Who is Winning the USL-Pro Preseason so far?

I assigned each returning team in USL-Pro a letter grade based on how impressed I’ve been with its off-season/preseason up to this point (the morning of February 28). Tell me why you think my grades are completely arbitrary.

Austin da Luz, Yordany Alvarez, Corey Hertzog, Brad Rusin, Carl Woszczynski

An MLS Homegrown player with quality NASL experience. A former player returning with a wealth of experience from his two year stint at a model MLS club. A young forward who lit up USL-Pro in 2012. A ball-playing defender who made 16 starts for Vancouver last year despite a number of serious injuries. A third year goalkeeper who could make a case to start anywhere else in the league.

Orlando City is also returning starting goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo, defenders Luke Boden and Rob Valentino, ball-winner Adama Mbengue, playmaker Kevin Molino, and forward Dennis Chin. While Jamie Watson’s move to Minnesota United FC of NASL is a loss, head coach Adrian Heath could not promise the midfielder the amount of playing time he wanted which suggests Orlando will be just fine.

Honestly, it’s hard to look past Orlando City based on the team’s track record and the impressive arsenal Heath has assembled for the Lions’ victory lap through USL-Pro in 2014 before joining MLS next year.

Orlando City: A+

As for the rest of the league…

Odeen Domingo clued us in that Phoenix FC has been unable to sign new players because of outstanding debt from 2013 player salaries. Not a good look, guys.

Phoenix FC: F

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds, after an off-season of discussing lofty ambitions, is returning at least 12 players including 2013 All League First Team-ers Jose Angulo and Matt Dallman. Add to that mix midfield bruiser Anthony Obodai, who played with Phoenix last year, and versatile forward Joseph Ngwenya, who played 6 years in MLS but most recently in Richmond. Considering that the ‘Hounds have yet to receive its 4 loanees from Houston Dynamo, the team has had quite the off-season. Pittsburgh is a club on the up and easily looks like a play-off team.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds: A

After a downright awful 2013 campaign, head coach Bob Lilley has the task of building a Rochester Rhinos squad that can once again challenge in the postseason. Indicative of the wholesale roster clearing, Rochester is only returning a handful of players from last year: Tyler Rosenlund, JC Banks, Mike Reidy, Lance Rozeboom, and Matt Luzunaris. Pierre Rudolph Mayard was penciled in for 2014 and goalkeeper Alex Horwath was signed for this campaign but both have since signed for other clubs. Rochester has brought in defender Kyle Hoffer, who played with VSI Tampa Bay FC Flames last year, and rookie goalkeeper John McCarthy but has so far lacked other notable acquisitions though hopes are high for this year’s loanees from New England.

Rochester Rhinos: D

The biggest news from Wilmington leading up to the 2014 season has not been related to player signings. Under a new majority owner, the club announced a rebranding, naming themselves Wilmington Hammerheads FC, and reached an affiliation partnership with Toronto FC. Wilmington is bringing back a handful of key players like Cody Arnoux and Tom Parratt while also acquiring defender Troy Cole and Maryland stand-out Sunny Jane. The team may be affected by Gareth Evans moving to expansion side Oklahoma City.but could very easily improve over last year.

Wilmington Hammerheads FC: C+

Richmond Kickers has not been very active so far, at least not publicly. The team generated some buzz when a number of players joined affiliate D.C. United on its off-season tour of Indonesia. On a technical side, the club consolidated its youth academy structure by combining operations with the Richmond Strikers youth club. On the player side, the Kickers have brought back veteran midfielder Luke Vercollone who has been with the club since 2008. Last year Richmond benefited considerably from the players that D.C. United sent on loan, expect the same this season. D.C. announced on Thursday that goalkeeper Joe Willis, homegrown signing Collin Martin, and Haitian forward Christiano Francois.

