AC St. Louis and Saint Louis Athletica in Peril – Jeff Cooper Out
IMS has been receiving tips the last 3 days about worrying events concerning soccer in both St. Louis and Baltimore.
Earlier today a rumor website claimed that NASL officials were in Phoenix and San Antonio last week to discuss potential expansion of the league in 2012 . They also claimed that St Louis is expected to fold both its WPS and NASL teams at season’s end, if not sooner. According to the article, “Word on the street is that neither team has the cash to finish the season. Crystal Palace Baltimore which appeared to be on the brink of folding has found a few sources of investment.”
IMS had already been following up on these rumors and talked to representatives from numerous clubs, the USSF and the NASL. Some wouldn’t talk and others would only corroborate the information that IMS had collected but wouldn’t go on record, even as an anonymous source.
So here is what IMS has pieced together and believes is correct.
First and concerning the Phoenix and San Antonio expansion: Back in 2008 USL stated they were looking at those same markets. Really, it’s nothing new except IMS has been told that both the NASL and USL conducted meetings last week with one group who is considering starting a division-2 team either in Phoenix or San Antonio. Those meetings took place last week in Phoenix.
The team’s problems were two-fold. First when Crystal Palace in England filed for administration (bankruptcy) it caused a trickle down issue that dried up some sources of income for the Baltimore franchise. On top of that the organization spent a fair amount of money on their roster this season as they moved up to USSF D-2 Pro League.
It’s been said that when co-coach Pete Medd stepped down from his coaching position in mid-April it was to “concentrate his efforts on off the field business“. However, IMS was told by sources that it was to find new revenue sources for the team as things were looking desperate for the organization. According to some reports, Pete Medd has found money to tide the team over temporarily and they now believe they can make it through the season. However, USSF is still keeping a watchful eye on the Baltimore outfit. One report said that it is possible that CP Baltimore may release some of their players (if USSF allows them to) in order to cut costs and reduce their payroll.
St. Louis Athletica and AC St. Louis have the worst case scenario for fans of soccer in St. Louis and quite frankly everywhere in the US. There were rumors last fall and winter that the WPS team Athletica were struggling financially and were late on paying many of their vendors. This was after Nike had rejected Cooper from trying to purchase the United Soccer Leagues (USL). Nike owns Umbro who had purchased the USL years earlier. While Cooper headed up the new North American Soccer League (NASL) as interim commissioner, he also stated he was still moving forward by adding a new team in the second division of soccer in the US which was eventually named AC St. Louis. But the NASL front man was rarely seen or heard from once the team got underway.
St. Louis Athletica
Rumors continued to run that Athletica was in trouble and it was believed that the USSF even took interest in keeping the team afloat and in St. Louis after the LA Sole unexpectedly folded in late January. The WPS has no fees or dues as some leagues so there is no mechanism in place to raise money to support teams in trouble. Currently there are 8 teams in WPS. If Athletica are forced to drop out, it would leave only 7 teams which is one below FIFA standards.
AC St. Louis
The issue of AC St. Louis having serious financial issues should not have been a shock in light of the information concerning Athletica. However, it’s believed that even NASL teams as well as the USSF were caught off guard by the team’s dire situation. Particularly because Cooper was the interim commissioner for the NASL who are not a league but are hoping to become the sanctioned league for D-2 soccer in 2011.
Several sources are saying that Cooper has indeed left his post of the two troubled teams and “has distanced himself from the club.” One source believed that operating expenses of the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park, which was given to Cooper’s group last summer, was the main culprit of cost overruns.
Sources told IMS the hope is between now and early next week, the group of teams that represent the NASL will find funding for AC St. Louis to continue in the league for the 2010 season. It’s unknown whether the USSF could afford to take over the team for the remainder of the season or if they would allow them to fold and operate the remainder of the year with 11 teams.
When US Soccer Media Relations Director Neil Buethe was contacted this afternoon he made a simple statement acknowledging problems with no specifics. He stated, “U.S. Soccer is aware of some challenges that are currently going on and we are diligently working through the situation.”
Kartik Krishnaiyer of the NASL was also contacted concerning the issues at hand but the NASL public relations officer said he was not able to comment at this time.
When AC St. Louis held their home opener on April 17th of this year, it marked the end of a 30-year wait for men’s outdoor pro soccer to return to a city which holds a vibrant soccer history. Losing soccer in Saint Louis would be a shame, not only to soccer supporters in the city known as the Gateway to the West, but to all soccer supporters in the US.
The issue also points out why US Soccer is working diligently to improve the vetting process when looking at potential team owners and ownership groups; something that is vital if a pyramid system of soccer is to remain functional and healthy in the US.
For more information on the financial issue of Cooper and his group please see Dave Lange’s article at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.