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TOA and USL, is Everything Exploding or Imploding?

2009 November 24
by Brian Quarstad

USL_at-a-crossroadsNASLI can’t even begin to report on everything I’ve heard on the record let alone the things I’ve heard off the record in the past 3 days. The rumor of the North American Soccer League (NASL) being used for the proposed TOA league was proven out yesterday with a press release by the organization’s PR firm. At IMS and our partner site, The Kartik Report, we ended up with almost identical numbers in our polls that asked if people liked the name for the proposed league or not. On average, between the two sites, 73% liked or could live with the retro name while only 28% didn’t like it.

Did you know the USL looked at the name NASL five years ago before they changed from A-League to USL First Division? They decided it would be disrespectful to the legacy of the NASL and went with USL First Division instead, which I guess proves yet one more difference between the two organizations.

And if you noticed, I called the TOA a proposed league. Remember this is not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination.

I have been corrected that the USSF did not meet concerning the TOA situation on Friday evening but the meeting was held on Saturday. I have heard stories about the contents of the USSF meeting and the truth is … none of it can be confirmed.  For now, there is no story, only speculation.

On Friday, I heard Charleston would be dropping down to USL-2 and reported the possibility on Saturday.  Sadly, now we know that this was true.  The statement from the Charleston Battery is important to read carefully and absorb. It rings of the fundamental differences in beliefs between the TOA and the USL.

In yesterday’s Battery press release, President Andrew Bell said, “Playing in this division (USL-2) will also substantially reduce our travel costs as we won’t be flying all over the country.”

For a smaller market like Charleston it will be difficult for them to make enough in attendance to pay the costs of flying all over North America to play in a league. As pointed out previously at IMS, with an average attendance of 5,000 per game, most clubs would hardly break even for their travel expenses. For most teams, it takes at least 2 home games to pay for away game travel expenses.

It has been said that the Battery’s management was also concerned with keeping up with the likes of Montreal and Carolina and felt that the league was heading in a bad direction with the escalating players’ salaries.

“The Charleston Battery has never been a part of TOA, not because we disagreed with some of the legitimate complaints they had about how USL1 operated in the past, but because we totally disagreed with their stated vision to be a viable alternative league to Major League Soccer (MLS) and to compete with MLS on and off the field,” said Charleston Battery CEO Tony Bakker. “This made absolutely no sense to us.”

When one of USL’s strongest allies makes a statement like that, it leaves little argument that there have been some fundamental problems with the structure and running of the USL. But that statement was particularly interesting and is perhaps the biggest core difference between the USL and the TOA: the belief that one needs to run the league as if it’s minor league compared to the TOA’s belief that you need to compete with MLS.

Tim Holt, now President of the USL, told Kenn Tomasch in an interview last spring, “The owners of USL-1 teams who are pursuing Major League Soccer is not a desirable situation for us. It doesn’t help us in stability as a league.”

“We can either sit around and say, well, we can let this happen over time or we can continue to try to evolve the business model in USL-1 that it’s such a viable alternative to MLS that certain ownership groups would prefer to stay in USL-1 and be able to run their professional soccer franchise rather than be part of MLS. Our models are very different,” continued Holt.

The TOA has made statements that they feel they should be competing against MLS and not accept themselves as a second tiered league, even though they are asking to be a second tier league to MLS! The application to USSF was as a 2-Division league. Also, Holt has said he is looking at cities that would not be MLS desirable.

Holt further explained, “A market like Austin, Texas is a perfect market for USL-1… somewhere between 20 through 50. That’s not a market that MLS is likely to expand into any time in the near future.”

It is also said that the TOA wants their league to do more marketing where the USL currently believes the league is a minor league and needs to operate as such, being fiscally responsible and not spending exorbitant amounts of money on players and advertising and living within their means.

Currently, the USL only has 4 remaining teams from last year: Rochester, Austin, Puerto Rico and Portland.  As reported this weekend at IMS, Rob Clark, owner of the Rochester Rhinos, is playing his cards close to his chest and could go either way. If he walks, the other teams are sure to follow. If Clark walks and the other teams follow then what?

What are the options?
Even with all the clubs sliding into the TOA camp, US Soccer could still reject the TOA.  USSF could tell the USL they would have to accept all the teams back into their league.  That would make for some very unhappy people on all sides but it is possible. Or perhaps USSF could force them all to return to the USL but demand reform from USL.

Another scenario would be for US Soccer to approve the TOA. If this happens it seems USL would have every right to sue some clubs for breach of contract for this year or any other year they were contracted for. It’s also a sure thing that USL-1 would have to fold. As things stand now, USL-2 look to be a very strong league.

Another scenario is that the TOA application is accepted with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA). The CSA is Canada’s equivalent to the USSF. If the application is accepted in the CSA, all teams could play within that league just as the other Canadian teams have been playing in the USSF-sanctioned USL.

Yet another scenario would be if FIFA or CONCACAF stepped in and put pressure on USSF to accept or deny the TOA. It is possible FIFA has been paying attention to this mess that is tearing apart this second division league in North America. They could decide the US needs to get away from franchise-run leagues (MLS & USL) and force a change by telling USL they need to allow more power to team owners.

The bottom line is the possibilities are endless and so are the opportunities for lawsuits and counter lawsuits. Someone needs to get hold of this situation and steer it in a direction of resolution.  TOA could be seen as an explosion of possibilities, but on the other hand, this whole thing could implode and be tied up for years in court with no good 2nd division league in the US or Canada.  This would look ugly to FIFA when making a decision about a US bid for the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. In my opinion, Sunil Gulati has to be concerned.

