Red Force FC Hosts South Florida Surf in U.S. Open Cup First Round

red force fcMiami amateur club Red Force FC is one of 9 teams competing in the American Premier Soccer League in southern Florida. Founded by former Argentine professional player Gabriel Vega in 2009, Red Force has been making a name for itself with league titles and cup runs in Florida amateur soccer circuits.

In each of the club’s two previous appearances in the U.S. Open Cup, they faced rebuttal from a PDL side. In 2013 the team lost a home match against Ocala Stampede 4-2 and after beating USSSA side Colorado Rovers on the road 2-1 in 2014, Red Force was edged by Laredo Heat in Texas.

Red Force will hope that the third time is the charm as the team hosts South Florida Surf of the PDL on May 9.

south florida surfWhile South Florida Surf was founded in 2016, the organization has wasted no time making a splash. English center back Jack Elliott played with the Surf in the 2016 season and has since been drafted and signed by Philadelphia Union of MLS.

What South Florida Surf may lack in organizational history, its staff more than makes up for with personal experience. Head coach Peter Fuller is a former PDL coach of the year, worked as an assistant coach for New England Revolution, headed Philadelphia’s under-18 program, and has over a decade of success developing players as a college coach.

This South Florida matchup kicks off at 8:30PM on Tuesday May 9 and the winner will face NASL side Miami FC in the Second Round.

Grading My 2013 Wishlist for Lower Division American Soccer

In the first few days of January of this year, I posted a 3-piece Wishlist for lower division soccer. Now that 2013 has drawn to a close, I thought it would be a good time to dig up those 3 points and judge how well they were fulfilled during the year that was.

1) Strong showings off the field from the USL expansion teams
More important than grinding out tough away results in my opinion, is the ability of the two USL-Pro expansion cities to establish themselves at home.  This isn’t just getting wins against weaker teams, but doing the marketing and community work to draw in big crowds.

Both of these teams need to perform well off the field to show the viability of the USL-Pro business model.  If these teams bounce games around venues like LA Blues, Dayton Dutch Lions, and Charlotte Eagles did in 2012 or if they replicate those teams’ attendance numbers (well under 1000 each) professional soccer in Phoenix or east Tampa might be fleeting.

USL-Pro expansion didn’t go exactly according to plan in 2013. VSI Tampa Bay FC Flames, in addition to an awful name, only managed to draw an average of around 380; the lowest for any professional soccer team in the country. It surprised few that VSI has pulled the plug on its USL-Pro franchise after its first campaign.

Phoenix FC started its debut season well, but front office scuffles resulted in the team switching venues from Arizona State University to a local public park. It remains to be seen whether the slightly different ownership group can bring stability (let alone success) to the Phoenix club going into 2014.

2) New York Cosmos and Puerto Rico Islanders skip spring season to join NASL for its first fall season

When NASL released the announcement in early September that the 2013 season would be split into two short tournaments, similar to much of Latin America, there was one question resounding from lower division soccer fans around the country: why?
Perhaps this announcement was also made with the knowledge (or hunch) that the Cosmos would not be ready for the spring kick-off. Brian Quarstad of IMSoccer reported December 2 that the Cosmos will skip the spring tournament as well as the U.S. Open Cup.

Due to potential changes in Puerto Rico’s government policy, funding of the Islanders is uncertain for 2013 and onward. Neil Morris of IndyWeek reported December 21 that the Islanders will miss the spring tournament but that the league expects the team to participate in the fall tournament in 2013. This leaves only 7 teams in the spring and either 8 or 9 teams in the fall.

Though in different realms, both of these franchises have a rich soccer history. With the NASL trying to establish a legitimacy above USL, two teams stuttering off the field (one before they had even started) could challenge the league’s hopes. On the other hand, taking a half-season off could provide the stability necessary for long-term success for both the individual teams and the league as a whole.

Fans and internet pundits alike had a mixed reception to NASL’s first season using a split format in 2013, with much of the resistance due to the New York Cosmos lifting the championship trophy despite only playing one of the two half-season tournaments.

That season format is only set to get more controversial for 2014, as NASL will split the season unevenly to accommodate a lengthy break during the World Cup. What would have been an even 10 game spring season, with Virginia Cavalry FC postponing its debut until 2015, the right to host the championship game will now be decided by a 9 game season.

Puerto Rico Islanders have all but folded and Commissioner Bill Peterson told the press that the club would have to apply as an expansion team to gain readmission into the league. On the other hand, taking off the 2013 spring season gave the Cosmos enough time to properly organize a championship winning team.

