Lower Division Clubs Make Marquee Signings

A number of clubs in NASL and USL-Pro have announced big player acquisitions early in the off-season. All of these players have previously played at a different U.S. club.

Indy Eleven, the most impressive of the three expansion clubs in NASL, announced the signing of two-year Rochester Rhinos goalkeeper Kristian Nicht. Nicht arrived at the Upstate New York club for the 2012 USL-Pro season and started his North American career with 6 straight shut-outs, a professional soccer record in this country. The 6’5” German rode that form to the 2012 USL-Pro Goalkeeper of the Year award.

Orlando City is bringing back several key players (Chin, Watson, O’Connor, and Valentino) and announced November 4 that they had acquired Carl Woszczynski, the goalkeeper for L.A. Blues that past two seasons. Woszczynski joins Miguel Gallardo in the Orlando bullpen which means that the Lions now have the number one and number two ranked goalkeepers from the 2013 season in terms of goals against.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds came to terms in October with striker Jose Angulo and attack-minded midfielder Matthew Dallman, a potent duo from the team’s 2013 season. In back-to-back announcements, the ‘Hounds acquired Anthony Obodai, who played with Phoenix FC, and Joseph Ngwenya, most recently a league MVP candidate with Richmond Kickers.

Perhaps the most surprising announcement to date was that of Ottawa Fury on Wednesday, November 6. The Fury announced that they had come to an agreement with Charleston Battery over the transfer of Nicki Patterson. I have been known to hurl insults at Patterson when he played in Rochester (“Nicki is a girls’ name,” for example), but the Scottish midfielder has been the life and soul of that club for most of his three years in South Carolina.

Signings that are done early in the off-season, especially for expansion sides, set a positive tone. Indy Eleven can now point to Kristian Nicht, a German veteran goalkeeper with experience in Germany and Norway’s top flights, while negotiating with future players. Ottawa Fury can build its squad around Nicki Patterson and use his name to attract other promising talent.

Indy Eleven has brought on an assistant coach and two Indiana-products and Ottawa has announced the signing of Brazilian winger Oliver Minatel.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds brought on a new partial owner in Terry Shallenberger and club CEO Jason Kutney is quite serious about building for the future. Signing two veteran players with extensive overseas experience to add to two key returners will go a long way towards assembling a quality squad in the early months of 2014.

While all this is going on, we’ve barely heard a peep from NASL’s Virginia Cavalry or Oklahoma City and Sacramento Republic in USL-Pro since the end of the 2013 season. The Cavalry are probably going to play the spring portion of next season at George Mason University while Sacramento is looking at the feasibility of playing at Cal Expo. Oklahoma City has announced the team will be called Energy FC, its primary colors, and that the home venue for 2014 will be a local high school.

The organizations who complete business early in the offseason by appointing staff, selling season tickets, defining home venues, or acquiring marquee players will be the clubs that hit the ground running in 2014. We’ll have to see about the others and hope that they don’t end up like Antigua Barracuda FC and VSI Tampa Bay FC Flames, both of which are rumored to be folding from USL-Pro.

Mexico’s National U-20 and U-17 Youth Leagues

Just as Liga MX and Ascenso MX have concluded their regular seasons and are poised to begin the Liguillas (playoffs, for those not in the know), so too are the national Sub-20 and Sub-17 leagues in Mexico.

[“Sub” is the Spanish word for “under” just so y’all follow.]

Both the U-20 and U-17 leagues consist of teams from all 18 Liga MX Clubs.

Because Mexico doesn’t have a reserve league for its first-division clubs, the U-20 league fulfills the functions that a stand-alone reserve league would. As such, players who are out of form or are recovering fitness from injuries will play a one or two game assignment with the U-20 squad. The U-20 team will play the same schedule as the senior team, playing its counterpart from the opposite club either the day before or the day after.