With so many teams making an exodus from the USL it is telling of big problems, but would a brand new league be the answer or would compromise by all parties be the best solution at this point? Jeff Di Veronica from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said yesterday, “It”s time to start acting like real businessmen and not spoiled children. Because with every day that passes and this mess isn’t cleaned up, you devalue your product more and last I checked this is STILL minor-league soccer and you need all the HELP you can get, not this nonsense.”

“This breakaway is not good for soccer in the United States,” said Tony Bakker. “Cooler heads should have prevailed with all parties sitting round a table and resolving their differences for the benefit of the sport. This did not happen and we will all have to deal with the consequences.”

Di Veroncia concluded his rant today with a similar statement that was much more direct. “EVERYONE LOSES. So … STOP THE NONSENSE.”

The general managers of all these organizations are desperate for their teams to resolve things and get schedules so they can book their venues, plan their play dates and start to put together the corporate sponsorships that every team desperately needs to allow the organizations to survive.  With every passing day of no resolution it hurts every party involved, including you the soccer supporter.

Perhaps it’s time for Sunil Gulati to step up to his role and pull the major players in this mess into a room and tell them no one leaves until this thing is resolved. By they way Sunil, you may want to leave Don Garber at home this time. After all, he does run a competing league.

Come on gentlemen, it’s time to get this thing done!

67 Responses
  1. November 24, 2009

    Great article, Brian. I couldn’t agree more that the sides have got to sit down with an unbiased, neutral entity and get this resolved. There are many supporters of teams on either side of the TOA/USL fence who now fear their teams will not be able to play in the 2010 season. Be it that their league doesn’t exist, or teams are shuttered while the argument goes through the courts, in the end, the folks who are going to be hurt the most are the fans. Who knows how many have already washed their hands of their USL clubs in favor or MLS or worse, have dropped soccer altogether?

  2. Chris A permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Nice story Brian.

    The league situation is crystal clear compared to the status of our team.

  3. Bart permalink
    November 24, 2009

    I think that once the onion is pealed back and the true story emerges, USL will probably be seen as having taken the high road. They have a pretty clear vision of USL-1 being a minor league that is best served in non-MLS markets.

    The individuals behind NASL/TOA are not who the public currently sees them to be. They want to spend big dollars to compete against MLS and act like MLS and in markets like Carolina and Miami, this will be a disaster. The two flagship teams, Vancouver and Montreal are out of the league in 12 months. This is not sustainability.

    It is easy to drink the Kool Aide when you are being promised everything for moving to the TOA. It is an emotional decision in an emotional environment. When the honeymoon is over, this league will blow up, it has no rational or fundamental business plan that makes any sense. Just a bunch of egos.

  4. November 24, 2009

    With his “hands off” governing approach Gulati is the problem.
    The USSF is reactive and has no clearly defined policies governing relationships between leagues.
    This mess is just a beginning…

  5. Tom permalink
    November 24, 2009

    What really surprises me is the legal issue. These are educated and experienced businessmen running these teams and I find it hard to believe they would so easily attempt to breach contracts unless the legal bindings weren’t that strong to begin with. Without having access to a contract all we can do is speculate.
    To Bart’s point, I agree with his comments about the USL vision of serving non-MLS markets, but they should refine that even more to be second tier markets. This is where it gets more complicated for the metro areas of a Montreal, Miami, MSP, St. Louis, etc… Cities that are large and first tier but don’t have MSL. Either the USL has to try to accomodate these major metropolitan areas or a new entity like the TOA/NASL needs to step in to fill them. When the opponent is Rochester or Charleston (no disrepect intended) the draw to the casual fan (who makes or breaks the team financial component) isn’t quite as compelling as Montreal or St. Louis.

  6. Soccer Boy permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Tom, you make some good points. However, the big question that you did not address is antitrust violations on the part of USL. I think USSF better be careful, or they could be dragged into court as well. I know the Obama Adminsitration has bigger topics on their plate right now (the economy, health care and Afgahinstan/Iraq), however, nothing beats a motivated US attorney wanting to make a name. Right now the atomsphere is ripe for sticking it to the “big guy,” and I suspect USL could be a good target. (Remember the infamous USFL v. NFL case a few years back? I would imagine damages would be greater than the $3 that was ultimaltey awarded in that case.)

  7. Soccer Boy permalink
    November 24, 2009

    BTW, soccer will likely not be discussed at my family’s dinner table this Thanksgiving–they do not much care for the sport. If anyone has an open spot at their table, please let me know as I love talking soccer. I will bring an appetizer.

  8. Tom permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Using another football comparison, what’s going on reminds me a bit of the original creation of the old AFL. Major metroplitan areas (AFL=TOA/NASL cities) locked out of the national soccer market (NFL=MSL). Their options are to either accept that fact and play a distant second fiddle or try to control their own destiny (kind of the American way).

  9. jmb321 permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Brian,
    Could not disagree with you more…. This is a clear sign of the evolution and maturization of the sport in North America. There is no fiscal reason why there can not be two competing visions and business models for minor league soccer here if the pockets are deep enough. The classic franchise model espoused by USL may have been appropriate from 1986-2008 but is no longer viable for certain markets henceforth. The TOA/NASL want to go a different route. Just because Tony Bakker says the TOA want to compete with MLS does not mean it is true. My impression is they want a middle ground appropriate for their markets and organizations with a real league presence and promotion but not anywhere near the megabucks spent by MLS. Charleston may be appropriately positioned now in USL-2 with other similar size markets. Their business model does not jive with the TOA’s and is probably closer to Richmond, Charlotte and Harrisburg.

