Busy Week for USL PRO
This has been a busy week for USL PRO as they prepare for the upcoming D3 season. The fifteen-team league will kick off its 2011 season on Saturday, April 2 with two matches featuring International Division rivals River Plate Puerto Rico taking on Sevilla FC Puerto Rico while the new SC Orlando City club debuts against the two -time USL-2 regular season champions, the Richmond Kickers.
This week’s USL PRO accomplishments occurred both on and off the field. Player combines were held in Florida and California earlier this week, while on Thursday USL PRO club owners and executives met at USL headquarters in Tampa for a workshop designed to help teams find success off the field. Also on Thursday USL PRO expansion club FC New York announced that executive Mike Farnan has joined the team’s advisory board.
USL Men’s Player Combine
The fifth annual USL Men’s Player Combine was held at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina from January 20 -23. Over 125 players from previous USL combines have gone on to secure professional contracts, among them Tom Heinemann, who played PDL soccer for the St. Louis Lions. He turned a positive 2008 combine performance into a professional contract with the Charleston Battery. The lanky forward earned MVP honors in the the 2010 USL-2 championship matchup between the Battery and Richmond Kickers, and afterward helped propel the Carolina RailHawks into the 2010 USSF D2 playoff championship final. Heinemann recently signed with the Columbus Crew of MLS.
This year’s combine participants performed under the watchful eyes of USL Technical Director Peter Mellor and FC New York’s newly appointed head coach, Matt Weston. Mellor, a former goalkeeper, had a lengthy career with English sides Burnley, FC Portsmouth and Fulham FC which included starting the 1975 FA Cup final in goal for the Cottagers. Weston has been involved in coaching for more than a decade, both with his Weston Pro Soccer company and in both men’s and women’s collegiate soccer. Weston played professionally for Ipswich Town in the early 1990s.
Most of the players selected to participate in the combine were aged 23 or younger, and have had experience limited to college and PDL competition. But not all. Goalkeeper Jay Herford has had stints with the Harrisburg City Islanders and Crystal Palace Baltimore, where he backed up starter Evan Bush, and was looking for a new employer with the Baltimore franchise not playing in 2011. One of the older participants at the four-day combine was Brandon Owens, 25. The former 2003 U.S. U-17 teammate of such players as Jonathan Spector and Freddy Adu tore an ACL at UCLA and was not able to make the DC United squad after being picked in the 2008 MLS supplemental draft. He’s been out of soccer since while healing, training and trying to earn a living but has never given up on his dream to play professionally, and the combine gave him the chance to show his stuff.
Mellor was pleased with what he observed at the combine. “I felt it went very well in regards to the overall level of the quality of players that were there,” Mellor said. “I thought the components we brought in this year with the testing and the value of the analysis where the players got the opportunity to look at their own personal performances as players were outstanding.” Weston was also upbeat. “The organization of the event was excellent both on and off the field,” he stated. “The structure of the weekend dictated that every player had a great chance to showcase their ability. The players on show were of a good level and several in my opinion will sign with USL clubs this season.”
Another notable presence at the camp was 73-year-old Tony Waiters, who coached the Vancouver Whitecaps to a NASL championship in 1979 and led the Canadian national men’s team to their only World Cup appearance in 1986. Waiters’ goalkeeping career in England spanned three decades for teams such as Blackpool and Burnley, and he received five caps for the English national team in 1964.
Los Angeles Blues Hold Combine
Last weekend new USL PRO club the L.A. Blues held their own combine at the Norco campus of Riverside Community College. Over 90 players did their best to impress the Blues staff, including Vice President and Head Coach Charlie Naimo, along with Associate Head Coach Shayon Jalayer, and Assistant Director of Player Personnel Salvador Moran. The combine’s schedule allowed each athlete to play in two full games.
Formerly the head coach of the W-League’s Pali Blues, Naimo felt that the expansion men’s team found some legitimate prospects at the combine. “After a three hour meeting with staff Saturday night, we were able to watch all of the match ups we wanted to see on Day 2,” Naimo said. “The day ended with a quality match with quite a few players we are considering offering contracts to.” Naimo then added, “In all, the event was a great success.”
On Thursday the Blues announced four player signings. Former Portland Timber defender Cameron Dunn was inked by the club, along with 2010 FC Dallas draft pick Dane Saintus, a midfielder who played collegiately at Southern Methodist University. The signing of Iranian professional Seyed Hosseini, a forward, was also announced along with that of the PDL’s Jaime Chavez, who led Hollywood United in scoring last season.
Those players join previous Blues’ signings Oscar Dautt, Gareth Evans, Cesar Rivera and Josh Tudela. Dautt, a 34-year-old goalkeeper, has had a lengthy career in Mexico playing for such clubs as Monterrey, Tigres UANL and Puebla, while Evans, 24, is a defender who played for Wrexham in the UK and the Austin Aztex in 2009. Tudela, who made 23 appearances for the LA Galaxy between 2007-2009, and Rivera are both midfielders.
USL PRO Executive Workshop
Thursday’s workshop and seminar for USL PRO team owners and executives was led by USL PRO Senior Director Chris Economides and Jason Arnold, USL PRO’s Operations Manager. Information regarding industry standards in marketing, ticket sales, promotion, sponsorships, new media and communications was presented along with manuals for each team.
Thursday’s seminar was not a one-time deal. “We are dedicated to providing our teams with all the necessary tools to operate at a high level for the long term,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said. “Our team services staff has been expanded greatly during the past year, and its sole purpose is to assist all USL teams in raising the level for all areas of their operations, both on and off the field. Today was just an early step in a process that will continue year-round in the form of site visits, conference calls and additional seminars.”
Farnan Joins FC New York
FC New York announced that Sheffield United Group Executive Director Mike Farnan has joined their advisory board. Farnan’s role with Sheffield United FC has been in developing the English Championship team’s brand by developing partnerships with professional clubs in China, Hungary and Australia. Farnan’s resume also includes work with the iconic Manchester United team, growing the team’s brand in the Middle East, Asia and Oceania and increasing merchandise sales in those regions. Farnan has also worked for Atletico Madrid and AC Parma in Italy, along with developing the brands for Formula One racing teams Jordan F1 and Williams F1.
“I have known Mike for years. He has a first-class background in international sports marketing and his appointment demonstrates our commitment to the sport in New York, but also Mike’s belief in F.C. New York,” added the New York team’s Executive Vice President, Jo-Ellen Treiber. Farnan has also worked for Sky Sports.