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?

Is the American Soccer League for real?

The inaugural season of the American Soccer League kicks off next weekend with three matches slated for Saturday, August 23.

In those matches AC Crusaders hosts Philadelphia Fury, Icon travels to Mass United, and Newark hosts the Evergreen Diplomats. Western Mass Pioneers and Rhode Island Reds have a bye the first week of the season.

Oh wait, you haven’t heard of these teams before? That’s because none of them plays in an existing professional league. Only 2 of the founding 8 clubs recently participated in a league higher than a local or state amateur circuit. Those two are Rhode Island from the NPSL and Western Mass Pioneers from the USL PDL.

Don’t feel bad if you aren’t familiar with these teams. The league refers to some of its own clubs by multiple names, so it seems even they aren’t too familiar.

On the league’s schedule page the teams are listed as: AC Crusaders, Evergreen Diplomats, Icon, Mass United, Newark, Philadelphia Fury, Rhode Island, Western Mass Pioneers

On the league’s “Teams” page, the teams are listed as:
AC Crusaders, Evergreen Diplomats, Icon, Mass United, Ironbound Soul, Philadelphia Fury, Rhode Island Oceaneers, Lusitanos Pro Soccer

The league’s “About Us” page on its website uses three quotes from Sepp Blatter without context to provide the philosophical basis for the league and attempts to justify the money clubs will waste in this venture. Sepp Blatter is widely corrupt, openly sexist, and generally an awful administrator of the game we all love; he’s really the inspiration for your league?

The league kicks off in 8 days and its website is woefully incomplete. Only 2 of the clubs have even partial profiles on the league’s website. It shouldn’t be any surprise that those 2 clubs have the same owner, which brings us to Matt Driver.

Driver is the owner of Atlantic Soccer Factory, a “soccer education” company from southern New Jersey. ASF evokes divided opinion among parents who have coughed up thousands of dollars in fees for Driver’s programs throughout the years.

Driver is the godfather of the American Soccer League but maintains ownership of ASF, which operates the AC Crusaders team. In addition Driver is the owner and head coach of the Philadelphia Fury team. How professional is this league when one man is a head coach, owner of two teams, league president, and league CEO?

The ASL, through Driver, attempted a hype train earlier in the year about challenging USL Pro as the country’s division three league. That will never happen.

The ASL cannot meet USSF’s guidelines to receive sanctioning as a professional league. As such the league should not refer to itself as a professional league. For the coming season, the ASL is sanctioned as a high-level amateur league.

The ASL is an amateur league with apparently professional teams, but even that designation may be in name only. Teams in the ASL will pay players and will operate during the school year so as to prevent collegiate athletes from participating but are hiring inexperienced office staff to run their operations.

Driver is quoted in a news story on the league’s site as saying, “We’re looking for players who are graduating from college, or maybe will come into this league as an alternative to college.” MLS clubs are finding it difficult to convince potential HG players from forgoing college for a soccer career but this shoddy upstart league can. Makes sense.

The fully professional and storied soccer club Rochester Rhinos offers general admission tickets for games against other fully professional clubs in the USL Pro hosted at Sahlen’s Stadium, a soccer-specific stadium, for $10.

First year “professional” team Philadelphia Fury offers general admission tickets for games against other “professional” teams in a makeshift league hosted at a local high school for $9.

Does that math make sense to you? I think there’s more than one dollar difference in the value offered by the Rochester Rhinos and the Philadelphia Fury.

Is the ASL for real?
Unfortunately I think it is and that will be bad news for most of these teams. I don’t expect the league to survive into its second year next fall if it actually manages to play out its full first season.

I am encouraged by soccer clubs that want to turn professional and are looking for a cheaper alternative to what if currently available through NPSL and PDL. When a league is scrounging for member teams, it is incentivized to mislead prospective team owners. Allowing inexperienced amateurs to operate professional soccer club offices is irresponsible and when these clubs fail it will poison the well for future attempts to grow soccer in the United States.

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?