A Fitting End to the NASL Season

2895399918This Sunday, in a college football stadium, repurposed as a lacrosse stadium, temporarily outfitted as a soccer stadium,  the modern iteration of the New York Cosmos raised their second Soccer Bowl trophy in three years.  10,166 fans turned out to the game in Hempstead, NY, a North American Soccer League record for the championship match in its still young existence.  With Spanish legends Raul and Marcos Senna retiring this year, it was a fitting end to the Cosmos’ season.  However, with the loss of both these players, the Cosmos, and the NASL lose a considerable novelty factor.  Can minor league soccer flourish in America?

A player who perhaps stole the show was the Argentine forward Gaston Cellerino who moved to the Cosmos after a respectable career in South America.  On the night, he scored a hat trick, proving to be the difference between the two sides.  The Cosmos have many other players that put in admirable performances not just this game, but all season long like goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, and leading scorer Leo Fernandes.

While Maurer played in the Chilean Primera division prior to coming to the NASL, Fernandes provides a feel-good story of a local boy turned team hero.  Born in Brazil but raised in Suffolk County, the NASL website reports that Leo played college soccer at Stony Brook,  leading the team in goals and assists before being promoted to the premier league of American soccer, MLS.  In January of 2015 he was signed on loan by the Cosmos, and made a huge difference for his local club, ending the regular season as its leading scorer, even higher than the legendary Raul.  These are the kinds of stories that NASL needs, but in reality we live in a saturated sports landscape filled with football, college football, baseball, basketball, hockey, European soccer, and American soccer.  To expect minor league soccer to succeed is almost an unfair expectation given the circumstances.

In England, the reality of promotion and relegation definitely tempers expectations for lower division sides that stand to make far less money than their Premier League counterparts who also profit from Champions League participation, Europa League participation, and massive television contracts.  In the closed system of American soccer,  this challenge becomes even greater as the teams in the lower divisions have no outside chance of promotion to the majors, especially when the MLS officially decides to end its expansion efforts.

The NASL has many success stories to be proud of.  One only needs to look at the other team playing on Sunday to see an example.  In their second season, the Ottawa Fury averaged around 5,400 fans at TD Place Stadium, over half of its capacity, without the novelty factor of Raul or Marcos Senna.  Another franchise, the Indy Eleven continued to draw large crowds despite failing to make the playoffs, and averaged almost 10,000 fans at their own setup in a university stadium.  Also in attendance at the championship match was Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony, part of the ownership group that announced earlier this year that a franchise was returning to Puerto Rico.

Even though expectations are not as high as one might expect in MLS, the NASL still aims to be competitive.  The Cosmos have already set to work finding a replacement star for Raul, and are still attempting to rescue an ambitious stadium plan a few miles down the road from their current situation at Hofstra University where they only averaged less than 5,000 fans per game this season.  Unfortunately, the Empire State Development Corporation has shown no sign of interest in the project despite any political and union support that the team generates.  While the championship win definitely strengthens their argument for elite status in the league, a 25,000 seat stadium plan may need to be diminished in order for any movement to take place.

Time will tell if this version of the NASL can succeed in its own right.  If novelty factors like star Europeans choose to go to MLS instead, the NASL might need more reliance on local loyalties and the off-the-wall promotion strategies you can expect to find in other minor league sports to survive.

REFERENCES

http://www.nasl.com/roster/leo-fernandes

NASL Attendance: 2015

 

 

 

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When will it end for the USMNT?

jur The word of the season is despair.  After a stunning loss to Jamaica at home and early exit this summer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the United States Men’s Soccer Team woes continued into the fall with another shocking defeat in the newly billed “CONCACAF Cup” against rival Mexico in extra time.  Adding insult to injury, the team had another embarrassing home loss in a friendly to Costa Rica a few days later.  Naturally, passionate American fans are calling for Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s head.  What happened to the magic wonder team that defeated the Netherlands and Germany? 2015 started off with so much promise, but in retrospect it looks like a failure.

Where does the US go from here? Are things so bad that they need to start fearing how a World Cup run is going to end before it starts? Is Klinsmann’s time up? Some questions surrounding the team are easily answered, others not so much.  Having signed Klinsmann to a massive contract after the 2014 World Cup success, short of failing to qualify for 2018 Russia, Klinsmann looks like he is here to stay, good or bad.  From a publicity standpoint this could be beneficial given his media celebrity, but negative given the poor press the team will keep generating if it continues to lose under his regime.

In recent news, former Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera entertained the idea of a move to the USMNT if the call was given to him.  While this is all speculation, it does highlight the uncomfortable fact that the country’s confidence in Klinsmann is increasingly dwindling.  The even more recent U.S. Women’s National Team visit to the White House serves as a reminder of just how far behind the men’s team stands in terms of world power.

When the U.S ended a 40 year drought to qualify for the World Cup in 1990 it was the start of a promising era.  Since that year, the team has qualified for all six subsequent World Cups, and even hosted one in 1994.  The coaching carousel has changed many times in that period with no coach appearing in more than two consecutive World Cups.  Klinsmann would like to be the next coach behind Bruce Arena to accomplish that feat.  But first, he needs his team to qualify for one.  The U.S. missing the 2018 World Cup stands to severely damage all the progress made in American soccer’s popularity and reputation in the past 15 years.  There is faith in this team that reached a high point with Tim Howard’s performance against Belgium last year.  But that faith is hanging by a very small thread.  If Klinsmann’s team does not qualify in 2018, he stands a lot more to lose than just his job.

When Will The U.S. Open Cup Be Taken Seriously?

TUSATSI_7914304_167117624_lowresonight is the U.S. Open Cup, the American equivalent to England’s F.A. Cup, Italy’s Coppa Nazionale, and Spain’s Copa Del Rey. The game is between a team in the thick of an MLS Cup Playoff push, Sporting Kansas City, and a team on the outside looking in, the Philadelphia Union.  If Sporting Kansas City wins this year, it will be their third trophy in four years (U.S Open Cup Champs 2012, and MLS Cup Champs 2013).  If Philadelphia wins tonight, it will be the club’s first piece of hardware in its 6 year history.

This is the 102nd edition of the oldest soccer tournament in the country, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and Univision.  Sporting KC expects a respectable 800 fans to trek to Philadelphia for the game on a Wednesday.  On the flip side, Philadelphia is trying to make up for last year’s loss in the final at the same venue, PPL Park.  The game is a tale of two teams in very different positions, with SKC not only in the playoff hunt, but also at the back end of a very successful rebirth that transformed the once lowly Kansas City Wizards, playing in cavernous Arrowhead Stadium to the very popular Sporting team that plays in the more intimate, often sold-out Sporting Park.  In Philadelphia, while PPL Park has a beautiful view of the Delaware River,  and a passionate fanbase in the Sons of Ben, the team has historically spent very little on star power, leading to a disconnect with fans, but making their second straight U.S. Open Cup Final appearance an impressive feat.

My question is why is this game in the middle of the work week? It’s like American soccer is trying to belittle its own major events.  The Super Bowl is on Sunday for a reason. Everyone is home whether they’re 5, 25, or 75 years old, male or female.  By holding this event at 7 pm in the middle of the week, up against network premieres of many primetime programs, it’s like the U.S. Soccer Federation is asking prospective viewers not to watch.  This mentality needs to change soon, or the U.S. Open Cup will just serve as another example while Premier League soccer gets better ratings in America than American soccer.

REFERENCES

http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/09/29/us-open-cup-final-sporting-kansas-city-vermes-feilhaber

http://www.philadelphiaunion.com/history

http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/09/28/us-open-cup-final-philadelphia-union-sporting-kc

http://www.sportingkc.com/es/image/paulo-nagamura-sporting-kc-vs-philadelphia-union-may-14-2014

The Rise of Los Angeles FC

bowl(FORMATTED)At the end of the 2014 Major League Soccer season, the flickering flame of CD Chivas USA was extinguished.  The sister club of Mexican giants CD Chivas Guadalajara, and the clear second team in Los Angeles to the Galaxy was a failed experiment that was finally coming to an end.  In its first two seasons of operation, Chivas managed to draw a respectably high crowd of 20,000 fans that came to see a respectable team.  However, in its penultimate season of operation, Chivas only managed a dismal average attendance of 8,000 fans per game.

What went so horribly wrong for Chivas USA? The combination of the Vergara family buying out the franchise in 2012 and major staff shakeups are possible conclusions.  On top of that, a talented team would have difficulty in the shadows of MLS juggernaut LA Galaxy that over the years have boasted Landon Donovan, Steven Gerrard, and David Beckham even without sharing the same stadium.  But none of that matters now.  In the wake of Chivas USA’s death, MLS has created a new franchise to spark a renaissance of Los Angeles soccer.  And it’s official, the club now has a name: LAFC.  I can already see the jokes that one could conjure from this moniker (i.e. FC Laughs) but the initial buzz around the team has been promising.

The club doesn’t officially begin play until 2017, but a few key pillars to their success have already been created.  For starters, the club already has a planned downtown stadium proposal (with released renderings) that could create a geographical divide in the city with Galaxy fans.  In addition, the team has made no secret of its goal to target millennials, as soccer is finding its fanbase in America.  According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, millennials are 16% more interested in soccer than any other U.S. demographic.  The team has also already reached out to former supporters groups of Chivas USA, and rumors are already swirling about Cristiano Ronaldo transferring to the team in its inaugural season.

