Late Breaking News that the Indy 11 may be joining the USL – United Soccer League for 2018. See story from the Soc Takes and Indy Star Below – more to come on this as it officially breaks on www.theoleballcoach.com. I for one welcome the move the USL – the chance to build local rivalries with Louisville and Cincy. I have no idea what this means for roster size or quality of players we can sign. But this sound good to me!
Ok soccer fans – so I didn’t get a chance to finish up my Year End Wrap up of the soccer year. So here goes. First who can forget the disappointment of the US National Team men not qualifying for the World Cup in Russia next summer. As an ardent follower of the US men’s team since 1990 I can honestly say I have never been more stunned or disappointed. Who is to blame can laid at many people’s feet – Klinsmann, Arena, the players, US Soccer for playing that stupid game vs Costa Rica in New York/New Jersey (stupid!) with half the crowd Costa Ricans – that 2-0 loss is one huge reason we did not advance. Tie that game and we advance even though we lost to T&T. Now we should never lose to T&T but still. It will be interesting to see if changes are afoot in US Soccer. I am happy to see a new US Soccer President – though I hope this doesn’t hurt our chance of hosting the 2016 World Cup with Canada/Mexico. It was great to see young US Star Christian Pulisic – US Player of the Year – play in both Champions League for Dortmund and become the go-to star for the US.
The World Cup run of the US Ladies was fantastic and fun to watch – I am still kicking myself for not going to Canada to watch a game. Still having the Women’s World Cup Championship and that 3rd star was fantastic. Great job ladies!!
Overseas Real Madrid’s defense of their Champions League trophy was impressive – unfortunately it came at the cost of my favorite GK Gigi Buffon of Juventus winning that elusive trophy. That was probably Gigi’s last legit change at the only trophy he hasn’t won. Still a great accomplishment by Player of the Year Renaldo and the Madridista’s. Now I don’t see them capturing a 3rd in a row however. Of course Real Madrid won 4 trophy’s last year the League Cup, La Liga, Champions League and the World Club cup – pretty amazing overall. Perhaps it was the good luck we gave them as my family had a chance to go to our first Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid games in Spain in the spring. Truly a magnificent experience! Also overseas Chelsea’s winning the EPL was quite an accomplishment and I think show’s what a great coach like Conte can achieve. Of course Man City, Man U, Tottenham with the leading scorer of the year Harry Kane, and Liverpool all had great year’s as well.
Back in the US — MLS featured a repeat of last year’s Championship game with Toronto completing the Best ever season by beating my Seattle Sounders. Great to see Bradley, Altidore and Giovincho finally win the title. Though I was sad Clint Dempsey couldn’t etch his name on the trophy – still a great playoffs and deserved Championship for Toronto.
Locally both Butler with Carmel High grad All-American Goal Keeper Eric Dick and Indiana U made good runs in the College Soccer play-offs. IU was ranked #1 for much of the season and just barely lost the final to now 3 time defending Champion Stanford. Still a good run for the Hooisers.
Finally I will selfishly end with my experience. Though I am still involved with helping coach the Goalkeepers with Carmel FC – I wrapped up my 20+ seasons of head coaching Travel Soccer by coaching my son Tyler’s final season the U18/19 boys this past spring. I have worked with this group of boys since many of them were 10 year-olds – in our first full season as Carmel FC. I helped Coach Carla and Tom Baker that first season before taking the 2nd Team thru U14 then taking the first team thru the high school years. We were proud to put 15 boys off that U14 team onto high school rosters at Carmel High and Guerin and even prouder when 3 of them went on to win a state title at Guerin as Juniors. But overall it was just fun to keep the boys playing soccer many after they had left the Carmel soccer program but still showing a love (hopefully a lifelong) love of the game. The boys in the picture below played with Carmel FC since they were 10 year-olds, most played each spring season with us. I also selfishly thought this was a good time to drop in my first Carmel pre-FC team in 2008 with my daugher Courtney as the Goalkeeper – see photo below. I was fortunate enough to coach that group from U13-U16.
my first pre-Carmel FC – team coached with Asst Ian Smith in Fall of 2008 – great group of girls! My daughter Courtney the GK up front.
