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Quelling Rumors – A USSF D2 Update

2010 August 18
by Brian Quarstad

Rumors have been flying around for the better part of the week that both the Rochester Rhinos and the Austin Aztex had made decisions to move to D3 next year. I have commented several times in that span that I had been in contact with both organizations and these rumors were not true.

Today the same rumor was again circulated on a website. The rumor was supposedly news even though these stories have been floating around for a week.

“Those are false rumors,” stated Rob Clark, owner of the Rochester Rhinos. “We are certainly weighing our options for next season. Right now we are focusing on trying to win a championship. It wouldn’t make sense for us to make a decision at this point and time. When the season is over we will ask ourselves if this (the new USSF standards) makes financial sense for the Rhinos or not.”

Clark also said he’d like to “quell rumors” that he claims are flying around Rochester concerning someone owning a USL franchise for D3 in the area. He stated, “At this time no one owns rights to a USL D3 team.”

Jay Preble, Director of Communications for the United Soccer Leagues, confirmed that statement this afternoon saying, “All of the USL men’s outdoor rights in Rochester are available. The W-League and I-League rights are obviously unavailable.”

Djorn Buchholz, CEO for the Austin Aztex, confirmed an email that he sent to a concerned fan and ended up in the comment section of IMS today. The email stated: “I can assure you that the rumors you heard on XXX (a rumor website) are just that, rumors. This club has no intention of playing D3 soccer. Yes, the new D2 standards are quite strict, but our ownership group has assisted US Soccer in setting those guidelines and we meet them. … rest assured, we will play D2 Soccer for years to come.”

Buchholz told IMS there seems to be a lot of confusion and rumors since the new D2 Standards were set. He stated last week and again this week that the organization has no plans to play D3 and it wouldn’t make any sense from a geographical standpoint to join a league (D-3) which is based on the East Coast.

The Austin Aztex CEO also told IMS that not only did owner Rawlins help D2 with the standards, the team plans on building a soccer specific stadium. Their projection is to have a plan in place in 3 years, which would put them at 2012. Buchholz says that the SSS idea is not anything new but has been in the team’s long range plan since the beginning.

Some of you have also been asking my take on the other teams that are currently playing D2 and are not scheduled to move to MLS next season. Lets take them team by team.

Carolina RailHawks – We know they are looking for investors. Selby Wellman is the majority owner with Bob Young a minority owner. It’s believed the Canadian businessman Young could easily pass the USSF financial standards. The team has an SSS. However, there was speculation that Young may want out of the RailHawks so he could start his own D2 franchise in Hamilton where Young owns the Tiger Cats CFL team.

Hamilton won the bid to host the 2015 Pan American Games. A stadium needs to be built for the event and Young wanted his football team to play there along with a new soccer team that would be affiliated with the NASL and D2. However, Young withdrew his interest in using the stadium when the city council decided to build in a different location than Young had wanted. It’s still unclear if Young is interested in a D2 soccer team, especially now that the USSF standards call for 75% of teams to be based in the US.

Montreal Impact – We know Joey Saputo has been a leader with the NASL and seems to have had good communications with MLS. They are in D2 for one more year. The only question is: if D2 does go dark next year, where will Montreal play? Would MLS allow them to join a year early?

Crystal Palace Baltimore – I’ve explained quite a number of times the financial trouble that CP Baltimore has had this year, yet I keep hearing questions about them having the ability to make the new USSF Standards.

First, I will state again, CP Baltimore is on life support. They have gone through their 350 thousand dollar bond paid to USSF and still needed help from both the USSF and the NASL to get through to the end of the season. (Yes, they both forked out extra money to keep CP Baltimore going through the end of the season.) I believe they have played at 5 different stadiums this year and have had the league’s worst attendance record. They have bills and are in trouble. The USSF doesn’t need any more CP Baltimores, thus the new standards.

NO, CP Baltimore will not be back next year unless they find investors or new owners. If you recall, the USL dropped a lawsuit against Baltimore and Tampa last year when USSF decided to run the league in 2010. The lawsuit was brought by USL (bad PR decision even though they had the legal right) because both teams supposedly had a contract with USL and abandoned it for the NASL.

Point being, if the team wants to play USL-2 (D3) they will need A )New owners or B) Investors, and a lot of apologizing to USL.

