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 (NASL) and United Soccer League (USL) clubs.
Note: With the announcement of USL D3 and the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) we’re shifting our focus to include coverage on possible teams for those leagues, while scaling back Major League Soccer (MLS) and Canadian Premier League (CanPL) coverage. We will still include a high level overview of what is going on with those leagues, but point you to other sources for greater depth.
Professional soccer keeps growing in North America, something fans of clubs in any league should be happy to see. The past month has seen official announcements of two new professional soccer leagues, as well as potential new teams in several leagues.
The long rumored Canadian Premier League was officially announced by the Canadian Soccer Association and could start as early as 2018. Hamilton and Winnipeg were immediately announced as the first cities signed up for Canadian Premier League teams, and there is strong interest in a number of markets around the country. The Canadian Premier League will take Division I status in Canada, although Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps will remain in Major League Soccer. This is similar to how Swansea City and Cardiff City play in the English leagues instead of the Welsh leagues despite being Welsh clubs. Duane Rollins, who was on the Canadian Premier League story before pretty much anyone, said that the league has a plan to implement promotion and relegation once they hit 16 clubs.
Speaking of promotion and relegation, many details emerged last week on the National Independent Soccer Association, a new league being launched by Peter Wilt and Jack Cummins of Rebel Nest LLC. NISA is a planned new national Division III league that will start in 2018 with 8-12 clubs. 10 clubs across the Midwestern and Eastern United States have submitted letters of intent to join NISA, but two of them may wait until the 2019 season, in which NISA plans to have 12-16 clubs. The goal is for NISA to expand to 24 clubs with a national footprint, and then enter into a promotion and relegation system with a Division II league, such as the NASL and a yet to be established full season, national Division IV league. NISA is not expected to populate to 24 teams until 2020 or 2021, leaving time to work out the pro/rel logistics.
Meanwhile, the Division II leagues continued their expansion efforts. The NASL officially announced its Orange County, California club for 2018. As previously reported by Midfield Press, the Orange County team will play out of Titan Stadium in Fullerton. Southern California restaurateur Pete Capriotti will own the club, and veteran soccer executive Michael Collins will serve as the club President. Check out our interview with Michael Collins and Peter Wilt from February for more details and for a few hints on what else we might expect to see announced officially from the group in the coming months. The Orange County team may soon be joined by NASL expansion effort in San Diego. The official announcement on San Diego NASL is expected to be coming very soon as well.
USL shared some insight on future expansion plans with the Washington Post, while stopping short of formally announcing new clubs. Fresno appears to be the most ready-to-go of a batch that also includes Las Vegas (2018) and Birmingham (2019), with Baltimore (2020) also in the pipeline. The Fresno club is expected to be formally announced in the near future, and the plan is for the club to start in USL Division II in 2018, according to the Fresno Bee. Frank Yallop, who recently stepped down as GM for Phoenix Rising and previously managed the San Jose Earthquakes, has been announced on the USL web site as the new club’s GM.
A note about where teams/investor groups are located in the below sections: With four leagues across two divisions below MLS, it can be tricky to identify which expansion groups might go to which leagues. In several cases, investor groups are looking at more than one league. There are several groups with long term interest in NASL that may start in NISA, for example. There are groups that might select between the two DIII leagues. There are groups that could go to USL DII or USL DIII. In the case of DIII, I am putting PDL teams under the USL DIII section and NPSL/other league teams under the NISA section. NISA has spoken about interest from PDL clubs and USL DIII has spoken about interest from NPSL clubs, but I expect in the majority of cases NPSL clubs that want to move up will go to NISA and PDL clubs that want to move up would go to USL DIII, due to the type of commercial issues that would have caused them to choose whether or not to be in an USL division in the first place. Regarding whether a potential expansion club is listed under NASL or NISA, that will depend on my sense of where they would start. I’ll indicate in the narrative each group whether it is thought to be looking at more than one league.
The month of May saw the first official NASL expansion announcement for the 2018, with Orange County confirmed by the league. The announcement is expected to be the first of at least two for the 2018 season, with San Diego on the docket to be confirmed officially next. Along with the San Francisco Deltas, the new California clubs will give the league a strong foothold in the Western part of the country.