I certainly want to Wish everyone a Happy Happy New Year — keep watching the Beautiful Game – and keep an eye out for The Ole Ball Coach Soccer updates each week – usually on Fridays. Best Wishes – Coach Shane Best
10:15 am beIN Sport Barcelona vs Levante
10 am Fox Sport 1 Tottenham vs AFC Wimbeldon FA CUP
9:30 am FS1 Hannover vs Bayer Leverkusen
11 am FS1 Nottinghams Forest vs Arsenal FA Cup
2:45 pm beIN Sport Real Madrid vs Celta de Vigo
2:45 pm? ESPN3? Bristol City vs Man City – League Cup
3 pm EsPN2 Chelsea vs Arsenal League Cup
Fri, Jan 12
2:30 pm FS1 Bayern Leverkusen vs Bayern Munich
10 am beIN Sport Real Madrid vs Villareal
12:30 pm NBCSN Tottenham vs Everton
12:30 FS2 RB Leipzig vs Schalke
8:30 am NBCSN Bournemouth vs Arsenal
11 am NBCSN Liverpool vs Man City
12:30 FS2 Borussian Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Wolfsburg
2:45 pm beIN Sport real Sociadad vs Barcelona
3 pm beIN Sport Nantes vs PSG
3 pm NBCSN Man City vs Stoke City (Cameron)
7:30 am NBCSN Brighton vs Chelsea
9:30 am FS 1 Hoffenhiem vs Bayer Leverkusen
10 am NBCSN Arsenal vs Crystal Palace
12:30 pm NBCSN Man City vs New Castle (Yedlin)
12:30 FS2 RB Leipzig vs Schalke
9:30 am FS1 Bayern Munich vs Werder Bremen
11 am NBCSN Southampton vs Tottenham
12:30 FS2 schalke vs hannover
2:45 pm beIN Sport real Betis vs Barcelona
7:30 pm ESPN US LADIES vs DENMARK
3 pm NBCSN Swansea City vs Liverpool
3 pm EsPN2 ? Chelsea vs Arsenal League Cup
9:30 am FS 1 Hoffenhiem vs Bayer Munich
9:30 am FS2> Borussia Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Freiburg
10 am beIN Sport Valencia cs Real Madrid
9:30 am FS1 Bayern Leverkusen vs Mainz
2:45 pm beIN Sport Barcelona vs Deportivo Alaves
Tues, Jan 30
2:45 pm NBCSN Swansea vs Arsenal
3 pm NBCSN?? Huddersfield Twon vs Liverpool?
Weds, Jan 31
2:45 pm NBCSN Tottenham vs Manchester United
Fri, Feb 1
2:30 pm FS1 Kiohl vs Dortmund (Pulisic)
7:30 am NBCSN Burnley vs Man City
9:30 am FS 1 Mainz vs Bayer Munich
10 am NBCSN Man United vs Huddersfield (Williams)
12:30 pm NBCSN Aresnal vs Everton
12:30 FS2 RB Leipzig vs Borussia Mgladbach (Johnson)
2:45 pm beIN Sport Real Madrid vs Lavente
9:15 am NBcSN Crystal Palace vs New Castle (Yedlin)
9:30 am FS1 Franfurt vs Augsburg
11 am NBCSN Liverpool vs Tottenham
2:45 pm beIN Sport Atletico Madrid vs Valencia
Indy 11 to Join USL in 2018 play games at Lucus Oil – Indy Star – Matt Glenesk
Pulisic, Kagawa Save Dortmund Late – Pulisic Scores Winner in 89th minute
Indy Eleven to join USL, likely to play at Lucas Oil Stadium
January 6, 2018by Nipun Chopra = Soc Takes
INDIANAPOLIS — Multiple sources inform Soc Takes that Indy Eleven will play in the United Soccer League (USL) during the 2018 season.