    I have read all the history books on the development of soccer here from the early part of the 20th century to today and find little similarities. For the most part the TOA/NASL owners are long term soccer guys . They are not trying to fill baseball stadiums during the off-season. They matured with the USL franchise model but are now are ready, willing and able to evolve to the next level. BRAVO!

    Competition is a good thing and should not be frowned upon but encouraged. Separate yourself from the your inner fanboy and recognize these developments are a positive result of the growth of and passion for the sport in the US and Canada. Once you come to that recognition you will realize that this means more teams in more markets, more opportunities for players & coaches , business models appropriate for varying market levels and an overall expansion of the sport. Sure some of the weaker sisters will wither during the next few months but the remaining teams ( both TOA/NASL and USL) will grow stronger thus attracting more investment and more interest.

    Whining that this should have never happened will not put the genie back in the bottle and will only embolden the attorneys to file lawsuit after lawsuit for the “good of the game”.

  10. Andy permalink
    November 24, 2009

    jmb321 is right, competition is good and it is a sign of maturity (the posturing surrounding the current situation is what is despicable, not the fact that there is a new league forming). USSF sanctioning is just a formality to make the new league eligible for FIFA competition. The USSF cannot “force” anyone to do anything here. That would be illegal under US law.

  11. November 24, 2009

    Soccer boy, You know, there’s an idea there. How about a post Thanksgiving Day round table. One would need to find a bar of course that is open on Thanksgiving evening and that has a round table. We could all gather there after a day of soccer deprivation to refill the tanks…in more ways then one. 🙂

    Thanks for everyones comments. jmb321, good stuff although as you know I don’t necessarily agree with you. Although I don’t expect everyone to agree with me I’m somewhat offended with your “Separate yourself from the your inner fanboy” comment. If you’ve spent any time reading this my stuff here you will know I try to be fair and objective in my reporting and your one sidedness would tell me that is exactly what you are doing.

    “Whining that this should have never happened will not put the genie back in the bottle and will only embolden the attorneys to file lawsuit after lawsuit for the “good of the game”.

    So if we don’t talk about it the attorneys it will go away? OK, and good luck with that one. They’ve already been called into action and are devising their strategies as we write and that is not speculation my friend.

    What did the they say in Rocky… you can wish in one hand and sh*t in the other and see which one gets filled up first?

  12. November 24, 2009

    So Andy, under your premise, we could start a Division I Andy League? This would be true, but in order for any of these teams to be eligible for sanctioned FIFA tournaments or transfers, they need to go through USSF and FIFA approval. That is the issue.

  13. bob builder permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Is ANYONE going to mention the 800 pd gorilla in the room except Bart?

    Vancouver and Montreal will be in the MLS in 1 and 2 years, everything they do is a stop gap measure to kill time till then. (since theyre gonna have to do major personnel overhauld by then, they might as not even play).

    And Montreal’s owner is the one leading the TOA charge?
    Is that the stupidest thing you ever heard?

    A shaky pseudo league that hasnt even started and its already losing its two biggest teams. Yup, THATS north american soccer.

    BTW, Denmark and Norway are colder than Canada and are 7 times smaller (5 million each), why doesnt canada get its act together and have a league?
    I dont have any stats but they must be the biggest country on the planet to not have a league of their own.
    We might still be in the embryonic state but Canadian soccer is stillborn.
    In a way, Canada is a lot like Puerto Rico but with better health care… not fully grown up to venture away from mommy’s side.
    I like Montreal and think they will make a great MLS team but all the reasons for having the MLS and its implications on soccer in the country should apply there as well. At the very least they should have their own USL-2 league. Without it, they will never be anything more than a Puerto Rico, with really good beer.

  14. Jorey permalink
    November 24, 2009

    In the end the USSF decision is only important from a PR and credibility angle, which is important of course. Legally though it is not important the league can stand on its own and work independently without sanctioning, it will just make things more difficult until the USSF comes around. Like has been mentioned before antitrust and monopoly laws mean that the only thing that can stop the TOA/NASL is the teams involved not the USSF or the USL. If you go back to the beginning this whole thing started when the USL was sold to a company that none of the owners supported. Maybe when the day is done you will see Nurock sell the USL to the TOA because they know there product has been devalued so much that they will lose to much money.

    Who knows this thing is so goofy I just hope Minnesota has a true Professional soccer team in the end.

  15. ERic permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Very perceptive summary, Brian.

    With all the other thoughts I had on this mess, I somehow entirely overlooked or forgot about the ‘big market/small market’ angle. There are definitely parallels to the original AFL. What’s muddles everything is that one of those big markets – Vancouver – is already set to go into MLS, while another one – Montreal – is very likely to. The AFL was created because the NFL wasn’t allowing in viable big markets. But MLS *is* expanding to those markets. Maybe not as quickly as some (Traffic?) would like but it is expanding to them. And maybe some (Cooper, for one, obviously) find the asking price too high, and so they want to go another route.

    It’s some interesting history we’re living here.

    I hate it.

    It will obviously take some more time for it to all be sorted out.

  16. smatthew permalink
    November 24, 2009

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. I really don’t like the President of the New England Revolution being the head of the USSF.
    2. All the talk about the NASL competeing with MLS can mean a whole bunch of different things. As someone pointed out Vancouver and Montreal will be joining MLS so why would they be on board with establishing a league that would be a competitor with the future league the plan on joining? Maybe “compete with MLS” merely mean they will try and win the hearts and minds of soccer fans in the NASL markets. I can’t be the only person living in a USL market that knows the image of USL in comparission to MLS hurt my USL team.
    3.BQ has it ever been a stated fact that Montreal and Vancouver; once they go to MLS, plan to set up development clubs? Or is that just internet chatter?

