The best post-T&T pro-promotion/relegation argument

Predictably, Soccerocalypse has brought out the usual arguments from the promotion/relegation crowd:

  1. Youth development will be so much better!
  2. Players will be under constant pressure!

If anyone could turn their attention away from Twitter long enough to read something longer than 280 characters at a time, they would have seen this addressed in the pro/rel series — both pros (and alleged pros) and cons.

The short versions:

Youth development: European clubs that have good academies have them so they can sell players (and yes, solidarity payments/training compensation is a legitimate issue with legal potholes I can’t fully comprehend). Chelsea’s inability to develop a first-team player from within is legendary, just one example of a “broken” academy system in the birthplace of soccer.

MLS has actually made progress in youth development because its clubs know they can avoid the boom and bust of pro/rel. They feel confident spending millions to create what wasn’t there before. Then they have a pathway, via their oft-derided relationship with USL, to send promising 17-year-old players to the first team via the USL bridge.

And then MLS teams can play their youngsters because they know they’re not going to be relegated. That’s one reason why MLS has developed so many players who turn around and beat the USA in CONCACAF. (I have heard arguments that MLS needs to impose stricter limits on international players. Then I’ve heard arguments saying MLS needs to spend more on international players to raise the level so that any U.S. players who make that first team will be more appropriately challenged.)

Pressure: Yes, we know. Someone in a German locker room threw a shoe at Eric Wynalda.

shoe

First of all, the idea that you’re “playing for your job” at every training session in Europe but not in MLS is inflated. European clubs aren’t going to cut people mid-contract. You can lose a starting spot, sure, and then you can regain it the next week. That’s not unique. If you want to see job insecurity, watch the NFL, where a kicker can miss once or twice on Sunday and be unemployed on Monday.

Second: Bobby Warshaw tells a different story of playing for a relegation-threatened team. His teammates in Scandinavia all just wanted to wash their hands of it and be gone.

And it’s not as if pressure always makes diamonds. Sometimes, it makes dust. In this clip, Woody Harrelson is Trinidad and Tobago. Wesley Snipes is the USA.

The USA didn’t lose because the media and supporters are too nice to them. They played tense. Cautious. Trinidad and Tobago did not.

After Prince died, Saturday Night Live ran a tribute. Jimmy Fallon told a story of being at a party where he was on stage wondering if he could get Prince to come up and play. Then he saw the crowd parting and Prince basically floating to the stage. Prince came up to Fallon and gave him a look that said, “Yeah, I got this.”

That’s what the USA needed. Not overconfidence. But that sweet spot between confidence and complacency in which they say, “I got this.” Only Christian Pulisic, who’s too young to have been through the same CONCACAF wars (or relegation battles — see Altidore, Jozy) as his teammates, played with that attitude.

But let’s say there’s a benefit to playing in a league that’s more intense than MLS — though, if you were ever in a locker room with Taylor Twellman or Dom Kinnear after a game, you know things can get pretty intense. Why is Germany more intense than the USA? Why is Germany more intense than Scandinavia?

It’s because Germany has a deeper soccer culture.

Same reason Mexico and the big Euro leagues are more intense than MLS or Scandinavia. For all the progress made in the USA since Paul Caligiuri took a wild shot in Trinidad in 1989, this country is still a good bit behind everyone else. Youth soccer participation plateaued and then started dropping, and while a lot of those kids turn up wearing Messi or Rooney jerseys, a lot more never watch soccer on TV or in person.

So if you want to make a good argument for promotion/relegation, try this:

Pro/rel will help deepen the soccer culture in this country.

And I believe that. Most of what I’m saying here on pro/rel is the same stuff I’ve been saying for 15 years, no matter how much it’s been misrepresented by the PRZ on Twitter. But this is an argument that I can’t remember hearing before. Maybe some people made it, but it was drowned out in all the “PRO/REL WILL OBVIOUSLY MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER BUT MLS/SUM/USSF/STEVE BANNON ARE CONSPIRING TO KEEP THE NFL BIG” nonsense.

This is your argument. This is something you can present to people who have money on the table — not the Monopoly money Silva and company threw at MLS so they could create the narrative that MLS turned down a gazillion bucks to institute pro/rel now.

Is it enough? I don’t know. The other realities still exist. We have a Division I soccer league now where we didn’t in 1992, and it’s because people were enticed to invest in a scheme that reduced the risk from “might as well burn your money” to “there’s a small chance this might work.” If you’d told people in 1992 we’d have a soccer league that consistently drew 40,000 people in Atlanta and Seattle, people would’ve laughed at you. (Especially Atlanta. I grew up in Georgia, and I’m astounded.)

But if the pro/rel crowd is willing to drop the nonsense, along with the conspiracy talk and nonsensical legal actions, maybe there’s a chance to win the argument.

