I care about the USL.

I want everyone to read this and learn on where I stand when it comes to the lower levels of US Soccer. Yes I am a MetroStars/Red Bull NY supporter. I love my club and I support them to the hilt in every single match they perform in either the MLS Regular Season & playoffs, US Open Cup and their first time in the CONCACAF Champions League. But this doesn’t mean I refuse to watch the clubs that are below the first division league of US Soccer.

Besides the Men’s & Women’s teams at Ramapo College in the New Jersey Athletic Conference of NCAA Division III I have seen several matches in the lower levels of US Soccer. When I got back into the sport after the 1994 World Cup all I ever heard was MLS this & MLS that, never thinking there was a lower level until I saw advertised in the local Northern New Jersey Paper of the New Jersey Imperials playing at Farleigh Dickinson University’s Soccer field at the Hackensack/Teaneck campus (There was the Rutherford campus and still have the Madison, NJ campus). This was in 1996 when MLS made their debut and saw two players from the Metros on loan. Chris DaSilva & keeper Zach Thornton. It was at least a good six to seven block walk from my parents house to the field. I didn’t care about the quality of the PDL league then because all I wanted to see was some good soccer.

I was looking forward to seeing them play again in 1997, but sadly they were gone. They didn’t end their operations at the time,  just moved to a new facility that I didn’t know where it was. But I also heard about the Long Island Rough Riders from a friend and saw a match or two when I visited him and also cheered them on, even though I was still supporting the MetroStars back then.

Once I started to learn about the lower levels of US Soccer which at the time was called the United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues (U.S.I.S.L.) I tried to look around on my cable channels to see if they were also televised, but unfortunately no. But as the years went on and the technology got better not only did I follow my own club closer, but the USL sides as well. My thirst for knowledge of the United Soccer Leagues grew & grew just like the MLS. I wanted to follow everything that is affiliated with US Soccer, not just one area.

When I heard about the FA Cup and what it stood for I was grateful to see that US Soccer has the same type of tournament here which was the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Ever since I found out about it I got excited when an A-League side took out an MLS club. Or a D3 Pro side took out an A-League club. Yes there have been times when either the Charleston Battery, the Rochester Rhinos or recently last year Crystal Palace Baltimore took out my club in US Open Cup play. I was happy & sad. Sad because my club lost to a lower division side, but happy because this is why you have an FA Cup and to see a side like Crystal Palace Baltimore have a positive story written. Remember when the Rochester Rhinos won the 1999 US Open Cup that was broadcast by ESPN. I was excited to see them hoist the Thomas R. Dewar trophy & thought this would be a great thing to see again, but we all know what happened. ESPN said no more. They didn’t want a minor league side beating an MLS side to win the cup.

I watch the USL-1st Division match of the week on Fox Soccer Channel every Friday when their season is on. If I can’t watch it live, I’ll tape it or catch the replay. I enjoy the matches and as a novice will root for as many goals scored from both sides. I’ll even watch the free previews when it’s US Open Cup season on the USL Live website. It doesn’t matter if it’s an MLS match, USL-1st, 2nd or PDL I will watch it because these are our leagues. We all truly care about what goes on and what happens. I know that these clubs have been around longer than MLS, which is why I don’t pretend that they don’t exist. Why do you think I wrote about wanting USL to be apart of Pro/Rel with MLS one day. Because I think clubs like Charleston & Rochester do deserve to have their day in the sun.

But now I have to really talk turkey here. Get down to business with you guys that support your USL sides. I am hoping that the two pro divisions of USL are still going to be around. I honestly don’t know what’s going on at USL Headquarters in Tampa, Florida with President Francisco Marcos but let me applaud him for finding ways to make all the lower levels survive for so long. No salary cap, no restrictions of acquiring or player movements from club to club, no malarkey what so ever. Run the business like it should be just like what happens all over the world. But I have to say that I am concerned about the number of clubs that have been lost, or relegated by their own financial limitations.

My regular job at the moment outside of the Champions Soccer Radio Network and joining this website is at a Sports News Service in the NYC/NJ area. I found an ESPN Almanac from the year 2000 which has all the standings and statistics from the 1999 season in all sports including Soccer. As we all know the USL-1st Division was once called the A-League. The final Standings in two conferences from the 1999 season shocked the heck out of me. At the moment with eleven clubs ( 8 US, 2 Canadian, 1 Puerto Rican) to start the 2009 season, ten years ago there were a total of twenty-nine clubs.

Out of those twenty-nine clubs only nine are remaining from that list, but it would’ve been ten if the Atlanta Silverbacks didn’t close their operations for this season.

Seattle Sounders in MLS this year
Charleston, Minnesota & Rochester are in USL-1st
Pittsburgh & Richmond are in USL-2nd
El Paso, Long Island & the Toronto Lynx are in the PDL.

Now I’m not saying the current system is flawed & I’m not saying that USL should adopt the ways that is making MLS survive. But to be honest I’m nervous when you have two pro leagues losing tons of clubs from a huge amount reduced to eight or nine & the PDL has over sixty-one sides in four conferences that are regionally divided as well as playing a shorter season to help the college kids continue with their development before going back to school.

All I can say is this. For the pro sides to continue to survive if they don’t have a cushy deal with local high schools, colleges and athletic fields paying rent, then maybe it’s time to join Charleston, Rochester, Portland  to have their own stadiums. I also want to thank Brian Quarstad of Inside Minnesota Soccer (www.insidemnsoccer.com) informing me thru e-mail that the Thunder’s stadium situation has improved.

So you can have a novice tell you from left to right that the USL financial system is better than what MLS is doing, but if you want someone to actually research the stuff and give you an honest look and report about the lower levels of US Soccer, I am the one among others that truely gives a damn. We are all brothers under one giant umbrella that is US Club Soccer.

Here is the list of clubs from the 1999 A-League season in both Eastern & Western Conferences.

                       1999 A-LEAGUE CLUBS
Atlanta Silverbacks Cincinnati Riverhawks
Boston Bulldogs El Paso Patriots
Charleston Battery Indiana Blast
Connecticut Wolves Milwaukee Rampage
Hampton Roads Mariners Minnesota Thunder
Hershey Wildcats New Orleans Storm
Jacksonville Cyclones Orange County Zodiac
Long Island Rough Riders Sacramento Geckos
Lehigh Valley Stream San Diego Flash
Maryland Mania San Francisco Bay Seals
Pittsburgh Riverhounds Seattle Sounders
Raleigh Capital Express Tennessee Rhythum
Richmond Kickers Vancouver 86ers (Can)
Rochester Rhinos
Staten Island Vipers  
Toronto Lynx (Canada)  
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