  17. November 24, 2009

    I’ll have to leave the Montreal question to our Impact supporters who read this blog, but I’ve read that Lenarduzzi has in fact stated that he want’s to have some sort of a team in this league as they move to MLS. I would think they may need to move it out of Vancouver. So I am not sure the exact details, but yes, he’s interested in that.

  18. zlatan permalink
    November 24, 2009

    I disagree that USL teams are run by smart business people. 20+ years to get to a point where most frachises can’t break even? What kind of business model is that. This will be good for soccer in the US. FIFA wants a relagetion/promotion systems. MLS doesn’t. USL sat around and hoped relegation/promotion would happen and they would be the defacto 2nd league. So now they are tired of waiting around and say they want to grow their brand by going into markets ignored by the MLS…best ideas yet, me thinks. The problem is that the team owners want a bigger piece of the action. And the sale of the league to a non-team owner base takes away too much leverage/power.

    Ultimately, this fiasco will be good for the business side of the game. Two positive outcomes would be: 1. TOA, USL and CSA can come together and put together a league that can create some money making opportunties for owners OR 2. USL, TOA goes away and MLS expands and draws in the former USL fans.

    Besides BQ, what would you do with all your spare time if there was no drama in soccer?

  19. Tom permalink
    November 24, 2009

    It will takes years before there is ever any kind of relegation/promotion scenario here in the US (if ever). I agree with the comments expressed previously that new MSL team owners who just shelled out $40M for a franchise are not going to sit by and allow their team to be relegated down to a second league to play the Austin’s, Charleston’s, and Wilmington’s of the world. Just not going to happen.
    Maybe 10+ years down the line when the game has continued to mature to where there are 30+ viable markets/teams, but not until then and most importantly not until there are the TV dollars from a national contract to make it attractive to everyone.

  20. jmb321 permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Well after the salutation perhaps it should have been addressed more generalized to the blogosphere not you personally. Quite honestly, I think there is room for both visions and business models in minor league soccer so please don’t confuse my enthusiasm for competition as an endorsement of TOA over USL. Absolutely, I think that the USL franchise approach is appropriate for some markets and organizations than the TOA/NASL. Charleston moving to USL-2 may be the first example of clubs and markets following a “natural” level in the competing models. Trust me I have some substantial insider knowledge on this subject.

    Of course, I don’t think (and regret you inferred) that the whining will stop the lawsuits. But if the general public impression which is often manifested in blog postings is that this development is wrong-minded and will destroy soccer each side will emboldened to crush the other. If people are not paying attention to what you write than what is the point of what you are doing in the first place. That should be considered and we should be celebrating this next step in the evolution of the sport here. No one wins if the lawyers sap all the money that could be used constructively by both leagues.

  21. Someone from Montreal permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Saputo intends to put a NASL franchise in Quebec city when they will leave for MLS. He stated that numerous times in local medias (http://www.radio-canada.ca/sports/soccer/2009/09/01/002-saputo-mardi.shtml).

  22. November 24, 2009

    Thanks for that. I had thought I remembered that but didn’t want to say so without assurance. My memory is starting to fog with all of this. 😉

  23. Apollo permalink
    November 24, 2009

    “73% liked or could live with the retro name while only 28% didn’t like it.”

    So readers are giving it 101 percent! Great effort, readers!

  24. Missed Mission permalink
    November 24, 2009

    USL has forgotten what it made it successful – the USISL and interregionnal and interleague play in the early and mid 90s. The national champship was a 6 day round robin with playoffs between 8 divisions. How great of an event is that? There were more teams, it was more affordable for franchise fees back then. Fransisco went on about building stadiums and other aspiring nonsense. Rochester, Vancouver and Montreal bought in, they moved to USISL to A-League to USL and a national model transition by trying to weed out weaker opponents and increase competition. How many teams disappear within 1-3 years of being promoted to USL1? Indiana, Calgary,etc. The league has dwindled into the APSL of the late 80s with 4-6 teams. Funny if you actually recall the last standing members – almost identical to USL1 now. Name change to NASL won’t make it more profitable, need to get a back to the right system. Now, USL charges too much for franchise fees because it is also buying in that it should weed out teams.
    The owners need to understand that we need a system of leagues to filter talent, bringing the best to the top. Competition needs to occur within a league, not between leagues.
    MN needs to play in a D2 league, not a D2 league that operates like a D1 league. The D2 league should play games against D3 league teams to keep costs down and rivalries up. Why isn’t MN playing Des Moines? They’d rather coin up and play Puerto Rico? And, most importantly, the D2 and D3 leagues can better embrace locally produced talent, and help them move up the food chain… and the fans will love them for it…
    This positioning within leagues sounds all too bureaucratic.
    Lastly, if Montreal wants games to prepare for the MLS, rather than starting a league, set up 10 exhibition games with MLS teams, European clubs, and Latin American clubs.

  25. Apollo permalink
    November 24, 2009

    “USL has forgotten what it made it successful – the USISL and interregionnal and interleague play in the early and mid 90s. The national champship was a 6 day round robin with playoffs between 8 divisions. How great of an event is that?”

    Yes, and USL (then USISL) was SOOOOOOOOOO epicly successful in the early and mid 1990s. God, revisionist history.

  26. Apollo permalink
    November 24, 2009

    TOM: “Using another football comparison, what’s going on reminds me a bit of the original creation of the old AFL. Major metroplitan areas (AFL=TOA/NASL cities) locked out of the national soccer market (NFL=MSL). Their options are to either accept that fact and play a distant second fiddle or try to control their own destiny (kind of the American way).”