The cut-off point for registering as an under-20 player is the first of January, 1993. Any player born in 1993 or after counts as an under-20 player and doesn’t need special registration before participating in U-20 matches.

The squad is somewhat porous, as noted above, and each club can have up to four over-age players on the U-20 squad at any one time. In addition to over-age players, a club may register two foreign born players that are 20 years old or younger to the U-20 team. During the playoffs, no over-age players are allowed to play with the U-20 squad to prevent the possibilities of pulling in a ringer.

The U-17 squad is reserved exclusively for Mexican players born in 1996 or later.

The Quarterfinal Round of the Sub-20 Liguilla was set as follows:
1. Chivas vs 8. Pumas
2. Monterrey vs 7. Santos Laguna
3. Chiapas vs 6. Tijuana
4. América vs 5. León

Chivas beat Pumas 2-1 and Tijuana overcame Chiapas thanks to U.S. prospect Stevie Rodríguez. Meanwhile Santos Laguna won 3-1 on aggregate over Monterrey, as did León over América.

This sets up the semifinals as Chivas against Santos Laguna and León against Tijuana. Chivas and León will play away in the first legs and host the second leg, as they are the higher seeds.

The Sub-17 Liguilla Quarterfinals were:
1. Morelia vs 8. América
2. Chivas vs 7. Cruz Azul
3. Atlas vs 6. Pachuca
4. Monterrey vs 5. Tigres

After beating number one seed Morelia 4-3 on aggregate, América will go up against fierce rivals Chivas who beat Cruz Azul. Tigres brushed aside Monterrey to advance and Pachuca outlasted Atlas to round out the other semifinal match-up.

Lists of the Liga MX Transferibles

Some of the teams that missed out on this season’s Liguilla have already started making plans for January’s Clausura 2014.

Technically the “transferibles” refers to the players made available for transfer or what most generally call transfer listed. A lot of these players have under-performed and the club’s management have decided that a player isn’t worth his wages. Just as in more stable or transparent leagues in Europe, not all of the transfer listed players are actually up for sale. This is sometimes used as a ploy by team owners or general managers to wrangle unruly players. If a player is refusing to accept the terms of a new contract, a team may include him as “transferible” as a threatening bargaining move to drive down the wages of his new contract.

Puebla F.C.:
Jonathan Lacerda (Santos Laguna): Uruguayan defender on his fourth loan spell away from Santos Laguna will leave Estadio Cuauhtemoc where he’s been a regular starter over the Clausura 2013 and Apertura 2014.
Félix Borja: started his second stint with La Franja well, scoring 7 goals in 14 games in Clausura 2013, but only started 2 games and played a full 90 only once in the Apertura without scoring a single goal.
Alfredo Moreno: In his 13th different club in 14 years, Moreno started 15 games in 16 appearances out of 17 matches in the Apertura. The Argentine journeyman forward scored 3 goals which apparently was not enough to earn him a place on the squad for Clausura 2014.
Pablo Bonells: The 28 year old forward played only 20 minutes in one substitute for Puebla. He also looks like a slimmed down version of Hugo from Lost.
Alberto Medina: Medina transferred to Puebla in January 2013, and started 6 times in 13 appearances in Puebla’s midfield during the Apertura.
Guillermo Iriarte: 31 year old reserve goalkeeper who has been with the club since graduating from the youth ranks in January of 2002.
Leandro Augusto (Tijuana): The Brazilian-born Mexican midfielder only made one start and played 173 in 7 appearances in the Apertura.
Rodrigo Íñigo: Was on loan from America in a deal from July 1 2013 to June 30 2014 but Puebla is looking to ship the defender, who made one appearance in the Apertura. Continue reading

Liga Ascenso MX Apertura 2013 Playoffs Underway

Liga de Ascenso MX (the Promotion League, Mexico’s second-tier league) wrapped up its regular season last weekend and the first stage of playoffs, or Liguilla, are already underway.