Announcements for 2018 may not stop there. The potential Atlanta NASL club is still a strong possibility once the group is able to get the necessary local approvals to move forward with its stadium plan. If the Atlanta club is not admitted into NASL, it could join NISA. Midfield Press understands there will be a NASL Board of Governors meeting in late June in which investors from several potential expansion markets will be presenting. We are not clear whether these would be potential teams for 2018 or 2019, but the latter seems more likely.
Peter Wilt, who has been consulting with the Orange County and San Diego NASL groups in addition to working on NISA, told Bruce Silverman that he believes NASL will have 11 teams next year. If that is the case, the league will fall short of the 12 team Division II standard. However the thinking is that USSF would rather see 11 strong clubs than have the league add one or two weak ones to get over the line. If NASL does not reach 12 clubs, and add a team in the Central Time Zone, it will need a waiver from USSF to maintain DII status in 2018. The feeling is that USSF will grant that waiver if the league has shown progress from 2017, especially given that USL is also very likely to require waivers again in 2018. It would also be helpful for the NASL to have one or more teams announced for 2019 to demonstrate that are on track to eventually meet or exceed the DII standards.
The announcement of NISA is a very significant moment for NASL. Although NASL is not formally involved with NISA, one of the intentions of the NISA founders is that it become an expansion pipeline for NASL. Until both leagues are fully populated, NASL at its previously discussed 20 team limit and NISA at the 24 team mark, clubs could get their sea legs under them as full season professional operations in NISA and then join NASL via expansion when they are ready. Once both leagues are fully populated, there is a good chance that promotion and relegation between them could be implemented.
A promotion and relegation system NASL, NISA and a full season Division IV league would offer something different to soccer fans and investors in the United States, and could be a force multiplier for all leagues involved.
Announced NASL Teams
Summary: The North American Soccer League formally announced Orange County as its first expansion franchise for 2018. As previously 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 will be the club’s President for the OC NASL club.
The OC NASL club will likely 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 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.”
June 2017 Update: OC NASL is official for 2018 and Michael Collins will serve as club President. The club is currently considering names. One name rumored to be under consideration is California United FC, for which a trademark has been filed, as pointed out by Bill Reese on Reddit.
More on OC NASL: Midfield Press’ Interview with Peter Wilt and Michael Collins and the official OC NASL web site.
Dormant NASL Teams
Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Summary: The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are sitting out the 2017 NASL season while the league attempts to find new owners for the club. 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.
June 2017 Update: Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards acquired the assets of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in a public foreclosure auction, according to Jake Nutting. According to the public notice, whoever acquired the assets in the auction would not get the Strikers’ place in NASL, but would acquire the use of the trademark for Ft. Lauderdale Strikers as well as the club’s debts. For clarification purposes, “Miami FC L.L.C.” is the company behind the Strikers, not the current Miami FC playing in NASL.
While we don’t know whether Edwards intends to sit on the brand, sell it to another investor group or return the team to the field, it seems highly unlikely that the Fort Lauderdale Strikers will return to NASL anytime soon (if ever) due to Edwards and NASL’s messy divorce last year.
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.”
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Note: Due to the unlikelihood that either the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers or Rayo OKC will return to NASL, these clubs will be removed for future updates until there is news that warrants their inclusion in the future.
Public NASL Efforts
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 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.
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.”
The Atlanta group is targeting a Spring 2018 debut.
June 2017 Update: The Atlanta group continues its pursuit of a NASL franchise. Midfield Press understands that the group is awaiting some approvals on its stadium project from local government. Once those approvals come through, work on the project will commence that would allow the smaller of the two stadiums to be ready for the 2018 season.
Summary: Rebel Nest LLC is working with Club 9 Sports 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.
Peter Wilt 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.”
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.
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.”
Peter 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.”
June 2017 Update: The Chicago NASL effort is still alive and well even with Rebel Nest LLC’s focus on launching NISA. The group continues to work on the five venue options Peter Wilt discussed last month. Wilt told Bruce Silverman that they should get word on one of the potential venue locations within a few months.
San Diego/North County – Mind Soccer Group
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.”
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.”
June 2017 Update: “June is going to be an important month for the San Diego market,” Peter Wilt said when asked about the status of the Mind Soccer Group’s NASL bid. Midfield Press expects that the San Diego bid from the Mind Soccer Group will be officially announced for NASL very soon.