    Here’s the thing, though….the NFL guys (George Halas, et al) would NOT let Lamar Hunt buy the Cardinals. They did NOT want to expand. They did NOT want other people horning in on their fiefdom. Contrast that with MLS (not MSL) which HAS been expanding, with an OPEN process that allows bidders to make their presence and intentions known and to get in through the creation of new teams or pseudo-promotion of teams like Seattle.

    So, if it reminds you of the AFL, you’re mis-remembering. Because the parallels you’re looking for just aren’t there. American pro soccer is hardly on the verge of the kind of explosion professional football was at the time the AFL was created, and the demand for that product FAR outstripped the supply at the time. That is NOT the case in the MLS scenario. It just isn’t.

  27. Johnnie from Vancouver permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Hey there,

    Unless I’ve completely missed something, I have yet to hear a single member of the TOA say “We’re here to compete with MLS.” It’s certainly not the case in Vancouver.

    As far as I can tell, these comments have come from Charleston (now USL-2) and have been regurgitated by blogs and media outlets, who are regurgitating material from blogs and media outlets, who are regurgitating… get the picture?

    It seems to me that what the TOA is really aiming for, aside from a league which is actually accountable to its owners, is to bring a sense of professionalism to their operations in spite of their Div 2 status (pending, of course).

    By “professionalism” I am specifically referring to firm requirements for financially stable ownership, adequate stadia, and strong business plans in dependable, tested markets…

    These are things USL-1 has been woefully lacking. The most glaring example in recent years has been of course the abysmal failure of the California Victory, which closed up shop a few weeks before the the start of the 2008 season.

    But look who has also vanished from the top ranks of the USL/A-League: Virginia Beach Mariners, Calgary Storm, Calgary Mustangs, Edmonton Aviators, Milwaukee Rampage, Milwaukee Wave United, Syracuse Salty Dogs and the Atlanta Silverbacks.

    And then there are those who relegated down through the lower ranks: El Paso, Toronto, Richmond, Pittsburgh, Orange County, Nashville, Charlotte and Long Island.

    So in addition to the TOA exodus, there have been at least 14 other clubs in the past dozen years who have come and gone from USL-1 for various reasons. Generally speaking, the common thread for most appears to be that they were unable to fill the stands, and their operations were unsustainable.

    I suspect Cleveland, which is up for sale after one year at D1, will be team #15 to vanish or relegate.

    And don’t even get me started about clubs playing on gridiron pitches… or second hand jerseys with misspelled names… or high school stadia miles outside of urban centres.

    Hopefully the NASL mandates that their clubs are prohibited from tainting the league’s image with bush league nonsense.

    I’m well aware that soccer is a long way from the top of the North American sports culture ( although its popularity is certainly growing). I’m also well aware that any league here that isn’t top flight tends to be viewed as “minor” or “amateur”.

    However, I think the new NASL might just be a turning point for how sports fans in North America view the role that lower leagues have to offer. A Division 2 done right can field a competitive team, and stadia / attendance aside, should have the same professional appearance that their MLS counterparts have on and off the pitch.

    A Div 2 can be done right and it can be done very, very wrong. The new NASL could be to the MLS what the English Championship is to the Premiership.

    Last thing: Vancouver has been crystal clear on the fact that it will definitely continue operating a Div 2 team (NASL or USL-1) upon moving up to MLS. Speculation here is that the NASL/USL-1 club will likely go to Kelowna or Edmonton. Bob Lenarduzzi specifically mentioned Edmonton as a possibility at a chamber of commerce luncheon a few months ago.

  28. November 24, 2009

    “We’re here to compete with MLS” Dean Johnson said almost those exact words and was very upset that a few times on a message board referred to the Thunder as a minor league team.

  29. thesuperrookie permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Johnnie from Vancouver sums up my feelings nicely, although I would like to add that TOA has some very, very, very deep pockets to make this all work.

    USL-1 is done.

  30. Jorey permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Missed Mission is spot on.

  31. Apollo permalink
    November 24, 2009

    thesuperrookie: “Johnnie from Vancouver sums up my feelings nicely, although I would like to add that TOA has some very, very, very deep pockets to make this all work.”

    Takes more than money. I haven’t seen a lot in the way of brains.

  32. Tom permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Look like one organization currently makes its living off of franchise fees (USL) and the other one is hoping to make a living off of attempting to provide a viable soccer product (TOA/NASL). Passion is one of the core ingredients to any successful entreprenurial business and in my opinion the latter course has a lot more of it.
    Times change, market environments change, “the only thing that is constant is change”…. It would appear the old USL1 model is not working and a new league model is now needed. What that will be remains to be seen, but with Vancouver & Portland leaving imminently, Montreal potentially leaving in the near future, and Charleston/Cleveland apparently stepping down a level, a proactive approach to a new (or revised) Div 2 league looks quite prudent.

  33. Bart permalink
    November 24, 2009

    MLS has a rule that does not allow an MLS owner to own another professional soccer team in a different league. Saputo can boast all he wants, but the reason this rule is in place is to keep all the multi-millionaire owners within MLS honest.

    So, when Vancouver and Montreal leave, Vancouver may keep it’s USL PDL teams (amateur), but neither can have an alternative professional soccer team in a different league.

    At the end of the day, TOA/NASL only has 5 teams. I would highly doubt that USSF will allow Baltimore or Tampa to be counted, as they are breaking existing contracts with an existing member of USSF. Now that leaves us with St. Louis. Rumor has it that the WPS league owned by the same group lost over $2,500,000 last year. Will USSF look favorably on a new men’s team owner that has yet to stabilize his first team yet? Finally, Minnesota Thunder is toast, they owe the world money, including USL, so USSF can’t in all liklihood allow this to be a founding team either.