Richmond Kickers: B-

Orange County Blues FC, formerly Los Angeles Blues, have been quiet aside from its much-needed rebranding. It is important that the club has announced a single home venue for the upcoming season as the team has played at as many as four different locations in previous years. The club has so far announced the return of forward Chris Cortez and midfielder Gabriel Gonzalez. OC Blues FC may face some increased competition for players with LA Galaxy II setting up shop nearby, but the club finally has the west coast rivals that have been missing from its first three years in the league.

Orange County Blues FC: C

Harrisburg City Islanders was a surprise package last year but several key figures from that squad have moved on. Andrew Ribeiro, Sainey Touray, and Lucky Mkosana have all signed with teams in higher divisions. The players on loan from Philadelphia Union combined for 55 appearances in 2013 and as the relationship between the two clubs has only grown stronger, expect a similar or increased contribution this year. While two other clubs have unveiled a new look, Harrisburg still uses its monstrosity of a palm tree image.

Harrisburg City Islanders: C-

Dayton Dutch Lions has brought back several key figures from its 2013 playoff run and is well on its well to establishing a brand within the American soccer landscape. Joel DeLass, Shintaro Harada, Shane Smith, and Eric Kissinger will return to the field for Dayton in 2014. Rookie signing David Clemens comes from FC Tuscon, a top PDL club, winger Cameron Vickers moved from Phoenix FC, and midfielder Sebastien Thuriere was a regular for VSI Tampa Bay FC Flames last year. This year Dayton will also benefit from a group of loaned players from the Columbus Crew, as well.

Dayton Dutch Lions: B

Charlotte Eagles has lost a number of key players: goalkeeper Eric Reed to other career options, defender Fejiro Okiomah to Chivas USA, and forward Christian Ramirez to Minnesota United FC. Charlotte Eagles has returned a number of key players: midfielders Matt Gold, Ben Newnam, Jorge Herrera, and Drew Yates. Charlotte Eagles has brought in a number of key players: forward David Geno, goalkeeper Doug Herrick, and defenders Richard Dixon, Jonathan Leathers, and Bilal Duckett. As the Eagles enter its final season as a professional soccer club, the player transaction balance appears to be in the team’s favor.

Charlotte Eagles: B+

Charleston Battery has long been one of the model clubs of lower division American soccer. Without breaking the bank, head coach Michael Anhaeuser consistently puts quality teams on the field. Though attacking midfield talisman Nikki Paterson has moved to Ottawa Fury FC of NASL, the Battery has retained the services of most of the 2013 squad. Jamaican forward Dane Kelly, Cuban goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, and captain defender Colin Falvey highlight the list of returning players for the upcoming season. Charleston is assured of an early preseason due to the Carolina Challenge Cup against MLS teams, which can smoothly translate into confident preparedness once the USL-Pro season rolls around.

Charleston Battery: A-

NASL’s newest team launches as the Jacksonville Armada FC

Local political figures joined league commissioner Bill Peterson and the team’s executives during a press conference on Tuesday morning in Jacksonville, Florida.


Council President Bill Gulliford told the crowd that he was “proud to welcome Jacksonville Armada FC to our city,” while Mayor Alvin Brown declared, “We want everyone to know that Jacksonville is soccer territory.”

After an extensive contest that allowed fans to suggest possible monikers for the club as well as the colors to be used in a logo and team kits, the results could not have been better. The area’s connection with naval history is not a gimmick but something real that came from the fans, themselves.

With regard to the newly announced name of the team, club owner Mark Frisch said 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.”

Jacksonville Chamber President Daniel Davis stressed that, “Armada FC makes Jacksonville a player in a global game,” which complements well Commissioner Peterson’s comment that, “the Armada is now part of the global soccer community and global soccer economy.”

These quotes and a general buzz around words like “international” and “global” may foreshadow future announcements of marquee exhibition matches. The success of the USA v Scotland friendly match in May of 2012 was a cornerstone of the pitch by the Armada’s ownership team.

Former Argentine goalkeeper and current club general manager Darío Sala discussed his role of bringing “the best talent to the city.” Sala told the crowd that he would use his worldwide network of connections and relationships to draw foreign players while also scouting extensively in the local area and American colleges. As a former player agent, Sala will know the ins and outs of contract negotiations and may have a leg up during negotiations with clubs from Argentina especially.

NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson seemed almost giddy at the prospect of announcing Jacksonville Armada FC. “I love the thought and the process that went into [naming the team],” Peterson said during the press conference. He commended the organization for its strong and deliberative growth so far and set the stage for continued success with cross-state rivalries against NASL’s other Florida teams, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

Armada FC will get its chance to take on those teams and the rest of NASL, as well as the US Open Cup field, when it begins play in 2015. Fans can put down a refundable $30 season ticket deposit and learn more about the club by visiting www.ArmadaFC.com.

American Soccer League; Another Addition to the Sport’s Alphabet Soup

The new proposed league’s flashy website is high on promise but low on substance. All of the information available on the site is published in the form of a junior high school book report’s PowerPoint presentation.

American Soccer League, while not winning awards on the creativity of its name apparently has commitments from franchises for Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Philadelphia , Pennsylvania, and Delaware for the start of the league in August 2014. Maryland has since been removed from a previous version of the league’s site. A Chicago team was also listed to join the league in 2015.

From the “Expansion Opportunities” section today, February 10:

APS is preparing for its inaugural season slatted [sic] to kick off in spring of 2014. The league has confirmed six commitments from investment groups dedicated to bringing professional soccer to their communities. There are currently teams located in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The league is now fielding inquiries from interest parties with proven track records in professional sports.

There are obviously some discrepancies there. I hope the league office knows which list is actually correct.

The latest release from the league is dated January 17 and refers to the league as American Soccer League despite earlier releases calling the prospective league “American Professional Soccer,” which is reflected in the site’s URL.

ASL is a North American soccer league set to kick off its inaugural season in 2014. The league features teams in the Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States. ASL has also partnered with the Canadian Soccer League (CSL) to provide international competition.

This league is apparently taking cues from MLS in terms of URL redundancy. Because MLS lost out to a realty service, its address is MLSSoccer.com, which stands for “Major League Soccer Soccer.” APS/ASL’s site is APSSoccer.net, or “American Professional Soccer Soccer”

Here’s the league’s logo:
This monstrosity doesn’t appear to have learned much from old A-League Word-Art logos as we have another flaming soccer ball.

Mission Statement:

Operate a financially-viable, cost-effective national soccer league that delivers investors a genuine, complete, and professional organization and structure at the minor-league level.

This bit sounds great. Now that we have this idyllic mental image of a national league for local players that isn’t a money pit, one question stands out; how?

We all know the “why,” people love the sport and people love new shiny things and apparently American soccer fans love abbreviations. Even though MLS, NASL, and USL-Pro offer professional opportunities in close to 35 cities around the country, PDL and NPSL offer experience for college players, several national, regional, and state youth development structures exist, and organizations like US Club Soccer and US Adult Soccer Association operate leagues for players from pre-school to mid-life crisis; it’s clearly not enough.

“The United States needs to develop a deeper professional league system.”
– FIFA President, Sepp Blatter

“In such a huge country with 300 million people, if you only have one league [to go to], the professional league – MLS
.. then [there are very few] opportunities,” – Blatter, 2011

“There should be other leagues, and [US Soccer is trying] now to make a second league in order to inspire all these talents.” – Blatter, 2011

Sepp Blatter maybe isn’t the best figure to use as the philosophical basis for your soccer organization. As I noted above, the U.S. has several dozen more leagues beyond MLS.

American Professional Soccer

  • We believe the time is right to enter the American soccer scene in 2014 as the possible USSF-sanctioned third division pro league or as USASA-sanctioned professional league.
  • Our business model resolves issues that have hindered pro leagues in the past including large travel budgets, unorganized league structure, and high entry fees.

I’m actually excited to see this new business model in the flesh. In seriousness, one line from this PowerPoint slide sticks out to me: the possible USSF-sanctioned third division pro league.