The LinkedIn page for the Mind Soccer Group adds the the air of inevitability around San Diego NASL, stating that the “Mind Soccer Group, Inc. is the ownership group of the North American Soccer League (NASL)’s newest franchise in San Diego, California, set to debut in 2018.”
More on the Mind Soccer Group: MindSoccer.com and Midfield Press’s interview with Peter Wilt on San Diego.
San Diego – Albion SC
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.
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
NASL Rumors With Multiple Sources and/or League Commentary
Summary: 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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new on NASL to Baltimore, but the USL Baltimore bid appears to be gaining traction.
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.
June 2017 Update: USL expects to finalize a deal this summer with the group seeking to bring USL to Las Vegas. Midfield Press understands that if the Las Vegas Lights USL group is successful in their bid to bring a team to the city, the Las Vegas FC group is likely to discontinue its efforts to bring pro soccer to Vegas.
Summary: Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer listed New Orleans among the cities with expansion groups in discussions with the NASL. 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.
June 2017 Update: Midfield Press heard from a league source that New Orleans is one of the markets with an expansion group in talks with the league.
More on the New Orleans Jesters: Jesters official site.
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. 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.
June 2017 Update: Midfield Press in touch with a source close to the Oakland Pro Soccer group. The group is assessing venue options in the city of Oakland, as well as league options. They have released a grassroots survey at oaklandpro.soccer. They are looking for feedback from soccer fans in the Bay Area. More significant details will be provided by the next report.
More on the Oakland group: OaklandPro.Soccer
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 reported the club executive Peter Lawwell was involved in talks with NASL. 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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
The National Independent Soccer Association was announced earlier this month. NISA’s founding intention of creating a third division league that acts as a bridge between NASL and a full season fourth division that may emerge from a current lower league such as the NPSL or UPSL. The idea is to eventually implement promotion and relegation between the leagues.
As part of its strategy, NISA seeks to provide its clubs with the empowerment of NASL along with the regional model and strong front office support of USL. NISA had 10 letters of intent to join the league prior to the announcement, and had spoken with nearly three dozen investor groups. Since the announcement another dozen or so groups have reached out to NISA.
I’ve written a lot about NISA above, so rather than rehash it here, let’s get to the fun part – speculating about what teams might join the league. The NISA twitter account indicates there will be 8 to 12 clubs launching for 2018. Peter Wilt told Bruce Silverman that he does not expect official announcements on teams participating in the league until September. We’ll do our best below to take a stab at which groups might join NISA. To be crystal clear, what you read below about possible NISA clubs is (mostly) speculation.
Speculative list of candidates for the 8-12 initial NISA clubs:
Summary: 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.
June 2017 Update: A Buffalo NISA twitter account appeared online, suggesting there may be a group looking to bring pro soccer to the western New York city.
Summary: Chattanooga FC expressed satisfaction with their current model in NPSL and dismissed talk of a move to a pro league in the past, however there was never a league like NISA as an option. When asked about a potential move up to NASL or USL last October, Chattanooga GM Sean McDaniel told us, “To go up a level, we have to really ask ourselves what do we hope to do with this. A lof markets want to move up to try to land an MLS team. Chattanooga is not ever going to have an MLS team. So there is no hurry on our part to go up any levels. Our long term vision is to teach others in other cities how to do this the way we’ve done it so we can all play soccer in front of lots of people in the Summer. We are speaking with Peter Wilt as to what we want to do at an amateur club level compliments what he and Club 9 Sports are doing in terms of consulting at the professional level.
“For a market like Nashville, they are making the right choice. That is a big league sports town. In Chattanooga, it costs $7 to show up to a soccer game. We don’t want to burden the fan by doubling or tripling ticket prices. We don’t want to “forget the date that brought us to the dance”, so to speak. We want to keep the right equation together in terms of cost and value.
“Going up is something we may consider one day. Right now we want to take the model and keep expanding on it without burdening the fan any further.”
With attendances regularly in excess of the 3000, Chattanooga FC meets the model for sustainability in the NISA.
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.”
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Detroit City FC
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.”
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.