The decision was finalized this morning (Jan. 5) and is expected to be announced late next week by USL, along with the USL schedule for the 2018 season.Soc Takes understands that Indy Eleven ownership was locked in negotiations with the city to find an alternate stadium solution to IUPUI’s Carroll stadium, the home of the team since its inception.Unless unexpected changes occur, Indy Eleven will play its home games at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2018, the home of the Indianapolis Colts.Soc Takes understands the league will ensure that Indy Eleven’s early fall games do not conflict with Colts’ preseason games which tend to be held on Saturdays.The club is expected to pay the $25,000 “operational withdrawal” fee for leaving the NASL after the loss of second-division status.Before the announcement of Indy Eleven as its newest franchise, the USL is expected to announce Memphis as an expansion team on Monday.The future of the NASL remains in the balance as they await a decision on their appeal.No change in ownership is expected for the Indy Eleven as they join the USL.
Report: Indy Eleven to join USL in 2018
Matthew Glenesk, firstname.lastname@example.orgPublished 7:50 p.m. ET Jan. 5, 2018 | Updated 9:14 p.m. ET Jan. 5, 2018
Professional soccer team Indy Eleven supporters group, the Brickyard Battalion packs the stands at every home game to cheer on the “boys in blue.” Autumn Allison / The Star
The Indy Eleven’s future has been up in the air since U.S. Soccer stripped the North American Soccer League of its Division II status in September. The league sued the U.S. Soccer Federation and is currently awaiting word on its appeal, but it seems the Eleven aren’t waiting around.According to soccer website SocTakes, the Eleven will join the United Soccer League for the 2018 season. USL, which had played in U.S. Soccer’s third tier, was granted probationary Division II status last year. The USL has the backing of Major League Soccer, American soccer’s top league.SocTakes reports an announcement could come late next week. A spokesman for the Eleven said no decision on a move to the USL has been finalized and the team is still awaiting the court’s decision regarding the NASL’s appeal.In September, Eleven president Jeff Belskus told IndyStar “we continue to evaluate our options” following USSF’s decision to strip NASL of Division II status. SocTakes reports, “unless unexpected changes occur, Indy Eleven will play its home games at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2018” rather than IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium, which it has called home since its inception in 2014.The Eleven applied for MLS expansion, but were passed over in the latest wave of expansion, for a number of reasons, primarily the lack of forward movement regarding a new stadium.Belskus told IndyStar after submitting its MLS bid that Lucas Oil Stadium would be a temporary option for the Eleven if Indy secured MLS expansion while it awaited a stadium of its own. The Colts stadium hosted nearly 42,000 fans for an exhibition match between Chelsea and Inter Milan in 2013.While the Eleven’s MLS hopes are unlikely to materialize, the USL is seen as a much more viable league than the NASL. The NASL argued if it was not granted second tier status, it would fold. The Eleven’s move will likely signal the final death blow for the NASL, which has been hemorrhaging teams the past two seasons. In 2017, the league shrunk from 12 teams to eight, and following this season, Edmonton left the league and San Francisco foldedSo what exactly is the United Soccer League?The league was founded in 2010, play began in 2011 with 15 teams, and has doubled in size since 2014.Nineteen of the 28 teams in USL have affiliations with MLS clubs. Some of the USL teams are owned and operated by their MLS parent clubs, while others are affiliated with MLS teams, aiding in player development. USL clubs include nearby FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC. Ten more teams are listed as expansion franchises for the league.Among the league’s squads are former NASL teams North Carolina FC (formerly Carolina Railhawks), Ottawa Fury FC and Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Jonathan Gonzalez: U.S. didn’t contact me about November call-up
