NASL, USL & Division III Expansion News & Rumors Tracker – May 2017 Edition

League expansion news and rumors pop up regularly and it is hard to keep track of who said what, where and when. Midfield Press has created the Expansion News & Rumor Tracker as a monthly installment following the word on the web about possible future North American Soccer League and USL clubs.  

Note: With the announcement of USL D3, as well as reports of another D3 league in the works, we’re shifting our focus to include coverage on possible teams for that, while scaling back MLS and Canadian Premier League coverage.

While we were waiting for the Division II leagues to announce their expansion teams for 2018, the story of the past two months has been the emergence of not one, but two upcoming potential Division III leagues to fill the hole vacated by USL’s move to DII.

USL itself officially announced the launch of USL D3 for the 2019 season.  USL D3 will give the United Soccer League an option to extend its model to markets that do not meet Division II status of a population of 750,000 or more.  Providing an example of the type of market USL is seeking out for DIII, USL D3 twitter account has chronicled a tour of mid-sized MSAs in the Southeast, such as Lexington, KY, Knoxville, TN, Asheville, NC, Greenville SC and Columbia, SC.  Successful PDL clubs that have expressed an interest in going pro might also find USL D3 an easier jump up in standards than going directly to DII.  Albuquerque Sol, FC Tucson, San Francisco City FC and the Long Island Rough Riders are among the PDL clubs that have expressed an interest in going pro within the last year.

Meanwhile, SocTakes broke the news that Club 9 Sports is looking to launch a Division III league as well.  Club 9’s league would likely be aligned with the North American Soccer League and the NPSL, based on past comments from Peter Wilt in an interview with Midfield Press.  It could serve as a natural jump up point for successful NPSL teams that have expressed an interest in going pro, such as Detroit City FC, Grand Rapids FC, FC Buffalo and FC Arizona.  Earlier stage potential NASL expansion groups working with Club 9, such as Oakland, Cleveland and Milwaukee, could possibly start in this DIII league, as could the Atlanta 2018 group should NASL not approve them.  Club 9 advised efforts in Orange County and San Diego are nearly done deals with NASL, however.

The Division III developments are exciting as they offer more opportunities for markets across the country to get professional soccer.  They also point to the emergence of possible two system structure within US Soccer, with MLS-USL-USLD3-PDL as one set of affiliated leagues in a closed system similar to major and minor league baseball, with chance of NASL-Club 9’s D3-NPSL developing into an alternative set of affiliated leagues that could one day introduce promotion and relegation.

 

As we begin the month of May, NASL has yet to announce new expansion teams for 2018.  This is not a function of lack of interest – there is plenty – but of NASL’s more cautious approach to admitting new investor partners into the league after bad experiences last year with several recent and long term team owners.  The NASL appears to be prioritizing vetting expansion groups thoroughly over rushing to make sure they meet the benchmark that would virtually guarantee DII sanctioning for next season, 12 teams with one team in the Central Time Zone.

When Neil Morris asked NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal about the expansion timetable on the Inverted Triangle Podcast, Sehgal said, “I’m not going to comment on the timing and nor will I comment on which markets they are, but there are reports and rumors on where we are looking and where we are in advanced conversations.  I can say this: We are in advanced conversations.   I won’t put a gauge on the timing.  I don’t want to artificially promise something to the fans and have that not come true. But is our number one area of focus, and we’re working on it.”

Morris was able to get Sehgal to share a little bit about the NASL’s new process for accepting investors, who are approved by an expansion committee consisting of the New York Cosmos, San Francisco Deltas and Miami FC:  “We have instituted a 10 point plan… what we really want to see from expansion groups coming in now is a really well thought out business plan.  We want to know who the people are that are involved, why they are doing this. Where they are going to do it? So we need to see a stadium contract or a plan for a stadium – not just the short term, but where are they going to play long term.  Where are they seeing this project going?  We want to see a developed business plan.  So what are the assumptions they are making on their expenses, but also on their revenues.  How are they going to justify those revenues?  The purpose of this is not to make people jump through hoops.  It is to make sure that people are committed to what they are doing, and that they are ultimately going to be capable of delivering on that because it is a promise that affects not just them, but the whole league and it affects every team in the league.  We don’t want to have teams come in, to then have them go out.  So we’re being very meticulous about how we are approaching expansion.”

While not strictly on the topic of expansion, but pertinent to the related issue of the league’s sustainability, Sehgal shared with Morris that NASL has instituted a form of Luxury Tax on teams that spend above a certain level on player salaries, “There is a measure we have in place that allows teams to continue to spend what they feel is appropriate for their market, but they have to make contributions to the league to be able to do that.  Contributions based on the level of the salaries that they are paying their players.  I won’t call it a Luxury Tax, but it is comparable to a Luxury Tax, but we are not calling that internally.”

 

Dormant NASL Teams

Fort Lauderdale Strikers


Summary: The Fort Lauderdale Strikers will sit out the 2017 NASL season while the league attempts to find new owners for the club.  Two groups have been reported as having interest in buying the Strikers.  The most active group has been the owners of PDL club FC Miami City, who are said to have had a bid for the team turned down by the league. According to Kartik Krishnaiyer, a former Fort Lauderdale Strikers and NASL employee, the FC Miami City group may be in the process of lodging a new bid.   A second potential investor group with interest in the team reportedly included former Strikers manager Gunter Kronsteiner in partnership with Austrian billionaire Frank Stronach.

May 2017 Update:  NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal told Neil Morris of a Striker sale:  “There is a potential effort that is ongoing.”  However, Sehgal wouldn’t comment on whether it advanced significantly since December.

During an interview with Charlie Stillitano and Ray Hudson on SiriusXM radio, New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso was optimistic when speaking to former Fort Lauderdale Striker Hudson about a return of the Strikers.

Empire of Soccer spoke to former Strikers Managing Director Luis Cuccatti who shared that two groups have been looking to acquire the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of late.  One group is the previously reported PSG Academy, owners of FC Miami City in PDL.  This group is reported by Empire of Soccer to be in the lead.  Local business owner Mario Noriega is the other potential owner for the Strikers.  Noriega reportedly had a pair of bids rejected by NASL earlier this year.  The hold up with the PSG bid is that the club wants greater access for its academy teams to Central Broward Stadium, where the Strikers finished up their 2016 season.  The Strikers do not own that stadium, so that would have to be resolved between PSG Academy and Broward County.  Should PSG Academy not be able to find an arrangement that works to its liking, it is possible Noriega could come back into the picture, based on the EoS report.

Gunter Kronsteiner told Jason Bruzzichesi of Midfield Press that his investor group, which was reported to include Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach, has ended their pursuit of the Strikers.


Rayo OKC

Summary: Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reported on Twitter that Rayo OKC could be looking at relocation to either Omaha or Las Vegas after going on hiatus for a year. In his article breaking the news that Alberto Gallego would join the New York Cosmos as First Assistant Coach, Nipun Chopra reported that “rumors persist that Rayo may be interested in starting a new NASL franchise in a different city at a future date.”


May 2017 Update:  NASL Interim Commissioner Rishi Sehgal told Neil Morris of the Inverted Triangle Podcast that the Strikers and Rayo are still members of the NASL LLC at this time, even though their teams are not on the field.  Regarding the possible future involvement of those clubs on the field again, Sehgal said, “We’re still working through those issues with both sides and we’ll make some announcements I hope going forward… but right now it is a private business matter.”

Nipun Chopra of SocTakes reported on Twitter that NASL is still chasing Rayo OKC’s minority owner for the club’s exit fee, so a positive resolution for this club looks less positive than for the Strikers.



Public NASL Efforts

Atlanta

Summary: Midfield Press spoke with Trey Brantley, who, along with Southfund Partners, is working to bring NASL and NWSL teams to DeKalb County in the eastern part of the Atlanta metro area.  The city of Atlanta is in both Fulton and DeKalb counties.

