Posts Tagged ‘ USL ’

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.