If I were elected USSF president (no, I’m not running — there’s a reason a lot of sane, qualified people from Peter Wilt to Julie Foudy aren’t interested), I’d do the following:

  1. Divisions 2 and 3 go pro/rel next year. I’m torn on whether the USL brand name should stay. The NASL brand name should not. It has a history of incompetence, and even the glory days of the late 70s were built on non-traditional glitzy Americanized soccer. Besides, given the existence of Mexico, the “North American” part of the brand name never rang true. Keep the clubs — to start, put the clubs on the soundest financial foundation in D2 and the others in D3.
  2. Division 4 becomes the top amateur division (semipro clubs are allowed to compete, but it’ll be mostly amateur, as these leagues are now) for the top tiers of the major amateur leagues — PDL, NPSL, UPSL, Cosmopolitan, GCPL, other USASA Elite Amateur Leagues. Clubs that finish in the top three of these leagues can apply for D3 status — for the foreseeable future, only a few clubs will do that. (At this point, I don’t think we can or should relegate clubs from pro D3 to amateur D4. If D3 gets too big, start a pro D4, more or less mimicking what England has recently done with its fifth tier.) Have a D4 national championship if it’s feasible, replacing some of the existing and sort of redundant national amateur cups.

Two reasons to this. First, it’ll make the lower divisions much more interesting.

And it just might demonstrate to the powers- and purseholders-that-be that there’s a benefit to expanding the pyramid and building a soccer culture.

Or, you know, just yell and scream and sue. That’s working so far, right? And competition between uncooperative leagues worked so well that we’re about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ASL, right?

 

Here’s what WON’T help U.S. Soccer

snake-oil“That’s right, folks! Step right up and get your miracle elixir! Cures everything from chronic flatulence to an inability to qualify for the World Cup or Olympics from CONCACAF!”

Doesn’t work that way. The problems have deeper roots. A dash of snake oil isn’t going to make the U.S. men’s team (or women’s, which has some similar issues and some very different) magically better.

Among the pet programs that won’t make the USA follow France’s path from qualifying failure to World Cup champion in four years:

Ramping up “pressure”: Consider how Trinidad and Tobago played in their cozy, bumpy stadium with the soothing hum of generators or pumps or whatever created what little “atmosphere” existed last night. They were loose. They were having fun. Only Christian Pulisic, who’s too young to have been through the battles of his teammates, played with any flair to match what the home side brought to the marshland of Ato Boldon Stadium.

If anything, the U.S. players seemed too tightly wound. Michael Bradley, the captain, was raised in a family that lives for competitive pressure. Jozy Altidore has dealt with the wrath of the global soccer media in the midst of a relegation fight, and yet he was probably a lot better before all that, back in the 2009 Confederations Cup and World Cup qualifying that year.

Which brings us to this …

Promotion/relegation: I dealt with this in the pro/rel series. Pro/rel doesn’t magically turn every club into Barcelona. It doesn’t make clubs run awesome academies — in fact, you might end up with some major gaps as major cities’ clubs lose Division 1 status and have to cut funding.

And can we cut the nonsense that players in MLS clubs aren’t playing for their jobs? North America is littered with MLS washouts. (Some of whom turn around and score against the USA in CONCACAF play.)

Dismantling MLS: The league needs improvement, sure. But it’s worth noting that the goals that eliminated the USA — from Panama and Honduras — came from guys with plenty of MLS experience.

Costa Rica is going back to the World Cup. MLS players scored 11 of their 14 goals in the Hexagonal.

And the oft-derided MLS-USL partnership has created an alternate pathway to the oft-derided college game. Go to an MLS academy. If you’re ready to go pro at age 17 or 18 but not quite ready for the first team, play for the reserves in USL. Then up to MLS.

Clubs have made these investments because they’re financially secure. They feel confident that they’ll be in the top division for the foreseeable future. Any change to that structure needs to be made very carefully.

Let’s put it this way: If you dismantle MLS, you’re also dismantling most of the free academies that exist in this country. How is that supposed to help?

Having the “passion” to hurl rotten fruit at players when they return: Sure, let’s make the notion of being a professional and international soccer player less attractive in a country that has a ton of sports options. That’ll work.

Along those lines …

Telling people how to live their lives: Remember when everyone was telling Landon Donovan to abandon his family and move to Europe for our own satisfaction?

Two issues with that:

  1. That’s not going to inspire future athletes to devote themselves to soccer and international play.
  2. Couldn’t the U.S. men have used a Landon Donovan last night, no matter how many years he spent in MLS instead of the Bundesliga?

Hiring a savior: One guy isn’t going to turn around the men’s national team, let alone change the entire culture in this country. Jurgen Klinsmann had no idea how to change youth soccer other than the vague imposition of things he knew as a child in Germany.