The group plans to build a large youth sports complex in DeKalb and has the support of local officials.  Two stadiums would serve as the centerpiece of the DeKalb complex, a smaller stadium with a turf field and bench seating, and a mid-sized stadium with a grass field and individual seating.  The smaller stadium will be ready by Fall 2017 and the mid-sized stadium would be ready in 2019.

The group is considering names for both clubs.  For the men’s side, the historic NASL name the Atlanta Chiefs is under consideration, while the Atlanta Silverbacks name is not due to its rights being owned by another entity.

The Atlanta group launched its official website at ATL2018.com, and shared details on its stadium complex plan.  The $200M complex itself will be called Atlanta Sports City, and will consistent of two stadiums, soccer fields for youth tournaments, a 204,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility, restaurants and a hotel. The larger stadium on the site will debut in 2019, and be known as Stonecrest Stadium.  The prospective NASL team would play in the smaller stadium for the 2018 season, with the prospective NWSL team joining for the opening of the larger stadium in 2019.

Stonecrest Stadium is described as “a classic soccer stadium in the tradition of Craven Cottage & Stamford Bridge.  Rain or shine, our heroes will play the game as it should be played – on a pitch of natural grass measuring 115 x 75 – just as it is in Wembley. The stadium will hold 15,000 rabid soccer fans – an intimate setting that ensures that every seat will be right on top of the action.  The park will have all the latest amenities: multiple restaurants, digital signage, video boards & interactive exhibits & games.  It’s going to be a great place to watch a game.”

While some have questioned the wisdom of launching a second professional team so soon after the debut of MLS’s Atlanta United FC, the Atlanta group has strong support from community leaders in the eastern Atlanta metro area.

Greg Griffith, executive director of the Georgia Soccer Association told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “This facility will provide a place for dozens of local tournament and give us the ability to bid on major regional and national tournaments. The proximity to metro Atlanta and the best airport in the country makes this a great location for a sports complex.”

James Tsismanakis, executive director of Discover DeKalb, said “Atlanta Sports City is the definitely going to be one of the biggest economic development projects around.”  The AJC reports Atlanta Sports City is projected to draw 3 million visitors annually, create 2000 jobs and has an estimated annual economic impact of $197M.

The Atlanta group is targeting a Spring 2018 debut.

May 2017 Update: NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal discussed the possible Atlanta NASL team in depth with Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast.  “We have spoken with Trey.  We are looking at a project that he’s putting together, but I can’t really comment on it much more than that,” Sehgal told Morris.  Asked whether it was the discussion was one of several the league is in with expansion groups that are in advanced stages, Sehgal said,“There is a discussion going there, but I wouldn’t say it is one of the advanced discussions.”

Sehgal shared some of the league’s thought process as it evaluates a possible return to the Atlanta market.  “I’m not saying that we would… It is something that we are working on and seeing if it makes sense with Trey.  If we’re going to be in a market with another team at any level, we want to make sure that that team is going to succeed.  Not just, OK, I will do this and I think it will succeed.  We want to be convinced that it will succeed.  If we go back to Atlanta, they will have made a very compelling case to our ownership that says they can operate a team that can be successful alongside the incredible success that Atlanta United are having.”

“I think it is a very big market.  When the Silverbacks were operating, I don’t think they captured a significant portion, or any portion or that market’s attention.  I think there was a lack of a marketing budget.  There were folks who lived in close vicinity to the stadium who had no idea there was a professional team there.  I have a connection to the Atlanta area.  I went to college there.  So I know Atlanta reasonably well, though it’s been a few years since I’ve been out of college.  Atlanta is a big market, and there is a lot of traffic there.  One of the things that we know about soccer is that it is a local game.  You’re going to draw most of your fans from the near vicinity of the stadium.  So I think there is the potential in Atlanta, and in other markets around the country, for more than one professional team.  Now that team, when it launches, has to do something to mean something to the community and they have to do things to earn the community’s trust and the community’s support to really become part of the fabric.  So that will be part of the calculus as we look at Atlanta.  But otherwise from just a pure market standpoint, there is incredible corporate support in Atlanta, it’s a huge media market, it has all sorts of demographics that trend well for soccer.  Lots of millennials, huge multicultural market, not just hispanics, but people from all over the world who love the sport.  So it is something we would look at, but it has to be done the right way, frankly as every market has to.”

Midfield Press understands that the Atlanta group continues to work with NASL on their plans with the intention of joining the league for Spring 2018, however they are unlikely to be the first expansion club NASL announces this year.  Possible fallback options for the Atlanta group should they not be able to come to terms with NASL would be either one of the Division III leagues that may be starting up, USL-D3 or more likely the DIII league being developed by Club 9 Sports, as reported by SocTakes.

More on the Atlanta NASL: ATL2018.com and Midfield Press’s interview with Trey Brantley.

 

Chicago

2019 is the soonest Chicago NASL will be ready

Summary: Peter Wilt and Club 9 Sports are working to bring an NASL team to Chicago.  The idea is for the team to play in the city of Chicago, which would allow it to provide an urban alternative to the suburban MLS Chicago Fire.  The key issue needing to be resolved before Chicago is accepted into NASL is finalizing their venue.  

The team solicited fan suggestions for its official name and colors on its web site, and they will narrow down the finalists and allow fans to vote on the name.  The classic NASL moniker Chicago Sting is likely to be one of the options, having received a plurality of votes in the initial survey.  Other fan suggestions included Chicago City SC, Municipal Chicago and Wild Onion FC.  

Peter Wilt also shared details on the club’s planned supporters trust with the Flakoglost Podcast.  The supporters trust could own as much as 10% of the club.  “We have the legal work all done.  We have a supporters trust board of directors in place, 5 persons.  They have met regularly, about once a month. We give them updates.  We are very transparent with them.  The concept is to sell eventually 3000 shares at $500 a piece plus a season ticket.  Those folks would get a vote in who [the supporters trust’s] five board representatives are, and one of those five will be a representative on the team’s board, and they’d have a full vote on everything we do.  They would have transparency into our business and they would have actually more than 1/7th vote on certain issues that are critical to fans.  For example, maybe changing the team colors or changing the team’s name… something like that would have to be approved by the supporters trust board. So it’s exciting.  I love that idea, because it engages the fans.  Not only those 3000 shareholders that become vested in the team, but really all fans of the team become vested because they’ll have a sense that this is the people’s team and it belongs to the community.”

NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal spoke about Chicago NASL to 551.  “It’s a big market,” Sehgal said. “Peter’s certainly made his efforts in Chicago very public. There’s another professional team in the market. We won’t make a rash decision about going into any or all of these markets. What we do know is that we’ll grow — we have to.”

Midfield Press spoke with Peter Wilt in February regarding various NASL expansion projects he is involved with, including Chicago NASL.  Peter provided an update on the Chicago effort.  “For a while we’ve been in the position that we have three different investors that want to be the controlling partners, but we don’t have a venue that meets our minimum standards.  Usually it is the other way around.”

“We have to be in the city.  There’s one existing venue that could make sense.  We are pursuing two other options.  One is a developer who is working to build a 15,000 seat stadium privately for us.  Aside from that or using an existing venue, the third option is privately building a modular stadium on a to be determined site.  If everything moves forward quickly, there is still an opportunity to start in Spring 2018.  We’re getting close to the time where we would need to push to Spring 2019, though.  I am not a fan of starting in the Fall Season.”

May 2017 Update: Peter Wilt provided an update on Chicago NASL, which he continues to be actively developing.  Wilt shared that the Chicago group is “Pursuing five venue opportunities – one existing and four would be new construction, all in the city. 2019 is the soonest we’d be ready.”

