos)
Gustavo Rivera, 21 years old, 2 caps (Barry University)
Carlos Rosario, 20 years old, 0 caps (Bayamon)
Sean Sweeney, ??, 0 caps (Fort Pitt FC Regiment; National Premier Soccer League – fourth tier in U.S.)
Alexis Rivera, 31 years old, 24 caps (Bayamon)
Steven Estrada, 27 years old, 2 caps (Bayamon)

Midfielders:
Emmanuel D’Andrea, 19 years old, 2 caps (Sevilla FC ‘C’)
Alvaro Betancourt, 20 years old, 4 caps (Bayamon)
Andres Perez, 25 years old, 10 caps (Bayamon)
Eduardo Jimenez, ??, 0 caps (Bayamon)
Juan Coca, 21 years old, 5 caps (Kultsu FC; Kakkonen – third tier in Finland)
Michael Fernandez, ??, 0 caps (Universitarios FC)
Andres Cabrero, 25 years old, 18 caps (Criollos)
Samuel Soto, 22 years old, 9 caps (Bayamon)
Alex Oikkonen, 19 years old, 6 caps (Kultsu, on loan from MYPA; Veikkausliiga – first division in Finland)

Forwards:
Eloy Matos, 29 years old, 3 caps (Bayamon)
Hector “Pito” Ramos, 24 years old, 21 caps (Isidro Metapan; Primera Division – El Salvador)
Joseph Marrero, 21 years old, 13 caps (Kultsu)