The people working to change the culture are working at the U.S. Soccer Foundation (different from the federation) and other organizations trying to make the sport more accessible.

Turning the sport into a job for which only the elites may apply: Eastern Europe in the Cold War had a bunch of sports machines that culled the top sports talent at an early age and herded them into camps. Brazil and other countries thrive on street soccer. Which group has had more success?

Reading too much into one World Cup, either 2002 or 2018: Was Bruce Arena a genius in 2002? Somewhat, but it helped that Portugal collapsed and the ref didn’t notice John O’Brien’s handball against Mexico. Was he suddenly an idiot in 2018? Somewhat, but it helped that Panama scored a phantom goal and Honduras (and T&T) got a couple of flukes.

Wins amplify good decisions. Losses amplify bad ones.

* * * *

Here’s what WILL help:

“Incremental changes at multiple levels”:

Reducing the “travel” in travel soccer: Even if you have tons of scholarship money, explain to me how a kid with two working parents who don’t control their own schedule are going to get that kid to every practice and game all over a five-state region?

Related to that …

Ending the turf wars: We have an arms race. Club A is in the Development Academy, so Club B has to be in the ECNL. Then Club C has to travel to multiple showcases everywhere from Disney World to that massive soccerplex in Indiana that’s hosting everything these days.

Remembering that we’re still competing for players and fans: Quit telling 9-year-olds that the stuff they’re doing now will pay off when they’re 16-year-old pros. Quit pretending we can drive people out of the sport as children and expect them to be paying customers when they grow up.

If soccer was so deeply ingrained in the USA that we would put up with all this, fine. The truth is that we’re still fighting attitudes like this:

And that is a Democratic Congressman. His voters surely include a lot of immigrants and a lot of soccer fans. And yet he feels secure in bashing soccer. In 2017.

Education: I’ve had the chance to see more than 100 paid coaches at the U9-U12 level. Maybe 20 of them are people I’d be happy to have coaching my kids. Another 20 or so seemed OK. The rest are screamers, joystick coaches and assorted cretins.

I’ve also worked with about 100 parent coaches. Some of them are trying to learn what they can and apply what they’ve learned. Some can’t be bothered to do the two-hour online F license.

Listen: Everyone’s talking and no one’s listening. Not just on Twitter. Also in Chicago, where the most basic questions about the Development Academy or anything else get brushed off and ridiculed.

The USA has a lot of smart people. Not just one, not just a small group. And as Steve Gans found on his “listening tour” before declaring his candidacy for the U.S. Soccer presidency, they’re not being heard.

Maybe we should all do a listening tour.

And then keep some perspective. No one died here. That’s happening in Puerto Rico, Las Vegas and California. We’re talking about a sport, one in which the better team doesn’t always win. The USA probably wasn’t one of the top eight teams in 2002, and they probably aren’t outside the top 32 right now.

Let’s not set up an East German-style sports machine. Let’s not take the fun out of this sport and assume good athletes are going to want to play anyway.

Embrace diversity — in all senses. Embrace accessibility. Calm down and think.

And then we can do the same thing next year when the women don’t qualify for France 2019.

RSD 14: The next U.S. Soccer president?

The problems in U.S. Soccer run deeper than the water that flooded Ato Boldon Stadium in Trinidad and Tobago before the U.S. men’s anemic performance and shocking exit from the World Cup on Tuesday night.

There’s an arrogance throughout the federation. There’s chaos in youth soccer, where the costs keep spiraling upward with no tangible results.

My guest on Ranting Soccer Dad: Episode 14 is out to change that. He’s Steven Gans, and he’s challenging Sunil Gulati for the presidency of U.S. Soccer. The election will be at the federation’s Annual General Meeting, Feb. 8-11 in Orlando.

He believes he can get better results from the country’s national teams. But he wants to devote a lot of effort at the bottom — youth soccer and the various volunteers he sees as being neglected and ignored today.

The interview took place Monday, when the U.S. men’s qualification campaign seemed to be in good shape.

Women in U.S. Soccer leadership

No, it’s not a blank post.

The Guardian recently posed the question of whether a woman could be elected U.S. Soccer president, focusing on one of the more likely candidates (we think) — Julie Foudy. The response from Foudy? “It’s not realistic.”

But it’s not because a good female candidate couldn’t win.

Foudy also says that most women are unable to even consider running for the position because it is an unpaid role with a high workload.

“How much work does Sunil do for a volunteer position?” Foudy says. “There’s no pay for the president so what woman who needs an income or is raising kids is going to say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll be able to volunteer 30 or 40 hours a week that take me away from family and my real job’. It’s not realistic. The position itself needs restructuring if you are going to get more women engaged in it.”

