Posts Tagged ‘ USL ’

Florida

Inter Miami joins MLS in 2020 and with their introduction, there is the chance to visit the two Florida MLS venues in one trip. Here are some possible options.

Orlando City hosts the Montreal Impact at Exploria Stadium on Saturday, April 4 at 3:00 p.m. ET. The next day Inter Miami entertains the Philadelphia Union at 3:00pm ET. Note that the new Lockhart Stadium is in Fort Lauderdale.

Later that month, Toronto FC travels to Inter Miami on Saturday, April 25 for a 3:00pm ET kickoff. On Sunday Atlanta United goes to Orlando City for a 1:00 ET match.

tb rowdies

Memorial Day Weekend gives groundhoppers a chance to hit three grounds in a week. Start in Orlando for Orlando City versus the Columbus Crew on Saturday, May 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET. The next stop is Miami for a midweek match as Inter Miami hosts FC Cincinnati on Wednesday, May 27 at 8:00pm ET. End your week in Tampa Bay as the Tampa Rowdies take on Philadelphia Union II on Saturday May 30 at Al Lang Stadium, which is in St. Petersburg.

Finally, in July travelers will have a chance to see both cities as Atlanta United heads down to Miami to play Inter Miami on Thursday, July 23 at 8:00pm ET. Philadelphia Union goes to Orlando on Saturday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. ET.             

In terms of travel time, it’s about two hours from Orlando to St. Petersburg, three hours from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale and three and a half hours from St. Petersburg to Fort Lauderdale.

I found this site that had some suggestions about how to get between the two cities. One suggestion was Redcoach. There are tickets for $15 depending on day and time.

Venues

Orlando City Stadium

I have been to Exploria. Because I was with Atlanta United fans, I didn’t get to see much of the stadium. From our vantage point, it looked very nice. Beware! The upper portions can be quite steep. My friend Ian of Rowdies Supporters Group Skyway Casuals reminds us to not wear opposing colors at Exploria Stadium in Orlando. Some of their fans are not super welcoming.

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Inter Miami will be playing at the new Lockhart Stadium. This will be their future training ground field once the new location is approved and built.

Team Information

Inter Miami

Orlando City

Tampa Bay Rowdies

Lower League Teams

There are tons of teams from the lower leagues of American soccer in Florida if you wanted to squeeze an extra game or two. Ian suggested Florida Soccer Soldiers, who play in the UPSL. Check out my map of US and Canadian teams to find a team 

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. Here to help. Comment below or email me at austinlong1974@gmail.com.

Good luck and safe travels!!

Groundhopping Goals!!

orl

ATL UTD at Orlando City, Exploria Stadium, May 2018

Soccer has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Started playing as a child and still play when healthy, which is more and more infrequent. I’ve coached and managed teams, plus started this blog and hosted a podcast. Recently I was President and Board Member of an Major League Soccer (MLS) Supporters Group.

Now my focus has turned to groundhopping. I went to my first MLS game in 1998 at Soldier Field. I hit Columbus in 1999 and saw the occasional college game in central Michigan over the next several years.

seattle

Century Link Field, Seattle, WA in 2012

In 2012 I decided to start engaging MLS. Started reading articles, watching games, listening to podcasts. I had not been to an MLS game in years so decided to plan a trip. First up was the Pacific Northwest. I had family in the area and heard a lot about their match day experience. With a successful trip out there, I set a goal to to see a game in every MLS city. Every year I get to about 50% but with expansion I can never get over the hump. So far I’ve been to the following cities:

  • Atlanta 
  • Chicago 
  • Columbus
  • Washington D.C. 
  • Orlando
  • Philadelphia
  • Denver
  • Dallas
  • Houston 
  • Portland 
  • Seattle 
  • Kansas City

Hoping to knock out Nashville and Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2020.

hammers

First ever Birmingham Hammers game, Sicard Hollow Sports Complex in 2016

I also love seeing teams in the lower leagues of the United States and have put together a map that shows most of the teams in United States and Canada, and all of the places I’ve been over the last 20 years or so.

dcu

RFK Stadium, Washington, DC in 2016

Now my goal is to see a soccer game in the lower 48 states and the District of Columbia. I’m about a third of the way there:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • District of Columbia

Looking to check off Minnesota, Indiana and Kentucky this year.

Let me know where you have been in the US and Canada. Best venue? Worst venue? Give me a shout on twitter @austinlong1974 or via email austinlong1974@gmail.com.

Groundhopping 2020

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Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Colorado Rapids v Atlanta United, September 15, 2018

As the 2020 soccer schedules are being released, it’s time to start planning trips.

I have several goals this year:

*See an Atlanta United away game.

*Do a mini-soccer tour.

*Create a comprehensive map of venues in the United States and Canada.

 

First up is the Atlanta United game. My current target is the Atlanta United/Minnesota United game at Allianz Field on Sunday, August 9, 2020. This match ticks several boxes: #1 an Atlanta United away game. #2 a trip with my parents. My parents are visiting all 50 states, and Minnesota is one of two remaining states they haven’t been to. #3 visit another MLS city. #4 see an amazing new venue, which includes the Brew Hall!! I have started the Jay Riddle Memorial Spreadsheet and am developing different trip options.