AC St. Louis – Suddenly Jeff Cooper has money again? He didn’t tell the NASL he had sold the team to the Vaids last year and they were not happy about that. Then the Vaids stopped paying bills and Cooper was stuck. He ended up having some big issues and folded his WPS team in mid season this year. The USSF was not happy about that. Nor were they happy they had to dip into their bond money for a period of time to make payroll for the team.

Somehow, in some way, Jeff Cooper’s AC St. Louis seem to be fine again and are even spending money on loan players as the season winds down. The team doesn’t seem to talk to the media about such things, so no one has a clue what’s going on within the organization. The black eye that NASL received by having the turmoil surrounding Cooper and AC St. Louis when he was supposed to be the NASL spokesperson has not gone down well with other NASL owners.  They are not happy with Cooper either.

So the St. Louis attorney has managed to make enemies of the USL, the NASL and the USSF. Not a good place to be when heading into next year. By the way, Cooper either plays D2 next year under NASL or he doesn’t play at all. Tony Glavin owns the outdoor rights to a USL team and in my conversations with Glavin and James Shipley, GM of the Lions, it sounds as if they would be very interested in fielding a D3 team in St. Louis if the opportunity presented itself. But they would not attempt to do so if there was still a D2 team.

In an interview with IMS last January, Glavin told IMS: “I don’t want to damage anything for the good of pro soccer in St. Louis. If it was Cooper’s group or whomever, I will be supportive as long as their primarily concern is the development of the game and development of players. That’s what I’m most interested in, building the game itself and development of the game in St. Louis.”

A class act that Glavin.

Miami FC Blues – Owned by Traffic Sports, who has funded much of the NASL. Enough said. Oh, they are talking about a rebranding for next year as the Strikers. But they will be back as a D2 team. Traffic can make the standards easily and having Fernando Clavijo as Director of Soccer for Traffic USA has not hurt the organization’s association with both the USSF and MLS.

Puerto Rico Islanders – Lots of questions surround the Islanders, one of the most successful teams in North America on the field in CONCACAF Champions League play and they are on a run again this year.

They were so discouraged by the new USSF Standards that they didn’t even show up in NY for the meetings on August 9. They feel they will not be able to pass the 35% owner who has $20 million standard. PR is owned by a group of business people.

Even though PR had its own football federation, public sentiment seems to be strong in somehow allowing the Islanders a way into D2 next season. The new standard calls for 75% of teams to be from the US. If Montreal and Edmonton were both to play D2 next season, it might be tough to get a waiver in more than one area. PR would need waivers in the financial end and the foreign team quota. No one seems to know if the team could even come up with the bond required by the USSF. Overall, things do not look good for the Islanders who have played D2 since 2004.

NSC Minnesota – See yesterday’s IMS post.

FC Tampa Bay – Owner and president Andrew Nestor has done well with Tampa and the gate has been decent as well. But the team is spending a lot of money. Will they be able to continue at that pace? Perhaps, but for now they have no problems making the USSF Standards and they released a press statement this week saying as much. However, they will need to address their stadium issues in the near future and talk of a SSS seems bit premature for team that’s in its first year.

Nestor is said to be leading the NASL at this point along with Aaron Davidson of Traffic Sports and the NASL.

Bottom line, FC Tampa is “in like Flynn” for D2 in 2010.

FC Edmonton – That’s a long way to fly just to get in a game. However, the team is said to be able to make the grade when it comes to the USSF standards and they are playing a year early to get the organization running smoothly. If the NASL can come up with enough teams they are said to want in. If PR does not make the grade it’s possible they could play. Otherwise, they would be forced into the Canadian Soccer League which is said to be at a D4 level, whatever that means. That would certainly be a disappointment to the organization, which seem to be very genuine about wanting to play highly competitive soccer.

If Edmonton makes it into the league, their biggest issue will be a stadium. IMS explored this issue last February in an interview with GM Mel Kowalchuk.

Other entries into the foray are the three teams from the USL:

Antigua – We’ve not heard much about them since the original announcement, and some USL folks are even asking if this one makes sense. With the 75% US-based team standard it seems unlikely. However, there is talk of a new USL-2, D3 Caribbean League. They might fit perfectly if that plan is true.