    This group cannot demonstrate a sustainable model that will not only last in 2010 with 8 teams, the future years are at risk as well. The US will look even more stupid if FIFA studies this and is making a decision on who should host the World Cup.

  34. Tom permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Bart, you might be right, but if so, then in my opinion MSP will be without a professional soccer team as it would appear neither entity will have enough teams to be viable.

  35. Someone from Montreal permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Bart, there’s so much misinformation in your post…

    Garber stated recently that there’s no rule preventing an MLS owner to own a second division team.

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/mlscup2009/2010283309_webgarberchat16.html

    The operating budget of a WPS team is about that 2.5 millions, I doubt he lost all he invested.

    And according to Carolina’s owner, the situation is fixed in Minnesota.

    http://www.indyweekblogs.com/sports/2009/11/24/railhawks%E2%80%99-selby-wellman-expect-at-least-10-teams-in-nasl/

  36. ERic permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Bart: “MLS has a rule that does not allow an MLS owner to own another professional soccer team in a different league. ”

    Actually, Garber addressed this question this past weekend at the Supporters Summit, and said quite explicitly that there is no such rule.

  37. ERic permalink
    November 24, 2009

    …actually, now that I think about it, I think it was in a chat at the Seattle newspaper website, not the Supporters summit. Would have to search through the hundreds of pages of that BigSoccer discussion thread to find it. Too busy now, though.

  38. November 24, 2009

    He said it at the Supporters Summit. It is on video.

    Or, you can trust me, I was there.

  39. November 24, 2009

    I did watch the supporters summit online and don’t remember that but that doesn’t surprise me with all the info coming at me recently. Here is that link: http://bit.ly/7F3yuB

    Ohh! Watch for Dave on the video.

  40. November 24, 2009

    “And according to Carolina’s owner, the situation is fixed in Minnesota.”

    It was pretty funny when I read this. Ask all the people that Dean Johnson still owes money to if this is fixed. In fact I talked to a former Thunder employee this afternoon that was pretty damn mad about this flippant comment. Let me tell you, nothing it fixed.

    However, the NSC (as I have written about previously) does seem to be a player now in this Minnesota mess. Perhaps that’s what he is referring to. I don’t think NSC is in anyone back pocket at this point.

    I was also fed some info today from the USL that they will be starting to try to reclaim the $100,000.00 the Thunder owe them. The Thunder also owe $100,000.00 to the NSC and some are claiming they owe them more. Then there are individuals who the Thunder owe about another $100,000.00 to and vendors and other USL teams that the Thunder and Dean Johnson owe money to. I’m not sure of the amount but it could be up to another $100,000.00.

    People are telling me that Dean Johnson could owe anywhere from $500,000.00 to $750,000.00. Ya, that all just got magically fixed.

    So go back and ask the Wellman’s again; How is this situation fixed?

  41. Tom permalink
    November 24, 2009

    The NSC is playing this very smartly by rescinding their original USL intent. They are now just watching how this unfolds before picking the best path for them to insure soccer next year in Blaine. Based on what BQ just wrote, I believe they will pick up the pieces of what is left of the Thunder as in my opinion the hole is just too deep for the current ownership group to not only dig out of but to sustain long term (if just the assets that would not make them liable for any old USL, vendor, misc, etc… debts).
    Prediction segment……
    MN Thunder will be owned by some form of NSC backed entity playing up in Blaine next year as part of the NASL. Others?

  42. November 24, 2009

    “We’re here to compete with MLS” Dean Johnson said almost those exact words and was very upset that a few times on a message board referred to the Thunder as a minor league team.
    _____________________________________________________________________

    Who cares what Dean Johnson says, and who cares about what he said in the past? The guy is a fraud and/or completely deluded. Period.

  43. Someone from Montreal permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Yeah… I meant about having a team playing in Minnesota, but I admit I did a very poor choice of words. I hope for the people who worked and dealt with the Thunder that this too will be fixed.

  44. thesuperrookie permalink
    November 24, 2009

    I think it would be best for the NSC to start fresh.

    It has all been burnt down. Lets rebuild it better than ever.

  45. Zlatan permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Any group that would allow and organization than manages fields (and poorly at times) in as a team owner, is headed for trouble. TOA needs to upgrade ownership, not get a new name, with all the same players. It didn’t work financially before and it won’t work this time either.

  46. November 24, 2009

    Someone from Montreal, It wasn’t your choice of words but Mr. Wellman. I don’t think Selby made himself clear and I got a feeling the reporter didn’t really understand the breadth of what he was reporting on.

  47. Soccer Boy permalink
    November 25, 2009

    I called about 50 bars this afternoon and not one is open for a Thanksgiving evening soccer roundtable. At this point, all I can do is wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and I wish them the best as they sit around at the dinner table on Thursday and talk soccer.

    Happy Thanksgiving, all!

  48. Mr. Positive permalink
    November 25, 2009

    Reading some of the posts kind of gives me the impression that a few folks just want soccer to fail here in the Twin Cities regardless of the league or ownership.

