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Team Owners Association Announce Move to Go Forward with New League

2009 November 10
by Brian Quarstad

USL_at-a-crossroads

The Members of the Team Owners Association, TOA, have just released a press statement making their plans public with the decision to move forward with a new division 2 league in North America.

OWNERS OF PROFESSIONAL SOCCER TEAMS IN ATLANTA, CAROLINA, MIAMI, MINNESOTA, MONTREAL, ST. LOUIS AND VANCOUVER FORM NEW PRO SOCCER LEAGUE TO BEGIN PLAY IN 2010

Nov. 10, 2009 – The owners of the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, formerly of USL-1, together with St. Louis Soccer United today announced that they have formed a new professional soccer league to play in the United States and Canada beginning in April 2010.

The team owners yesterday submitted an application for sanctioning of the new league as a Division II Men’s Outdoor Professional League by the United States Soccer Federation.  An application for sanctioning as a Division I League will be submitted to the Canadian Soccer Association shortly and applications to other sanctioning bodies in the region will be submitted as needed.

Joey Saputo, President of the 2009 USL-1 champion Montreal Impact, was recently elected Chairman of the Board of Governors of the new league.

“This is not your typical new league,” Saputo said.  “Most of our teams have existed for years.  We have united some of the best owners, teams and markets around a new vision for a professional soccer league in North America.

“We look forward to elevating our teams and league in order to give more opportunities to players, coaches, media and sponsors, entertain our fans and play our role in helping soccer truly recognize its potential in the United States and Canada.”

Jeff Cooper, the principal owner of St. Louis Soccer United and spokesperson for the new league, said team owners have commenced a search for a league commissioner and are actively finalizing other details, including a name for the league and its sales and marking plans.  The league intends to launch an extensive marketing campaign in the coming months, Cooper said.

In addition, Cooper said the team owners are in active conversations with several teams and organizations throughout the world which have expressed interest in joining the new league.

“This will be a league that will offer the best of both worlds – outstanding experience and leadership at the ownership level combined with the promise and ability to chart our own course for success as a new league,” Cooper said.  “It’s this structure that motivated me to bring St. Louis into the new league, and why I believe the new league will have a lot of success at launch next year and well into the future.”

TEAM AND OWNERSHIP BACKGROUND:

Atlanta Silverbacks
The Atlanta Silverbacks have been members of the USL-1 league from 1998-2008. The team’s primary owners are Boris Jerkunica and John Latham.  Boris is a serial technology entrepreneur.  He was the co-founder and CEO of NetZIP, which was sold to Real Networks in 2000.  He is currently the Chairman of Vocalocity – a VoIP technology company.  John Latham is a senior partner at Alston and Bird – one of the top law firms in Atlanta. The team competes at the privately funded Atlanta Silverbacks Park.

“For ten years, the Atlanta Silverbacks played under the umbrella of a 3rd party owned league. To put it simply, it just didn’t work,” said Boris Jerkunica, Chairman of the Atlanta Silverbacks. “The long term view of the team owners did not align with the short term view of the 3rd party league owners.  Because of this, the Atlanta Silverbacks decided to drop out from USL-1 in 2009.   We are pleased to be part of a new league that will be owned and operated by the team owners as required by FIFA.”

Carolina RailHawks
The Carolina RailHawks have been members of the USL-1 league for three years, having ended the current season in second place with a league-leading 17 shutouts and a club record of 16-7-7. The team’s primary owners are Selby and Brian Wellman, and Bob Young.  Selby was the Senior Vice-President of Cisco Systems throughout the 90’s, while Young was the founder of Redhat, as well as the online book publisher Lulu. The team competes at Wake Med Soccer Park in Cary, NC which is rated as one of the top soccer venues in the U.S.

“Over the past two years we have been working tirelessly to restructure the league to be owned and controlled by the owners in order to elevate our league on and off the pitch. The owners make substantial investments in their teams. However, the level of national-level investment required has not been made because the league has always been owned, operated, and controlled by third parties. We simply want our league to be operated and managed like all other pro sports leagues around the world.”  – Selby Wellman, Carolina RailHawks owner

Miami FC
Miami FC is owned by Traffic Sports USA, the regional office of Brazil-based Traffic Marketing Esportivo, one of the leading soccer companies in the world.  Traffic founded Miami FC in 2006 and brought the 1994 Brazilian World Cup Champion tandem of Romario and Zinho to lead the team. Traffic commercializes many of the top international soccer events in the region including: Copa America, the majority of FIFA World Cup qualifying matches in the Americas, Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana and Copa do Brasil.  Traffic also owns a team/academy in Brazil (Desportivo Brasil); co-manages a team in Portugal (Estoril); and controls player funds in Brazil and the United States featuring established high profile players and top youth prospects on the U-20 and U-17 national teams.