Orlando – As I explained last week were led by Steve Donner. The team was originally said to be principally owned by the Titans lacrosse team in Orlando. But that team has dissolved after financial problems and now Donner says they still plan to play D2 but is now claiming Orlando is not the principle owner. What? Again, there’s not enough information available to know where this one is heading.

FC New York – I had a delightful conversation with Doug Peterson this week. He’s the president of FC New York. He assured me that his team could make the financial qualifications of the new USSF Standards with the investors they have involved. However, like Clark from Rochester, they are waiting for the dust to settle before they decide what direction to go. It is possible the team could play either D2 or D3 next season.

30 Responses
  1. Aljarov permalink
    August 18, 2010

    It would be a tragedy for soccer in this country – and I count PR as this country – for PR to be forced out despite being a stable franchise for 7 seasons.

  2. August 18, 2010

    I’m trying to look at all of this positively. I think we’re simply witnessing the evolution of budding professionalism in lower division soccer in the US. “Growing pains,” if you will.

    Yes, the guidelines seem strict at first glance, but I think the survival of D-2 to far too important for the Federation to let this league die on the vine, especially when they’re vying for the World Cup. The guidelines are simply something to shoot for, not necessarily deal killers. Exceptions will be made for teams who demonstrate a good faith effort to comply but may not meet all requirements. It’s all good.

  3. August 18, 2010

    “However, they will need to address their stadium issues in the near future and talk of a SSS seems bit premature for team thats in its first year.”

    Actually, FC Tampa Bay was prepared to build its own stadium for THIS year, but that got NIMBYd.

    Also, the expression is “in like Flynn” (ribald etymology on that one) and it’s Steve Donner.

    Lastly, anyone who thinks a soccer team going away is a “tragedy” needs a perspective rehabilitation.

  4. August 18, 2010

    It’s really looking unlikely that there will be a D2 soccer league next year. We have 4 teams that seem in(Montreal, Austin, Miami, Tampa) and a bunch of teams that are on the edge for one reason or another. It looks like we’ll need Rochester, St Louis, NSC, and PR to have a league. You could replace PR with Edmonton I guess but there aren’t groups lining up to get into the league right now. I’d personally love to see interested groups step up in places like Atlanta, Phoenix, and San Diego. And really Baltimore is a great market for this. It’s a shame they picked stupid branding/affiliation and did not have a good stadium option available.

  5. UNCfan permalink
    August 18, 2010

    This is a true shame to teams like Montreal and Rochester, who draw a good gate but may be affected if they move down. Montreal could move up, but the Rhinos will be a big fish in a small pond or they will lose fans. I believe that D2 soccer just isn’t there yet without Canada, but other standards are good for US Soccer, if reasonable grandfathering is allowed.

  6. August 18, 2010 the end, it truly is about development. Great to know financial visionaries like Rawlins and Gavin have big picture thinking from a grassroots perspective.

    The crystal ball is still murky, but plenty of activity moving in a positive direction….

    Hey BQ, great work in keeping the stories straight..

  7. pony permalink
    August 18, 2010

    FC can’t play in the CSL. That league is wholely based in Ontario and Quebec, I doubt any of those teams can afford the trip out to Alberta. BTW, I have heard the CSL is comparable to USL2. FC Edmonton would more likely play in the Pacific Coast Soccer League (based in British Columbia), which is classified 1 level below the CSL on the Canadian pyramid, but the level of play is not any different from the CSL (only politics got them classified higher).

  8. pony permalink
    August 18, 2010

    *FC Edmonton

  9. August 18, 2010

    Good info Pony. Thanks for that.

  10. WSW permalink
    August 18, 2010

    I think D2 will be business as usual next year, seriously this is better than last year with the USL/NASL feud and we didn’t even know if their will be a league.

  11. PSPTim permalink
    August 19, 2010

    I’m intrigued by the idea of a USL D3 league in the carribean. TnT and Jamaica seem to have the most vibrant leagues of CFU nations and I had heard talk of raising a domestic league in Puerto Rico but this is the first I had heard of this. I guess additional competition in the region can only be a good thing for developing professional quality players.

    Also, when discussing candidates for D2 next year, what is the viability of former A-leaguers or USL 1 teams Pittsburgh, Charleston, or Richmond coming back up from USL-2? Even one of those teams showing interest might make a huge difference. Is that even possible?

