La Liga’s Sevilla Cuts Ties with USL PRO’s Sevilla FC-Puerto Rico
Unbeknownst to most outside of Puerto Rican soccer and USL management circles, the Sevilla FC-Puerto Rico franchise of USL PRO was almost forced to withdraw from the new league this spring before ever playing a single match. The story was reported by various media outlets in Puerto Rico but managed to remain almost completely under the radar of soccer fans outside of Puerto Rico who follow the new league.
As the result of a very grave medical crisis currently experienced by the club’s owner and founder, Dr. Francisco Martínez-Cañavate, the Juncos side was on the brink of going under until an emergency financing package was put together. With the securing of additional funding, the club was able to continue with its plans to participate in the inaugural USL PRO season as a member of the International Division. The club also participates simultaneously in the first division of Puerto Rican soccer, the Puerto Rican Soccer League (PRSL), as do the other two USL PRO franchises based in Puerto Rico: River Plate Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico United.
The financial rescue also allowed the USL to avert what would undoubtedly have been huge public relations and scheduling nightmares with less than two months before opening the season and the launching of its restructured professional league. It was only in September of last year the club was officially accepted as a member of the USL. Having boasted of its return to a “regional” focus, many questioned if the USL had overreached with Caribbean expansion after the Puerto Rico Islanders decision to defect to the then-unsanctioned NASL.
In the aftermath of the team’s financial uncertainty the club experienced various changes to the front office, technical staff and its roster, including the loss of its highest profile player, striker Chris Megaloudis. The Puerto Rican international signed with local rival River Plate.
After overcoming enormous obstacles and with only little more than a week of preseason preparations, the club managed a miraculous draw against River in a match that served as both clubs’ USL PRO and PRSL seasons opener. Having completed an extensive preseason, River had a definite advantage and was already battle tested after it had successfully advanced from the first round of Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championship Qualification in the Cayman Islands.
On Thursday night, while on the road facing Barracuda FC in St. John’s, Antigua, Sevilla FC-Puerto Rico managed an even better result, defeating the home side 1-0. The victory was its first in USL PRO play and was quite an accomplishment for a club that had almost folded in February. Unfortunately for the club, the celebration has quickly given way as it must now face a new, daunting economic crisis.
As reported Friday by one of Puerto Rico’s premier soccer journalists, Esteban Pagán of the Primera Hora newspaper, Sevilla’s parent club, Sevilla Fútbol Club S.A.D of Spain’s renowned first division, La Liga, has now declared that it is severing all ties with its official affiliate in Puerto Rico. The move comes in response to an undisclosed disagreement between the two organizations. Legal representatives of the Spanish club have already contacted both the USL headquarters and the Puerto Rican Football Federation (FPF) demanding that the Juncos-based club cease usage of the “Sevilla” name.
When Mr. Pagán contacted Tim Holt, USL President, Mr. Holt did not deny the information but instead referred the reporter to the two franchises involved for comments.
When Dr. Martínez-Cañavate was reached in Spain where he is currently undergoing medical treatment, he confirmed to Pagán the unfolding events. He also expressed both his shock and dismay given the partnership that the two franchises have shared and hoped the matter is just a “misunderstanding” which can be resolved. The Seville native also stated that he had not yet been contacted directly by the Spanish club but did disclose that if no settlement can be reached between the two sides that Sevilla Puerto Rico would begin searching to establish a new sponsorship agreement with another club.
Having just overcome an enormous financial crisis which threatened its very existence, now the Juncos club must find a way to survive a new crisis which is not only economic but also a legal one. Of immediate concern are both the loss of any additional economic support from their Andalusian partners and the requirement that they change names in middle of their current campaign, as well. Both of the aforementioned challenges could potentially be enough to kill off an established franchise but for a club already fighting for its life and still seeking to establish itself, a failure to reach a resolution with the Sevillians could prove to be the beginning of the end.