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.