Lower division soccer guru Brian Quarstad published a copy of USSF’s 2010 guidelines for division II sanctioning. Attendance wonk Kenn Tomasch points out that the first half of the list clearly states “General Requirements for All Professional Leagues.” Please take a peek over that rather extensive list. I didn’t include it here because the text would have doubled the length of this post.

In order for APS/ASL to get actual professional sanctioning from USSF, the league has to meet all of those requirements. Good luck.

Americal [sic] Professional Soccer

  • APS will kick off in August 2014, we will look to follow the European schedule as closely as possible:
    – 2014/2015 Inaugural Season:
    – August 2014 to November 2014 = Up to 10-12 games.
    – April 2015 to June 2015 = Up to 10-12 games
  • Allows for 24-28 weeks of soccer per season

Following the “European schedule” is a) a dumb idea and b) a dumb name for the FIFA calendar considering that Northern European countries don’t follow that season.

These are tentative dates so I won’t criticize too much, but let’s take a look. My guess is this was thought up at the height of recent hysteria surround MLS switching to the FIFA calendar, which sent the internet ablaze for two days last year before MLS cast aside the rumors.

The league’s geographic footprint is exclusively in the Northeast which means there is no way to have cold-weather teams play away games during October and November. After two press releases from the league discussing a “working relationship” with the disgraced Ontario-based Canadian Soccer League, a prospective team describes ASL as “a new league that features teams in Canada and USA.”

In addition to the split-season format, APS has many differentiating aspects that will set it apart from any other US professional league.

APS is looking to kick off with 12 teams and is still accepting team applications from all East Coast territories. For more information, please click on “Expansion Opportunities” on APSSoccer.net

From everything I’ve read, APS/ASL is not very different from any of the existing leagues in this country. NASL made the switch to a split-season competition format in 2013 in which the Apertura ran from April 6 to July 4 and the Clausura from August 3 to November 2. The tentative schedule for ASL is pretty much the same as NASL’s current setup, including the month long break in the middle of the season.

APS/ASL has between 6 and 8 commitments for the launch of the league in August 2014 and wants 12, all in the East Coast. 10 of 13 USL-Pro clubs, 5 of 8 NASL clubs, and 7 of 19 MLS clubs for a grand total of 22 of the 40 professional soccer clubs in the entire country are located on the East Coast. As APS/ASL is not going to challenge MLS in any way whatsoever, 15 of 21 lower division clubs in 2013 were located on the East coast. Again, good luck.

Even if the league doesn’t fill out its membership rolls with 12 teams, APS/ASL already has commitments from 7 teams. If the league actualizes and operates, that is 7 more professional clubs in the United States. In a piece written by Beau Dure, APS/ASL foudner Matt Driver singles out the late-blooming college player as the main target for the teams in his new league. The current crop of expansion clubs in the NPSL and PDL as well as specifically targeted sports agency and independent showcase ventures can sweep up most of these players who may have fallen through the cracks.

Agencies now have a better grasp of finding the diamond-in-the-rough type player and have connections to promote that player to existing clubs. Other programs train a squad of guys who international showcase events. Bridges FC from Chicago takes roughly two teams worth of players on an annual summer tour of Europe, playing against teams in several countries. If these guys catch the eye of a scout or an opposition coach, he gets an invitation for a trial which can very easily materialize into a contract offer which is exactly how Aaron Nichols is now playing for Ljungskile SK. Two Trinidadian players who had been playing in amateur leagues in the United States recently earned trials and subsequent contracts in Europe after participating in a scouting combine organized by PSC Soccer Academy.

If there are already growing leagues in this country, each with its own league-wide combine and with each team hosting at least one open tryout, and existing mechanisms to give second chances to late-bloomers, then what’s the point?

A Quick Response to First Eleven Podcast: Episode 14

This is going to be brief because I was already thoroughly mean about a previous episode of the podcast, which I do enjoy listening to and encourage anyone who reads this to do as well.


So apparently the guys at First Eleven are running with the “we’re just gonna make stuff up on air” thing?

With regard to the LA Galaxy II, Evan is just factually wrong.

