Building Wide, Not Tall:
When there is a gap in the market, someone will fill it. At least that’s the way it was supposed to work. When the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) gave USL and NASL provisional Division 2 status in January 2017, there was suddenly a void at the Division 3 level, with no clear replacement. Since the divisions in US soccer are not linked and don’t constantly have teams move between them, it’s not strictly necessary to have a D3 league, but it does leave a niche to be filled.
News broke this week that there are not one, but two leagues aiming to fill that niche. One is a USL backed league, and the other is aligned with Peter Wilt’s Club 9 group, which means it has an organizer with a plan and a good track record of finding ways to make soccer work in various markets. Brian Straus’ take on the USL D3 can be found here, and SocTakes broke news of the alternate D3 league here.
While there’s always going to be drama in the lower tiers of US Soccer, this is encouraging news. MLS has certainly clung to the traditional American sports building tall: limit the number of teams, put them in great cathedrals, and build the fan base through the draw of bright lights and big names. Unfortunately, the lights south of the border and across the ocean are a little bright, their cathedrals a little more hallowed. MLS doesn’t have the qualities necessary to outshine LigaMx and the Euro leagues, so it’s efforts have not garnered the attention it hoped for.
What the D3 news means, I hope, is that MLS and US Soccer are realizing that most places the game has really taken root, it is due to a very wide base that links the local leagues with the upper echelons. Most countries do it through pro-rel, but at the moment it seems unlikely for US Soccer. But having an option of a next step, a new division, a wider ranging challenge for teams is a start: teams will determine their own level of involvement through investment, not invincibility, but that seems rather American to me. Going from a state or regional league to the semi-pro/amateur NPSL/PDL, then maybe up to a new D3 league should be attainable.
To make it really work in linking the top and bottom, US Soccer needs to make some changes. On a night where we saw Monaco advance to the Champions League semifinals despite having a population of 38,000, it’s time to loosen or ditch the overly restrictive population requirements for leagues. It’s also a necessity to allow a broader form of fan ownership in lower leagues. Making those two changes would bring a whole swath of new cities and towns into the fold, helping to build the pyramid in a way that encompasses a wider range of population centers and all the attendant local weirdness that goes along with it.
Games of the Week:
MLS: FC Dallas v Sporting Kansas City: It’s the two best teams of the early season facing off. Success has been built on defense, with the teams allowing 5 goals in 11 games between them. Per American Soccer Analysis, both teams would have been expected to give up 6 goals however, which would have put them in top half, but outside the best four defensive teams if we were to use xGA as our main metric. The relative anemic offensive performance so far can likely be pegged to missing Mauro Diaz for Dallas, while Sporting have re-worked their midfield to work Graham Zusi in at left back and to account for the injury to Benny Feilhaber. This will also be my first MLS game of the season, so I’m excited.
NASL: New York Cosmos v Jacksonville Armada. While the NASL has four unbeaten teams, the only one with multiple wins is Jacksonville. Seeing them on top of the league is surprising, but they have some decent talent on their roster and the season is young. They will have a good test away to the Cosmos, who are playing their second home game at MCU Park at Coney Island. The Cosmos got a late start in preparing for this season due to off the field troubles, but managed to trade away wins with the other new money team in NASL, Miami FC. A week after losing at home without a shot on goal, the Cosmos managed to get a win in Miami. That should provide an early bit of momentum for Gio Savarese to work with as he seeks to reestablish his team on top of the league.
USL: Gonna mention three local derbies worth checking out on YouTube:
- Rochester v New York Red Bulls II – last year’s champs visit the 2015 playoff winners
- Los Angeles Galaxy II v Orange County SC – a minor league battle foreshadowing the coming LAG-LAFC fight in MLS.
- FC Cincinnati v Louisville City FC – two of the biggest movers and shakers in USL are only two hours apart. Cincy draws big crowds, which adds to sense of occasion.
I did terribly last week, only getting two results and six score guesses right. Here are my picks for this week: