Martin Tyler’s Take on Football in America …

… If you’ve enjoyed Martin Tyler’s PBP work during the 2010 FIFA World Cup for ESPN and ABC, then get used to it, because Soccernet reports Tyler will return in the same role for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

If you haven’t enjoyed Tyler, well, then … sorry for ruining your morning.

In the article, Tyler touched on how he saw his role as not being one to try and convert the non-believers. I agree with that approach. Tyler is best left to commentate on what he sees in front of him and other key events in the tournament, not preach about how other countries run their national team programs or how to grow the sport in the United States. I enjoy his work, I know some don’t. Your mileage may vary. That’s OK.

But he did say one particularly interesting thing that I wanted to call attention to, if only to gauge reader reaction:

I’m not here to fan the flames of the whole promotion/relegation argument. I think there are dynamics in place here that are so different than what we see in England and in other countries that such a system may never work right. But I’m not as down on the system in England as a whole as others are, and I don’t necessarily blame it for the financial troubles that several English clubs at different levels have gone through. Mismanagement is in the eye of the beholder.

But I do think Tyler makes an interesting point. Many have trumpeted how for Major League Soccer to be successful, “major” markets such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have to field strong sides and be influential. Yet, the league is now in its 15th season with a “New York” club that has basically only been good at bashing its head into a wall and failing catastrophically for most of its existence.

Tyler seems to suggest the opposite strategy to MLS – that a bottoms-up approach would be more effective. Would the dynamics of our geography, the nature of our sports fans, and the patterns with which sports fans spend their dollars support such an idea?

There has often been discussion about somehow working MLS and USL together to create a two-tiered association that would offer promotion/relegation between the two. What Tyler would seem to advocate is starting at the ground floor instead, perhaps with a number of regional leagues where teams are built in a community setting and over the course of many years, a pyramid is created to join MLS from the bottom, rather than reshaping MLS (and the USL) at or near the top.

I think the concept would be interesting in particular locales, but it wouldn’t have the same support all over the country. Funding would be a big question mark, and there’d have to be some level of cooperation from MLS with regard to funding and/or sponsorship so that it’s clear that while each regional league is somewhat independent, Big Brother is there to lend a hand and communities would know that it could be worth the effort over many years to step up to the big time. In some ways, though, it would be the ultimate in player development, as top-level clubs would have plenty of teams to scout, some in their own backyards.

In short, it’d be a 15- to 20-year effort. It’d probably take some soccer lover with deep, deep pockets, to manage the whole thing. It’s an intriguing idea.

But it’s more for discussion and for kicking around than anything else, because I can’t imagine it ever happening. It’s a nice idea on Tyler’s part, and maybe it ties into the whole pseudo-romanticism of the little club like an AFC Wimbledon trying to climb the ladder toward football immortality.

It might work in theory, but I’m just not sure that whole concept would ever take hold and be adequately supported here.

Your thoughts? If nothing else, it gives us something to talk about during this 2-day World Cup hiatus.

Breakaway from USL doesn’t look so dumb… so far.

I’ve always said that one of the realistic options for the disaffected USL owners was to leave and then just setup their own league away from the USL umbrella. Today, that appears to be what has happened, with everyone bailing on Francisco Marcos and the USL. I have not been following this all that closely, but where does this leave Portland, who has one more year to go before they join MLS. Vancouver, who also joins in 2011, is part of the new league? Of course, it’s also unclear what the other non-breakaway club (Austin, Cleveland, New York, Puerto Rico, Rochester and Tampa Bay) plan on doing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this as long as they can keep ambitions and costs down.

Also, by breaking away they’ve just lost the TV deal with FSC. One of their first tasks ought to be calling FSC or GolTV up and trying to work out a new deal. Interestingly, they have applied to be a Division II league in the United States, but the new league has also applied to be the Division I league in Canada. Could the TOA be looking at making this new league the Canadian national league people have been hoping for, except one that has some teams located in the USA?

MLS should steer clear of USL dispute/confusion/issues for now

Early this morning, David Fellerath posted an interesting interview with Carolina Railhawks President Brian Wellman on the Triangle Offense blog site.

I thought, first and foremost, it was excellent work by Fellerath to post a long interview with Wellman that goes beyond the simple front office speak usually seen from folks in such positions, and if you have interest in the USL and/or the Railhawks at all, it’s worth a read.

Second, it gives at least one side of the story on the recent discussions revolving around the USL – whether there will be new ownership/managment for the league itself, or whether existing USL teams will start their own league, etc.

At different points, Wellman mentions either competing with Major League Soccer (in the USL), or partnering with MLS (likely in a new league). Aaron and I have talked on the podcast about how if the USL takes a plan of attack to full-out compete with MLS, it probably won’t work. And that’s true for a new league if formed, as well. The only way to outdraw and outdo MLS would be to spend more on players and if MLS could do that itself, it would be.

A partnership between a new league and MLS would be an interesting venture. But MLS would have to make sure that any such arrangement would be completely beneficial to the league before jumping in. The earlier talk about MLS perhaps buying the USL and such is pure folly. MLS has enough challenges on its plate running one league – one that is growing by the year and may benefit down the road from how media outlets such as ESPN have seemed to turn the corner a bit with regard to the sport itself.

Where MLS could benefit in partnering with a breakaway league would be in player development. With the disappearance of the MLS Reserve division, opening up player development agreements with teams in a new league (which for the most part, seem like they would be already existing clubs leaving the USL), could allow MLS clubs a better outlet to get younger players games and then call on them when needed due to depth/injury/suspension issues. That’s not to say the new league should be a minor league for MLS – and there would have to be something in place to make such an arrangement agreeable and beneficial for the new league, too.