That might also explain why we don’t see many women heavily involved on the U.S. Soccer board. Here’s a quick history:

In the mid-2000s, U.S. Soccer followed the lead of other sports federations and reduced the size of its board from 40 to 15 voting members (plus two non-voting — the immediate past president and the CEO/Secretary General, the top paid USSF employee). The bylaw was approved in 2006, the same year Sunil Gulati was elected president for the first time. Let’s look at who has occupied each seat since then:

President, vice president: Sunil Gulati, Carlos Cordeiro. Gulati was unopposed in 2006, 2010 and 2014. Not in 2018. Cordeiro, formerly an independent director (we’ll get to it) won the vice presidency in 2016, ousting incumbent Mike Edwards (who replaced Gulati as VP in 2006). (Yeah, I’ve already written about this.)

In short — no women here as far back as I can trace.

Athlete representatives: Chris Ahrens, Carlos Bocanegra, Angela Hucles. USSF is required to give athletes at least 20 percent of the vote, which means three out of 15 in this case. There’s no official rule saying the reps must be one Paralympian, one MNT veteran and one WNT veteran, but that’s how it’s worked out since Jon McCullough joined the board in 2008. The 2012 Paralympic torch-bearer passed away in 2014, and Ahrens took his place on the board.

Linda Hamilton was on the board after the 2006 re-org. Her seat has since gone to Amanda Cromwell, Danielle Fotopoulos, Danielle Slaton, Cindy Parlow Cone and now Hucles.

Pro Council: Don Garber, Steve Malik. Bylaws say these seats are for the Pro Council chairperson and an elected rep. MLS commissioner Garber has been on the board for the whole century so far. WPS commissioner Tonya Antonucci had the other seat for a year or so. Malik, who runs North Carolina FC (and the NWSL finalist Courage), replaced USL CEO Alec Papadakis, who replaced another MLS/NWSL owner in Merritt Paulson.

So that’s one woman, briefly (bad timing for her departure).

Adult Council: Richard Moeller, John Motta. As on the Pro Council, these seats are for the chairperson and a rep. Motta defeated Gulati in a close race for vice president in 1998, but Gulati won a rematch in 2000. Motta is exploring a bid for the presidency. I can’t find any women who’ve held these seats since the 2006 re-org.

Youth Council: Jesse Harrell, Tim Turney. Also chairperson and a rep. Evelyn Gill was on the board for four years.

At-Large Representative: John Collins. The election process for this spot is insanely complicated. Read Bylaw 413, section 3. In any case, no women, at least since 2006.

Independent Directors: Donna Shalala, Val Ackerman. These positions were added to the board in the 2006 re-org. They’re officially elected, but in practical terms, the board seeks out people with some clout in the worlds of sports business, general business and politics. The board also has used these spots to find people other than white men — Cordeiro, Fabian Núñez, Shalala and Ackerman. Shalala recently made news as the alleged independent director who fell asleep during the presentation of Rocco Commisso on behalf of the NASL’s Division II sanctioning application, which Commisso thinks is an indication of the board’s prejudice but more likely an indication that Shalala might not be young enough to sit through an NASL presentation.

So as it stands now, is the best path for a woman to the USSF presidency might be through the independent director seats? Let’s compare it to the other pathway — through the various constituencies …

Adult Council (basically U.S. Adult Soccer): The one woman out of eight here is Shonna Schroedl, who has run for the Council’s elected spot on the board. (Note to self: Interview Shonna Schroedl.)

Youth Council: This is a little more complicated. Four organizations are represented — U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer, AYSO and SAY Soccer. How many women are on their boards?

Pro Council: If the NWSL ever names a commissioner, maybe they’ll have some female representation?

Actually, the organization with the most women in leadership is the Organization Formerly Known As NSCAA. That would be United Soccer Coaches, where Amanda Vandervort just wrapped up a one-year term as president and Lynn Berling-Manuel is the CEO. Including the ex officio members such as Berling-Manuel, five of 11 board members are female.

U.S. Soccer also has committees and task forces that have a few women involved. The giant Appeals Committee includes Kate Markgraf (also one of two women on the Rules Committee), Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday, Lori Lindsey, Heather O’Reilly, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsay Tarpley and several more women. Siri Mullinix pops up on the small Credentials Committee. Gill, Schroedl and Lauren Gregg are on the Disability Soccer Committee. Mary Harvey is on the Life Member Task Force. Sandra Hunt is among the women on the Referee Committee. Finally, the Technical Committee is a 50-50 split that includes WNT coach Jill Ellis, April Heinrichs and Carin Gabarra.

(Lydia Wahlke, listed as a staff liaison on several of these committees, is a U.S. Soccer general counsel.)

Here’s the one that aggravates the Ranting Soccer Dad in me: The 12-member Task Force on Youth Issues has ONE woman — Hucles.

