It sounds like the NWSL – US Women’s soccer league might be the first US Pro League to return to play as they plan a playoff type of approach with all the games being played in Salt Lake City in late June. This same approach is being considered by MLS in and around the Disney complex in Orlando. We’ll see what happens – again I think if the TV networks will show the games on prime channels – this could be a good opportunity for US Soccer. Unfortunately the 25th Anniversary of MLS and the resurgence of the NWSL both with new broadcast deals and plenty of planned exposure for this season has been blown to heck. We’ll see how it turns out. Interesting stories on the new MLS led Development Academy replacing the old DA – see stories under MLS below.
Live Soccer Returns
Interesting return of Live Soccer over the weekend as the German Bundesliga kicked off with no fans in the stands. I have to say watching the games with no crowd noise was really weird. What was even weirder to me was it seemed like the Announcers were not at the game. Later with this story from ian Durke, I realize that indeed the announcers were not at the games. Evidently in Germany on the broadcasts – they piped in crowd noise, singing and some goal celebrations on the broadcasts which made it a little better. I was also extremely disappointed in Fox Sports 1 for having absolutely no pregame/half-time or post game shows at all. I understand studios are not back up and operational but if NASCAR can do what they did on Fox – can’t soccer at least try to do something. It just shows again that whoever is in charge at Fox has given up on soccer. (Despite this – the Bundesliga did record ratings over the weekend on at least 3 of the televised games in the US.) I wonder what would have happened if the games were on Fox rather than FS1. Oh well. The Bundelisga will not be on broadcast TV next year as ESPN+ has taken the rights. (Which means we will never again see a German or Italian game on broadcast TV) If ESPN at least put the good games of each league on the broadcast channels I would get it. But they certainly haven’t done so –with only the very occasional game on so far. So once again you pay to stream or you don’t watch overseas soccer. I feel like we are back in the 90s again. First it was Champions League barely on TNT moving next year to CBS Streaming with a single game on CBS Sports Network (woopie), then it was Italy and now Germany only on Streaming. We are going backwards folks. I guess thanks Fox for covering Champions League so very well in the past – and now Thanks for nothing!
US Players struggle in German Return
So I should have known when Dortmund’s Gio Reyna got injured during warm-ups and he missed his first ever start – that things for the American players would be iffy this past weekend. McKinney for Schalke was just ok as Dortmund put 4 up on the blues, Brooks gave up an own goal for Wolfsburg-but his team did win 2-1 at least, Adams played ok for RB Leipzig at Right back – but they tied losing ground in the title race, and most other American’s did not play or certainly didn’t start. They will get chances again this weekend as most of the games on TV feature teams with American’s at least on the roster. Games start with doubles at 9:30 am on Sat on FS1 & FS2, with US Defender John Brooks hosting Dortmund and maybe Gio Reyna. The 12:30 game on FS1 is Bayern Munich hosting Frankfort and Timmy Chandler. Sunday we get Adams and RB Leipzig traveling to Mainz at9:30 am on FS1. We do get midweek games on Tues/Wed this week with the huge game between league leaders Bayern Munich and Dortmund on Tues on FS1 at 12:30 pm. Not sure why this can’t be played on a weekend but oh well.
German Soccer Returns From COVID-19 Lockdown, Scores Record High Ratings For Fox
The return of Bundesliga soccer from COVID-19 lockdown (in an empty arena) hit a record high with its Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke matchup with a .33, marking the best metered market rating ever for a Bundesliga telecast on FS1.In the match, Dortmund beat Schalke, 4-0. On Sunday, Fox Sports released the following in the top five available markets: Cincinnati .91, Philadelphia .75, Washington DC .71, Kansas City .67 and Tampa .64.In the second matchup, Borussia Moenchengladbach defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1 and the game earned .21, the second best metered for a Bundesliga game on FS1. The top five available markets were as follows: Kansas City .67, Cincinnati .47, Washington DC .46, Tampa .45 and Portland .41.