Jonathan Gonzalez says U.S. Soccer did not approach him about potentially making his senior national team debut in November’s friendly against Portugal.Gonzalez, 18, is a U.S. youth international but has yet to play for the senior team despite enjoying a breakout year playing in Mexico, where he helped Monterrey win the Copa MX and was named to the Liga MX Apertura Best XI.For the November camp, U.S. Soccer made a decision to allow Gonzalez to stay with his club ahead of the Liga MX playoffs, but the midfielder told Soccer America that no one contacted him about why he was left out for the U.S.’s first game since failing to qualify for the World Cup.”I wasn’t called in, in November,” Gonzalez said. “Personally, nobody came and talked to me and let me know about that friendly. I just wasn’t called in.”Gonzalez had been in contact with Bruce Arena in August, but the U.S. coach resigned in October after the U.S. missed the World Cup and was replaced on an interim basis for the Portugal game by Dave Sarachan, who gave first senior call-ups to teenagers Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent.A dual U.S.-Mexico national, Gonzalez moved to Monterrey from the California Bay Area at 14. He has played for U.S. teams at the under-14, -17, -18 and -20 levels, and he said his experiences with those squads were “honestly one of the greatest experiences I ever had — being with the national team — and I’m really thankful for that.”As the Portugal game was a friendly, Gonzalez would not have been cap-tied to the U.S. by playing, but after the U.S. missed the World Cup, it will not play a competitive game until the Gold Cup in the summer of 2019.That could allow Mexico the opportunity to secure Gonzalez’s services permanently by offering him a spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. At Monterrey this season, he was already starting in place of experienced Mexico international midfielder Jesus Molina.The Mexican federation’s director of national teams said before the U.S.’s November squad announcement that Mexico would continue to pursue the rising star, and Goal — citing a source close to the player — reported in December that Gonzalez was unhappy at being left out of the U.S. squad.But Gonzlez said last week that he was not making any decisions on his internationl future while Monterrey was still preparing to play in the Liga MX and Copa MX finals. “At the moment, I really haven’t thought of it much,” he told Soccer America. “I focused on my club because of the finals and all of that.”
Christian Pulisic voted U.S. Soccer’s Male Player of the Year
Dec 14, 2017Jeff CarlisleSoccer
United States and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic has been voted the 2017 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year.Pulisic, 19, becomes the youngest winner in the award’s history, beating out Landon Donovan, who was 21 when he won the award in 2003.”I just want to thank everyone who voted for me to win U.S. Male Player of the Year,” Pulisicsaid.
in a video posted on social media.”It’s something I never could have imagined, to be here in this position and I’m just really thankful to everyone who supported me along the way and I’m excited for the future.”Pulisic received 94 percent of the votes, which were cast by a group that included men’s national players that earned a cap in 2017, men’s national team and youth national team coaches, Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League and United Soccer League head coaches, as well as select former players, administrators and media members. Pulisic’s victory was not a surprise. In a year in which the U.S. men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Pulisic was one of the few players to emerge with his reputation intact.Pulisic’s sudden rise has seen him become the new face of U.S. Soccer both on and off the field since bursting onto the scene last year.He was the U.S. team’s biggest offensive contributor with six goals and four assists in nine matches. In the matches he played, he was either directly or indirectly involved in 13 of the 17 goals the U.S. scored.”It’s something I would have never imagined. But it’s something I’ve had to deal with at a young age and I’m kind of coming to terms with it, where I stand with the team and in the U.S.,” he told Fox Sports of his rise to prominence.”It’s something that I’m definitely still learning through and I have the best people to help me through it and yeah, definitely still learning but something I’m comfortable with.”With Dortmund, Pulisic tallied three goals and three assists in 25 league and cup appearances during his first full season with the club.And Pulisic, who was able to join the German side as a 16-year-old in 2015 because he has a Croatian passport, urged more promising American talents to follow in his footsteps and develop their skills in Europe.”I absolutely think it’s the best thing for younger kids to develop,” he said. “Obviously it’s the decision I made and I don’t regret it at all.”I mean, you can see where I’ve come and how far I’ve come, and right now I think it’s the best way to develop, to play against the best and I think that’s what I’m doing and I would encourage other kids to do if they want to … do what I’m doing.”
QUICKLYChristian Pulisic, 19, becomes the youngest player to be named U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year, winning in a landslide vote.