So would U.S. Soccer have some viable presidential candidates here? Perhaps.

Would it help to get more women involved on these task forces and then perhaps on the board? Definitely, and not just because that’ll increase the likelihood of having a female president one of these years.

NASL, U.S. Soccer cannot agree on court timeline

U.S. Soccer has responded to the NASL’s antitrust lawsuit — not a full-scale rebuttal of the charges, but a complaint about the NASL’s desire to get to court as quickly as possible.

The USSF response goes on to say:

  • USSF was served with the NASL complaint two days ago. (They underline it in the complaint.)
  • That complaint is really long — 71 pages, plus three declarations totaling 113 pages (Stefan Szymanski’s is 80)

NASL asked for this schedule, the USSF response says:

  • Oct. 4: USSF response to the suit
  • Oct. 11: NASL response to the response
  • Oct. 18: Hearing
  • Before all that: If USSF doesn’t agree to that schedule, then both parties should submit their proposed schedules by 10 a.m. Friday (Sept. 22, today). U.S. Soccer responded, “Dude, it’s Rosh Hashanah” (not in those specific words), and suggested Tuesday, Sept. 26.
  • And yet, USSF came up with a briefing schedule by Thursday night. NASL didn’t respond to USSF, says the response, instead sending a letter to the court.

Next up: USSF claims no decision is necessary by mid-October. Here’s another excerpt, with an amusing turn of phrase highlighted:

The next part: USSF points out that the sanctioning process usually doesn’t even begin until fall, with decisions in December. And this past year, Commisso bought the Cosmos from the scrap heap in January and managed to get the team on the field two months later.

(Yes, you could argue that such a timeline is less than ideal. Of course, USSF could also argue that they did the NASL a favor by saying “no” to Division II sanctioning in September rather than December.)

Next up: The “We can’t possibly do this in two weeks” argument.

Which leads to a paragraph that is incoherent and yet interesting.

Having played the “Hey, you guys used to be reasonable” card, USSF now plays the “If you wanted a speedy resolution, why’d you include 80 pages from Stefan Szymanski?” card:

I hope this case continues because I would really like to see declarations from the past and present members of these mysterious task forces. Many task forces and committees have reports in the Annual General Meeting report, in case you want to see what the Audit Committee or Open Cup Committee has been up to, but usually not the Professional League Task Force (which currently consists of U.S. Soccer staff, U.S. Soccer’s VP and a Paralympian from the Athletes Council) or the Professional League Standards Task Force (Lawyers R Us).

The proposed USSF timeline is basically an invitation for Jeffrey Kessler and company to skip Thanksgiving this year.

I’m no lawyer, but I think it’s safe to say the court isn’t going to buy a 13-day window there. My guess would be the USSF Opposition would be due before Nov. 17.

Exhibit A is Jeff Carlisle’s ESPN story about Commisso bringing the Cosmos back from the dead. Exhibit B is Brian Straus’ SI story on the same topic.

A complete fact/reality check of the NASL lawsuit (abridged)

Apologies to Reduced Shakespeare Company for the headline.

let-it-rot
“In the midst of all this public bickering, Let It Rot was released as a film, an album, and a lawsuit.”

I went line-by-line through the NASL lawsuit and was intending to come back to anything that has yet to be covered in the Pro League Standards (story with PDF / standards sans PDF). After 3,000 words, I realized I was repeating myself. Or nit-picking. (In paragraph 16, the suit refers to “USFF,” and I quipped that this had nothing to do with U.S. Futsal.)

Let’s just hit the generalities:

This is a direct challenge of U.S. Soccer’s power to regulate pro soccer.

Paragraph 4: “The USSF is a private organization and has no legal authority to confer immunity from competition to anyone.”

This is where we’ll find some of the interesting questions. Around the world, of course, the national federation governs the game in that nation, and that’s not disputed. You could argue that the FA has unfairly promoted the Premier League at the expense of other leagues, and I wonder if any lawyers in England have ever considered challenging the EPL’s money-making machine as a repression of “sporting merit.”

In the USA, the legal authority for U.S. Soccer comes from the Stevens Act, which poses some problems …

And, both implicitly and explicitly, the suit challenges FIFA.

Paragraph 57: “FIFA is a private international body that has assumed the role of organizing men’s and women’s soccer on a global basis. Its rules and regulations are privately derived and formulated, and do not have any governmental source of authority over professional soccer in the U.S.”

That’s a necessary challenge because FIFA expects the national federation to govern soccer in its country. In fact, it demanded that U.S. Soccer get moving on a Division I league as part of the deal to host World Cup 1994.

(In other words, if MLS didn’t exist, you might not have had a chance to see the World Cup, though I suppose only those of us over 30 — at least — actually had that chance. I wonder how this lawsuit will affect the next U.S. bid.)

