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.