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AC St. Louis and Saint Louis Athletica in Peril – Jeff Cooper Out

2010 May 20
by Brian Quarstad

IMS has been receiving tips the last 3 days about worrying events concerning soccer  in both St. Louis and Baltimore.

Jeff Cooper

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.

Crystal Palace
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
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.

41 Responses
  1. May 20, 2010

    Horrible, horrible news.

  2. MrTuktoyaktuk permalink
    May 20, 2010

    Sounds like The Don should be collecting a “I Told You So” bonus from the MLS board for keeping Cooper out of the league.

  3. May 20, 2010

    I guess it does take more than just vision and a passionate community. Everything says it should work, and yet it isn’t working for St Louis.

  4. Bart permalink
    May 20, 2010

    The interesting point to note is that Nike was very close to selling USL to Cooper. This would have killed US soccer at all levels in the US

  5. Dave permalink
    May 20, 2010

    As bad as I feel for the ACSTL fans (and I do; it sucks when you lose your team (I know firsthand)), it’s almost fitting; Cooper and Traffic were the primary movers and shakers in the exodus from the USL, after Cooper got passed over by Nike in favor of Nurock, and Miami FC couldn’t draw ants to a picnic (and blamed the league for not marketing them (i.e., not doing their work for them). Now, Miami “still” can’t draw flies, and ACSTL is about to tank, according to some reports. Again, this is a really sad time for St. Louis soccer fans, and my heart does go out to you. But it really makes a body wonder if both MLS and Nike knew something the rest of us didn’t, and now the proverbial chickens have come home to roost. And before anybody says anything, this is not a time to crow, or talk trash; it’s never good when a team folds, or is in danger of folding. I do wonder, though, if US Soccer will, at the end of this season, get everybody together and say, “make nice, or else.” As it looks now, the NASL may have more egg on its face than the USL.

  6. Jim permalink
    May 20, 2010

    Brian, I always enjoy your reporting and you are usually dead on. This is a case where I hope you are wrong. This would be very bad for Division 2 soccer – forget the whole NASL vs USL thing. It’s just a bad situation.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. May 20, 2010

    The hiring of Claude Anelka probably should have been our first clue.

  8. May 20, 2010

    Having only 10 men on the field at the start of the first game was perhaps an omen.

  9. Stephen permalink
    May 20, 2010

    Haha, I just went back and read through some of the old USL vs NASL comments. Talk about delusional. Do you NASL fanboys now see why the USL was a good thing? The membership fees would have helped AC St. Louis playout its schedule (if they had been in USL eventhough someone else held the rights). These NASL guys just “hope” to find a way to get them to finish the season. I’m not holding my breath. Looking forward to a 2011 USL-1 season.

  10. Andy permalink
    May 20, 2010

    “corroborate” not “collaborate”

  11. May 20, 2010

    Wow, missed that. Thanks.

  12. smatthew permalink
    May 20, 2010

    Dang ya’ll, this is like a cold wake up for myself starting my weekend, so all I’m gonna say is my hopes go out to the hardcore STL fans who loved their new club and may they be able to survive.

  13. bert permalink
    May 20, 2010

    Well old KK left his soapbox and went to work for the NASL, but before he was announced he spent allot of time bashing the USL (was that part of the pre-rec KK) and singing the praises of NASL. I guess Edmonton is confused and New York FC sitting out looks like a great move.

  14. Super Rookie permalink
    May 20, 2010

    I feel for the fans of St. Louis professional soccer.

    Even though your beer is my pretty much made from my dog’s urine.

  15. tony permalink
    May 21, 2010

    Hopefully this news is premature. So quick a loss of pro soccer in St. Louis would be a real tragedy for everyone involved, players and fans.

    (ps SuperRookie: there’s copious other beer in Saint Louis:

  16. May 21, 2010

    I hope something can be worked out to save the team. You need to start by getting rid of Anelka and putting a proper manager in charge.

    The city and the NASL needs the team to work out or the future of the league will be very much in doubt with Vancouver, Portland and Montreal set to move on.

    All the best of luck to you.

    Here’s a Scottish take on what’s been happening:

  17. May 21, 2010

    Yes Stephen, Jeff Cooper is delusional and what he was selling turns out to be shuck and jive. Ergo, “USL was a good thing”. Look at FC New York. A can’t miss success story just waiting to happen.