3. Continued positive performances in the U.S. Open Cup
The 2012 edition of the Cup saw three USL-Pro clubs reach the quarterfinals. Lower division teams beat MLS clubs in 9 matches, 4 teams from USL-Pro teams and 3 from NASL. While the format for this year’s tournament is not yet set in stone, it should be similar to last year’s with all the professional teams in the county participating. However, there are two more domestic based USL-Pro clubs to incorporate into the cup this year so things could be a little different.

Even without sending 3 teams into the quarterfinals as it had the previous year, USL-Pro still produced a solid showing in cup this past year, along with the NASL. In the 2013 U.S. Open Cup, Orlando City defeated Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City, Charleston Battery defeated San Jose Earthquakes, Carolina RailHawks defeated Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA, and Tampa Bay Rowdies defeated Seattle Sounders. 6 victories for NASL and USL-Pro teams in an atmosphere where MLS clubs take the cup competition more seriously is still an impressive figure.

The U.S. Open Cup adapted to league expansion in 2013 by entering several USL-Pro clubs into the competition in the First Round along with the amateur teams. A similar re-ordering is likely to occur as USL-Pro adds Sacramento Republic FC and Oklahoma City Energy FC to replace VSI Tampa Bay and NASL clubs New York Cosmos and Indy Eleven will also compete in the cup in 2014.

Judging the results:
On the first point, 2013 largely failed. One of USL-Pro’s expansion teams from this past year has folded (in addition to the ambitious project from Antigua and Barbuda), while the other was put on life support. 2014 can be a huge improvement over 2013 for USL as long as the league stops losing teams.

The second point is somewhat split. New York Cosmos stormed back to life in 2013 and, despite the controversy of only playing half a season, won the NASL Championship. On the opposite side of fortune, the Puerto Rico Islanders are more likely to pop up in a retro merchandise shop than a competitive league fixture.

The third point has to be adjudged a success. USL-Pro may not have repeated all of its achievements from 2012, but a couple of NASL teams picked up the slack.

With weaker clubs like VSI discarded, a Darwinian survival of the fittest philosophy may suggest a more vibrant dynamic in lower division soccer for the upcoming year with robust organizations like Indy Eleven and Sacramento Republic FC taking the place of poorly operated teams.

How would you judge the fortunes of the two lower division professional leagues in 2013? What are the most important changes necessary for 2014?

Trying to Accept the Rhinos 3-0 Defeat to Philadelphia

In the process of coping and accepting Rochester Rhinos’ 3-0 loss to Philadelphia in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night, I need to blame something.  At first I couldn’t believe what I was watching; the early goal off a corner, the weather, the mistouches and poor passes.  Then I was angry, very angry about everything, especially the fact that the city of Philadelphia exists.  Then my girlfriend heard me pleading and justifying that the Rhinos were after all just a division 3 team playing away to an MLS side, what more could I ask for than a solid effort?  After that she had to put up with me moping around the house for a few hours.  Before I can fully accept what happened last night, I need to get something off my chest first.  I want to blame USL scheduling.

I am of the opinion that the determining factors in the Rochester Rhinos match against the Philadelphia Union were the respective scheduling of each team prior to the game and the belief of the Union players that this competition was the only thing worth left fighting for since MLS play-off qualification is a far-cry given their current position.  The Rhinos couldn’t do anything about the mentality of their opponents going into the match, but they should have been able to re-schedule one or both of their matches the weekend before they traveled to PPL Park.

I mentioned a month ago that scheduling could trip the team up and Devo posted on Friday about the league’s crazy scheduling.  First let’s thoroughly establish that playing without rest exposes players to more injuries and can decrease performance.  Dr David Geier is a sports medicine blogger, head team physician for Charleston Battery and all around great dude.  He posted this article last month about injuries from a lack of rest. Continue reading

My Immediate Post-game Thoughts, Rhinos Lose 3-0 in Philadelphia

I’ll post a more in-depth analysis of the game tomorrow, but right now I want to let out my initial frustrations with the team.

Going into tonight’s set of Third Round U.S. Open Cup matches, almost everyone had Rhinos-Union circled as a potential upset.  The Rhinos were a defensively solid team in second place in the USL-Pro and the Union were winless in their last five games and had recently solidified themselves as the second worst team in MLS after losing to the worst team.  Unfortunately most of the bookmakers (including myself) were wrong about the game in PPL Park.