June 2017 Update: Detroit City FC is the club most heavily speculated to be joining NISA. The move appears to enjoy support from the club’s fans. NISA would seem to be a great fit for DCFC, which draws stronger attendances than most DII clubs and is well ahead of Peter Wilt’s projected 3000 per match necessary for sustainability in the NISA model. Moving to NISA would fit with the club’s objectives to play more games and play on a national stage, as Sean Mann told us last November.
Grand Rapids FC
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: Omaha is one of the markets confirmed to be under consideration for a place in the initial season of NISA. Former executive director of Nebraska City Tourism, Tim Pendrill, is a leading figure in the effort. Pendrill told the Omaha World-Herald of his efforts vs the efforts of the AAA baseball owner Gary Green to bring USL to the city, “My focus is on Omaha just getting soccer. It’s not a competition for me.”
Pendrill might find kindred spirits in another group that is looking to bring pro soccer to Omaha. National Sports Services has tapped Ren Smith, a former executive with the Omaha Nighthawks UFL team, to do the work on the ground to bring a pro soccer team to Omaha. Smith has lined up investors, and met with potential venues including TD Ameritrade Park, Creighton University, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the proposed Nebraska Multisport Complex in La Vista, according to the World-Herald.
Summary: 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.
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. Given that the SC STL group is the preferred MLS bid and that Saint Louis FC already exists in USL, NASL or NISA would seem the obvious choices if Foundry St. Louis were to launch their own pro soccer team.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
More On Foundry St. Louis: http://foundrystlouis.com/
Speculative list of other NPSL & other lower league teams that could be candidates for NISA in 2018 or beyond:
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.”
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
A Charlotte group with intentions to put a team in a third division pro soccer league emerged on Twitter this past month. Midfield Press contacted the group and was told that they will provide updates in the future. Given that there is already a USL team in Charlotte, we are listing this group under NISA for now.
Summary: 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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
USL expansion for 2018 appears to be taking shape. An article by Steven Goff in the Washington Post provided great insight into the league’s Division II expansion pipeline for next year and beyond. Nashville SC is already announced for next season, and Fresno appears to be a done deal as well. The Fresno group’s hiring of Frank Yallop was reported on USLsoccer.com, even though the team has not be formally announced yet. Las Vegas also seems all be set for 2018, with Birmingham following in 2019. Fresno, Las Vegas and Birmingham even get mentioned on the USLsoccer.com About page, so they really seem as good as done.
Beyond those three additional markets coming into focus, USL is very open about its pursuit of Baltimore for the 2020 season. DC United II is also a contender to join in 2018 or 2019, according to the Goff article, playing out of Northern Virginia. The Seattle Sounders have a Memorandum of Understanding in place to move their S2 team to a to-be-built stadium in Tacoma. They will turn the business operations over to the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team when the stadium launches, switching to a model similar to those used in Reno and Rio Grande Valley.
Meanwhile in the world of DIII, USL finds itself in competition with NISA for markets. PDL clubs Des Moines Menace and Tormenta FC of South Georgia have expressed interest in USL DIII. USL DIII executives have been aggressively promoting their investor recruiting tour through the Midwest and Southeast on social media. Next up for the USL DIII team is the Northeast, where PDL teams like Reading United AC and the Long Island Rough Riders might make good candidates for a step up to DIII.
Announced USL DII Teams
Summary: Nashville SC was born from the former supporter owned NPSL club, Nashville FC. Last year, DMD Soccer acquired Nashville FC and was awarded a USL franchise for 2018. There had been two groups seeking to bring pro soccer to Nashville, and the other one started as a NASL bid led by Bill Hagerty and evolved into an MLS bid. In May, John Ingram and Nashville Soccer Holdings acquired a majority stake in DMD Soccer, bringing the USL expansion franchise under the banner of the MLS group.
Chris Jones, one of the founders of Nashville FC, will serve as the GM of the Nashville USL club. 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.”
MLS Cup winning manager Gary Smith was 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.”
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,” Chris 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.
June 2017 Update: The MLS bid and the USL expansion club become one effort when John Ingram and Nashville Soccer Holdings LLC acquired a majority stake in DMD Soccer. The club also announced Under Armour and Nissan as partners.
More on Nashville SC
Semi-Announced USL DII Teams
Summary: 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 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 reported that Birmingham and Memphis are USL targets as the league seeks to expand its footprint in the Southeast.