A year of defeat and discontent in American men’s soccer will be remembered for one good thing—the performance of the preternaturally gifted Christian Pulisic. The 19-year-old helped Borussia Dortmund win the German Cup, and he carried the U.S. national team at times during its doomed World Cup qualifying campaign. As a result, he was the easy choice—and really the only choice—for the U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year award announced Thursday afternoon.Pulisic won in an avalanche, earning a whopping 94% of the vote conducted by U.S. players, federation and pro coaches, and “select former players, administrators and media members.” He’s the youngest player in the award’s 34-year-history to win, eclipsing four-time honoree Landon Donovan, who won it for the first time at 21.”It’s definitely a big honor for me. I just could never imagine being here so soon,” Pulisic told Fox as his win was announced.Pulisic’s resume was unimpeachable. He tallied six goals and four assists in nine national team appearances (eight of which were qualifiers). The USA scored 17 goals across those nine games and Pulisic was involved in 13 of them, highlighting his indispensability. His strike in a moribund Hexagonal finale in Trinidad, which eliminated the USA from next summer’s World Cup, was symbolic of his ability to rise to an occasion while so many around him struggled.Asked how he felt following that defeat, Pulisic said Thursday he was “destroyed,” adding, “It was my biggest dream. Everything I wanted to do was go to the World Cup, and obviously for me it was just a huge disappointment we couldn’t do it.”Regarding his status as a teenager who is already a national team linchpin, Pulisic told Fox, “It’s something that I’ve had to deal with at a young age. I’m kind of coming to terms with it, where I stand with the team and in the U.S. It’s something I’m definitely still learning through. I have the best people to help me through it.”He wasn’t as vital at Dortmund, but he certainly was effective. Among his three goals in the spring was the go-ahead tally against Benfica in the UEFA Champions League round-of-16, and he earned the penalty kick that lifted BVB to win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the DFB Pokal final. Pulisic kicked off the 2017-18 club campaign with a goal against Bayern Munich in the DFL Supercup, and he’s added two more in Bundesliga play.The other finalists were last year’s winner, Jozy Altidore, along with Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris, whose late game-winning goal against Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final was overshadowed by the ensuing World Cup disaster.Pulisic, who won the Young Male Player of the Year award in 2016, becomes the 24th man to win American soccer’s highest annual individual honor. The rest:
QUICKLYThe U.S. men’s national team’s traditional January camp will take place despite all the turmoil and change in the offing at U.S. Soccer, and it’s an opportunity for a bevy of new, young faces to get a look on the senior national team level.
These are not easy times for U.S. men’s national team, whose players watched last week as the 32 nations that did qualify for the World Cup learned their respective group fates for this coming summer in Russia.The USA’s summer, by contrast, is going to be spent as both a tune-up opponent and as a spectator. France announced Thursday that it would be hosting the U.S. men in Lyon on June 9, and U.S. Soccer confirmed that while the contract is not yet signed, the agreement is being finalized and an official announcement from the U.S. end is forthcoming. International fixture dates will still have to be filled, and the U.S., despite the change in the offing at USSF headquarters, will continue to oblige as it picks up the pieces of qualifying failure and looks toward the future. That quest began in Portugal last month, where a young, largely untested side battled a Cristiano Ronaldo-less European championship side to a 1-1 draw, and it will take its next step in January with the annual camp in California.U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that interim coach Dave Sarachan and his staff will stay on to oversee the camp, which makes sense from a logistical and financial standpoint, but still feels a bit odd. Sarachan, after all, was Bruce Arena’s assistant for years for both club and country, and with ties to that staff still in the mix, the process of fully moving on really can’t begin to take place.That said, the camp will go on and begin on Jan. 10, and roughly 30 players will be called in, according to U.S. Soccer. It will conclude on Jan. 28 with a friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina at StubHub Center, though, as with friendlies on non-FIFA dates, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will be made available for the Dragons, who also failed in their quest to reach Russia 2018. Don’t count on the likes of Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic making the trip.So who might Sarachan turn to for this camp? It’s traditionally made up of a majority of MLS players, given the time of year on the club calendar, and with the USA turning the page on a number of veterans and seeking a squad to build toward Qatar 2022, the older faces should be few and far between and the new ones–i.e., rising talents in their upper teens to low 20s–should be more prevalent. Would Clint Dempsey, who remains tied with Landon Donovan for the all-time USMNT scoring record, want to take part in such a forum and attempt to break the record in such a lousy circumstance? What about fellow MLS Cup finalists Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore? At 30 and 28, respectively, surely they have more to give to the national team, but after a long and trying year, and with Altidore playing on a bum ankle in the title game, perhaps a break is best.So with all of that in mind, here’s a group of 30 players you could expect to be in the mix for next month’s camp:
Guzan is the lone veteran holdover, though at 33, it’s hard to see him fending off one of his younger counterparts for a lead role in the coming years. It still helps to have a tested, experienced player in the mix, though, and Guzan fits the bill and can lend a hand to the up-and-comers. Bono, 23, has backstopped Toronto FC to MLS Cup and took part in January camp in 2015. Gonzalez completed his one-time FIFA switch from Mexico, and it’s time for the USA to see what it has in the 22-year-old. Steffen, 23, was the breakout star of the MLS playoffs, and he’s more than earned his chance on the next level.
Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), James Sands (NYCFC), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)
There’s a blend of semi-veterans and complete newbies here, albeit very heavy on the central defenders. The USA U-20 and U-17 national teams have featured some promising individuals, and RSL’s duo of Acosta and Glad and NYCFC’s Sands are among them. This is a no-risk look at seeing where they stand and if they’re ready to make the leap.
If Birnbaum is cleared following the concussion that ended his season, he’d be a likely starter in the middle, while the FCD duo of Hedges and Zimmerman, despite subpar seasons during a weird year for the club, could challenge. Garza, whose season was cut short by a hamstring injury, should be bolstered by a fresh bill of health and his new Atlanta United contract and would be the top choice on the left, while Rosenberry could start on the right. This is admittedly light on fullbacks, but then again, isn’t that a proper indictment of the U.S. player pool in recent years?
Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Christopher Goslin (Atlanta United), Kekuta Manneh (Columbus Crew), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
If a changing of the guard is on the way, then the midfield backbone had better be a priority, and in Acosta, Adams, Arriola and Roldan, Sarachan has four players aged 22 or younger vying to be part of that new nucleus.
Rowe, 26, showed well at the Gold Cup and brings the playmaking quality so sorely lacking in the U.S. pool, while Trapp, who turned 25 next month, offers another sound option in defensive midfield. Nagbe, who most pegged for a more influential role in helping the U.S. during its qualifying campaign, still carries value at 27 and has the individual talent to succeed on the international level. Delgado, 22, gets overlooked at Toronto FC given the talent around him, but he has difference-making ability.
Manneh, meanwhile, earned his U.S. citizenship this past year and was a sparkplug for the Crew. He’s on trial with Union Berlin in Germany, and should he make that move, a place in this camp would be unlikely. Gyasi Zardes, a player very familiar to Sarachan from their time together with the LA Galaxy, would be a candidate here, too. As for U-17 World Cup standouts Durkin and Goslin, it’s a chance to go a couple of levels up to continue their progression.
Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United), Dom Dwyer (Orlando City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Ramirez (Minnesota United), CJ Sapong (Philadelphia Union), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen as of February)
Sapong starred vs. Portugal and was the highest-scoring American in MLS this past season with 16 goals. He’s earned another look, though at 28, he’ll be hard pressed to improve over the next five years.
Sargent is headed for Germany when he turns 18 in February, but the breakout youth star could use the camp to get in shape for his pro move while further integrating himself in the national side. Carleton, one of Sargent’s U-17 national team teammates, enjoyed a strong World Cup showing and could be given a taste of the senior life, too.
Ramirez has been overlooked by the national team for some time, and his 14-goal campaign in Minnesota’s expansion season did little to harm his reputation. Next month should be his chance to prove he belongs.
In Agudelo, Morris and Dwyer, Sarachan has three more well-known commodities to which he can turn.
TORONTO — These are indeed interesting times for the game of soccer in the United States. The men’s side of the game is still reeling from the national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup. Come February, the U.S. Soccer Federation will have a new president for the first time in 12 years. The Columbus Crew’s potential move to Austin, Texas, is creating some considerable angst, and not just in Columbus.It is the job of MLS commissioner Don Garber to wade through this morass and lead North America’s domestic league to the other side. There are positives, to be sure — Atlanta United’s inaugural season, improved attendance and television metrics for the playoffs — but there is no denying the fact that this is the most challenging time for the sport in recent memory.