  12. pony permalink
    August 19, 2010

    BTW, if anyone is interested…the Canadian Soccer Pyramid:

  13. August 19, 2010

    I can’t speak for Pittsburgh or Charleston but I live in Richmond and cover the Kickers for a local media outlet so I can speak to their situation. There seems to be no interest from the Kickers in moving back up a level. The professional team is now owned by the youth club and seems to fill it’s role in their plans just fine at the D3 level. It’s a little frustrating to die hard soccer fans at times, but it is what it is.

  14. August 19, 2010

    KT, as usual your comment was in my spam comments and didn’t get fished out until this a.m. 53 and I’ve always thought it was In like Flint, as in the tittle of the movie. Now I know exactly what it means. I also had lower case like flint which was also incorrect if I was referring to the movie. I was shot last night by the time I finished that.

    Donner-knew that – mistake twice.

    I knew Tampa had plans, but as I stated, one would think it would be a good business plan at D2 level to make sure things are going well for a couple of years before making plans for a stadium. But it sounds as if there are issues with their current stadium situation, beside the fact that they are playing in a baseball stadium leaving fans with poor sight lines and an infield to play on. Particularly with that layout. Brings back memories of Met Stadium and the Kicks.But at the Met it must have been a bigger field because a soccer field seemed to fit into it better.

  15. August 19, 2010

    “I knew Tampa had plans, but as I stated, one would think it would be a good business plan at D2 level to make sure things are going well for a couple of years before making plans for a stadium.”

    You might think that. How has that worked out over time?

    You could either wait and see if it looks like it’s going to work and then build, or you can build and help MAKE it work. Your choice. Actually, not your choice. Their choice. They wanted to go the other way and build first. But they were NIMBYd. I don’t really see the point in waiting. If you’re going to hedge your bet, why get into it at all? If you don’t have confidence it will work, why do it? Just invest in T-bills or something.

    Building first is the new black.

  16. August 19, 2010

    An explanation to the USL outdoor rights (confusion) in Rochester, NY by IMS friend James Weise, news director for the Kick This radio show in Rochester, NY.

  17. Steve permalink
    August 19, 2010

    Here’s some good info on the AC St. Louis situation… Got it from a reliable source. You can bash our blog if you want, but we’re 100% behind what was said here.

  18. Bart permalink
    August 19, 2010

    Liquidity will be a big part of the net worth analysis for a team under consideration in a D-2 league. The blog addresses net worth for Cooper, but in all likelyhood, his net worth will not cut the mustard.

  19. Mike permalink
    August 19, 2010

    great stuff brian it clears up a LOT. one team is left of the list here though: Charleston. does this mean they aren’t considering a move back up to D2?

  20. August 19, 2010

    They are staying put.

  21. donny permalink
    August 19, 2010

    Brian, I read the Rochester soccersam article, and I’m confused. First it was said that the Lancers own the USL rights, then the Rhinos said nobody does, then it was said the Lancers gave up the rights, and now the soccersam article says that they have the “right of first refusal” which is pretty much the same thing as owning the rights, or at least keeping the Rhinos from getting it if they can’t stay in Div-2 next year. I’d like to hear the Rhinos response to that soccersam article, have you asked them about it?

  22. August 20, 2010

    It’s a complicated situation and your right, if it hadn’t been explained to me I think I would be confused as well.

    From my understanding, when someone buys a USL franchise in an area they have the right to first refusal for any other USL teams. Sam Fantauzzo (Soccer Sam) still owns some percentage of the Rhinos, even though Rob Clark and technically, his father, are majority owner.

    The Rhinos skipped from USL and affiliated themselves with the NASL last fall. In doing so I guess (not sure) they would have forfeited their USL rights.

    When Sam and his group, Saving Soccer LLC bought into the new USL I-League (indoor) with a team they will name the Lancers after the old NASL Rochester Lancers, they would have rights to an outdoor team in the USL if they wanted them. However, Sam and Saving Soccer LLC never actually owned those rights. They just had the ability to exercise those rights. Sam has now stated his group is only interested in the indoor rights and therefore have waived their right to a USL team that would play D2 (unlikely) or D3 (USL-2) which is more likely.