Ascenso MX has 15 teams that play each other once in each half-season torneo. After the 14th round of regular season fixtures ended on Sunday, November 10, Alebrijes de Oaxaca sat on top of the table due to goal differential over second-placed Necaxa. Oaxaca is a newly formed franchise, created in December 2012 by the owners of a team from Tecamachalco that won promotion from the Segunda División but didn’t have the proper infrastructure in place to participate in the higher league. (This is largely unrelated to the mess described below that unfolded at the end May of 2013.)

Alebrijes de Oaxaca won a bye to the second stage of the playoffs as only 7 of the 15 teams competing in the Liga Ascenso qualify for the Liguilla. To start the Apertura 2013 (the half-season tournament from July until November) two teams were promoted from the Segunda División (which is actually the third-tier league in Mexico) because the owners of the team that was supposed to be relegated from Liga MX, Querétaro F.C., decided to dissolve the existing team and trigger a series of franchise transfers that shook Mexican soccer.

I hope that I’ve condensed those franchise transfers into consumable portions:

This move was part of a carousel of team owners that made a mockery of the promotion-relegation system in Mexico. The C.F. Jaguares de Chiapas franchise was moved to Querétaro to become Querétaro F.C., replacing the team from Querétaro that had been relegated to the Liga de Ascenso. San Luis F.C., another team in Liga MX, moved its franchise to Chiapas to replace the club that was sold to Querétaro and took up the name Chiapas F.C.

The team that had won promotion to Liga MX at the end of the 2012-13 season, La Piedad, dissolved and moved to Veracruz to form the Liga MX club Tiburones Rojos de Vercruz. The second tier club that was already in Veracruz then moved to San Luis Potosí to form Atlético San Luis, effectively relegating the team that fans in San Luis cheered for. Continue reading

2013 USL-Pro Regular Season Attendance Statistics!

Here’s a numerical rundown for each team in USL-Pro in alphabetical order.

I also created fake awards to bestow on each club.

Charleston Battery:

  • High 5111, June 22 v VSI
  • Low 2057, June 5 v Charlotte
    • Difference 3054
  • Average 3554
  • Median 3392.5

Charleston gets a pat on the back for having the oldest soccer-specific-stadium in the country, the august Blackbaud Stadium, and I’ll give them an award for having the most Cuban-Americans fans in USL (at the very least the most Cuban-Americans on the field).

Charlotte Eagles:

  • High 1336, June 14 v Chicago Fire Reserves
  • Low 332, April 19 v Rochester
    • Difference 1004
  • Average 807
  • Median 718

The Eagles registered the best average attendance for any team playing on a high school ground this season. Congratulations to Charlotte for being the best of the worst; the king of the nerds, if you will.

Dayton Dutch Lions:

  • High 1621, June 8 v Columbus Crew Reserves
  • Low 250, July 4 v Rochester Rhinos (Rescheduled Holiday Match, from 7pm to 1pm)
    • Difference 1371
  • Average 766
  • Median 615

Dayton went from a joke of a club two years ago to a solid playoff team this season, which earns them some sort of ‘Most Improved’ prize. If only they could learn to better tap into their full market in the off-season while the organization expands into nearby Cincinnati.

Harrisburg City Islanders:

  • High 2170, August 10 v VSI Tampa (season finale)
  • Low 730, May 10 v Antigua
    • Difference 1440
  • Average 1456
  • Median 1521

HCI’s average from the second week (1385) only changed 71 by the end of the season, it’s a shame more people didn’t come out to see this team while they were on a tear. I’ll say they get a plaque for being the least hyped, most underground team; basically the hipster team because you’ve probably never heard of them but they’ve been around for a while.

Los Angeles Blues:

  • High 1436, March 23 v Phoenix (season opener)
  • Low 176, July 4 v Antigua
    • Difference 1260
  • Average 542
  • Median 337

Award for being the worst at reporting attendances! And they can look forward to being the worst franchise in California as soon as Sacramento starts next year.