  49. Missed Mission permalink
    November 25, 2009

    NASL still makes no sense to me.
    Look at CBA and D-League and look at minor league baseball. The only way to make a longstanding franchise is to 1) keep travel down, 2) keep salaries down and 3) have as many home games as possible. Camps and sponsorships can contribute to the bottom line, but you can’t do it with the core business of a team with games.
    People look at MN as a stable franchise. Remember that it has had 4 different ownership groups over 15 years. Not so.
    Johnny missed a few – New Orleans, NY Fever, Colorado Foxes, California Jaguars, San Diego Flash, Hershey, Hampton Roads, Carolina Dynamo, Cape Cod, Cincinnati, Orlando, Raleigh. Upper level USL is too expensive. The only way NASL can fix the model is to regionalize the league like minor league baseball, thus MN is out because there aren’t enough teams to play within driving distance.
    USL surely won’t allow NASL to play against PDL teams. The only think NASL can try to do is lure enough PDL teams away from Marcos and form a league that serves the teams, not the commissioner’s pocket. Marcos won’t give up teams, so he’ll make promises to change. The bleeding will continue, and the problems linger.

  50. Bart permalink
    November 25, 2009

    I do stand corrected, this is a recent rule change that MLS implemented to accommodateVancouver’s desire to be player development organization.

    However, the remaining comments are still on target. I cannot imagine that NSC would want to assume the liabilities of the Thunder by taking over the operating entity. It is cleaner for them to move forward as a new entity.

    Wellman and Dean must be dreaming if they think someone will fund at least $1,000,000 to cover current deficits, and then more capital in the next season.

  51. Tom permalink
    November 25, 2009

    It’s a paradox. It will always be challenging to have upper level soccer here due to the cost structure while on the other hand, the larger markets like MSP, St. Louis, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Miami, Charlotte, etc… have a hard time supporting anything that isn’t upper level as the populace expects the same high level as their other professional teams. Do you really think there is much of a demand for a PDL game with the Thunder vs. Des Moines Menace game or Springfield, IL? Lower level also means lower caliber which just won’t sell in this market.

  52. November 25, 2009

    That’s what makes this so difficult. It’s not the same answer in all markets. I agree with that. You have a fairly sophisticated soccer market here that won’t come out to see PDL and even USL-1 is a struggle. We have every other major sport here as well as D-1 sports (not soccer except women Gophers) and lots of D-2 and D-3 college sports as well. Baseball, football, hockey and basketball. We have it all here except for MLS and I think a lot of fans of the game in this market think really should have a major league soccer team if we are to have soccer here.

    If you go to Rochester the scenario is different as it will be in St. Louis as it will be in Miami as it will be in Puerto Rico. It’s just not as simple as putting a US mainstream sport in a city.

  53. Missed Mission permalink
    November 25, 2009

    I agree.
    The Thunder has no value to NSC. When you buy a financially distressed asset, usually there is process/product value or brand equity. There is no process/product value since this is not a manufactured product. With Academy fiascos, there is virtually no value left in the brand. From what Erickson has stated, they have everything already in place from the front office perspective (and he could hire away anyone he felt was critical).

  54. MIAC Fan permalink
    November 25, 2009

    Missed Missions,
    To what Academy fiascos do you refer? Just look at the success of the Academy teams.
    It seems the Academy has been very successful and that the pro team/ownership was the piece that failed.
    Please elaborate.

  55. Tom permalink
    November 25, 2009

    Missed Mission – not sure I neither comprehend the Academy fiasco comment nor how it affects the overall brand equity of the Thunder.

  56. Missed Mission permalink
    November 25, 2009

    Sure, MTA was successful on the field and have drawn many players to the program. But to what expense in the short run? In the long run, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but with a short-term issue fueled by a debt crunch and faltering economy, the long run mission hasn’t been allowed to play out.

    MTA has effected the equity through both negative publicity and recruiting of players. This has created the majority to say, “we lost our best players, we won’t go Thunder games”, and in a sense turned off a base of their target/core market. If they had a year to repair the issues, then equity would be recaptured. There is no reason, in a takeover, to repair it for the high price tag attached to it.

    I am surprised that this comment caught people off guard.

  57. Tom permalink
    November 25, 2009

    I believe it “caught people off guard” as in my opinion most folks don’t share your viewpoint. The recruiting angle is a non-issue as that is prevalent at every high level club and I believe the core demographics for professional soccer is the male, 20-45 year old. The target base is evolving though as the next generation gets older as most of them will have played the game instead of only driving their kids to practices, games, and tournaments.

  58. NASL Forever permalink
    November 25, 2009

    To all those who say cooler heads should have sat down with each other in an unbiased environment etc.

    THIS HAS ALREADY HAPPENED

    numerous times… USL doesn’t care all they want is their big fat paycheck at the end of the month

    this has been going on for over two years and after promises and promises from USL for change and restructuring .. nothing NOTHING has happened.

    The restructuring they did was to put a figurehead at the “helm” of USL-1 and add some marketing people who gt sucked into the whole USL philosophy of doing absolutely nothing.. end result? a couple of news letters and a terrible USLLive interface and that’s it!

    where are all the promises the USL made to the teams to help elevate the league?

    My guess they are hidden in Economides’ bank account

    end Rant

  59. Jim Jones permalink
    November 26, 2009

    The USL has been a joke from Day 1. Francisco Marcos colluded with the USSF to set up the structure. How do you explain that when the MLS began its first season in 1995 the MLS took from the (USISL) USL 183 players and did not pay any of the owners of the USISL teams one dime for transfer fees. The contracts were actually owned by the league. So whatever money changed hands (I am sure it was mid six fiures) went into Francisco Marcos pocket. The same year when the owners of the Northeast Division of the USISL wanted to merge with the old A League, there was Franciso Marcos and the USSF to block the deal, therby giving the MLS a monopoly that it enjoys today.Frncisco had 4 0f the 7 votes on the professional side of the USSF. So essentially he controlled 1/3 of the USSF. However he voted was the way the Professional Ranks went. Youth had 1/3 and Adult soccer had 1/3. He was the most powerful man in the USSF for many years. The USSF bowed to his every wish. No promotion or relegation. I was one of the fools who bought a franchise from Franciso and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The joke was at the annual convention when Francisco was standing at the podium addressing the group, someone asked for anyone who made money in the room to stand up. None of the 44 owners stood up. The joke was Francisco was already standing up. Great set up, no transfer fees, no promotion and the league is owned and operated by the USL and not the team owners. No one has ever made money owning a USL Team. It would be interesting to go back and sue them for breaking the United States anti-trust law. All the former owners of the USISL teams are too tired and lost too much money. It was time to break away back in 1995. It certainly is now.