    It is still possible that Clark could make a decision to drop down a level and play D-3 next year with the other USL-2 East Coast teams. Of course he would have to negotiate that with the USL, but it seems that from a political standpoint, USL would want Rochester no matter the recent history.

    The Rhinos will be one of the only teams left in the league after Montreal moves to MLS, that draws well on a consitent basis. Also, now that Seatlle, Portland, and Vancouver will all be gone and the Thunder have folded, they are one of the only long time D2 clubs left with a rich history. In other words, its a brand name that both the USL and the NASL would love to have associated with their groups.

    Lastly, there seems to have been a bit of posturing between Clark and Fantauzzo in the last 6 months to a year and it’s quite possible that Soccer Sam is extending an olive branch and saying he does not want to interfere with Clarks Rhinos. It seems to me it would be helpful to both parties if they could work together and create a relationship between the indoor and outdoor teams in Rochester. But as we’ve seen over the last two years in D2, good stable relationships (and teams) seem to be hard to come by.

  23. yankiboy permalink
    August 20, 2010

    BQ: Another sick breakdown.

    But I gotta give you a little stick on the “delightful conversation” part with NYFC’ Doug Peterson.

    I hope that Boris returns your calls so that you can have a “delightful conversation” with him regarding the Silverback’s (nonpro mens’soccer)future, as well.

    Because NYFC and the Silverbacks Senior teams have bothed played about the same number of matches the last couple of years…

  24. yankiboy permalink
    August 20, 2010

    Say it isn’t so!

    Donner having issues in Orlando? Noooooo! Not him.

    Who could have seen this one coming?!?!

    He and Economides were architects of the greatest minor league sports story ever told!

    Just ask them…

  25. August 20, 2010

    🙂 Actually there seems to be quite a bit of activity going on at FC NY these days. I know that not only surprised me but many others as well. On the other hand, I’m not hearing a lot of things happening in Atlanta. Of course you are correct in how many games they’ve both played.

  26. Wayne permalink
    August 20, 2010

    Great work BQ. I am concerned with NSC Stars’ chances of getting a meaningful investor with the appropriate net worth. I read your other piece on it. It appears that their press release is a cry for help. I hope they have better success in private meetings with prospects.

    I assume MLS is taking a back seat on this. Would MLS brass be interested in using D2 as a reserve league? I think of an AHL team that is a feeder for two distinct NHL teams. Any rumblings on that kind of set up?

  27. August 20, 2010

    You can find that discussion on this site in numerous places and on some of the podcasts I’ve been a guest on. Bottom line is, MLS may consider this but its not a top concern for them at the present time. Both members of USL and NASL have courted them. I’m hearing there will be a good chance of a reserve league next season but it will be much like the old reserve league. My guess is that IF MLS joins together with a league it may be D3 and not D2. That is what has seemed to happen in the past. I’m a big advocate of MLS running their reserve teams in league that mean something, competing with and against seasoned veterans rather than an all MLS reserve team league. I think the advantages to the players growth are quite evident.

  28. Sounder75 permalink
    August 22, 2010

    What really funny is that every one shock the happen I mean really!!! A hell marry ,half a$$$ plane with one minute left on the clock.You have to see this was going to happen. They were not going to sanction both league and the NSAL is far to shaky. The new stander’s is the best thing for soccer. Get rid of the bad business owners like AC St. Louis, Crystal Palace Baltimore, and consolidate the two leagues by sanctioning one. that all we need is one D2 and one D3. You have to see this is a good thing really it time we start looking professional as a soccer nation.

  29. yankiboy permalink
    August 23, 2010

    great. Just what we needed. A Rave Green fan to come and tell us how pro soccer in the US can can be saved.

    Really glad that things are so nice in Seattle but you guys don’t have all of the answers.

    Some standars are definitely necessary but you realize that there might not be a D2 as we know it next year, right?

    If only things were really as simple as they appear to be in the Emerald City.

  30. Thruball permalink
    August 29, 2010

    re: Tampa Bay

    “But it sounds as if there are issues with their current stadium situation, beside the fact that they are playing in a baseball stadium leaving fans with poor sight lines and an infield to play on. Particularly with that layout. ”

    As a long-time Rhino fan I’d like to suggest that they play in the baseball stadium long enough to make sure that building a SSS is a wise financial choice.

    Oh, and don’t build it with Steve Donner…

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