  18. yankiboy permalink
    May 21, 2010

    Nathan, you gotta be kidding about the FC New York. Seriously. You have to be kidding about the “success thing waiting to happen”.

  19. yankiboy permalink
    May 21, 2010

    I don’t know the timing is sensitive BQ but I’m going to say it…

    I am really sorry for the AC St. Louis and Athletica fans. I really am.

    Not gloating–my local Crystal Palace Baltimore is in reportedly in trouble and while that fact does not surprise me, it is still really disappointing–but I have to say:

    I was always confused by the desire of some of the franchises that defected from the USL for the NASL.

    Vancouver was leaving for MLS.
    Montreal was trying to get into MLS.
    Miami almost didn’t play last season.
    Atlanta did not play last season or this season.
    Minnesota Thunder’s charlatan was exposed.

    AC St. Louis–Now we find out that one of the main guys leading the charge is now in trouble with BOTH of his clubs.

    The are the guys that my local ownership group, Crystal Palace Baltimore decided to side with. I was scratching my head then and I am scratching it now. I appreciate that the Medds have given us a club and they have always been kind to me and my family. I have absoluelty but admiration, love and respect for them. They are good folks who dumped a lot of cash into trying to give us something nice here in my hometown. I am just more worried than ever now about the future of the club.

    Rochester did the same thing. Tampa Bay hadn’t even as much as kicked a ball and they headed for the greener pastures of the NASL.

    I understand that the blogger turned propagandist for the NASL is just doing his job. I got that and I don’t begrudge him that. The man has a job to do. I was just wondering why so many people were buying the brand of “crazy” that he was helping to pimp.

    USL isn’t looking too much better with the slow motion accident in progress known as FC New York.

    In the end, looks like the clubs that survive the NASL will have to go crawling back to NuRock and the USL. Or they will need a miracle to continue if they aren’t going to MLS. USL needs them. No doubt about that. But it looks like they are going to need USL just a little bit more…

  20. May 21, 2010

    I don’t think Kartik was ever saying USL was crazy as you suggest. I think he was just saying that for D-2 a different model was needed. I don’t entirely disagree and I don’t think USSF does either. Otherwise there was no reason not to sanction them last year. I know Kartik has always been supportive of USL-2 (D-3) and the rest of the USL programs including PDL which he praises quite often.

    Its easy to bad mouth all these former owners. I think for many they have the business model wrong and perhaps the league has as well. Everyone has a different idea of what will work. Most likely its something we haven’t tried yet or a combination of things. But with these owners, its easy to call Dean Johnson a charlatan, you may be somewhat correct. He was certainly delusional towards the end (and perhaps even in the beginning) but he really did try and remember, these guys end up tarnishing their own names and lose crap loads of money. All because they took a risk at trying to make the game we love work here in the States. I think we need to be careful to cut down Johnson, Cooper or any of the former owners who have taken a bigger risk than any of us will ever take.

  21. Bart permalink
    May 21, 2010

    Interesting post on Major League Soccer

    “…Cooper is the leading force behind NASL. Cooper is the Interim Commissioner of NASL. Cooper claimed all the NASL teams were strong. Cooper sold the USL teams that were on the fence and convinced them to move to NASL.

    All of this was smoke and mirrors, all of the NASL statements by Cooper were lies.

    You look at the leader of an organization, you find the character of that organization. In this case, nothing but lies and garbage…”

  22. Thor permalink
    May 21, 2010

    They may lose one of their teams, but not both. Operating costs? Sure there is some, but Cooper owns the park and only employs about a dozen people, every one else is volunteers. You really expect us to believe that the guy who has enough money to buy the USL can’t afford to keep 2 teams. Come one. The only thing I believe is that the teams are losing money, I can understand that. It’s hard to operate two teams when one team (Athletica) can’t fill the stands. The Athletica have some of the best womens players in the world on their team, including Brazil’s WNT head coach. That can’t be cheap! And yet they have the worst attendance in the WPS.
    The men have a shirt sponsor coming in this week or next that will help raise funds. Owners losing money is not an uncommon factor in running a soccer team in the United States.