During an extensive Q&A with ESPN FC, Garber discussed the USSF presidential election and his support of Kathy Carter, the impact of the World Cup qualifying failure on SUM, David Beckham’s Miami project and the uncertainty facing the Crew. What’s detailed here is the rest of the discussion.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Don Garber: I think anybody who has been engaged in the soccer business in our country shares some accountability for where we are today as a sport, and also shares in some of the success that we’ve had. I’ve said many times that as a fan, as commissioner of a league and as member of the U.S. Soccer Board, I was very disappointed and in many ways heartbroken by not qualifying. Some of the greatest experiences of my life and of my professional career have been watching the U.S. play in World Cup competition and seeing how that’s driven the sport in our country, and seeing how it has made stars out of some of our players.I don’t believe that players who come back to MLS are any less successful in international competition because we don’t know what it would be like if they never came home. There has been so much finger pointing and so much blame being thrown around trying to demonize either an entity or decisions that have been made or individuals. While I understand it, I don’t think it’s productive.We need to use this as a wakeup call to recognize that there are things that we as a league and we as a federation and we as those responsible for the development of players at the youth level should assess where we are and try to come together as opposed to break apart to figure out how we can get better and ensure that this never happens again.
DG: I think we just need to continue to do what we’ve been doing. And recognize that it will take even more investment in our academy programs and perhaps more decisions that need to be made in concert with the federation to be able to accelerate the development of young American players.
That could mean more minutes played for academy players, but it could also mean incentivizing our teams to invest more in their academies and more in their signing of homegrown players. It could mean that we invest more with the French Football Federation to have proper coaching support for our academy programs. It could be that we work with the federation to provide funding that could be passed through to non-MLS academy programs. It could be that we take a greater leadership position in the entire sport to utilize our resources, our expertise and some of our programs to accelerate this process faster.
DG: Training compensation and solidarity payments, MLS is a beneficiary of that because we are developing more players who are going to come through our academies and leave. So this is not the league against the youth system. I think the federation and the league and the clubs need to come up with some sort of solution that is workable for all. This would be an example of how there needs to be a change in our approach so that we can ensure that more money is invested and more people are benefiting from the development of players, including those players themselves.
DG: I do think they are. I’ve said all along that we need more than a handful of players, whether it’s a Tyler Adams or a Kellyn Acosta or even Christian Pulisic. We need hundreds of young players who are playing in our league regularly, and we also need hundreds of young players who are going to be coming out of our system and playing overseas regularly, and it is a numbers game.
We’ve been in the academy business for less than 10 years. Bayern Munich and Manchester United have been at this for decades. This is going to take time.
I go back to where we are. While I’m deeply disappointed, I actually think that when you have trauma to a system, it forces everyone to take a step back and say, “What went wrong? What do we need to do to improve it? How do we marshal our resources together so that the sum is greater than the individual parts, so that we’re in a better position four years from now than we are today?” I want to focus our attention on that and less about some individual or some entity out to dry because some people are unhappy.
DG: Yes. We’ve not announced what that break is. We have shared our recommendation with our ownership, but we will definitely take a break next year.
DG: I think it says that our league is providing opportunities to compete in a professional environment and ultimately benefit their national teams. That should be able to inure benefit to the U.S. men’s national team as well, but this is a global sport. We have players from around the world, we have an agreement with our federation to limit the foreign professional players on our rosters, and I think the fact that we are seeing the Roman Torreses of the world excel through him playing in MLS shows that the system isn’t wrong when they get into MLS.
There is something happening in that we’re not getting enough talent up through the pipeline once they get into MLS. That’s something we all need to work on. I’m not at all apologetic that MLS has helped not just the U.S. but also other teams in the region and around the world. That’s what professional soccer leagues should be all about.
DG: There’s been a very empowering level of energy throughout our country to try to bring MLS to their respective cities. The presentations from Nashville and Cincinnati and Sacramento and Detroit were terrific. In three of the four cases, the mayors came in to be part of the presentation. You’ve got strong ownership groups, all with downtown stadium plans with investments that could total $400 million in terms of the contribution and capital that would be put into building out a stadium and everything around it.