The Los Angeles market already has two baseball teams, two basketball teams, two hockey teams, one soccer team, and will possibly see one or two football teams relocate to the area in the near future.  Even so, this is likely the last expansion sports franchise that the city will see for a very long time, an advantage for MLS considering the potential buzz around the first season that one can see now with NYCFC or Orlando City.  All things considered, LAFC is off to a great start.

REFERENCES

http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2014/10/28/6875547/chivas-usa-contracted-la2-launch

http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2015/09/25/lafc-unveil-latest-stadium-renderings-ahead-supporters-workshop-saturday

http://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/la-sp-la-football-club-20150915-story.html

Copa America Centenario: When Good Ideas Go Bad

Copa_America_Centenario_USA_Logo_FC_Dark_bg_cmykIt was supposed to be an anniversary celebration that would be the highlight American soccer event of 2016. It was going to be a moment to honor 100 years of the storied Copa America competition with a special, unified tournament between CONMEBOL, the South American soccer federation, and CONCACAF, the North American soccer federation. Together, with star-studded lineups like Brazil and Argentina playing against northern powerhouses, USA and Mexico, it would truly be a cup of the Americas. The buzz might just have what it takes to rival the UEFA European Championship. But now, it might not happen. Or worse, it won’t happen with the USA involved.

How did we get here? Why would any soccer official in their right mind cancel or move what could be the biggest men’s soccer event in the United States since the 1994 World Cup? Corruption is almost always the answer when FIFA is in the picture. At the beginning of the summer, when U.S. and Swiss authorities acted on information that FIFA was involved in a bribery scandal, they uncovered a plethora of damaging information surrounding the 2016 Copa America tournament in particular, with the corrupt presidents of both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL playing a key role in its organization and development. As a result, holding the event is not just a question of marketing potential, but now a question of ethics for an organization attempting to rectify its deceitful public image.

Here is the lowdown on what this means for the U.S. The Euro tournament consistently gets great viewership not just in the stands but on TV around the globe. The Copa America, while not as big as the Euro, still generates better TV viewership than the paltry performance soccer fans expect to find at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The U.S. Men’s National Team performance at this year’s edition certainly didn’t help those figures.  A tournament combining the colossal giants from Copa America with the World Cup stalwarts, U.S. and Mexico, would almost definitely mean great TV ratings in the United States. Even more so, a tournament combining these teams that takes place inside of the United States would pretty much guarantee those great TV ratings, huge attendance figures, not to mention another boost for soccer in America that has been sought and coveted since 1994.

If the tournament is not held, all these potential sales dollars will be lost, which casts a negative shadow on both CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. But if the tournament is moved to another country, the only real shadow will be cast on the U.S, the nation that sacrificed a marketing bonanza for the purpose of righting the corrupt ship that is FIFA. Time will tell just how noble this sacrifice truly was.  If no good deed goes unpunished, then a good deed involving FIFA could metaphorically be the equivalent of imprisonment.

REFERENCES

http://prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com/2015/08/27/2016-copa-america-centenario-will-be-played-but-concacaf-might-not-be-involved/

http://www.espnfc.com/copa-america/story/2583612/copa-america-2016-may-not-be-in-us-says-conmebol-president

FOX Sports on verge of acquiring Copa America Centenario TV rights

What is Causing the Downward Spiral of the Chicago Fire?

MaloneyThese are rough times for the Chicago Fire, Major League Soccer stalwarts since 1998. Currently sitting at the bottom of the standings in league play, knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup in the semifinals by the Philadelphia Union, and short on the heels of losing a bidding war to attract international (albeit aged) superstar Didier Drogba to Montreal, the team is now transferring midfielder Shaun Maloney, a respected international star in his own right, to Hull City in England.  What makes matters worse, Maloney reportedly requested the move back to England himself.  What is going so wrong for Chicago, and why can’t the third largest media market in the U.S. draw any star power?

Continue reading “What is Causing the Downward Spiral of the Chicago Fire?”

Purple Reign: Opportunity in Orlando

073115-MLS-South-PI-CH.vadapt.955.high.0There is something spectacular happening in Orlando. It isn’t happening at Disney World, and it isn’t happening in Universal Studios’ Island of Adventure. It’s happening a couple miles away at the Citrus Bowl, where a successful soccer franchise has finally emerged in the Southeast. After the early MLS failures of the Miami Fusion, and Tampa Bay Mutiny, the best part about this experiment is that this technically isn’t year one of the project. If years spent in lower divisions of soccer have proven anything, it’s that Orlando City has a ravenous fan base that’s here to stay. Here are some other reasons why.

Continue reading “Purple Reign: Opportunity in Orlando”