“When your league is owned by someone else, you aren’t incentivized to invest in or be loyal to your league.  That’s precisely why our league is so relatively unknown and has so much turn-over in teams.  With this decision, we gain control of our own destiny and can finally structure and operate our league in a manner which truly positions us for growth and success.”  – Aaron Davidson, president of Miami FC

Minnesota Thunder
The Minnesota Thunder was founded in 1990 by Tom Engstrom and coaching legend Buzz Lagos. Just finishing its 20th season, the Thunder have historically been one of the most winning clubs in all of North America.  The Thunder claimed the Commissioners Cup in 2000 and have been in three league championship games winning the league title in 1999. The Thunder is owned by Dean Johnson, Managing Director and Principal of WingField Corp.  Johnson earned his B.A. with honors from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and he earned his graduates degree from the Ruhr Universität in Bochum, Germany.  The team plays in a newly renovated 10,000 seat soccer-specific stadium, which includes a full-field indoor training facility.

“After years of failed efforts to work and improve the current structure of our league, we must take control of our own destiny.  When you are doing something that is objectively correct and good for the game of soccer, no one can question you.”  – Dean Johnson, owner of the Minnesota Thunder, WingField Corporation managing director and principal.

Montreal Impact
The Montreal Impact can be considered an overnight success that is 16 years in the making.  It is Canada’s most decorated soccer franchise, with 2 League Championships, 3 Commissioners Cup, 7 Voyageurs Cup and the only team to represent Canada in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. Bolstered by its strong fan support, the club regularly plays in front of sold-out crowds at its privately financed 13,000 seat soccer-specific stadium. Although the Impact is now structured as a Non Profit corporation, it will continue to be part of the legacy that Joey Saputo and his family will leave to the Montreal Sports community.

“We feel that the league in its current state has handicapped the growth of our team and the league itself; ownership and control of our league are critical to our individual and collective growth.”   – Joey Saputo, Montreal Impact owner

St. Louis
Jeff Cooper is the owner and chairman of Saint Louis Athletica of Women’s Professional Soccer and his St. Louis Soccer United group oversees the largest youth soccer program in the Midwest, Scott Gallagher, which is headquartered at the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park that in March was transferred to St. Louis Soccer United.  Cooper’s overarching goal is to bring men’s professional soccer to the St. Louis area, which is rich with soccer tradition at levels from youth through college.  A native of Granite City, Cooper played soccer under legendary coach Gene Baker at Granite City High School before continuing his playing career at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.  He graduated in 1991 from DePauw University with a BA degree in political science and with a JD degree from St. Louis University Law School in 1995.  Cooper formerly sat on the board of the English League One football club Brentford.

“I continue to be committed to starting a professional team in St. Louis, where our club would be fully and enthusiastically supported by generations of soccer fans here in our region.  I have been in close contact with the teams over the past year and am very impressed with and fully committed to their mission.  There is no other way.  The teams must own and control their league.”

Vancouver Whitecaps
In 1974, Vancouver Whitecaps FC played their inaugural season in the North American Soccer League and have since been the hallmark of professional soccer in British Columbia and Canada. In 1979, the Whitecaps won the NASL Soccer Bowl and in 1983, 60,342 people came to watch the Whitecaps play Seattle Sounders in the first sporting event to be played at BC Place Stadium. From 1987 to 1992, as a member of the Canadian Soccer League, Vancouver won four straight championships before the club joined what is now known as the United Soccer Leagues First Division. In 2002, Greg Kerfoot took over the ownership of the Whitecaps and created a full club model that encompasses professional teams for men and women, extensive youth development and grassroots participation programs, facility development, and the Whitecaps Foundation to support specific initiatives related to health and wellness through soccer. Since 2004, the Whitecaps have won two USL-1 championships and two USL W-League championships.

“We believe that ownership involvement is crucial for a successful, healthy league.  Securing a league license now is a preliminary step that will allow the teams to be in position to take further steps, should that be necessary. Our goal continues to be to pursue what is in the best interest of the sport.” – Bob Lenarduzzi, Vancouver Whitecaps FC president

17 Responses
  1. Chris permalink
    November 10, 2009

    Yeah! Our secret appears to be safe in that the other members of the TOA seem unaware about our “little” problems we happen to have up here. They might not like the fact we have no coach, no players, and kind of have some financial issues such as paying people. Other than that, all is good. “We” make a great partner!