June 2017 Update: A Washington Post interview with Jake Edwards in May stated that Birmingham was expected to finalize a deal this summer to join USL for the 2019 season.
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.
June 2017 Update: The Fresno Bee reported that the USL has approved a bid from local businessman Ray Beshoff to bring a Fresno team to USL Division II in 2018. Beshoff told the paper that he paid a $5 million expansion fee.
“Everything ended up great,” Beshoff told the Bee, “and now we’re excited and going to spend the next couple of months bringing together a world class club.” Beshoff started to fulfill that promise by signing veteran soccer executive Frank Yallop as the team’s General Manager.
The Bee said that potential stadium locations for the team include Bulldog Stadium, Fresno State’s Soccer & Lacrosse Field and Chukchansi Park, where the PDL Fresno Fuego play.
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.
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.
June 2017 Update: In an interview with the Washington Post, Jake Edwards indicated that Las Vegas was likely to be finalized this summer to join the league in 2018.
Dormant USL DII Teams
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.
June 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)
Summary: 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 was 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. Altirs ended up buying a majority interest in the Harrisburg City Islanders.
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.”
June 2017 Update: Paul Tiburzi, a lawyer and the former chairman of the Camden Yards Sports and Entertainment Commission, is a leading figure the effort to bring a USL team to Baltimore. The target start date for the team is the 2020 season, which would give the group time to follow through on its plan to build a 8,000-10,000 seat stadium in the city. They are currently scouting the Fells Point and Canton areas for possible locations.
“Things are progressing nicely,” USL President Jake Edwards told the Baltimore Sun. “We feel really good about what we have in place.”
“The fans there deserve a quality stadium to watch the game in and support their team in, and that’s exactly what we want to put together,” he said. “We don’t want to do this with any half-measures.”
In an article in the Washington Post in May, Steve Goff asked Edwards if expanding to Baltimore was a near certainty, to which the USL President said, “yes.” The Post article also indicated that the Baltimore group plans to start an academy.
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
DC United II
Summary: 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 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.
Jun 2017 Update: Steven Goff included a bit on DC United II in his article on USL expansion, indicating that DC2 could join USL DII or DIII, and that the likely locations are George Mason University or a location in Loudoun County.
“We continue to work through that project with D.C. United,” Edwards said. “I know they’ve got a lot going on right now with the new [MLS] stadium, but they did submit a nice application to us. It might take a little bit longer than all parties expected, but they remain committed to it.
“They’re going about it in the right way. They want to do things at a very high level, so if that’s means we go from 2018 to ’19, that’s fine. No one’s in a rush.”
Clearly if DC United II joined USL in 2018, it would be a DII team.
Summary: Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reported that Birmingham and Memphis are USL targets as the league seeks to expand its footprint in the Southeast.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
San Francisco Bay Area
Summary: 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.
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: 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.”
June 2017 Update: The Sounders have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tacoma Rainiers AAA baseball team to develop a 5,000 seat soccer stadium that would serve as the future home of the Sounders USL team, according to USLsoccer.com. The club would transition to a model similar to Reno 1868 and Rio Grande Valley FC, where the Rainiers would run the business operations and the Sounders would run the soccer operations.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be moving forward with the Tacoma Rainiers and City of Tacoma, progressing toward construction of a soccer-specific stadium,” said Adrian Hanauer. “Our vision of having players begin their time with the club playing at Starfire with the Academy, then move up to the USL team with matches in Tacoma, before finally getting the call-up to the First Team at CenturyLink Field – all while playing within the Puget Sound region – really reinforces our commitment to bringing quality soccer to the communities of Western Washington.”
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.
June 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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
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.”
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Des Moines: Longtime PDL club the Des Moines Menace are looking at a move to USL DIII. “We are interested in and evaluating a move to the USL’s Division III,” Menace General Manager Matt Homonoff told USLPDL.com, “but we must research the potential move in more detail before officially deciding.”
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.
June 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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
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.