  23. Tom permalink
    May 21, 2010

    from yankiboy,
    “Miami almost didn’t play last season.
    Atlanta did not play last season or this season.
    Minnesota Thunder’s charlatan was exposed”
    Plus – Cleveland gone, Charleston steps down.
    These were all current or potential USL teams at the time, so I agree with BQ that the current business model might not have been the best. If the NASL had never materialized, would these issues somehow have gone away?
    I think we all need to let the dust settle a bit before evaluating the lay of the land. It may be at the end of the day neither model works in its current stage. It’s almost like a start up company which will require a large amount of up front capital investment. Just firing up a new team in an existing market (MN) or starting a brand new team in a large, sports cluttered market (StL) I do not believe is enough. This isn’t “if you build it they will come” like “Field of Dreams”. A foundation needs to be built by advertising/promotion and a strong core fan base. None of this gets constructed overnight.

  24. yankiboy permalink
    May 21, 2010

    BQ and Tom make very valid points. These guys sank more cash into their clubs than I may ever see in a lifetime. Even Mike Fields of Virginia Beach Mariners’ infamy, when all was said and done, manage to extend the life of that club. I can see where you are probably right to suggest that I chose my words with more diplomacy.

    The USL1 model clearly needed improvement and there were and still are issues that are not going to go away that the clubs will face.

    As far as Kartik goes, if he (in his role as the Minister for information for the NASL) can fire some shots at the USL1, then he can take some shots, too… If the USL and it’s employees can be called out then so can the NASL, Kartik and any other high profile NASL employee. Kartik isn’t naive, to the contrary. He is a savvy guy that is why he was chosen for the position. He’s also a big boy. I’m pretty sure that he understands what comes with the territory. If Economides, Marcos or Holt or some other USL type can throw a shot or take a shot, for some of the stuff that they are putting out there (or not putting out there) than so can Kartik. I understand his role. It is to put the NASL in the best light. He does a great job of it. His role has changed from his blogging days. Now he is under greater scutiny because he is now an employee of one of the two leagues so people are going to call him out from time to time, just as he is going receive praises. That is just the reality of making the (professional) move.

  25. thesuperrookie permalink
    May 21, 2010

    Hey, cut FC New York some slack. They are still undefeated. Something no other team in American soccer can claim.

  26. May 21, 2010

    SR, when did you start calling them FC New York? You used to call them FC Clip Art for that fantastic logo of theirs.

  27. yankiboy permalink
    May 21, 2010

    “Hey, cut FC New York some slack. They are still undefeated. Something no other team in American soccer can claim.”
    -the superrookie.

    Say what? It gets worse? La Galaxy, Columbus Crew and Miami FC all went under, too?

    The carnage is neverending. Miami FC and the Brazilians and Traffic–not a big surprise that they decided to call it quits after last years soap opera. But between the Hunts, Anshultzes, Glidden, Herbal Life, I thought that Columbus and LA were going to be ok. That Beckham guy was really overated. Some “saviour”…

    Talk about a very bad week for American soccer. 😀

  28. pony permalink
    May 21, 2010

    Time for MLS to take over DII, and run it properly!

    More markets to test for future expansion. More markets for SUM to generate income. USL can keep DIII and below…they actually do a good job of it.

  29. ERic permalink
    May 21, 2010

    @yankiboy “I understand that the blogger turned propagandist for the NASL is just doing his job. I got that and I don’t begrudge him that. The man has a job to do. I was just wondering why so many people were buying the brand of “crazy” that he was helping to pimp. ”

    Well, when there’s only one voice talking, it’s easy for folks to fall in line behind that one voice.

    That was one of my big frustrations through all the USL-NASL mess — that the only side that was being heard was the NASL side.

    Then again, if this sort of stuff was suspected, I can see why the USL side wouldn’t come out and say it publicly. That would’ve only looked petty and ended up ratcheting up the name-calling and ugliness.

  30. May 21, 2010

    “Time for MLS to take over DII, and run it properly!”

    Sigh……… Do we have to go there yet one more time? MLS has said they have no interest. Period!

  31. yankiboy permalink
    May 21, 2010

    @Eric: The USL and NuRock had their spin doctors working overtime, too.
    They put the Thunder’s business out there as a way to discredit Johnson and NASL. They did their best to paint the NASL owners as unreseaonable. The took shots and they gave shots. The whole “you are non longer bound by you contracts” letters that some of the players from the defector franchises received was a very big and public shot.