We’ll go through the process. We have an expansion committee call [Friday]. We’ll talk to our board about it on Dec. 14. I expect that we’ll come out with more direction from that though not a final decision. But I know that we will definitely have two teams to select that will be teams 25 and 26.
DG: There’s a lot going on in that, and I‘m not going to comment on it. Clearly, the county judge has been very aggressive. Our press releases have been clear. We have done absolutely nothing wrong in San Antonio, and I stand by that.
DG: I have met with him, and Eric is someone who clearly has a lot of ideas, and when people are passionate about their ideas, it gets conversation, and conversation is good. The promotion/relegation and changing the calendar ideas are not new. I encouraged Eric to be thoughtful about his comments and to recognize that the federation is not the entity that will determine the structure of MLS, either its competition format or its calendar or anything related to it. It’s not the role of the federation.
DG: I think I’ve been very clear from the very beginning. While I appreciate all the social media banter back and forth, the concept of having our league be structured the way it is in England, or the way it is Brazil, is not necessarily what’s going to work here in North America. That requires stability. That requires consistency. And to turn that upside down because people think it will be fun or interesting is just not worth the impact and the end result of that.
Where would the Galaxy play today? What would happen to their players? Would they be in our [players] union or the non-unionized USL? What would happen to their local television deal with Time Warner, or their sponsor Herbalife? What would happen to StubHub Center, which has been financed with debt that’s guaranteed by the revenues that come into it?I’ve got 100 examples of that that are the realities of what it’s like to actually run a business. And while I appreciate and actually don’t mind the social media fervor underneath it, I think people, when they take a real step back, take a look at MLS and how far it’s grown over the years in our current structure, and probably hope that we can continue to grow, as opposed to having things that might make us unstable.
DG: There have been talks to continue, and the MLS owners and a committee will get together and try to determine whether or not they want to go forward. Then we’ll sit down, I’m sure over the next couple of months, and figure all that out. It’s been 18 long years for me, and in the beginning it was all about trying to manage trauma and trying to work to see if it could continue. I think we finally have built something that is thriving and arguably has more and more opportunity in front of it, and I’ll have to figure out what I want to do, as will they.
DG: I think the challenge that we always have, is we’re compared to other soccer leagues. But every league here in North America has roster limitations and salary cap and budget distinctions, and ways that salary investment can be used strategically to make the game better and make the league more competitive.I believe we’re still very much in the growth phase. We have to be very smart about how our teams are utilizing their expenditures to be more competitive — more competitive against Mexico so we can win the CONCACAF Champions League, and more competitive against this influx of international soccer that people have an opportunity to engage in. I think the time might come at some point in the future, but right now, every dollar matters.When you look at the [Targeted Allocation Money] program, that’s been incredibly successful in bringing players, like a Victor Vazquez for example, who can be impactful, while at the same time providing resources to sign homegrown players, or to buy down designated players, to create a system where the league’s competitive value grows. I think it is the right thing for where we are now, I don’t see it changing anytime soon, but who knows what can happen in the future.
DG: It’s interesting. We’ve had our most successful playoffs ever. The last two games were 31,000 and 45,000. Our television ratings on ESPN are up 40 percent. They were up dramatically here in Canada on TSN and TVA. So I think the view that the playoffs have been challenged by the calendar probably isn’t true because the interest and measures have increased.That doesn’t mean it’s not a real hassle to have to take a break in the November window. I’d love to have MLS Cup before that November break. We continue to look at trying to evolve our schedules so that ultimately we’re not in a situation where we’re playing our cup in mid-December and having to have a long break between the two legs of our playoffs. But until we’re able to find a solution, which is worked on every year by our product strategy committee, I think we are where we are.
DG: It was a courageous move — move up weekends to the midweek. Attendances were up dramatically across the entire playoff schedule, and our television ratings grew, so we’re getting more and more committed fans in our market where they’re willing and able to come out for a midweek even on short notice. And it could get to the point where they’re willing to come to regular-season games in February, which, right now, we’re concerned about being able to execute successfully.