Any such deal, however, seems to be way off in the distance at this point. While the future of 3-5 USL teams, maybe more, seems to be up in the air, and the prospect of a new league is just that, a prospect, Major League Soccer’s best move is to stay out of it for now and see what transpires. Getting involved now may only upset the apple cart for the USL, the idea of a new league, and perhaps MLS itself.

Even if MLS buys the USL, don’t look for Pro/Rel anytime soon

According to Ben Rycroft in Toronto, MLS is investigating buying the USL. I guess since the USL is apparantly knocking on death’s door, MLS thinks it might be able to get it at a very bargain price. Of course, this author reads as the next step towards promotion and relegation.

For the 3,406th time…

That isn’t ever happening in American soccer. It increases to risk to the individual investor far too much and, in one swoop, turns MLS into a terrible business proposition. That remains a fact. A purchase of the USL doesn’t change that.

What a purchase of the USL might do is give MLS its own minor league with a system of affiliations that more resembles the American Hockey League instead of England’s Football League. Sorry, truthers, this USL purchase may lead to a few good things, but pro/rel won’t be one of them.

I could see some kind of amagalmation of USL 1 and USL 2 into a single second division of affilated clubs supported to different degrees by their parent clubs. MLS is not going to purchase a bunch of shoestring operations (with Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and possibly Montreal gone, all the good organizations are in MLS now) and suddenly give them a chance to oust one of their long-standing clubs and chuck them into the “minors.”

Rycroft says that the MLS deal is looking more unlikely (and thus making his headline all the more misleading) and that some group, “comprised of private investors,” will instead purchase the league. I would be willing to bet that this will only hasten the end of the professional USL divisions.

If I were an owner of a USL 1 or 2 club, I’d want to get under the wing of a parent club as soon as possible. Do you give up a piece of your identity? Sure, but you also gain a great deal of security. Look at how long other AAA markets have had teams in their respective sports. Scranton’s had AAA baseball since 1946. Toledo’s has had a AAA team since the 60′s. Looking at hockey, Hershey’s had an AHL team since 1938 and Rochester’s had one since 1956.

For the USL to go it alone like this is simply bad business. If their goal is to survive long enough to have MLS inexplicably absorb them as European-style second division, they’re living in a world just as delusional as the pro/rel “truther” fans demanding it.

It’s not hard to imagine a 20 team minor league made up of current USL markets and a few new ones. Imagine this:

East:

  1. Baltimore
  2. Raleigh
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. Charleston
  5. Cleveland
  6. Miami
  7. Tampa
  8. Rochester
  9. Long Island
  10. Ottawa

West:

  1. Austin
  2. St. Louis
  3. San Antonio
  4. San Diego/Orange County
  5. Sacramento
  6. Minnesota
  7. Des Moines
  8. Edmonton
  9. Las Vegas
  10. Phoenix

I do think the two Caribbean teams might get pushed out here because I doubt MLS teams will want their affiliated players so far away. I included Canadian teams because 1) they’re clearly interested in getting teams and 2) the AHL, PCL, and IL have had teams in Canada for decades and getting them back and forth to the US quickly hasn’t proved a major issue.

I hate yet again to be the one who removes the straws the pro/rel truthers clutch so tightly, but it’s simply not going to happen. The EPL will get rid of promotion and relegation before MLS ever enacts it. They’ll only be joining all American sports, Rugby League’s SuperLeague and NRL, as well as Rugby Union’s Super 14 in doing so.

USL Stadium Rumblings in Charm City

Well this doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all:

I think Baltimore should be a great USL market. I am not sure having a team there called Crystal Palace Baltimore is the best way to exploit the market, but still, a small stadium up there would be a good addition to the USL and might also provide the Terps with an occasional Baltimore-area home.

Ed, as a Baltimore resident, what do you think?

Dancing on their poutine-covered graves


How much poutine do you think was thrown against walls last night by angry French-Canadians?

Thank you Santos Laguna! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I cannot think of another underdog run that I’ve disliked more than Montreal’s and Puerto Rico’s and now, thank goodness, it’s over.

Let’s be clear USL-truthers, last night only proved that the USL’s “best” can upchuck on the international stage just as well as any team in MLS. So enough triumphalism, enough strutting around telling folks that “MLS needs us, more than we need them,” and enough behaving seriously like this tournament was merely one small step towards conquering the World Club Championships and “bringing the title to where it’s always belonged – Canada.” Oh, how we heard that now MLS will have no choice but to give Montreal a team, Ottawa a team, Medicine Hat a team, and on and on.

I’ll say this though. Welcome to the club, Impact fans. Few MLS teams haven’t experienced at least one of these heartwrenching meltdowns in international play. In terms of that, welcome to the table. Now just stop behaving like a combination of Little Lord Fauntleroy and Jean Gerard.

To be fair, I give Montreal (and PR) a lot of credit for their perfectly nice run to the quarterfinals. But that’s all it is, a run. Well done, now scoot along. I’ve had quite enough of Bill Gaudette, David Testo, Adam Braz, et al. After all, we’re only a few weeks away from getting to watch the teams that those aforementioned guys weren’t good enough to play for.

For now Montreal fans, try and wipe the tears out of your poutine, try not to focus on the fact that as spring begins in most of North America, you’re stuck with sub-freezing temperatures for much of the next two weeks, and go back to your favorite activities like aggravating the rest of Canada, laughing at Youppi! and defending the indefensible Alex Kovalev.