  32. ERic permalink
    May 21, 2010

    @yankiboy — true. And I’ll resist rehashing what happened last winter, though it’s tempting;)

    Sad to hear this. I was hoping that the USSF’s actions would stabilize things, but there’s clearly major issues at the D2 level. I was also expecting that the NASL would be the only league in shape to get sanctioned next year… but with this, everything looks likely to all end up up in the air again.

    And I was really hoping that St. Louis fans were finally getting a team for themselves. Still have my fingers crossed for them.

    As to D2… I’m now wondering how likely it is that the USSF lets it go next year.

  33. Chase Hoffman permalink
    May 21, 2010

    I’m honestly just wondering how hard it is to get running a team right. I don’t know the extent to which this league is really profitable. It seems like a giant hole of money. And that’s cool if you have a lot of cash and love the game, but if you’re in this for running it like a “real” business, as it seems most of the owners do, maybe it’s time to move on to a different industry.

    This may be a hobbyist/cottage thing until the league gets bigger and money actually flows.

  34. May 21, 2010

    Anyone else remember the hidden gem from the MLS CBA?

    The Union and League agreed to minimum salaries for Reserve Teams, and formed a committee to talk about how to make it work.

  35. pony permalink
    May 21, 2010

    “Sigh……… Do we have to go there yet one more time? MLS has said they have no interest. Period!”

    Did MLS not go kick some tires when USL was up for sale?

  36. SOS permalink
    May 22, 2010

    St. Louis fans have the passion for the game, but we have been bitter since the MLS formed and KC got a team and we didn’t. We want MLS. Some will support lower levels, but this is not a minor league city. Give us an investor who will build a stadium, provide an MLS team, and we will show up. Looking 5-10 years down the line, maybe the St Louis Rams next stadium will be outdoors. Oh by the way, the next majority owner of the Rams owns some of Manchester United.

  37. May 22, 2010

    SOS, Can you explain something I will never understand. Why does the guy like yourself who is a true football/soccer supporter say they will support MLS but not minor league soccer?

    I understand that it can be like Seattle who had decent minor league crowds but nothing like the current MLS team. But that doesn’t happen more often than it does. That’s why MLS has expanded to those minor league cities. They have shown continued support of minor league soccer. But to not support minor league and then expect MLS to swoop in and claim you makes no sense to me. Even more so, if you really are a true supporter of the game, you will support soccer at all levels. Of course its not the best soccer in the world. But it’s your soccer in your town. Support it! If it grows, if you can help it grow, then by all means you deserve MLS.

    I could say the same thing about the Twin Cities. We’ve been criticized sometimes for not drawing enough crowds to make it work for MLS. Yet you could flip flop that and say we have all these other major league sports and folks just won’t put up with anything less. But to me, I still think the minor league team needs to prove consistently that they can make it work on their level before MLS would be interested in moving it to the next level.

    BTW, MLS is looking for SSS and non-turf fields. Not gigantic football fields with lines and fake stuff on the ground.

    Support your local team.

  38. May 22, 2010

    The two 2011 teams will be on artificial surfaces.

    MLS is looking for a business plan that works, and a large part of that is passion at the lower levels, or Philly that had passion for the league without a lower level team.

    St Louis hasn’t had that passion for some time. Its TV ratings for MLS aren’t that good, and they aren’t supporting the soccer they have.

  39. Chris permalink
    May 22, 2010

    Dave, you have no clue about what your talking about.

    AC have played two games, first was a sellout and the second had around 3k, the passion was there. It was a great atmosphere and people were into the games.

    This situation has nothing to do with support, the owners didnt have any money and Cooper is out, thats the situation.

    Checkout AC’s facebook page it has some videos and photos of “passion”

  40. May 22, 2010

    Your right two games of passion means that they must expand there. In fact they should take Portland’s spot.

    Sample size matters.

  41. Chris permalink
    May 22, 2010

    Well Dave, then why say something like “St. Louis isn’t supporting the teams they have”? Its only been two games, right? Did you even look up the attendance numbers for AC before writing that, or just a stab in the dark?

    Did I say anything about expansion? No

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