More on Chicago NASL:  http://www.chicagonasl.com/ and Midfield Press’ interview with Peter Wilt.

Orange County

Orange County’s approval should be imminent

Summary:  A group connected with the L.A. Wolves of the UPSL is looking to bring a NASL club to Titan Stadium in Orange County, it was revealed in Midfield Press’s interview with Peter Wilt and Michael Collins.

Pete Capriotti, CEO of Cotti Foods, is the OC NASL effort’s primary investor.  Cotti Foods is the second largest franchisee of Taco Bell in California, as well being a large franchisee of Wendy’s and Pieology. Collins is the Sporting Director of the Wolves and will serve in that capacity for the OC NASL club.  Wilt is advising the group through his role with Club 9 Sports.  

The OC NASL club will maintain ties with the L.A. Wolves, using them as a reserve team similar to how NASL teams use NPSL clubs, as well as looking to the UPSL as a source of talent.  Wolves owner Yan Skwara is expected to continue to run the UPSL team and serve as the commissioner of that league, which recently implemented promotion and relegation.

Eric Wynalda has signed on to manage the Wolves in the run-up to the US Open Cup, and Collins confirmed that Wynalda is the favorite to coach OC NASL. “Our full intention is to have Eric be part of the team for a long period of time.  We’re excited to have someone of Eric’s caliber as part of the NASL effort.”

Collins gave a glimpse into how OC NASL plans to build their roster using a combination of local talent and veterans of NASL, MLS or Liga MX.  “We plan on bringing 6-8 of the starting players that are presently on the Wolves into the NASL squad.  We would continue to look at the UPSL as place to recruit players from.

“We’re also going to look into the college ranks, at PDL and NPSL rosters.  I am very well connected into a lot of the local college programs, as is Eric.    Between Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, USD, San Diego State and others, I am very confident that we will be able to get a lot of quality local players.  California is bigger than a lot of European countries.  I believe we can find a lot of quality players here in the state.  It won’t be easy, but it is a great resource.

“We know that the NASL is a very high level of competition.  Local recruiting is in addition to bringing in high caliber players, at least one or two from Liga MX.  Eric played down there and speaks Spanish fluently and German fluently in addition to speaking English pretty well.  We will need to have 4-5 players who have played at the MLS, Liga MX or NASL level.”

The group is targeting a Spring 2018 debut, and Wilt told Soccer Nation that he hoped to have business plans for San Diego and Orange County finished by the end of the week of March 10th.

May 2017 Update:  Neil Morris asked NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal about the Orange County group we reported on in February.  Sehgal said, “We are not 100% of the way there yet, but there certainly is a compelling story for Orange County.”

We checked in with Peter Wilt on the OC group, and he said that their process with NASL “should be done very soon.”  This group is probably the best bet for the first expansion announcement from NASL this year.

More on OC NASL: Midfield Press Interview with Peter Wilt and Michael Collins and L.A. Wolves FC

 

San Diego/North County – Mind Soccer Group

Peter Wilt says the Mind Soccer Group’s San Diego NASL bid Is close to being accepted

Summary: Demba Ba went on record about his project to bring NASL to San Diego when speaking with Eric Wynalda on his SiriusXM FC show.  “Me and a group of investors, a couple of players as well in the project, are doing something for San Diego now,” Ba told Wynalda.  “We are finalizing now and are close to getting the license.  We are working with the guys from Club 9 Sports.  We have a LOE from the NASL.  We are very close to finalizing the team in San Diego, which will be something big.  We have some players in our group of investors, one of the most famous guys you know is Eden Hazard.  Very close friend of mine and he’s excited as well.”

Peter Wilt shared details on the San Diego NASL investor group working with Club 9 Sports in our interview with him in February.  “In San Diego, we have been working with two gentlemen: Alex Gontran, who is Demba Ba’s agent,  and Vagno Chandara, Managing Partner and Chief Brand Officer at Mind Soccer Group.  They are working with four high level pro players include Demba Ba, Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye.  Locally, Bob Watkins is the president of Mind Soccer Group and a San Diegan. He is a veteran sports executive in San Diego, specifically in rugby.  He is one of US Rugby’s grand old guys.  They are looking at rounding out their group with other investors even though they more than meet the net worth requirements currently.”

Wilt shared that the group, which targets a Spring 2018 start, was considering building a modular stadium in the North County area, and more details of this effort emerged in a report from a local ABC affiliate.  ABC spoke with Mind Soccer Group spokesperson TJ Zane, and reported they are “exploring a number of locations around the county for a modular stadium of 5,000 to 7,500 seats. It includes sites in Escondido, Oceanside, and off State route 56.”

Soccer Nation interviewed Wilt for their podcast and asked if it were possible NASL could accept both the Mind Soccer Group bid in North County and Albion SC somewhere in the southern part of the San Diego market.  Wilt responded by saying never say never but called it unlikely.  Wilt told Soccer Nation that he hoped to have business plans for San Diego and Orange County finished by the end of the week of March 10th.

May 2017 Update:  Neil Morris asked Rishi Sehgal the status of the San Diego NASL bids on the Inverted Triangle Podcast.  Sehgal said, “Certainly there have been discussions.  They both – well I can say one of them has gotten to a place where we have entered into some very serious negotiations.  It’s something we are looking at, but alongside all of the other activity that is rumored to be going on in San Diego, it is something we are carefully considering.”  Sehgal wouldn’t confirm which group is in advanced discussions.  Asked if both of the groups have been in communications with the league, Sehgal said, “Yes.”

Peter Wilt shared an update with Midfield Press on the Mind Soccer Group’s San Diego bid, saying like Orange County, it “should also be approved very soon.”

More on the Mind Soccer Group: MindSoccer.com and Midfield Press’s interview with Peter Wilt on San Diego.

 

San Diego – Albion SC

If the Mind Soccer Group’s NASL bid is accepted, it is unclear where that leaves Albion

Summary:  There are two groups interested in bringing NASL to San Diego.

Albion SC operates a large youth academy and an NPSL team called Albion SC Pros.  Starting the NPSL was a step towards their next goal, creating a full season professional side in NASL or USL to give them a full development system from youth ranks to pro soccer.  In an interview with Midfield Press, Noah Gins, CEO of Albion SC, said “We continue dialogue with NASL. We are seeing the stability and are liking the direction. At one point, there was a rush to try to get teams in the league for Fall 2017. That has backed off, which is a good thing. Everyone is targeting Spring of 2018.”

Albion SC was working on finalizing its business plan and investor group for NASL, according to Noah Gins in March.

May 2017 Update:  NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal acknowledged that the league has been in discussions with two groups in San Diego when speaking with Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast

More on Albion SC: Albion SC Pros official site and Midfield Press Interview with Noah Gins.

 

NASL Rumors With Multiple Sources and/or League Commentary

Baltimore

The Baltimore Bays were a NASL 1.0 club

Summary: In an otherwise grim article about NASL, Sports Illustrated reported that one of the expansion groups looking to join the league is based in Baltimore.  The city has long been on the NASL radar. Baltimore was expected to be part of the new NASL when it began in 2011, but former USL franchise Crystal Palace Baltimore failed after the 2010 season in USSF D2 before it could join the league.  

The league’s sponsorship deal with Baltimore-based Under Armour in 2016 led to speculation that UA founder Kevin Plank or someone else with ties to Under Armour might launch a team.  This speculation was fanned by reports of Under Armour’s plans for a new 50-acre campus include a 7,000 seat waterfront stadium.

Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated and Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer listed Baltimore among the cities with expansion groups in discussions with the NASL.  In a tweet, Straus mentioned that Bill Peterson hinted to him that the Baltimore group was led by foreign investors.

A Baltimore NASL bid could find itself in a race to market versus a USL bid.  A report emerged in the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun in March that a Baltimore investor group could be closing in on USL expansion.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Detroit

Detroit City has been confirmed as in negotiations with the NASL

Summary: Detroit City co-founder Sean Mann shared with Midfield Press that the team is working on a move to a full season professional soccer league is and talking with both USL and NASL, as well with the MLS bid group led by Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert.  Mann said “We have been very open that we’ve been talking to investors about going up to the professional ranks in the near term.  We want to play more games, and play on a national stage. We have a fan base that deserves that.  In terms of which league, we are having those conversations with our investors and that is a focus of this offseason.”

In September 2015, a Detroit expansion group presented at the NASL Board of Governors meeting alongside San Francisco and OKC, according to reporter Sulaiman Folarin.  The group was reportedly not connected to Detroit City FC.  

A Detroit group was named by Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated as being in advanced discussions with the NASL about expansion. 551 reported that Detroit the group in discussions with NASL is not Detroit City FC.  “I can’t really comment on who the group would be,” said Rishi Sehgal to 551. “I can say that Detroit is a market that we’ve been interested in for a long time.”

“Personally, I have a vested interest in Detroit, having grown up in Toledo. We’re all aware about the excitement that Detroit City FC is bringing. I went to one of their games as a fan two years ago and it was amazing. The success they’ve had building a crowd and a community, and the improvements to their stadium, speaks to the strength of their project. Whether they’re a group that comes in or it’d be a different group isn’t something I can comment on.”

May 2017 Update: Detroit City FC has been in “extensive talks” with NASL, according to the club’s co-owner Todd Kropp, however they are not set on the league.  “The soccer landscape in the U.S. continues to evolve every day. There are still a lot of details that need to be clarified regarding the D-2 and D-3 leagues so we can’t really say right now that there’s any particular preference,” Kropp told Crain’s Detroit Business.

More on Detroit City FC:  Detroit City FC official site and Sean Mann’s interview with Midfield Press.


Hartford

The Hartford Bicentennials played in NASL 1.0

Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated and Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer listed Hartford among the cities with expansion groups in discussions with the NASL.  Straus mentioned the Hartford group as in advanced discussions with the league.  Our sources told us the group is not Hartford City FC, the new club starting play in the NPSL this year, and that a Hartford NASL expansion team would be several years out.  A renovated Dillon Stadium would likely be the target location of an NASL expansion team in Hartford, though any group looking to do that would have to contend with baggage left over from the prior attempt to renovate Dillon.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.


Las Vegas

Summary: Midfield Press learned that the Las Vegas Football Club group is working to bring professional soccer to Vegas.  The investor group consists of local business leaders committed to bringing pro soccer to the area, and they are sufficiently capitalized for either a NASL or USL bid. It is not clear whether the group will choose NASL or USL, and a suitable venue is the main hurdle in the group’s way at this point.  In addition Las Vegas FC, the group also has registered the classic Las Vegas Quicksilvers name.

May 2017 Update:  While there is nothing new on the Las Vegas FC group, another group has emerged looking to bring pro soccer to Las Vegas.  However this group is working with USL (see USL Vegas entry below).

 

New Orleans

We received a “no comment’ when asking if the Jesters were the New Orleans NASL group

Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer listed New Orleans among the cities with expansion groups in discussions with the NASL.

May 2017 Update:   Midfield Press received word from multiple sources that the New Orleans NASL group reported on in December was the NPSL New Orleans Jesters.  The Jesters ownership is believed to surpass the DII requirements for ownership net worth. One source shared that representatives from the Jesters were in attendance at the NASL semi-final in November.  Midfield Press received a “no comment” on NASL interest through the NPSL, and we were told the Jesters presence at the semi-final was only due to the partnership between the leagues.  However, we feel that this is a situation that continues to bear watching.

 

Oakland

The Oakland Stompers played in NASL 1.0

We heard from several sources that there is an effort to bring a NASL team to the East Bay Area underway.  Peter Wilt confirmed Club 9 Sports’ involvement with an Oakland/East Bay effort but described it at very early stages.

May 2017 Update:   Brian Helmick confirmed that an Oakland NASL group is in the early stages during an interview with Midfield Press before the Cosmos-Deltas game on April 29th.

 

Celtic NASL

Celtic USA rumors are running out of steam

British tabloid The Sun reported that Celtic FC looked at putting a team in NASL.  Boston, Detroit and Hartford were cities Celtic FC considered according to an in-the-know Big Soccer poster.  Boston may be blocked due to a marketing agreement between Celtic FC and the Boston Celtics.  Celtic Underground recently reported the club executive Peter Lawwell will be traveling back to the USA this summer to re-engage NASL talks. Celtic Underground’s @celticrumours twitter account mentioned hearing talk of Philadelphia and the West Coast as locations the club was eyeing.

In 2016, we examined the most logical landing spots for Celtic NASL, however nothing says they will follow the logical path.

May 2017 Update:   Nothing new.

 

Single Source / Early Stage Rumors

Cleveland

The Cleveland Stokers played in NASL 1.0

Summary: We followed up on Peter Wilt’s comment to the Inverted Triangle Podcast last year that he was working with a group that wanted to bring pro soccer to Cleveland.  Wilt said of Club 9 Sports, “There are groups in a dozen markets that we talk to on a regular basis including Cleveland.  Some are closer to becoming real than others.  I think Cleveland at some point is going to make a fantastic market but there’s nothing imminent at this point.”

May 2017 Update: Nothing new.

 

Milwaukee

Summary: Early stage efforts are underway to bring a pro soccer team to Milwaukee.  “Oakland and Milwaukee are at the very beginning – they are among the dozen markets we’re having discussions,” Peter Wilt shared in his interview with Midfield Press.

May 2017 Update: Nothing new.

 

St. Louis

The St. Louis Stars played in NASL 1.0

The Foundry St. Louis MLS group, which has been passed over as the preferred MLS bid in favor of SC STL, replied to my tweet asking them if they’d consider starting up a team in another league such as NASL by saying, “Yes.  We already are” and “Details forthcoming when the #SCSTL dust settles.”  

A subsequent Twitter exchange between the group and a fan indicates they are continuing to work on plans for a professional soccer team in St. Louis, though they are holding off announcing anything to not distract from the MLS bid.  

Given that the SC STL group is the preferred MLS bid and that Saint Louis FC already exists in USL, NASL would seem the obvious choice if Foundry St. Louis were to launch their own pro soccer team.

May 2017 Update:   With the St. Louis MLS bid fizzling out after the ballot measure to fund a stadium failed, the opportunity could emerge for the Foundry STL group to pursue their plans to bring a high level of soccer to the city.

More On Foundry St. Louis: http://foundrystlouis.com/

 

Club 9 Sports DIII League

Peter Wilt and Club 9 Sports are working on a new third division league, as outlined in an article by SocTakes.   Wilt discussed what he would want to see in a DIII league during his interview in February with Midfield Press.  His comments there may be the best guide we have on what this new league might look like: “I’d like to see a new third division league created that would have a relationship with both the NASL and NPSL, so that when fully populated with 20 teams, could enter into a promotion and relegation relationship. Some of the teams in the new third division would likely come from existing NPSL markets and some from new markets. Eventually I’d also like to see NPSL create a level with more professionalized clubs that would play a longer schedule and operate at a fourth division level separate from the amateur NPSL clubs. This would potentially allow the fourth division NPSL clubs to also participate in a pro/rel structure.”

Given Wilt’s comments that he would like to see the league have a relationship with both the NASL and the NPSL, some of the top candidates for this third division would be groups already working with Club 9, NPSL clubs, and potentially other lower league clubs that are running at a high standard and have expressed a desire to go professional.  A DIII league would offer these clubs an easier step up than jumping directly into DII.

Some of the groups listed in the NASL section above could also be candidates from Club 9’s DIII league.  If the NASL passes on Atlanta, Club 9’s DIII would be the most likely landing spot for that group. If Detroit City FC is unable to come to terms with an investor with the requisite net worth to support a DII team, they could start their pro effort in DIII. While Club 9’s Orange County and San Diego groups are solidly fits for NASL and close to joining the league, some of the earlier efforts they are working with like Oakland, Milwaukee or Cleveland could be end up as better fits for DIII depending on the financial wherewithal of the ownership groups involved.

Speculative list of other NPSL & other lower league teams that could be candidates for Club 9’s DIII:

 

FC Arizona

Summary: New NPSL club FC Arizona, based in the eastern part of the Phoenix market, has set a goal to join NASL within the next 2-3 years. In an interview with the American Pyramid blog, FC Arizona founder Scott Taylor said, “Five year goal, we really hope to have been in the NASL for 2 or 3 seasons by then, keeping the NPSL team for development, etc. I decided the NPSL’s connection to the NASL was important. Never really considered the UPSL. Although I’m sure that it has it’s place in some markets, it wasn’t for us.  We do have very big plans. But, first things first. Year Number 1 must be done right.”

Scott Taylor reiterated his intention to bring his club up to NASL to Midfield Press in our recent interview with him.  “Rather than talk, we would rather show people what we can do. We definitely have a vision, and we plan to execute that vision based on what we know has worked with other clubs in other cities, but tailored to our market. We plan on doing things the first year right and seeing how the community responds at the gate. Yes, I have 2 very, very large local investors waiting to see how 2017 goes and if it goes well they are all in.

“I have exchanged emails with the NASL front office, they are aware of us. We are interested in breaking down some barriers in US Soccer, that just because a team isn’t in MLS, doesn’t mean they are not quality. That is how the public perception is, and we plan on changing that in a big way.”

May 2017 Update: Nothing new.

More on FC Arizona:  FC Arizona official site and Scott Taylor’s interview with Midfield Press.

 

FC Buffalo: In an interview with Midfield Press, FC Buffalo indicated that they are actively pursuing investors to help them take a step up to professional soccer, though they did not indicate whether they were interested in USL or NASL.

 

Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids FC is in talks with investors about a move up to USL, according to Michigan Live.  Costs for an 8,000 seat soccer stadium for the club are estimated at $40M.  “It has been a lot of work the past couple months but it has also been great,” team owner Matt Roberts said. “I think the evolution of soccer in West Michigan is just going to keep moving forward.”

“The next step is a major one and that is to get the financial backing to get it done,” he said.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Lansdowne Bhoys:  Celtic-affiliated Lansdowne Bhoys of the Bronx/Yonkers area of New York indicated an intention to go pro by 2018 amidst their US Open Cup run.

 

Philadelphia Fury

Summary: Jonathan Tannenwald reported that the owner of the American Soccer League’s Philadelphia Fury, which plays in the South Jersey suburb Glassboro, is looking to partner with investors to bring a NASL team to the Philadelphia market.   The Philadelphia Fury is a classic NASL brand. Tannenwald reported that potential investors could include a La Liga club as well as parties from Dubai and Las Vegas.  

Midfield Press connected with Philadelphia Fury owner Matt Driver in September for an interview updating the status of the club’s NASL ambitions.  Driver continues to work on getting investors for a NASL move but there is currently not investment in place.  He is working with Jack Cummins and Club 9 Sports, of the Chicago NASL bid, as consultants to help him with his NASL plan.  

Driver understands that playing in a stadium in Philadelphia or close to the city, such as Campbell’s Field in Camden, would be critical to the success of a Philadelphia NASL team.  In terms  of his own role in the NASL club, Driver sees himself as a potential Sporting Director while leaving the business operations to other partners.  He sees the American Soccer League, which he runs today, as a potential talent feeder for the Philadelphia Fury.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

The United Soccer League made major announcement in April, that it is launching a DIII league in 2019, filling a gap it left behind when it earned provisional Division II sanctioning from US Soccer this past offseason.  Midfield Press learned in a discussion with USL President Jake Edwards that creating a new third division league was part of the USL’s pitch for DII status. Adding another level of competition gives the sprawling USL another option for adding professional clubs to its system, which currently includes the unofficial Division IV Premier Development League.  PDL consists of mostly amateur clubs.  USL has created a website and twitter account for the DIII league.  The Twitter account features a tour of potential markets that have thus far included Lexington, KY, Knoxville, TN, Asheville NC, Greenville SC and Columbia SC.

Announced USL DII Teams

Nashville SC

Summary: DMD Soccer has been awarded a USL franchise for 2018.  The DMD group includes investors with ties to health care companies including Marcus Whitney, former chairman of Nashville FC of NPSL, David Dell president and COO of LifePoint Health and Christopher Redhage, co-founder of ProviderTrust.  Chris Jones will serve as the GM of the Nashville USL club.

The Nashville USL group decided against using the Nashville FC brand as originally intended, opting to use a new name and logo, Nashville SC.  Previously it was reported that they acquired the brand of NPSL team Nashville FC in exchange for a 1% stake in the club and a seat on the club’s board.  However, since there could be a potential trademark conflict with a local youth soccer organization that also uses the Nashville FC name, the USL group chose this other direction.  

DMD intends to create a similar investment model for members of the NPSL Nashville FC club.  “During the August 29 meeting DMD reiterated its desire to provide for formal supporter investment in the USL franchise on the same terms as previously proposed to NFC. In light of the foregoing, the Board of NFC agrees that the most appropriate manner of accomplishing this is through a new nonprofit corporation,” the board of Nashville FC wrote to its members, according to the Nashville Patch.

Meanwhile, Nashville SC will enter a PDL club this year rather than an NPSL club, which makes sense as PDL is part of the USL system.  The team will be known as Nashville SC U23.

A potential soccer war for Nashville was over before it ever really began, with Bill Hagerty, the former head of the Nashville NASL group, re-focusing his efforts on bringing Major League Soccer to the Music City.

Nashville SC hired Soccer United Marketing executive Court Jeske as their first CEO.  Jeske told The Tennessean that his “No. 1 goal is to get the word out, make sure that people in Nashville and Middle Tennessee understand what we are doing and be a part of the community.”

Nashville SC and the group looking to bring MLS to Nashville are in merger talks, according to the Nashville Business Journal.  “We are united in our goal to bring MLS to Nashville and view our efforts as one movement. We are having discussions about how we move forward together,” Clint Brewer, spokesperson for the Nashville MLS group told the Business Journal.  Nashville SC declined comment.  Bill Hagerty, a member of the MLS bid, one led an effort to bring NASL to Nashville before shifting his sights to MLS after then-NPSL club Nashville FC announced for USL.

Meanwhile, Nashville SC is working to build its organization in Tennessee.  The first signs will be when Nashville SC U-23, which replaces the NPSL team, debuts in PDL this year.  “Obviously the PDL is our first jump with the Nashville SC brand,” Redhage told USLsoccer.com. “We’re looking to build the foundation, identifying our core values, identifying our vision and beginning to push that out at the amateur level. Our hope is that it builds our foundation so in 2018, when we come into the league, we have a rabid fan base that already understands what Nashville SC is about, where we’re going and what we want to accomplish.”

“Our partnership with the Tennessee State Soccer Association has been really successful,” Redhage said. “We’re working hand in hand. A lot of these things take a while to build, but when you’re building a foundation, you’re building it not for today but for the future, so that’s what we’re excited about.”

Redhage told USLsoccer.com that they have reached over 3000 season ticket deposits.

Former Atlanta Silverbacks and Colorado Rapids skipper Gary Smith is rumored to be the frontrunner to be the first manager in the history of Nashville SC, according to a usually accurate Big Soccer tipster.