    A press release does not do much for our underlying problems.

  2. November 10, 2009

    It is a mystery. I will have more on this later. I was scheduled to talk to Manny Lagos last night but he had to put it off until today. Hopefully I will have more later. Another good question, does this mean they have USSF approval?

  3. Andy permalink
    November 10, 2009

    I hope they wouldn’t do this without getting some sort of go-ahead from USSF. But then if USSF were to deny them they could probably be sued for antitrust.

  4. November 10, 2009

    Press statement says the applied for application yesterday.

  5. Paul permalink
    November 10, 2009

    This is exciting news. How about calling it the National Soccer League. The NSL. We need a white knight in Minnesota and fast! They have to put a whole team together in 4-6 months.

  6. Jon M. permalink
    November 10, 2009

    So now we have no coach, no players, an owner three months behind on paying everybody, and a *purely theoretical* league to play in that may never get off the ground?

    Things still aren’t looking good for 2010. This is insanity.

  7. Gumbygrrl permalink
    November 10, 2009

    I’m going to be the eternal optimist, and hope that Johnson waited until there was a league for the Thunder to play in next season before straightening out the team issues. Hopefully we’ll know in the next couple of weeks.

  8. Fuggle permalink
    November 10, 2009

    While this is (potentially) good news, I have to agree with Jon that at best, it sure looks from here like an upward tick deep in negative territory. But it does represent progress, I suppose.

  9. November 10, 2009

    I am so confused by all of this…

  10. November 10, 2009

    Brian – thanks for your hard work in keeping this story alive and available to all of us who appreciate the game. While I’m a regular subscriber the minute this story went live I had several folks from my neck of the woods holler’ at me to ensure I was aware of it. St Louis is looking forward to participating with, and beating, the Thunder!

  11. Chris, too permalink
    November 10, 2009

    Until there’s 8 committed, financially sound teams (the minimum required by the USSF), there is no league, so this press release is still just a lot of hot air, IMO, ’cause the USSF can shoot it down w/o any antitrust issues.

  12. leper permalink
    November 10, 2009

    I don’t see any reason to worry about the magic number of 8. That’s a requirement that can be waived by the USSF and has been waived before. The old A-League (pre-MLS and pre-merger into USL) had less than 8 teams, and so did the WPS womens’ league this year, which is sanctioned under those same USSF requirements.

    I’m doubtful this new league will ever get off the ground for any number of reasons, but the question of the USSF failing to sanction the league is pretty far down that list.

  13. November 10, 2009

    Yup, been saying the same thing to folks for a few weeks now. WPS started with 7 knowing they would have more this coming year. However, my inside info tells me there is concern with FIFA so they want to have 8 because of that.

    I would also agree with your last paragraph although I will tell you that that have done a lot of work behind the scenes for quite a while now and they are actually pretty dog gone organized and have some good financial backing should it actually happen. I think some of the TOA are gung-ho and others have one foot in each camp. Then there’s the Thunder…

  14. ERic permalink
    November 10, 2009

    “However, my inside info tells me there is concern with FIFA so they want to have 8 because of that. ” Interesting. Looks like there’s going to be some pressure on Tampa.

    Unless there’s some other team somewhere else. I wonder if they’ve talked to folks in Orlando.

  15. CoconutMonkey permalink
    November 11, 2009

    He said they’re looking for a name for the league! This guy is hoping for something along the lines of MLS2. Any other suggestions?

    The Rebel League?
    the NEW NASL?
    The American Almost Premier League?

  16. Cesar permalink
    November 11, 2009

    I wonder what Fox sports will do, do they keep the contract with USL1 or they go with the teams?

    also help me on my math,

    USL1 would be left with 6 teams and 2 more for expancion (tampa and NY)

    TOA would have the 5 rebel teams, plus san luis and Atlanta, and maybe tampa and new york?

    it looks like the expancion teams hold the cards!

  17. Soccer Boy permalink
    November 12, 2009

    I just wish we can get out on the pitch and play soccer. This is beginning to sound like youth soccer and all the bickering people do. I think if we would spend all of our time and energy on the soccer pitch and not bickering about things, we would have a soccer program the world would want to follow. Shame on the USL.

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