I wonder if it’s theoretically impossible to meet Stevens Act and FIFA’s expectations at the same time.

lovejoy

Everything U.S. Soccer did to try to stabilize the lower divisions over the past 10 years is now being touted as “anticompetitive.”

d2Here’s one reading of the U.S. Soccer’s decision to step into the rift within the USL, then operating in Division II and Division III: The Federation wanted to buy time for the two factions — neither of which had attained critical mass — to either work things out or solidify their own interests. So it agreed to take over and run an ad hoc Division II league for one year, during which the teams that would become the NASL managed to get their ships in relative order. The Federation also wrote stringent Division II standards that the NASL teams — but not the USL teams — could meet, all in the interest of trying to make sure teams wouldn’t fold midseason any more. (Yes, I hear you, disgruntled St. Louis Athletica fans.)

(And let’s be clear: The USL isn’t blameless here. The USL’s centralized model is the stumbling block to any possible merger between it and the NASL, NISA, NPSL, etc., and that is looking more and more like a liability at this point.)

Here’s the NASL lawsuit’s reading, repeated several times in the suit: The league was all set to go Division II and then Division I, but U.S. Soccer was in the way.

And the process of granting waivers to the Standards is deemed suspicious, even though that kept the NASL going at Division II for a few years.

Everything is part of a conspiracy.

The word “conspiracy” appears 31 times in the document.

We’ve heard these arguments for years. MLS and the USSF want to monopolize soccer in the United States. I can’t imagine a country in which that’s not the case. Granted, you can get into the top tier through promotion/relegation in other countries, but the system is still set up so that you need vast amounts of capital to do so.

The USL, which got the same provisional Division II status as the NASL this year, is considered part of the conspiracy because it’s not interested in challenging MLS and cooperates with it, allowing MLS reserve teams to compete therein. But USL-MLS relations weren’t always so great, and the NASL was close to lining up the same partnership before abruptly backing away.

The NASL seems convinced MLS was terrified of it.

Paragraph 10: “Driven in part by “concern[s] that the new NASL … would import players from South America and in essence become the anti-M.L.S. by allowing teams to sign players without worrying about a salary cap or a single-entity setup,” (citing a 2010 Bleacher Report piece) and thereby create a more attractive product for fans, the USSF has conspired with MLS and other USSF members to block the NASL from effectively competing with MLS.

As with a lot of things in Jeffrey Kessler’s lawsuits against U.S. Soccer, such as the time his side tried to convince the court that the “Premier League” and “First Division” were both “Division I” leagues in England, this is a more persuasive argument if you assume no one with any soccer knowledge will enter the courtroom. USSF lawyers will undoubtedly respond that MLS has signed plenty of players from South America and loosened its salary cap so that teams like Toronto can spend like the Sept. 23 Doomsday prediction is accurate.

Twice, the suit touts the NASL’s Open Cup record vs. MLS teams. But it’s a bit selective, spanning only the years 2012-14. THAT is when the NASL had a 42 percent win record against MLS, as claimed in the suit. And it doesn’t mention that the NASL has not yet had a team make the semifinals, much less win it. Most of those wins were against MLS reserves in the early rounds.

Also difficult to explain away from an NASL perspective: The USL, playing at a lower division, didn’t seem to have any problem staying competitive with the higher-tier NASL. If the USL could be competitive as a third-division league, why is Division II status so important to the NASL?

The NASL believes the Professional League Standards are unfair.

I’ve questioned the divisional standards before. I don’t think a Division II league, for example, should be forced to operate in three time zones. Division I? Probably.

The suit adds a fun twist on the time-zone requirement, pointing out that top leagues in England, Germany, Spain, France and Italy have no such requirement. A look at a map should explain why.

Also, the suit complains that the USA’s standard of needing 15,000 seats in every Division I stadium would mean England’s Premier League is out of compliance. Bournemouth’s inability to renovate its stadium has far-reaching consequences, doesn’t it?

But it’s not as if the NASL is close to this requirement. Its median stadium capacity is 10,000.

Other countries have standards, too. In Germany, if you want to be in the top two tiers, you need a youth academy with a jacuzzi. To reach “Step 1” (the fifth division) in England, you have to be able to separate home and visiting fans in your ground.

Still, the suit raises a few legitimate objections. Why are Division I clubs required to have a “principal owner” with an Individual Net Worth of at least $40 million, when there’s a separate requirement for an ownership group to have a combined net worth of $70 million (to which the NASL apparently does not object) and a $1 million performance bond each season? Why did a 2015 proposal to raise the standards further — itself an ill-timed idea — propose that a Division I league must have 75% of its teams in metro areas of more than 2 million people, of which there are barely 30 in the USA?

Who made the Professional League Standards so stringent in the first place?

Hat tip to BigSoccer’s Knave, who pointed out that some of the owners who split from the USL to form the NASL in the first place were pushing for tougher standards in 2010. Are any of those owners still involved?

On Jason Davis’ SiriusXM show today, Steven Bank noted that some “anticompetitive” standards may actually be procompetitive because they help clubs stay in business, which would be a change from lower divisions of the past.

But this is a recurring argument in the suit. There’s no other reason for the standards to be the way they are except to keep the NASL down. I’m not sure history backs up that claim.

Hey, what about promotion/relegation?

Paragraph 11: U.S. Soccer doesn’t do pro/rel, so there.

Paragraph 12: NASL seeks to strike down all rules on divisions.

It’s a mixed message.

Paragraph 69 repeats the dubious claim that the FIFA statutes require divisional assignment primarily on sporting merit. We’ve covered this.

Antitrust depends on defining a market that is being claimed as exclusive territory by the defendant. What’s the market here?

Steven Bank addressed this issue this afternoon on Jason Davis’ SiriusXM show:

Steve Holroyd’s response:

Why do I know so many legal people?

The suit (Paragraph 35) actually says U.S. Soccer is restraining competition in the USA AND Canada, which may come as a surprise to the people launching a new league in Canada.

Is U.S. Soccer’s structure inherently flawed?

MLS has 57.1% of the votes on the Pro Council, which means it can pretty much select the two representatives to the U.S. Soccer Board. (Though one of them now is actually Steve Malik of North Carolina FC, which is in the NASL (and NWSL) but perhaps not totally down with what’s happened this week, reports Neil Morris.)

Is that just the natural order of things, though? How many federations have multiple organizations like this? Even in U.S. Soccer, the Adult Council has one organization — the USASA, whose president, John Motta, will announce within 30 days whether he’s running for the U.S. Soccer presidency. (Breaking news, I suppose, but it’s been discussed on Twitter.)

Is U.S. Soccer obligated to have more than one Division I soccer league?

No one else does, unless you count the oddball Indian Super League, which is a weird cross between a league and a tournament.

If so, is U.S. Soccer obligated to make that second league the NASL?

In Paragraph 198, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati is quoted as saying in 2007 that he figured we would have two Division I leagues in a few years.

Let’s assume for sake of argument this isn’t ripped out of context (I haven’t had a chance to check). That would mean Gulati — and apparently U.S. Soccer, since the suit alleges he and his conspirators have near-omnipotent power over it — have no objection to having a second D1 league.

So why the objection to the NASL?

Is it because the league muddled through under the guidance of since-disgraced Traffic Sports, among other troubles pointed out in an excellent overview by Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy?

Is it because the NASL brand name harkens back to the days of a popular but ill-managed league that broke every rule it could find?

Is it because the league is down to eight existing teams, some of which have their eye on the door?

Is it because, as Kartik Krishnaiyer points out in a piece that doesn’t spare the Federation, the NASL “dug its own grave“?

Or is it because U.S. Soccer has come to realize a second Division I league would muddy the waters, poison relationships with sponsors and broadcasters and result in a replay of the “Soccer Wars” that killed the American Soccer League after its 1920s heyday?

 

 

 

Podcast, Ep. 9 — Girls’ Development Academy with Travis Clark, plus a soccerpolitical rant

The podcast starts this week with a bit of a political rant. The news on DACA is hard to ignore, and we’ve had some ongoing overheated arguments in the soccer community.

The Travis Clark interview on the Development Academy starts around the 9:25 mark. A few landmarks:

  • Will the NWSL affiliates dominate? (19:45)
  • DA vs. high school (25:00)
  • Can we tame the chaos and still have multiple development pathways? (30:30)
  • A few clubs to watch in the DA (38:45)

Podcast: Ep 5 — Promotion/relegation with Peter Wilt

For more than a decade, promotion/relegation talk has been the bane of the U.S. soccer community’s existence. It wasn’t going to happen any time soon, and some people reacted to that news by harassing and slandering the people who explained the reasons why.

But now? We have a former Chicago Fire president — Peter Wilt, who has plenty of experience in other soccer leagues and U.S. sports endeavors — writing a manifesto on how we can make it happen, and he’s starting a league with the goal of making it happen.

In other words, the grownups are talking about it now.

Also, I’m doing a survey of lower-division clubs, from Division 2 to Division Not, and I need more replies.

In this week’s podcast, Peter Wilt and I go through history and FIFA statutes (starting around the 5:30 mark), argue the merits of pro/rel (18:15) and talk about what’s changed to make it more likely (31:30).

Quick note: This was recorded before Miami FC and the Kingston Stockade appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to ramp up the pressure on U.S. Soccer to force pro/rel into being, an action I fear will be counterproductive. But perhaps we can talk about that on a future podcast.