Orlando City:

  • High 10697, August 11 v Seattle Sounders Reserves
  • Low 5985, August 8 v VSI Tampa Bay
    • Difference 4712
  • Average 8053
  • Median 7930

You’re the best around! (Nothing’s ever gonna keep you down)

Phoenix FC Wolves:

  • High 4198, March 30 v VSI Tampa Bay (season opener)
  • Low 327, July 31 v Harrisburg
    • Difference 3871
  • Average 1532
  • Median 1440

Phoenix FC Wolves get recognition for flying high early in the season before crashing and burning faster almost as badly as the USL Puerto Rico experiment. If only the league had a wealth of team execs and big-wigs who have run “successful” teams for over a decade, oh wait…

Pittsburgh Riverhounds:

  • High 4009, August 17 v Richmond (season finale)
  • Low 3104, June 7 v Toronto FC Reserves
    • Difference 905
  • Average 3536
  • Median 3474

Every match that Pittsburgh published attendance figures for (12 of the 14 home matches) the Riverhounds drew between 3104 and 4009. Therefore Pittsburgh and their fantastic, brand new, shiny Highmark Stadium get an award for the most consistent team in USL-Pro.

Richmond Kickers:

  • High 4921, August 14 v Orlando
  • Low 1694, May 31 v Phoenix
    • Difference 3227
  • Average 2527
  • Median 2202

The Kickers are just about the only team whose attendance was somewhat related to the strength of their opponent, attendances against playoff teams was 36% higher than against non-playoff teams. I’m going to make up a Knowledgeable Fan-base award and give it to Richmond.

Rochester Rhinos:

  • High 7334, June 29 v Phoenix
  • Low 4381, June 16 v Charleston
    • Difference 2953
  • Average 5840
  • Median 5874

Why not give Rochester a certificate for drawing ticket sales even while the team suffered its worst ever season. Three cheers for season tickets and padded giveaways: Hip, hip, hooray!..

VSI Tampa Bay FC Flames:

  • High 1032, April 13 v Rochester (season opener)
  • Low 139, June 9 v Phoenix
    • Difference 893
  • Average 381
  • Median 292

“Dumbest. Club. Ever.”
Also a minor award for a stupid alphabet soup name. They also drew 1/5th of their total fans to the season opening match against Rochester.

Wilmington Hammerheads:

  • High 5017, July 3 v Orlando
  • Low 1769, August 14 v Pittsburgh
    • Difference 3248
  • Average 3162
  • Median 3055.5

Besides being the only soccer team I could talk to non-soccer people about during Shark Week, Wilmington fans come out for the big games. Against Orlando City and the NY Red Bulls Reserves, the team averaged 1500 higher than the season average as a whole.

_________________________________________________________________________

League wide average is 2680, though I’m missing data for a handful of matches.

Last year the figure was 2795, again missing 11 matches. The slight drop should not be that surprising considering that both expansion teams are well below 2012’s average even though Orlando City increased their attendance by nearly 1400.

League wide median is 2029.5. Harrisburg’s consistent draws of more than 1000 with the season finale gate of 2170 shows that there is some potential in the market or that the club isn’t that poor despite the fact that I don’t like them.

Phoenix FC averaged 2209 in their first 8 matches and just 631 in their final 6. There is certainly a mass of people in the Phoenix area willing to pay to see a professional soccer team, even if it is in a minor league. The club has to do a better job of normalizing a home facility, performing in their home games, and not having members of supporters groups escorted off premises by park rangers.

There are four teams that are embarrassing the league with their attendance figures. Charlotte, Dayton, Los Angeles, and VSI Tampa Bay simply need to do better. Charlotte has a strong history and Dayton has roots in their community. While VSI Tampa Bay pulled in a number of players from the club’s own PDL-team and nearby Florida teams, which provides ambitious players a chance to perform at a higher level, their attendance was atrocious and their facility was an eyesore. On the other coast, Los Angeles Blues have been an anomaly in USL-Pro. Continuing to bounce around venues has unsurprisingly not had a positive effect on their attendance numbers during their third year in the league.