May 2017 Update:  MLS Cup winning manager Gary Smith was indeed confirmed by the club as the first head coach of Nashville SC.  “I have been involved in soccer all of my life, and this is a wonderful opportunity to build both the soccer culture and technical foundation of a club,” Smith said. “The fans and support throughout the city will be an integral element in our drive for success. To see how the team has been embraced is very exciting.”

More on Nashville SC.

 

Dormant USL DII Teams

Austin Aztex

Summary: The Austin Aztex have been on hiatus since the 2016 season their home field, House Park, was damaged in flooding.  The club does not seem to have made much progress towards getting back on the field.

“There is no suitable stadium. Until there is, the Aztex won’t field a team,” Bobby Epstein, chairman of Circuit of the Americas and a majority investor in the Aztex, told the Austin American-Statesman.

Club owner Rene van de Zande told the Statesman,  “Nothing is formally confirmed, but taking the suitable soccer venue needs into consideration, 2018 has become a more realistic target.”

“I want Austin to have pro soccer,” Epstein said. “If there was a stadium, the Aztex would be playing now.”  The Statesman reports that the club found University of Texas’ Myers Stadium too expensive, while they have also ruled out playing in high school football stadiums because they wouldn’t be able to generate revenues from alcohol sales.  The paper reports that there has not been progress on the offer extended by the Austin Huns rugby club to share a stadium with the Aztex.

“I’m probably out of the stadium-building business,” Epstein said. “We’ll keep looking for long-term solutions.”

USL president Jake Edwards told MLSsoccer.com that the club is working on getting a stadium built in Austin.  This runs counter to prior comments from Bobby Epstein that he is “out of the stadium-building business.”

While reporting on USL’s ascension to D2, the Austin American-Statesman got a quote from owner Rene van de Zande that may hold a flicker of hope for fans for pro soccer in Texas’s capital. “Yes, 2017 is out,” van de Zande told the paper. “The Aztex are in continued discussions with the league to return in 2018.”  The venue continues to be the issue holding back the return of the Aztex.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

More on the Austin Aztex.

 

Rumored USL DII Teams (larger market bids associated with USL or bids specifically linked to USL DII)

Baltimore:  The Baltimore Sun and Washington Post both reported that a Baltimore group has submitted a very strong application for an USL expansion team, according to conversations with league officials.  The Sun says that the group is working with the league to identify venues for the team to start in either 2018 or 2019.  

Previously, the Wilmington Hammerheads supporters group the Port City Firm reported on their Twitter account that Baltimore is the top relocation target for the Hammerheads ownership group.  Steven Goff of the Washington Post dug into the Hammerheads potential move to Baltimore.  Goff reported that the team aims to play at Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University.  Names floated for the club include such creative options as FC Baltimore and Baltimore FC.  Goff reports that the University of Maryland Baltimore County was also looked at as a potential venue for the club, but an agreement could not be reached.  That indicates this process is pretty far along.  Goff suggests the league has spoken to investors interested in expanding to Baltimore in addition the the relocation interest from Hammerheads owner George Altirs.

Sports Illustrated also reported that investors are interested in bringing a NASL club to the Charm City.

The Baltimore Bohemians PDL club has shut its doors for the 2017 season. There may be hope for USL in Baltimore within the official statement left on the Bohs website:  “As of the 2017 season, the Baltimore Bohemians Soccer Club will be on hiatus until further notice. We are taking this time off to refocus our efforts on bringing a legitimate professional franchise to this great city.”

May 2017 Update:  George Altirs would appear to be out as a potential owner of a Baltimore USL team.  The former Wilmington Hammerheads owner was announced by the Harrisburg City Islanders as their new majority owner.

 

Birmingham: Scratching The Pitch reported Birmingham, Alabama as a potential USL city along with their own rumors on Nashville and San Diego USL teams.  The site reported that a link between the Birmingham Hammers NPSL team and the USL bid is not evident.

Rumors of a Birmingham USL team picked back up on Twitter from local podcaster Maddux Mullinax, suggesting there will be announcement before the end of the year.  Mullinax reported that a USL team is a done deal and is likely to play out of BBVA Compass Field at the University Alabama Birmingham, and that the team is looking for a coach with MLS experience.

Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reports that Birmingham and Memphis are USL targets as the league seeks to expand its footprint in the Southeast.

May 2017 Update: Nothing new.

 

FC Dallas 2: FC Dallas has been rumored to be interested in starting its own USL squad for a while.  Jason Davis reported that Dallas’s reserve squad may debut in either 2017 or 2018.  Will Parchman reported that Dallas has preliminary plans to put a team in USL in 2018.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

DC United II:  DC United is planning to launch a USL reserve team in 2018, according to a report from Steven Goff of the Washington Post.  The Post reports sites under consideration include the Maryland Soccerplex, which once hosted the USL club Real Maryland and the University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field.  Goff adds that the club has discussed building a 5000 seat soccer stadium along with George Mason University.  The facility would serve as DC United’s training ground, the USL squad’s primary stadium and would serve the youth academy as well as George Mason U’s soccer teams.  The model for the USL franchise would follow New York Red Bulls II. 

A follow up article from Steven Goff focused on the potential Baltimore USL team mentions that the likely destination for DC United’s USL club is Northern Virginia.

May 2017 Update: Nothing new.

Reports suggest the Fresno USL bid is not from longtime PDL club the Fuego

Fresno: Evan Ream reported on Twitter that the USL will likely expand to Fresno for the 2018 season, and that the group will not be the PDL Fresno Fuego.  The group could look to acquire the Fuego brand, however.

The Fuego have long been interested in moving up to the pro ranks in the past.  “I really think Fresno is ready for professional soccer,” said Scott Alcorn, former coach of PDL Fresno Fuego told the Fresno Bee in July 2015. “It’s something that has never been done in the Valley. Pro soccer would be something that’s totally new, and I think we’re ready for that.”

“The USL has asked us for the last eight years if we want to move up to the next level, but it hasn’t been in our best interest given the economic challenges of 2008 through 2012,” Fuego GM Jeremy Schultz told the Bee. “It wasn’t time for us to make that move. But over the last couple years the Fuego has been profitable, which is a great accomplishment.”

“You look at some of the cities where soccer is flourishing, and I really believe Fresno has the fabric of a soccer town,” Schultz said.

“It’s ingrained in us. We kind of grow up with a little chip on our shoulder how we’re viewed in this state, and I think that mentality is perfectly suited for soccer.”

USL president Jake Edwards spoke to Soccer Nation about the league’s future plans for expansion in California. “California is a hub for premier soccer in America. The size of the state, its demographic composition and diversity provide a solid foundation and growth opportunity for owners and fans alike. It’s an added bonus that the USL harbors three teams in the Golden State. We are fortunate that this part of the country is so passionate about soccer and firmly believe that it will help expand and grow the game in all facets nationwide. Many great players, coaches and teams from youth, collegiate to the professional levels have come from California. We built our Western division first through anchor club Orange County Blues. That growth has spread north and we have had tremendous success in Sacramento. We are in discussions now with some very impressive ownership groups in several key California markets so expect to see a little more expansion in the state over the next few seasons.”

May 2017 Update: Nothing new.

Las Vegas’s Cashman Field configured for soccer

Las Vegas:  The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in March 2016 that the USL was interested in bringing a team to Cashman Field in Vegas.  USL spokesperson Brett Lashbrook told the Review-Journal that there was a precedent of minor league baseball and USL sharing a stadium.  The Las Vegas 51s AAA team is looking to move out of Cashman into a new stadium.

Midfield Press learned that the Las Vegas Football Club group is working to bring professional soccer to Vegas.  The investor group consists of local business leaders committed to bringing pro soccer to the area, and they are sufficiently capitalized for either a NASL or USL bid. It is not clear whether the group will choose NASL or USL, and a suitable venue is the main hurdle in the group’s way at this point.  In addition Las Vegas FC, the group also has registered the classic Las Vegas Quicksilvers name.