The mini tour is still in development. I have a couple of ideas and need to do some more research and confirm a few things. Plus I’m putting together possible trips for fans who want to hit multiple MLS venues in one trip. Plan is to have these ready to go in the coming weeks.

As for the third goal, building on the efforts of some amazing soccer fans, I have created the following map. It needs to be updated with expansion teams and those teams that folded/changed leagues/gone on hiatus in the lower leagues. I have also added a layer of all of the venues I have been to over the last 25 years or so. The map is by no means done but it’s a start.

 

Got travelling or match day tips? Need a hand planning a trip? Hit me up at austinlong1974@gmail.com

 

Finally, quick shoutout to a couple of people who have inspired and educated me.

Paul Gerald. If you are going to the United Kingdom to watch a game, hit him up. Check out his blog and get a copy of his book, The Groundhopper’s Guide to Soccer in England.

Peter Miles. Peter has been all to matches of all levels around Europe. His blog has great articles with historical background and amazing pictures.

Steven Bernasconi. Steven spent 2017 traveling around North America visiting venues and fans. The result was The Soccer Tour and Steven created some awesome content.

Summer 2015–Ground Hopping

Due to changes in life, namely geography and finances, I scaled back on my MLS stadium tour. After several interactions with fellow groundhoppers, I decided to check out lower league grounds in the Southeast.

First up was Charleston. For Memorial Day, the family headed to South Carolina to visit with friends and I made sure there was a Charleston Battery home game that weekend as well. My son and I headed to Blackbaud Stadium and met with Queen Anne’s Revenge and the Regiment for the tailgate. We played a quick game of FIFA 15 and then joined the group for the stadium tour.

battery 4

What an amazing experience. The President of the Charleston Battery led us through the facility, pointing out items in a priceless collection of jerseys, pennants, programs, programs and more. I was in #KitNerd heaven. I didn’t get to see the Manchester United suite and it’s probably better because I may have not left without a police escort.

battery 3

We back to the tailgate and checked out the wonderful spread put out by the Regiment. Pre-game festivities were wrapped up with a march and taking our places in Section E1. During the match, there was this kid leading the cheers, and it was awesome seeing the supporter culture passed down the generations.

battery 2

The quality of the match wasn’t spectacular, although the opening goal from the Battery was well crafted. Charlotte equalized with a dodgy penalty and after that chances were few and far between. The USL match ended in a 1-1 draw.

battery 1

The ground itself is well designed with two stands, with one for the press box and suites and box seats and the other a stand of bleachers. Each end is open and allows for different activities, food and walking areas.

Next up was Nashville, TN. Took a Greyhound to the match. Figured why spend four hours in a car by myself just listening to music and podcasts when I could get stuff done? Did some writing and blog work and watched a movie on the way. The bus was 45 minutes late leaving, which I’m learning is par for the course on these trips.

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Once I got into the Music City I walked to Vanderbilt Stadium. Mild misfire on my part. A three mile hike in 90 degree heat was not one of my best decisions. I walked up to the gate just before kickoff and was met with a ticket line out to the street. I finally got in, bought my scarf and took a seat.

sb reserves

(photo courtesy of Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves)

The match rewarded me for my efforts. Nashville opened the scoring as their right winger torched the Reserves left back. But almost immediately from the kickoff Janny Rivera hit a 30+ yard bomb that crashed the underside of the crossbar and in. A real thunderbastard of a goal. The teams traded goals in the second half, and as the clock clicked closer to full time, Santos Ramirez popped up with a header to secure the vital points. Jubilation from the visitors as they headed back to Atlanta.

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My next trip was a virtual home game as the Reserves met the Georgia Revolution. The Revolution play at the Rockdale Youth Soccer Association complex in Conyers,GA, a little bit of a hike for me, especially in traffic. Several heavy thunderstorms through the day had made the pitch quite soggy, with several areas of standing water. Both teams had trouble finding their rhythm and the first half was a disjointed, scrappy affair. The second half was scintillating. A mistake by the Revolution left back allowed the Reserves winger in and his cross was met at the back post. The hosts responded quickly and then took the lead with grass cutter free kick. The Reserves levelled after some cool nerves in the penalty area. The visitors pushed on for the win but the Revolution won the day as a free kick was flicked on to the far post and knocked home.

I’m hoping to make one more trip this fall, but follow these guys on twitter or search #Groundhopping to read insightful trips from around Europe:

  • Alex Baker (@alexpieter)
  • Peter Miles (@PeterRMiles)
  • Groundhopper (@Groundhopping1)

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Check out more posts on my trips, research and memories on the MatchDay Memories page.

