Support AFC Mobile’s Grassroots Soccer Project

AFC Mobile’s promotional video, attached to the GoFundMe page, asks three questions: Why not us? Why not now? Why not Mobile?

I ask another one; why do you need a millionaire to fund a soccer club?

I was initially drawn to the AFC Mobile project because of my years-long internet friendship with Abram Chamberlain but I donated money to the cause because of the down-to-earth principles that guide the club. The co-founders of AFC Mobile are products of their environment, even if they may be transplants and not born-and-raised Mobilians or Alabamans. They’ve played soccer in the area and have firsthand knowledge of both the overlooked player pool and the underserved fanbase therein.

Beyond simply being well-versed in their surroundings, the directors of AFC Mobile are realistic. They aren’t pushing for an MLS expansion bid or taking sides in the still-simmering lower division soccer wars. The project aims to provide fans with an outlet for their passion and players with a platform to get noticed, both of which are noble endeavors worthy of support.

While the club is rather adept at social media, it is not simply a twitter account @-ing soccer leagues or hounding those who cover the sport. Abram and his fellow co-founders have taken the logical next step that so many seem unwilling to. Instead of merely observing the soccer landscape from afar and lamenting their plight from the comfort of living rooms or home offices, they have abandoned their impressive scarf wall collections and (momentarily) logged off twitter in order to step outside and create something meaningful in their communities.

This is not to say that you should forego your next donation to a local foodbank or to Oxfam, but rather instead of buying that next EPL jersey for yourself, consider chipping in to help this grassroots soccer project get off the ground. Surely, whether ultimately successful in all facets or not, AFC Mobile will be transparent about the process and helpful in case your mind is now abuzz with future possibilities for soccer projects in your neck of the woods.

Please consider a donation to help AFC Mobile as the club offer ssomething valuable to soccer fans and soccer players in southwest Alabama. Ten or twenty dollars will certainly go farther in their hands than it would in mine the next time I’m ordering a pizza online at 11:30PM.

They’re not asking for $100m entry fee to MLS or $4m to USL or even $10k to join NPSL. Instead they’ve agreed to join the Gulf Coast Premier League, which published the following paragraphs when announcing AFC Mobile’s addition to the regional league on January 3:

AFC Mobile was founded in 2015 by a group of soccer fans who felt that Mobile, Alabama had the talent and resources to compete at a higher level. This group has spent the past few years working to promote the South Alabama Soccer Association, Mobile’s local amateur adult recreation league, as well as volunteering and sponsoring teams in the city’s youth leagues. The club has garnered interest from the National Premier Soccer League, but instead chose the GCPL believing it was a better model for them.

We believe in local soccer,” said Mitchell Kahalley the Communication Director for AFC Mobile, “[and] it doesn’t get more local than the GCPL. Being a part of a league like this allows for the soccer community along the coast to connect and continue to grow. We want to have something that the city can rally around and be proud of. There are many ways people consume and participate in soccer in the area. Hopefully, AFC Mobile can act as a focal point and connect those various strands of the soccer community together, and give Mobile’s large pool of players a chance to be seen and hopefully take their game to the highest level possible.” 

Rather than paying money to a league office in another part of the country, AFC Mobile is truly investing in soccer in their community and any donations they receive will be directed to that end.

Again, I implore all of you who care about soccer. community engagement, or snarky folks like Abram who occasionally talk about soccer, to please donate to and widely share AFC Mobile’s supporter-funded, grassroots project by following this link.

 

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?

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)

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.

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.