  60. Jorey permalink
    November 26, 2009

    I thought this was interesting, it just shows the different way we do things in American soccer and maybe the players have had enough. It looks like MLS/USSF has bigger things on its plate than TOA/USL issues.

    http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=704098&sec=mls&cc=5901

  61. Peebo Bryant permalink
    November 26, 2009

    Sour milk and bad breath is all I hear. False innuendos and no real facts. Jim Jones is a sourpuss that is pissed off because he could not profitably run a team. If his facts are correct, and not one team was profitable, then how is this a USL problem, it sounds like soccer in America does not work, and that is more plausible that Marcos being the problem child here. It sounds as he is the scape goat.

    Hell, MLS, other than Seattle and Toronto does not work and both of those are former USL teams.

    Investing $40,000,00 does not guarantee success either, in fact, it most certainly subjects you to more capital calls.

  62. November 26, 2009

    Jorey, here is a better article with links and quotes from Garber. Its written by Grant Wahl at SI.

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/soccer/11/23/fifa.mls/index.html

    Also, check out Major League Soccer Talk. Some good stuff there on the subject. As well, Kartik has written at The Kartik Report about thing getting tough for the USSF with all these issues going on, including the USL/TOA saga. It’s going to be a tough couple of months for USSF, even though FIFA is saying the player contract issue is a MLS issue and not a USSF issue, we all know that USSF and MLS are commingled in a way that you cannot deal with one without dealing with the other.

  63. CoconutMonkey permalink
    November 30, 2009

    “Do you really think there is much of a demand for a PDL game with the Thunder vs. Des Moines Menace game or Springfield, IL? Lower level also means lower caliber which just won’t sell in this market”.

    “If you go to Rochester the scenario is different as it will be in St. Louis as it will be in Miami as it will be in Puerto Rico. It’s just not as simple as putting a US mainstream sport in a city”.

    Great stuff guys. How cities support their team depends on a LOT of factors. Having a committed right-minded owner with gobs of cash never hurts though 🙂 And -while I hate to bring up pro/rel- but the way the leagues are structured makes a big difference too. I’m a lot more motivated as a fan to cheer on my Sagantosu men to J1 glory than to cheer on the Quad City River Bandits to a Midwest League Championship.

    But the PDL is a different animal all together. While I doubt there’s much difference in demand for a PDL match in DesMoines, or Springfield. But I think there’s a lot of potential for a team like the Fire Reserves to pull a few fans in if the price and kick-off time is right. But, that all depends on your definition of success too.

    By the way, does anyone know what kind of relationship the PDL or USL2 has with the NCAA?

  64. chuck permalink
    December 1, 2009

    I’m with NASL Forever and the posters who say cooler heads DID prevail when the TOA sloughed off USL. Charleston’s CEO Tony Bakker is flat-out wrong to say “This breakaway is not good for soccer in the United States.” What is not good for soccer in America (or Charleston) is for USL team owners to sit and watch while their clubs and league become increasingly irrelevant.

    USL’s big dream is to be a semi-pro league where college players can hone their skills in the off season and keep their NCAA eligibility. So let it be just that; and American soccer fans will continue to ignore both the USL and the NCAA. I’m fine with that.

    What I am not fine with is the socialist league structure of American sports brought on by powerful leagues and the franchise system. This system encourages incompetence and mediocrity with excessive profit sharing, salary caps, player movement restrictions, and franchises (granting local monopolies to one team – protection from local competition is the enemy of excellence, customer service, and creative and competent management). MLS is the worst of all American sports leagues in this regard because of the single-entity structure.

    If there is an effort to form a league run by teams, that strives for excellence, with a goal of competing with and eventually surpassing MLS in quality, that allows the best-supported clubs to excel – that effort should be backed by every American soccer fan.

  65. December 1, 2009

    Chuck, so every American should be waving a red white and blue flag and supporting TOA, right? No room for questions, just follow TOA blindly? Come on man, you should know better than to make things so black and white because things never are that clear. Lets dialog here and weed out what works and what doesn’t. I love your passion but not you’re wanting to group everyone together to make them all think like you.

    First, I think you are taking Tony Bakker’s comments very literally. Didn’t hey say that the TOA has some very legitimate points and didn’t he drop to USL-2 showing that he was very unhappy with the USL and USL-1 in particular. I think what he was saying was he didn’t like the rebel nature of the TOA and both sides inability to work something out. Perhaps you are right that there was no way to work this out as they fundamental beliefs between the two sides are too cavernous.

    Right now my fundamental concern with the TOA is their plan will call for spending that is far beyond what they can afford. Even MLS isn’t making money yet. If not for SUM they would be up a creek without a paddle and so would American soccer. That is not to say that TOA/NASL does not have a new and fresh approach to things that could certainly work. But there’s lots to work out and a lot of money to spend before they get there.

  66. Chris A permalink
    December 1, 2009

    No one should drink the Kool-Aid coming out of either camp . . .

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