This is way too good to pass up. Right after co-host Evan makes a flippant comment joking about not checking facts or doing research, he says a bunch of half-true stuff and then completely makes something up.

Portland Timbers do have a long-standing PDL team that began play in 2009 while the senior Timbers were still playing in USL. Vancouver Whitecaps had a reserve team first that played in the regional Pacific Coast Soccer League initially but still joined PDL before Portland. Chicago Fire has had a team in the PDL since 2001, in addition to another affiliated team in NPSL established in 2008. New York Red Bulls have had a team in the NPSL since 2010.

Almost all MLS academy graduates go to college; NCAA soccer does still exist. MLS Homegrown claims on academy graduates carry over while a player is in college and playing for unaffiliated PDL teams in the summer.

“Everyone that is playing for LA Galaxy II will be a signed player by the LA Galaxy and have the opportunity to move up the pipeline.”


The players on USL contracts playing with LA Galaxy II will have no special mechanism to “move up” to the first team. Any MLS team, including the Galaxy itself, would have to file a discovery claim on any player signed to a USL contract by LA Galaxy II. This is the same process for any player signed to a USL contract by any team in USL-Pro.


So is the joke on me if a host made a joke about not doing research before saying something that he just made up?

What happens when a USL-Pro team doesn’t have a single, quality stadium? Strug-city

There are several indicators one can use to judge or measure a professional sports team. The most common is probably through the results on the field in terms of regular season standings or the ability to perform in the postseason. Bored Americans (like myself) seem to obsess over attendance statistics. In the age of internet dominance, social media engagement can be equally as important as traditional community marketing for smaller sports franchises.

A stable home venue can provide the basis for a team’s success and the failure to secure one is a strong sign that a team will suffer.

Home Field Advantage:
While there are notable exceptions like the L.A. Clippers, most teams is most sports benefit from having a facility to call home.

As there are tremendous discrepancies in playing surfaces and field dimensions in soccer, knowing the size and bounce of the home field can allow a team to attack from the first whistle without needing time to adjust.

Groups of fans singing players’ names will drive a team forward while constant harassment can throw off opposition players. There’s a reason that teams found guilty for their role in match-fixing in Italy were punished by having to play matches behind closed doors without fans. Fans matter; simply put, and that’s not even including the revenue that ticket sales, food, and merchandising can bring an organization.

If social media releases or general advertisements have to use a significant amount of the limited space available to explain where the team is playing this week or next week, the organization is missing out on an opportunity to entice fans.

All signs point to this question, over several seasons why are the teams with higher attendances also the teams with better results also the teams with quality singular home venues?

Los Angeles Blues:
Club was founded in 2010 as a companion to the successful Pali Blues women’s soccer team of the USL W-League and the Blues began play in USL-Pro the following year. In the 2011 season the team played matches in Titan Stadium at Cal State Fullerton (5 matches at an average of 518) but also at Centennial High School in Corona (2 matches at 353*) and Norco College (4 matches at 175*). LA Blues also played a home U.S. Open Cup match at Riverside Community College.

In 2012 the team also played at Sherbeck Field (2 matches at 167) in addition to Titan Stadium (10 matches at 777)

The team played most matches of the 2013 season at Titan Stadium (11 matches 616*) but also featured at Sherbeck Field (1 match at 337), Anteater Stadium at UC Irvine (3 matches at 440). For some reason the team played both matches in their home-and-home series against the Galaxy Reserves at the Home Depot / Stub Hub Center.

(* of course denotes that the team didn’t publish attendance data)

Phoenix FC Wolves:
Phoenix FC’s original team owner, Tim Thomas, was talking up a storm about how the team would easily average 5,000 fans per game and sell-out all its home matches at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium at Arizona State University in Tempe just before the 2013 season started. Thomas even gave Odeen Domingo the amazing quote, “If you do it right, you should sell out every time.” Then Kenn Tomasch wrote about the club fumbling around with ticket sales and venue renovations. Despite starting the season with impressive figures and boasting a rapacious supporters’ group, La Furia 1881, the club first removed temporary seating at the college stadium at which they were playing before ultimately moving to a public park facility.