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Tormenta FC: South Georgia PDL club Tormenta FC are looking at a move to USL DIII. “I believe that this part of the United States is ready to embrace the next step in that process,” Tormenta owner Darin Van Tassell told USLD3.com. “Ultimately, the franchise exists to win championships and be a successful business enterprise. At some point, we need to build our own stadium here in Statesboro. And as we grow the youth side of our club, the ability to partner with a USL or MLS franchise would be a wonderful evolution for soccer in our part of the state. We have already partnered with three clubs in Europe, and those relationships promise to bear fruit as well. Great things await, and we are just getting started.”
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.
June 2017 Update: Nothing new.
It has been nearly five months since MLS received expansion applications from groups in 12 markets, and it seems to be shaping up into something of a war of attrition. Many groups have seen setbacks in their process, with San Diego being the most recent seemingly sure thing to fall off track, at least for the awards of franchises 25 and 26, on the important metric of the ability to get a soccer specific stadium built.
One group that has made progress in the last month is David Beckham’s Miami bid. Beckham has reached an agreement to acquire the remaining land parcel necessary to build his Overtown stadium. The former LA Galaxy star will now seek formal approval of his long promised MLS franchise. If Beckham’s Miami bid is finally a done deal, that will mean one less potential way for groups that land outside of the top 4 expansion candidates to get the league.
The climate is poor nationally for getting public funds to support the construction of a soccer stadium. This gives groups that are able to privately finance their stadium efforts a major leg up. Three such groups are the Sacramento Republic, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Phoenix Rising FC.
FC Cincinnati could join that list if MLS would be okay with them staying in Nippert Stadium, where they are drawing first division crowds and creating a great fan atmosphere. Instead, to comply with MLS’s preferences, FC Cincinnati unveiled their stadium plans, for which they will seek $100M in public funding.
San Antonio will seek public funding in a December bond measure that would provide $100M toward upgrading Toyota Field. San Antonio may have an above average shot at getting public funding due to the influence of Spurs Sports & Entertainment in the community.
The Nashville bid bolstered its credentials by acquiring the USL expansion team. The group, which in addition to John Ingram includes CEOs of the NFL Tennessee Titans and NHL Nashville Predators, seeks public funds to build at the Fairgrounds, and has the support of the mayor. Should funding get approved Nashville could shoot up the list. North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik told Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast that his organization is working on plans for three potential stadium sites, one of which would be at the current home of WakeMed Soccer Park, and another urban location in Raleigh. Detroit’s stadium plan involves a complicated land swap deal with the city.
Charlotte suffered another setback when Mecklenburg County walked back their commitment to a potential stadium project. The country wants to see the city of Charlotte contribute as well, and there will be a vote in August that should resolve that.
In this month’s update, we’ve moved San Diego out of the Leader category, down to the Contenders. Our top two criteria are market size and the ability to get a stadium deal done.
- Leaders: Sacramento, Tampa Bay and Phoenix
- Contenders: San Diego, San Antonio, Detroit, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Nashville
- 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, as well as some interesting opinion pieces in the San Diego Tribune and Prost Amerika.
Canadian Premier League
The Canadian Premier League is official. Hamilton and Winnipeg FC were the first clubs confirmed during the historic announcement of the league, which will have Division I status in Canada. The CanPL may start after the 2018 World Cup, or in 2019. Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps will remain in Major League Soccer, but the futures of the Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton outside the CanPL are less certain.
The press release from Canada Soccer indicated interest from 10 cities. Halifax may be the next club to join the league, as the city council unanimously approved a modular stadium the team would use. Calgary is also thought to be a near certainty to feature in the Canadian Premier League.
A friendly between Valencia CF and the New York Cosmos in Regina organized by On Ice Management could be a test to see if the market will support soccer. Lee Genier, the former president of the Saskatoon-based lacrosse team the Saskatchewan Rush, is part of a group that wants to bring pro soccer to the province of Saskatchewan. Former Canadian international Rob Friend has been linked to an effort to bring the CanPL to Fraser Valley. PDL club K-W United would like to bring CanPL to the Kitchener-Waterloo region. Other possibilities could include Victoria, Quebec City, Moncton and a team in the greater Toronto area. Toronto FC has expressed interest in having their reserve team join, however the Canadian Premier League is reportedly not interested in MLS reserve teams.
For more coverage on the Canadian Premier League, Midfield Press recommends checking out The Northern Starting Eleven’s monthly CPL updates.