Listen away …

Podcast: Episode 4— Are WoSo players role models? Guest: Jen Cooper

Charles Barkley said he isn’t a role model. Women’s soccer players, though, have typically embraced that role. But does being on a pedestal come with inevitable pitfalls? Jen Cooper, keeper of Keeper Notes and the Mixxed Zone podcast, joins the show to talk about it.

We cover (in rough order; see Podbean for the timestamps): four-letter words, arrests, fan worship, Christie Pearce on divorce and therapy, Abby Wambach’s memoir, collective bargaining propaganda, the fawning mainstream media, 99ers heteronormative “girl next door” marketing, soccer moms, and yes, Hope Solo.

(And here’s the Barkley ad …)

Jill Ellis, the U.S. women and whether a “wrong experiment” exists

Sometime last night, while the U.S. women were losing to Brazil (before the frenetic last 10 minutes yielded an improbable 4–3 win), WoSo Twitter was melting down.

And it wasn’t without reason. I found myself recalling that Tom Sermanni lost his job for far less experimentation than Jill Ellis has been doing in 2017.

But the consensus is that Sermanni was unjustly fired, isn’t it? Wouldn’t we (mostly) agree that it’s a good thing that no block of veteran players is going to grumble every time the lineup changes and force U.S. Soccer to start from scratch?

Some of the concern on Twitter was about this elusive “chemistry” that the team might lose by shifting things around. But we’re still two years from the next World Cup. As it stands now, the players in the best form are Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press. Who’s to say it won’t be Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath in 2019?

National teams have to experiment at some point. Otherwise, we get situations in which, say, only one goalkeeper and two central defenders have any experience. That’s not good.

Now the question is whether Jill Ellis is choosing the right experiments. She has plenty of time right now, but it’s not unlimited. The team won’t play enough games to try every possible permutation of 40 or so players. The 3–5–2 formation trotted out earlier this year may be best saved for the time the USA would actually use it — trailing late in the game (like last night). We may also wonder why Lindsey Horan is getting a run at forward when we have plenty of evidence that says she’s best as a midfield playmaker, a position the USA has never had in abundance. (Arguably none since Aly Wagner.)

And yes, Becky Sauerbrunn at defensive mid was an odd call. I can see a bit of a case — she hasn’t been flawless in 2017, she could surely do the job, and moving her gives other players an opportunity. But there’s little doubt her best position and the team’s greatest need are in central defense.

Yet the experiments do yield some results. At this point, the clear choice for defensive mid — a position occupied by converted forwards all too often — is Sauerbrunn’s former partner, Julie Ertz. And if you had to pick one forward right now, you’d have to pick Christen Press. We can also conclude that Megan Rapinoe’s run of form in the NWSL is no fluke.

All that said, Ellis may still need to try other people in those positions this year. Players lose form and get hurt. That’s why the U.S. men rarely field a recognizable lineup from one game to the next in friendlies and the Gold Cup group stage.

It’s taken us nearly 20 years to realize a national team needs more than 15 players. Don’t spoil it now!

And let’s be clear — a lot of the failings you saw last night had nothing to do with unfamiliarity. Abby Dahlkemper isn’t sending weak passes back to the keeper because she’s not familiar with her defensive partner. Alex Morgan isn’t failing to spot her passing options because she doesn’t know Press or Dunn. (Maybe playing a bunch of blowouts in Lyon didn’t sharpen Morgan’s form. I’d be tempted to argue that playing in England might have hurt Dunn and Carli Lloyd, but it didn’t hurt the English national team!)

And still — the USA didn’t play that badly last night over the whole 90 minutes. The first Brazilian goal was a shot that Alyssa Naeher saves 99 times out of 100. After consulting with the Laws of the Game and a few refs, I’d say the ref erred in giving an indirect kick for dangerous play instead of a penalty kick when Sauerbrunn took a Holly Holm-style boot to the face — the intent may not have been there, but the Laws do mention “contact,” which obviously was.

Rewind to the 2008 Olympic final. The USA beat Brazil in that game because Hope Solo played out of her mind and Carli Lloyd took a shot that changed her life. The gap between the USA and Brazil has historically not been huge.

If you’d said before last night’s game that the USA would concede a goalkeeping howler, concede a goal on a world-class free kick, be robbed of a penalty kick and see Dunn, Morgan and Mallory Pugh squandering chances, would you have predicted a 4–3 win? Probably not.

So let’s not excuse everything. Maybe spread some of the blame to the players, some of whom are simply not at their best right now for whatever reason.

And we can hope Sauerbrunn stays on the back line from now on. Otherwise, on to the next experiment … (maybe Campbell at keeper? Or Krieger with Sauerbrunn in central defense?)