The team drew very poorly for its second match-up against cellar-dwelling Antigua, which it played at Grand Canyon University on July 11.

At Reach 11 (the public park), fans were encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs as if they were attending their son or daughter’s under-15 summer recreation league game. There were multiple reports of conflicts between members of La Furia and the local police department at those games. The team averaged an attendance of just 420 at Reach 11 after achieving a mark of 1,975 across its games at Sun Devil.

Overall this team struggled to keep its head above water both on and off the field. After a shambolic PR episode in November 2013, in which Neil Morris reported that the league had terminated the franchise agreement for Phoenix FC’s ownership group without having the replacement ready to announce, the club is preparing for 2014.

VSI Tampa Bay FC Flames:
Plant City Stadium was an eye-sore on match streams and it couldn’t have been much better for players. This team, while competing on the field thanks to USL veterans, was a disaster off the field. The rather remote location and underwhelming condition of the field itself gave the venue more of a highway truck stop vibe than the home of a professional soccer club.

After struggling to draw actual people to games, with a reported attendance of just 381, VisionPro Sports Institute pulled the plug not only on its professional team but on the club as a whole. VSI operated a teams in USL-Pro, in PDL, W-League, and in the Super-20 and Super Y-Leagues.

Moving on to 2014:
While VSI has fallen by the wayside, LA Blues and Phoenix FC have made encouraging strides ahead of the 2014 season.

Phoenix FC has regrouped around former part-owner Tim Donald and found a new home venue. The team plans to play all 14 of its home matches this upcoming season at Peoria Sports Complex. Located in Peoria, AZ, (duh) the facility is a baseball park but will reportedly cost about half as much to rent per game as Sun Devil Stadium cost in 2013. The team’s own release tells that the team will utilize the practice and training facilities at the PSC and also take advantage of parking available for 2,800 vehicles, which is more than enough unless the club plans to give away all of its tickets.

Will Phoenix FC’s fortunes in 2014 differ from its troubled debut season? This bit from local paper Peoria Times shows that someone has recognized some of the club’s shortcomings: “Phoenix FC announced an average of 1,200 to 1,500 fans last season, but organizers also admitted they did little to no marketing.”

Los Angeles Blues have been a difficult endeavor to understand. Though related to a women’s team and a PDL team, the Blues were all alone on the West Coast for the 2011 and 2012 USL-Pro seasons. While Phoenix FC joined LA in 2013, USL’s western expansion exploded in 2014 with Oklahoma City Energy FC, Sacramento Republic FC, and LA Galaxy II filling out the ranks on the other side of the Mississippi, especially in the Pacific Time Zone.

Along with San Jose Earthquake and Wilmington Hammerheads FC, LA Blues underwent a long-needed rebranding. With 2014’s introduction of the Galaxy’s reserve team in USL-Pro, the Blues finally decided to ditch the “Los Angeles” from its moniker and rename the club Orange County Blues FC.

In its press release on the subject, the team also announced its “new home” will be Anteater Stadium at UC Irvineand that the “relocation and name change reflect a deeper transition within the team organization to a new level of seriousness about the future of the club.” This is all good rhetoric but the results of this transformation wait to appear, though the only way is up for this organization.

Livestream event with U.S. Soccer captain Clint Dempsey

Today, Thursday, Feb. 6th at 1:30 p.m. EST, Degree Men will be hosting a livestream event with U.S. Soccer captain Clint Dempsey.

The hour-long livestream from London, England will feature Clint and former U.S. Captain Brian McBride, as they discuss the U.S. Soccer team and their journey to Brazil this summer. Fans are invited to submit their questions through Twitter with #clintlive, and the degreesoccer.com site.

This is an opportunity to get an in-depth look at a key member of the USMNT who is loud with play on the field but usually reserved off it.

At the end of the program, Degree and Clint will be giving one fan a trip to Brazil to see the USMNT play. Fans can enter their information into the sweepstakes via degreesoccer.com.

Catch the live stream here.