May 2017 Update:  Scratching The Pitch broke the news that a Las Vegas USL group called Las Vegas Soccer LLC registered the trademark Las Vegas Lights for use as a pro soccer team.  The group, headed by former Orlando City SC COO Brett Lashbrook, is negotiating for a 15 year lease of Cashman Field from the city of Las Vegas, according to KTNV.  The USL club would share the venue with the Las Vegas 51s AAA baseball team.  However, previous reports have suggested that the 51s could be looking to leave Cashman, which is an old stadium in need of renovations, in favor of a newer venue to be built in suburban Summerlin.  Approving the USL club to use the stadium would theoretically provide the city with a long term tenant for Cashman Field even if the 51s leave.

Memphis: Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reported that Birmingham and Memphis are USL targets as the league seeks to expand its footprint in the Southeast.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

San Diego:  Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reports that Japanese soccer star Keisuke Honda leds a group of Japanese investors who wish to put a USL team in San Diego.  Chopra suggests Qualcomm Stadium and Torero Stadium may be sites under consideration for hosting the team.

Previously, USL president Jake Edwards confirmed the league has held talks with groups interested in bringing USL to San Diego.  “San Diego is a thriving market with a millennial population, considerable interest in soccer and high participation levels. We have received numerous expressions of interest from very credible groups and will continue to explore options in the market based on our three core tenets: strong local ownership, an attractive market and plans for a soccer-specific stadium,” Edwards told Soccer Nation.

May 2017 Update:  Nipun Chopra of SocTakes reported on Twitter that the USL has given up on the San Diego market for the time being.  

 

San Francisco Bay Area: Evan Ream reported that USL president Jake Edwards told him that a Bay Area group has submitted an expansion application to USL, and that he will visit the area in two months as the league is interested in being in the market.  In a follow up tweet, Ream said that the group was not the PDL club San Francisco City FC, which has previously expressed interest in joining a professional league.

May 2017 Update:  Evan Ream shared on Twitter that the Bay Area group he previously discussed is interested in putting a USL team in San Francisco, while repeating that the group is not San Francisco City FC of the PDL. 

 

Tacoma:   The Seattle Sounders are exploring the possibility of moving Sounders 2’s home to Tacoma.  The club is working with the AAA baseball Tacoma Rainiers on a plan that would see the B side relocate from Starfire Soccer Complex to a new stadium.

“There’s a group of individuals working on a soccer complex and possibly a soccer stadium,” Hanauer told Sounder at Heart. “The team is a separate issue. We’ve been working with the Rainiers, with whom we would theoretically have some sort of partnership. We haven’t talked about how equity would work. Notionally, we like the Major League Baseball model where we’d run and pay for the technical side and they’d run and pay for the business.”

“We were very curious about what would happen to the soccer market there,” said Hanauer, noting the advantages of getting a little farther away from Seattle. “We did that game down there and I remained in contact with the folks from the Rainiers. We check in every six months or so. I think we concluded at that time that Cheney [Stadium] wasn’t a good long term location, but if there was ever a possibility for a soccer-specific stadium in Tacoma that it would be very interesting.”

The Sounders seem focused on Tacoma, but have also considered moving their 2 side to Boise, Everett and Spokane, according to the Sounder at Heart report.

USL President Jake Edwards referenced the Seattle Sounders’ interest in moving their S2 team to Tacoma in an interview with Sports Illustrated in October 2016.  Speaking of the model of providing soccer operations for an independent local ownership who handles the business side that is being followed by San Jose with Reno and Houston with Rio Grande Valley, Edwards said, “I think more and more MLS teams are looking at that. Portland are looking at an independent group we’ve put together in Boise. Seattle is looking to partner with a group in Tacoma. I think this will be a model we see more of. It certainly makes sense toward achieving everyone’s goals. Some [MLS] teams will still be committed to that ‘second team’ structure, and maybe that will work for them. Where we are now with this partnership and this affiliate model isn’t where we’re going to be in a couple years … It won’t be a dramatic shift for next season but I think you’ll see some changes for 2018. Whether they’re MLS-owned or independent teams, if they’re not able to meet the standards and operate a team and create an environment at the level we require, they won’t continue.”

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

USL DIII Potentials (smaller markets or lower league clubs associated with USL)

Albuquerque:   In an interview with Midfield Press earlier this year, Albuquerque Sol FC set a target of 2018 for a move up to professional soccer.  Albuquerque is more likely to go to USL than NASL due to their status as a PDL team, a league which is owned by USL.  However they would not rule NASL out.

The Albuquerque Sol hired a consultant to do a feasibility analysis on a 5,000 to 10,000 seat stadium in the city. “The goal has always been said 2018 to go what’s called USL pro, which would be the equivalent of say the Isotopes,” said General Manager for Albuquerque Sol, Larry Espinoza, told KRQE.  The club is looking for investors to help fund the stadium.

Albuquerque Sol owner Ron Patel continues to make progress on his efforts to bring a soccer specific stadium to town to support the addition of a USL club. According to KRQE, the city will spend $15,000 to investigate the benefits of a stadium.

May 2017 Update: Nothing new.


Bahamas: Local businessman Burton Rodgers is leading an expansion effort to bring a USL team to the Bahamas, according to a report in Tribune 242.  The prospective club would play in 15,000 seat Thomas A. Robinson Stadium, in Nassau.  Rodgers’ group is working with Anschutz Entertainment Group, the government, the National Sports Authority and the Bahamas Football Association to bring the vision to life.  One drawback to the group’s plans is that the island nation has a population of just under 400,000, well short of USSF Division II standards.

“Mr Rodgers is in the midst of preparing a bid to attain a pro franchise for the Bahamas and AEG is fully committed to assisting him in ensuring that he has the best means and support to bring a said franchise to the Bahamas and we are very excited to assist in that regard,” Alan Kates, Managing Director of AEG Bahamas, told The Tribune. “I would say that there are numerous hurdles to cross and I know that Mr Rodgers is preparing with the assistance of some wonderful global supporters to ensure that the best possible presentation is made to the USL and to ensure that he has the best bid to see.

“He is in the beginning stages of this. I would safely say that the Thomas A Robinson Stadium would be a premier venue for a professional soccer team. Of course, AEG has connections in the soccer world and sports and entertainment business, so we are more than confident in putting this forward with the support of the Bahamas Football Association and the government of the Bahamas. Realistically it is in the very early stages, but there is rapid progress being made in taking it to the next level.”

The Bahamas group is targeting a 2019 kickoff in USL.

 

Boise:  Boise could be the home of a USL team soon, either an independent club or a Portland Timbers affiliate. T2 and Swope Park Rangers played a match in Meridian, Idaho, near Boise, to test the market.   The owner of the Boise Hawks minor league baseball team is looking to build a new 5,000 seat ballpark in downtown Boise that is touted as also being a potential home for a minor league soccer team, based on a report in the Idaho Statesman.

Idaho is considered Timbers “territory” in MLS terms, and the club already has partnerships with youth programs in the state.   Portland executive Gavin Wilkerson shared the club’s plans to develop the Idaho market further with USLsoccer.com:  “We want to look at a way to eventually have more games in Boise and in Idaho and then eventually will the league, will USL, allow us to have another team there? Is it a viable business decision? These are questions that we’ll be asking ourselves. This is definitely a trial match. It has many, many purposes and we’re very happy with the initial response.”

“We’re at the exploratory phase of going down this path,” Wilkinson said. “There’s conversations with the USL. There’s conversations about how we could be involved if we weren’t able to run the USL team in Idaho. What we’re looking at, in all honesty, is we’re exploring all avenues and all options.”