The Rhinos were undone by a corner kick in the 5th minute.  A team that had an American soccer record 6 shutout wins to start the 2012 season looked more like a Sunday recreation team than a professional outfit.  Freddy Adu sent the ball in near the penalty spot and two Rhinos defenders perked up and started moving.  George Kyriazis was backing up preparing to make contact on the ball and Jack Traynor was stepping forward to do the same.  However both players stopped and let the ball hit the ground inside the area.  The ball bounced past a floundering Traynor and fell to Josue Martinez who made no mistake from close range.  Kristian Nicht had no chance on the shot to his right side and the Philadelphia Union took the lead early.

After the rain delay, the game was more of the same with the Union pressing hard and exploiting Jack Traynor down the right side.  In the 29th minute Josue Martinez beat Tyler Rosenlund to the goal line to chip a cross back to the penalty spot.  His ball in found Freddy Adu who had ghosted into the area undetected by a jumbled Rochester defense.  The 5’8″ attacker jumped to head down past Kristian Nicht.

Towards the end of the first half the Rhinos were stringing some positive passes together and generating a few chances of their own.  They couldn’t finish any of their rushes and Graciano Brito exited the few without contributing anything to the game.  Tyler Rosenlund didn’t make an impact either, well, not a positive one.  The Canadian routinely snuffed out Rhinos’ attacks by taking too many touches or waiting too long to pull the trigger on a pass or shot.

In addition to Traynor’s troubles all game, Quavas Kirk started to tire halfway through the second half.  This fatigue caused Kirk to get caught a step behind the Philadelphia players running at him.  In the 73rd minute Kirk got turned by Michael Farfan outside the box and while tracking the Union attacker into the box fouled him from behind.  Freddy Adu stepped up to take the penalty and converted from the spot.  Kristian Nicht dove the right way, but the shot was too high for the 6’4″ German to reach.

The positives for the Rhinos were few and far between but J.C. Banks, Danny Earls, and Tam McManus showed flashes of their skill that has led the team in the league this season.  However, a weakness in the middle of the field between Drew Cost and Tyler Rosenlund caused Earls to drop in centrally to receive the ball from Roberts and Kyriazis. This led to a lop sided and predictable attack going forward, as Earls consistently sought Banks on the opposite side.

Rochester Rhinos will look to put this poor performance behind them when they host the Richmond Kickers on Saturday, June 2.  Richmond pushed D.C. United of MLS to extra time before falling 3-2 at home tonight.

Philadelphia Union’s Strengths, Weaknesses, & Players to Watch with Scott Kessler

The following was written by Scott Kessler of The Brotherly Game, a Philadelphia Union blog on SB Nation.  I exchanged a few points of the strengths, weaknesses, players to watch and external storylines coming into tonight’s Third Round U.S. Open Cup Match at PPL Park.  You can read my take on the Rochester Rhinos by going to The Brotherly Game post here.

Strengths: Right now the Union’s main strength is in goal. Who plays against the Rhinos as Philadelphia’s goalkeeper is up in the air, since Zac MacMath and Chase Harrison were both out on Saturday and Chris Konopka played in Toronto, but if one of the other two is healthy then the Union will most likely revert back to him. Since MacMath’s first missed game due to concussion symptoms, Harrison and Konopka have stepped into the starting goalkeeper role amiably, performing well versus FC Shackle 04 (German Bundesliga), FC Dallas and Toronto FC. Considering how well MacMath was doing prior to his injuries, it’s been very lucky for the Union in regards to how well their back ups have played when called into action, with only two goals given up in three games (one friendly, two MLS play). Otherwise, it’s somewhat bleak for the Union.

Weaknesses: Offense and some of the overall defensive play. The Union have struggled to score this season and the team looks worse offensively than it did during the Carlos Ruiz-phase in 2011, which left many fans hungry for a more explosive and threatening attack. After trading star striker Sebastien Le Toux to the Vancouver Whitecaps for allocation money, the Union have managed to score only eight goals, tied with Toronto for the lowest amount in MLS. Last year the Union got away with an animic offense due to a stellar defense, but this year, between injuries, trades and poor tactical decisions, Philadelphia has looked up-and-down in the back. While the team’s goalkeepers have performed when ask, as previously mentioned, the defense hasn’t been up to par recently. The team is tied for fifth in goals given up, which would typically be good for any team if not for the fact that recent defensive lapses have caused the Union to squander mutiple opportunities for points, with the latest mistake culminating in Toronto’s first win and points of the 2012 MLS season. The Rhinos will most likely see a backline of Raymon Gaddis (though he is sick, so Michael Lahoud or Michael Farfan may play instead) at right back, Sheanon Williams and Porfirio Lopez (Carlos Valdes is suspended due to a red card last year against DC United) at center back and Gabriel Farfan at left back. With Lopez in the lineup and Valdes out of the gameday 18, there is only one natural defender left in the squad – Chris Albright.