Not Inverting the Pyramid

2015_Professional_Soccer_Teams_in_USA_Canada

Recently I listened to a couple of podcasts and read several articles:

  • Jason Davis asked what the NASL is supposed do as MLS continues to grow and possible tries to pick up NASL teams interested in “moving up”.
  • Bill Archer examined how the NeoCosmos possibly caused the NASL collapse again.
  • Andrew at Boys in Rouge reposted Tom Dunmore’s article from XI Quarterly about the pure numbers game possible for Professional US soccer.
  • Two Daft Yanks interviewed Jasun Cohen, President of the Atlanta Silverbacks Alliance Council.
  • HF Atlanta Football Weekly did a podcast about the MLS structure (couldn’t find the recording on the interwebs).

These got my brain churning about several topics–the future of soccer in the ATL, the future of US club soccer and the future of MLS in terms of structure–and it is the last two topics that I would like to focus on.

nasl logo

I’ll be honest, before I moved to Atlanta, I knew nothing about the new North American Soccer League (NASL) outside of the fact that Eric Cantona was the New York Cosmos Technical Director for about five minutes. But since I am learning more about US soccer and since I was moving to a city with a NASL team, I figured I should see what was going on. So I watched a few games and highlight packages and read some articles and went to a few Silverback games once I got into town.

Looking at recent events in the NASL—the Silverbacks barely hanging on (the league stepped in and is running the team for at least one more year), Minnesota going to MLS in a couple of years, and the struggle to maintain Second Division status, I don’t think the NASL will exist in five years. With the re-launch of the league, it tried to up the ante with MLS and I really believe the league tried to force an AFL/NFL type merger with MLS, but unfortunately these efforts failed and the result will probably be the second failure of this league.

On the other hand, the United Soccer League (USL) is strengthening their position with a greater footprint and the development of MLS reserve sides or MLS partnerships. Their stability and acceptance of their place will allow them to fulfill the US Second Division slot in the long term.

As for the NPSL and USL-PDL, my guess is that US Soccer will tweak the requirements to modify what the Third Division looks like and then the two leagues will serve this role, providing soccer to regional and niche markets. I didn’t bother to look up the regulations, I just know that they exist and will be used to squeeze out the NASL.

us-soccer-pyramid

So currently the US Soccer pyramid looks like this:

USSF Division 1

Major League Soccer (MLS)

17 US clubs and 3 Canadian clubs

USSF Division 2

North American Soccer League (NASL)

9 US clubs and 2 Canadian clubs

USSF Division 3

United Soccer League (USL)

21 US clubs and 3 Canadian clubs

I imagine it will look like this:

USSF Division 1

Major League Soccer (MLS)

17 US clubs and 3 Canadian clubs

USSF Division 2

United Soccer League (USL)

21 US clubs and 3 Canadian clubs

USSF Division 3

Premier Development League (USL)                                              National Premier Soccer League (NPSL)
      63 US clubs/8 Canadian clubs                                                                         78 US clubs

That brings us to MLS. The league is in a growth phase and is slowly building towards the next benchmark, which is a 24 team league.  Totally makes sense, is reasonable at this point and time, and appears to be sustainable. A 24 team league was something I could get my head around as I can remember the days of 10 or 12 teams in MLS, but I had a guest on my podcast who said his belief was that, in the end, MLS will be a 30 to 32 team league very similar to the other major sports leagues in this country. When he uttered those words, it blew my mind. The more he talked about it and the more I saw potential markets either developing or lacking a team, I started to come around to the idea.

MLSMap2

Now how does MLS get from 24 to 32 teams? One way would be for NASL teams looking to make the jump ponying up the necessary franchise fee (Indy Eleven and New York Cosmos come to mind). Another way would be for USL teams to continue their progression up the ladder (thinking growing markets like Sacramento, Phoenix and Charlotte). There are also several top media markets without a team in MLS.

With that in mind, what would a 32 team league look like? I’m a single table guy but that will never happen, especially with this many teams. I’m a League Championship guy but that’s never going to happen either. This is America dammit. The playoff champion is the champ.

Following other American sports, I propose Western and Eastern Conferences with two eight team divisions each. Since we don’t know the teams, it’s hard to guess how they would be organized but Divisions probably something like West, Midwest, Southeast and Northeast. The schedule would be home and away against every team in your Division, and games against two of the other three Divisions on a rotating basis. This would create a 30 game schedule and allow for more flexibility in terms of summer tournaments, International friendlies and Club friendlies. (Tangent: the March International Break and recent joke friendly against Mexico really set me off but I won’t rant about it here.)

16-team-tournament-bracket

Another American phenomenon is the post season playoffs and since nearly everyone in the US is a winner and gets a participatory ribbon, half the teams would make the playoffs. Haven’t quite decided if it should be West Division 1 versus West Division 4 or West Division 1 v Midwest Division 4 or Western Conference 1 v Western Conference 8, but home and away games to produce two Conference winners who would play a one game Final at the remaining team with the highest amount of points from the regular season.

Eventually MLS will become like every other league in the US, which is fine. And AMAZING considering how many failed leagues have come before and how much ground the game has had to cover. That’s my view of Professional US soccer over the next 10 to 15 years. Am I prescient, off my rocker or maybe on the right track? Let me know what you think in the comments below.