An article on the Idaho Business Review outlined several details of how pro soccer may unfold in Boise.  Bill Taylor is leading a local group of investors who want to bring pro soccer to town.

“We will have serious talks starting in July (with government people and potential investors),” Taylor said. “The energy is legitimized. There is a return on investment now. Now you can go to people who are not necessarily soccer people. Now we just have to go to the next level with our government people.”  

The article goes on to explore several locations in the Boise area where a stadium could be built.  The mayor of Boise, David Bieter, is on board with the idea of a stadium. “Downtown needs a multi-use sports facility,” Bieter said. “I’m convinced that a public private partnership that brings minor league baseball and soccer as well as concerts and other events to downtown will pay great dividends.”

USL President Jake Edwards referenced the Portland Timbers’ interest in moving their T2 team to Boise in an interview with Sports Illustrated in October 2016.  Speaking of the model of providing soccer operations for an independent local ownership who handles the business side that is being followed by San Jose with Reno and Houston with Rio Grande Valley, Edwards said, “I think more and more MLS teams are looking at that. Portland are looking at an independent group we’ve put together in Boise. Seattle is looking to partner with a group in Tacoma. I think this will be a model we see more of. It certainly makes sense toward achieving everyone’s goals. Some [MLS] teams will still be committed to that ‘second team’ structure, and maybe that will work for them. Where we are now with this partnership and this affiliate model isn’t where we’re going to be in a couple years … It won’t be a dramatic shift for next season but I think you’ll see some changes for 2018. Whether they’re MLS-owned or independent teams, if they’re not able to meet the standards and operate a team and create an environment at the level we require, they won’t continue.”

May 2017 Update: Nothing new.


El Paso: MountainStar Sports Group is reportedly working to bring a USL team to El Paso.  MountainStar owns the El Paso Chihuahuas AAA baseball team as well as FC Juarez across the Mexican border.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids FC is in talks with investors about a move up to USL, according to Michigan Live.  Costs for an 8,000 seat soccer stadium for the club are estimated at $40M.  “It has been a lot of work the past couple months but it has also been great,” team owner Matt Roberts said. “I think the evolution of soccer in West Michigan is just going to keep moving forward.”

“The next step is a major one and that is to get the financial backing to get it done,” he said.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

Long Island makes a lot more sense as USL D3 than D2

Long Island Rough Riders:  Peter Zaratin, president of the Long Island Rough Riders, proposed to build a $8M-$10M soccer complex on the grounds of Suffolk Community College with the intent of sharing the facility between a Rough Riders USL team and the school, according to a report in Newsday.

“We are looking to be a feeder for Major League Soccer,” Zaratin told the paper, adding, “Long Island does not have the demographics for a major-league team.” The Rough Riders would be looking to fund the project with a public-private partnership that did not require any funds from the college, and would be looking for a 40 year lease and a revenue sharing agreement on tickets, food and retail sales.  Investors would include Mitchell Rechler of Rechler Equity Partners and David Howard, a sports executive who has worked for the New York Mets and served as president of MSG Sports.

The Long Island Rough Riders PDL team is affiliated with New York City FC.  NYCFC recently entered into an USL affiliate arrangement with San Antonio FC, though the Texas club’s MLS ambitions likely make that a short term relationship.

A USL club on Long Island could tap into some of the fan base left behind by the New York Cosmos, who moved to Brooklyn.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

Where would a USL San Francisco team leave SFCFC’s pro ambitions?

San Francisco City FC:  Last year, Evan Ream reported that San Francisco City FC had new investors that intend to take the team to a professional league by 2018. More recently, Ream reported that USL president Jake Edwards told him that a Bay Area group has submitted an expansion application to USL, but that team is not San Francisco City FC.

May 2017 Update:  Evan Ream shared on Twitter that the Bay Area group he discussed is interested in putting a USL team in San Francisco, while repeating that the group is not San Francisco City FC of the PDL.   If USL were to proceed with a team in San Francisco, with the Deltas in the NASL, it would seem SFCFC would not have many options to go pro.

 

Tucson:  “We believe the time is right for the Tucson market to move up to the USL,” FC Tucson managing partner Greg Foster told the Arizona Daily Star. “We have a huge head start because our venue, Kino Stadium, is already in place.”

Foster told the publication that FC Tucson’s ownership has formed a steering committee to find investors to back the move to USL. “We’ve been running our PDL team like a USL team,” said Foster. “We believe we can significantly increase our footprint.”

“A USL team often has as many as four or five MLS players at a given time,” said Foster. “If we get a wholly owned affiliation, it would be a merger of our brand with an MLS franchise.”

Previously Midfield Press spoke with Rick Schantz, who signaled FC Tucson’s future intent on pro soccer.

Rick Schantz resigned as the head coach of FC Tucson to take on an assistant coaching role with Phoenix Rising FC.  Schantz will remain in the ownership group of FC Tucson.

May 2017 Update:  Nothing new.


As we passed the three month mark since 12 expansion applications were submitted to Major League Soccer, we are seeing the contenders start to separate into packs.  Two factors seem to be of key importance:  how big is your market, and can you get your stadium done.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies, one of the based in largest markets outside of MLS today, scored a major victory with the overwhelming victory of their stadium referendum.   Tampa Bay’s victory stands in stark contrast to St. Louis’s failure to get their stadium measure passed.  Several months ago St. Louis was seen as a sure bet for MLS, while Tampa Bay was thought of as an outsider.  The tables have turned because Tampa Bay appears to be able to get their stadium done.

The rebranded Phoenix Rising have been drawing strong crowds to their new stadium, a complete reversal of fortunes for USL in the market under the new ownership.  Signing Didier Drogba is another good way to show people that you are serious about taking your club to the next level.  Now Phoenix Rising has hired Goldman Sachs to help them privately finance a stadium.  A privately financed stadium combined with Phoenix’s market size mean like Tampa Bay, it too is rising toward the top.  Meanwhile bids like Indianapolis and Charlotte find themselves struggling to gain public funding for a stadium.

I see the MLS bids separating into 3 tiers, based on a combination of a clear path to get a stadium done and market size:

  1. Leaders: Sacramento, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Phoenix
  2. Contenders: San Antonio, Detroit, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Nashville
  3. Pretenders: Indianapolis, St. Louis and Charlotte

As we focus our efforts on growth at the DII and DIII level, Midfield Press recommends checking out Blue Testament’s MLS expansion coverage for more information.

Canadian Premier League

The Canadian Premier League inches closer to official status.  According to a report, the CPL has applied for membership with the Canadian Soccer Association.  An organization similar to Soccer United Marketing is being formed to join the Canadian Premier League and the Canadian Soccer Association, according to an interview with Victor Montagliani.

The Canadian Premier League is expected to include up to six teams for a 2018 or 2019 start, including Hamilton, Halifax, Calgary and Winnipeg.  Other possibilities could include Regina, Victoria, Quebec City, Moncton and a team in the greater Toronto area.  Whether the Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton will join the Canadian league remains to be seen, given Ottawa’s very recent move to USL and Edmonton’s ownership stake in the NASL.  Toronto FC has expressed interest in having their reserve team join, however the CPL is reportedly not interested in having reserve teams in their league.

For more coverage on the Canadian Premier League, Midfield Press recommends checking out The Northern Starting Eleven’s monthly CPL updates.

2 Responses

  1. Jeff

    RE: Canadian Premier League – The CSA is going to vote to sanction the league during their AGM on May 6th (this Saturday) in Whistler, BC. No one knows when the presser will be to announce the league, but there’s pretty well nothing to suggest the league won’t be sanctioned. Expect a 2018 start after the World Cup. Sports and Entertainment Atlantic have provided quite a bit of good information, which is what I’m referencing.