Players to watch: Josue Martinez – I think the former Costa Rican international striker, still only 22, has the chance to start this game after playing well in his last two substitution appearances. He hasn’t started a game since the beginning of the season, but Martinez is quick, fast and brings a lot to the Union offense that typically isn’t there this year. He has still yet to score in a Union jersey, but at some point the poor form that followed him from Deportivo Saprissa will go away.

Michael Farfan – The former University of North Carolina All-American (two times) has excelled for the Union since he was drafted in the second round of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Though he was taken out of his comfort zone, right midfield, at the start of the season, Farfan has done his job when asked by head coach Peter Nowak to cover in the back or otherwise. The problem for him this year has been that he’s smothered offensively when asked to play centrally or at full back, but when he makes runs forward his skill is clear to anyone that watches him. Once Farfan is given full reins again at right midfield or right wing, he’ll regain the form that put him into the group of finalists for last year’s MLS Rooke of the Year award.

Storyline: Nowak is on his heels in terms of fan opinion and though he is suspended, due to an ejection from last year’s loss to DCU, his plans and tactics are in place for this game. A loss to the Rhinos at home would be devastating for a team that is not on track to make the playoffs in MLS and doesn’t appear to have a chance at any other trophy at the moment. For Nowak a loss could mean public opinion turns so negatively toward his decisions this season that the Union ownership has to seriously discuss removing him and Nick Sakiewicz, among others, from their soccer positions. A win would mean some pressure is removed and the Union can go into a two week break with their heads high, before hosting DCU on June 16. Also, this is the first USOC home game ever for the Union.

Some Notes on the Philadelphia Union

Saturday night the Philadelphia Union solidified their position as the second worst team in their league.  They were beaten by the worst team in MLS, Toronto FC, 1-0 and failed to catch up to L.A. Galaxy and Montreal Impact who also lost.

Philadelphia were without a few players, who may also be absent from Tuesday’s Open Cup match.  This is the team’s first match in the U.S. Open Cup proper after previously being eliminated in the MLS qualification play-in round by New York Red Bulls in 2010 and then D.C. United in 2011.

In their last 5 matches of the MLS season, Philadelphia are 0-1-4 while the Rhinos are coming into the game having lost one match this season and only given up four goals in league and cup so far.  Rochester did give up goals in each of their last two games (a 1-0 loss at Harrisburg on Friday and a 2-2 tie at Dayton on Saturday), but starting goalkeeper Kristian Nicht sat out Dayton’s game in preparation for Tuesday’s match against the Philadelphia Union.

The main question for Tuesday, as it was last year when the Rhinos hosted Chicago Fire of MLS at Sahlen’s Stadium, is how many starters will Philadelphia play.  The honest truth is that as long as America’s soccer system is closed, the leagues below MLS will face no chance against a full strength MLS team; even if that team is the second worst in the league. Continue reading

In-Depth Match Report of the Rhinos U.S. Open Cup Victory

Since their first round U.S. Open Cup victory away to Portland Phoenix, Brooklyn Italians managed to earn another three points in the league.  Their win against New York Athletic Club moved the Italians to 12 points from four games in the National Premier Soccer League Northeast Atlantic Conference (but some might lead you to believe that the Italians somehow managed a 10-1-1 record out of four games; who knew that was possible).  In their weekend action, the Rhinos drew Dayton Dutch Lions at home 1-1.  A late header from Quavas Kirk salvaged a point from their match on Friday after giving up their first goal in league play this season.

After a flurry of chances for the Rhinos in the first few minutes of the game, the pace of the match slowed down.  It appeared that Rochester was lured down to the Italians level of physical long ball play trying to find their target forward.  There wasn’t much possession or creativity out of the midfield from other side for twenty minutes.

The Rhinos lined up in a 4-4-1-1 in front of Kristian Nicht. Jack Traynor and Troy Roberts (captain) partnered in the center of defense, Mike Zaher played left back and Quavas Kirk played on the right.  In the midfield, Conor Chinn started wide left which pushed Danny Earls into the middle with Tyler Rosenlund.  J.C. Banks played his normal right wing and Tam McManus once again excelled at his role playing behind a target forward, this time Andrew Hoxie.

Because of McManus’ position between the midfield and lone forward, Rochester’s wingers had the freedom to push forward.  That meant that if Hoxie pulled over to one side of the field to combine with a wide player, McManus occupied the center of the box while the far side winger could make a run to far post or to the space at the near post that Hoxie and McManus opened up for him.  This consistently happened allowing Conor Chinn several clear chances at goal throughout the game. Continue reading