Gordon Hartman introduces new president and GM Howard Cornfield with the construction girders of Toyota Field in the background.
Much has been happening in the last several weeks around the North American Soccer League. Here’s a NASL recap with some inside rumors and talk.
Some teams have already been announcing player moves while other teams have been pretty quiet. Under the NASL rules, teams have 30 days to notify the league office if they will exercise their options on players with option years written into their contracts. I learned this last year from the Minnesota Stars who were very forthcoming with the players they passed on and the ones whose options were exercised.
Last year I contacted league commissioner David Downs about the information as I was hoping to put together a report on each of the teams. He stated that it was up to each team as to whether they chose to reveal that information or not. I found that some teams were very forthcoming while with others it was like pulling teeth. Minnesota and Tampa Bay were the most cooperative. I suggested to the league last year that if they want to create a buzz around their teams they are going to have to be better about making this sort of information available in the offseason to the media and their fans. Yes, even the players you are releasing! The other teams in the league all get that information so it’s not like it’s a big secret nor should it be. While MLS will soon be taking center stage with player moves, the second division NASL needs to get in front of their much smaller audience and do what they can to get their attention. Almost all teams should have reported into the league by now with Tampa and Minnesota still having a few days left, if they haven’t already.
NASL vs. USL PRO -or- Tampa vs. Orlando City or… Oh heck! Let’s just call it the Florida derby matches.
Early in November both the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL and Orlando City SC of USL PRO, announced they would play a home and away preseason friendly starting in March of 2013. The first match will be in Orlando at the Florida Citrus Bowl on Saturday, March 9, with the second following on Saturday, March 30 in St. Petersburg at Al Lang Stadium.
The series comes after continuous fan suggestion of creating a strong rivalry between the two franchises. The Lions won the USL PRO championship in 2011 and had the best overall regular season record both in 2011 and 2012. They also had the best attendance numbers of any second or third division team in North America except for the Montreal Impact in 2011 and the San Antonio Scorpions in 2012. The Rowdies won the NASL this season and had the second best regular season record in the NASL.
“We are excited for our fans that have been able to arrange what we hope will be an annual preseason competition with the Rowdies,” said Orlando City President Phil Rawlins. “It should be a terrific local derby.”
Edmonton to name coach on Tuesday.
FC Edmonton will name their new coach next Tuesday according to Steven Sandor of The 11. He suggests that it will be former Canadian National Team player Colin Miller.
The team also announced several interesting signings this past week: Neil Hlavaty from the Minnesota Stars and Lance Laing of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The choosing of a Canadian rather than a foreign coach and the early signings of North American-based players suggest that Edmonton is going in a different direction than in the past. The organization, which parted ways with Dutch coach Harry Sinkgraven after a disappointing last place finish despite having the highest payroll in the league, will evidently not be bringing in as much foreign talent as in the past. An anonymous but reliable source told IMS that Hlavaty and Laing each got hefty contracts from their new teams and yet those same contracts still show a reduction in payroll from what the team has been spending previously on its key players.
Atlanta Silverbacks still the Silverbacks after much ado.
The Atlanta Siverbacks let their fans vote on whether the team should keep the Silverbacks name or change to a write-in name or chose the Chiefs, which was the old NASL team name from the ’70s. After much ado, the people spoke and nothing changed. The fans voted to keep the existing name, although the vote was close. However, the Silverbacks logo, which is a bit dated, may undergo a change. With that contest, fans are entering submissions on Facebook and will be voting on the submitted logos. Once a winner is picked, it will be pitted against the team’s current logo and a logo that the club will have designed in the coming weeks. Fans will be able to visit atlantasilverbacks.com and vote on their favorite of the three final logos until January 2. The Silverbacks will then reveal the winning logo at a party they will host the following week at a location that is still to be determined.
Management changes in San Antonio.
After many rumors of San Antonio Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman not being happy with some issues in the front office with Playbook Management International (PMI) founder Michael Hitchcock, who was actually based out of his home town of Dallas and often found on business trips for his own company, the organization parted ways with their president. Hartman has instead brought in a non-soccer person in Howard Cornfield who will take over as president and GM. But Cornfield is no stranger to sports in general and minor league sports specifically. His resume is impressive. It will be interesting to see if he will be able to make the transition to soccer which we all know holds its own intricacies and quirkiness in North America. He will have to catch up quickly as Hartman announced in front of his stadium skeleton that Toyota Field is three quarters of the way finished and Cornfield will have 8,000 seats to fill on a regular basis. Will the honeymoon be over for the Scorpions or will the lure of a real soccer-specific stadium with beer on the premises draw as many as their inaugural season?
Hitchcock will be continuing with his company PMI who are now working with Traffic USA teams, Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale, to increase ticket sales.
RailHawks are all about community… and ticket sales.
On Nov. 9, the Carolina RailHawks announced they will be making an effort to reach out to fans in order to boost ticket sales. The RailHawks will be hiring both a Manager of Fan Development and a Grassroots Fan Development & Hispanic Community Outreach Manager.
The RailHawks also announced they will be donating 10% of their total ticket revenue for each of the 2013-2015 seasons back to the Triangle community. “In addition to our fans enjoying the area’s highest-level soccer entertainment when they attend a RailHawks game, they will now have the added benefit of knowing that a significant portion of their RailHawks support is going back into our community to grow the game of soccer,” said RailHawks Senior Vice President, Peter Sciandra.
New NASL Commissioner
Several sources who did not want to go on record have confirmed that the NASL has chosen its new commissioner from a field of 3 finalists. It’s believed it will be announced in the coming days. Meanwhile, outgoing NASL Commissioner David Downs, who had agreed to stay on after the season until a transition was made, has been as busy as ever traveling to visit with potential new ownership teams and working on plans for 2013. Downs’ greatest accomplishment as the NASL Comish may be the finding of new owners for the Minnesota Stars, something he took on as a personal project, visiting Minnesota 11 times in his time on the job. Minnesota will now have professional soccer in the Twin Cities for the 24th consecutive year, thanks to the NASL, Downs and of course new owner Dr. Bill McGuire.
“It has been such a long project for me and one that I took on with such a personal vengeance,” said Downs at the Stars press conference to announce the new owner. “I did not want to watch this team go under, under my watch. Instead I’m giving it a chance to flourish long after I’m forgotten in this league. I cannot tell you how thrilling that is for me personally. The fact that there is a small personal connection between our families is a nice touch. But the reality is I’ve been blown away with how sharp Dr. McGuire is and how much savvy he will bring to this project. I sensed this would be a great thing to get them involved in this business, but now I know it for sure.”