The top half of teams that hosted games (I’m not counting Antigua) are Orlando, Rochester, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Wilmington, and Richmond. The average of these teams’ attendances is 4445.

Last year the teams above the median averaged 4692. In 2012 all NASL teams averaged 3805 and the 2013 NASL Spring attendance average was 4662. Solely in terms of attendance, any of the top half of USL-Pro would fit in perfectly in the NASL.

Orlando’s 8053 through Richmond’s 2527 slide in nicely anywhere from San Antonio’s 7140 through Edmonton’s 2059 from the Spring.

If you have any other questions be sure to comment below or contact me through email dohertysoccer [at] gmail

Thanks for reading!

Mexico Falls to Nigeria 3-0 in the U-17 World Cup Final

In a rematch of its opening game of the 2013 U-17 World Cup Group Stage, Mexico again lost to Nigeria. In a much tighter affair than the 6-1 result on October 19, Mexico was still humbled by Nigeria the second time of asking.

Though Mexico coach Raúl “Potro” Gutiérrez is a great coach he didn’t have an answer for Nigeria one the first match-day and still didn’t have one in the final. El Potro played his team in a 4-4-2 formation the whole tournament and found great success with his setup against most teams. The two-way play of Ulises Rivas in the center of the field and Iván Ochoa down the right side was particularly effective as both made key contributions defensively and prominently stepped into attack at times.

Nigeria’s playing style in the 4-3-3 under coach Manu Garba was particularly adept at breaking down Mexico’s lineup. The three attacking players were individually talented enough to keep Mexico’s back four tied up which meant that at least one midfielder had to recover for every additional player Nigeria sent forward. Centerbacks Aliyu Abubakar and Zaharaddeen Bello were easily able to deal with Ulises Jaimes while Alejandro Díaz was forced to pressure Nigeria’s midfielders to win the ball back. This freed fullbacks Musa Mohammed and Samuel Okon to attack down the wings, pushing Mexico’s wide players Ochoa and Luis Hernández back into defense.

Mexico is a dangerous team on the counter-attack but Nigeria effectively rendered El Tri’s quick attack useless. Because Nigeria has a full team of physically gifted players, anyone could spark an attack and give Mexico’s defense problems. That’s exactly what happened in the 9th minute of the game. Continue reading

Mexico U-17 Coasts Past Argentina 3-0 En Route to the Final

Raúl “Potro” Gutiérrez sent out the same starting lineup that defeated Brazil and Italy the week before. Mexico’s U-17 team has won 2 of the last 4 World Cups, 2011 in Mexico and 2005 in Peru, and is riding high after its emotional rollercoaster of an tournament.

Mexico was routed by Nigeria on the first matchday and has since found a way to win against Iraq, Sweden, Italy, and Brazil before its game with Argentina on Tuesday morning. Each victory has come in different circumstances and against very different opposition but each has given the squad more confidence.

Though many had written off Mexico’s chances after the embarrassing 6-1 result to Nigeria, El Mini Tri came into its match against Argentina with a quiet assured sensibility that paid off quickly.

First half highlights, off to the races:
The match had a rapid tempo and biting challenges from the very first minute.

Argentina won a free kick down its right wing that is played short before target forward Sebastián Driussi is played into the penalty area. Salomón Wbias came in with a clumsy challenge Driussi who saw the contact coming and knocked the ball ahead of him to take the hit from Mexico’s central defender.

Just four days after saving two shots in an extended shootout against Brazil, Raúl Gudiño showed he was still on top of his game. The Chivas de Guadalajara goalkeeper dove to his left and saved Driussi’s well-struck penalty in the 4th minute. Continue reading