NWSL to Return with Tourney in late June? Washington Post
GAMES ON TV
Sat, May 23
9:30 am Fox Sport1 Wolfsburg (John Brooks) vs Dortmund (Gio Reyna)
9:30 am Fox Sport2 Borrusia Mgladbach (Johnson) vs Bayer Leverkusen
12:30 FS1 Bayer Munich vs Frankfurt (Timmy Chandler)
Sun, May 24
7:30 am Fox Sport 1 Schalke (Mckinney) vs Ausburg
9:30 am FS 1, FuboTV, Fox desp Mainz vs RB Leipzig (Tyler Adams)
12:30 pm FS1 Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf (Morales)
Tues, May 26
12:30 pm FS 1 Bayern Munich vs Dortmund (Gio Reyna)
2:30 pm FS 2, TUDN, FuboTV Bayer Leverkusen vs Wolfsburg (John Brooks)
Wed, May 27
12:30 pm Fox Sport2 RB Leipzig (Tyler Adams) vs Hertha
2:30 FS2 Fortuna Dusseldorf (Morales) vs Schalke (Mckinney)
Fri, May 29
2:30 pm Fox Sport1 Frieburg vs Bayer Leverkusen
Sat, May 30
9:30 am Fox Sport1 Schalke (Mckinney) vs Werder Bremman (Sargent)
9:30 am Fox Sport2 Wolfsburg (John Brooks) vs Frankfurt (Timmy Chandler)
12:30 FS1 Bayer Munich vs Fortuna Dusseldorf (Morales)
Sun, May 24
9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Borrusia Mgladbach (Johnson) vs Union Berlin
12 pm FS1 Paderbuorn vs Dortmund (Gio Reyna)
GERMAN SOCCER RETURNS FIRST
Teenage USMNT star Reyna injured in Dortmund warm up
Rough Day for US Players as Bundesliga Returns – Doug McIntyre Yahoo Sports
Challenges of Calling German Games from Home – Announcers Issues – Ian Durke ESPN
Quite Stands – odd Celebrations Mark return of Soccer in Germany ESPNFC
German league without fans like “old man’s football”, says Mueller
Haaland stars in Dortmund romp as Bundesliga makes ‘very strange’ return
Leipzig title hopes hit by Freiburg draw on Bundesliga restart
Sky Germany attracts record audience for Bundesliga restart
For MLS’s new youth league, cooperation a critical component – MLS.com Charles Boehm
What’s Possible Down South in MLS – Charles Boehm MLS
Celtic declared Scottish champions and clinch ninth-straight league title as Hearts relegated
‘Concrete plan’ for European season to finish in August, says UEFA president
Bundesliga games will of course be played in empty stadiums, which is the plan for the rest of the season and beyond, and USMNT stars will feature in plenty of them.From Giovanni Reyna to Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie to John Brooks, plenty of USMNT stars are going to play pivotal roles as their teams battle for the Bundesliga title, European qualification and against relegation.
BTW, if you’re new to Germany’s top-flight, here’s a guide to help you pick a club to support.
Below is a look at what lies ahead this weekend for the USMNT stars, as you can check out the full schedule, standings and find out how to watch the action, while we will have you covered right here on ProSoccerTalk.
Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig – Started as a right wing-back for RB Leipzig and did okay, but was hauled off in the second half as Leipzig pushed for an equalizer and then a winner as they slipped up and drew against Freiburg. Adams’ best position is in central midfield but Leipzig are stacked in that area. Next up they face Mainz who are battling against being sucked into the relegation battle. Leipzig need a win to keep their title bid alive.
Matchweek 27: @ Mainz, Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET
Gio Reyna, Borussia Dortmund – He was supposed to make his first Bundesliga start the big 4-0 derby win against Schalke in the restart but the 17-year-old phenom was injured in the warm up. Reyna is highly-rated by Dortmund and Lucien Favre has admitted he could feature this weekend.
Matchweek 27: @ Wolfsburg, Saturday, 9:30 a.m. ET
Weston McKennie, Schalke – Worked hard in the humbling at the hands of Dortmund but not his best outing with the ball. McKennie and Schalke host struggling Augsburg and this is a big chance for them to gain some momentum and keep their push for a Europa League spot on track.
Matchweek 27: v. Augsburg, Sunday, 7:30 a.m. ET
John Brooks, Wolfsburg – Had a very solid outing against Augsburg as his distribution was lauded. A poor defensive header led to Augsburg’s equalizer but Wolfsburg got a late winner to climb to sixth as they push for Europa League qualification. Brooks will come up against Erling Haaland and this will be a big ask for the German-American center back.
Matchweek 27: v. Dortmund, Saturday, 9:30 a.m. ET
Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen – Jumped off the bench in the second half as Bremen were hammered at home by Bayer Leverkusen. There’s no shame in that because Bayer are superb. Bremen create a lot of chances and if Sargent is on the pitch, you’d fancy him to score.
Matchweek 27: @ Freiburg, Saturday, 9:30 a.m. ET
Timothy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt – It doesn’t get much tougher than this for Frankfurt. Chandler came off the bench late on in their defeat at home against Monchengladbach and given their defensive display last week, he should start probably at right back this weekend.
Matchweek 27: @ Bayern Munich, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET
Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf – Came off the bench in the second half of their draw against Paderborn at home, as they hit the woodwork multiple times but couldn’t break through. Morales and Fortuna need wins to get out of the relegation playoff spot.
Matchweek 27: @ Cologne, Sunday, 12 p.m. ET
Fabian Johnson, Zack Steffen: Did not feature in Week 26. Fortuna’s Steffen is recovering for a knee injury. Johnson was not in Monchengladbach’s squad.
Rough day for USMNT players as the Bundesliga resumes
The Bundesliga’s return to action on Saturday was celebrated by sports fans who have been cooped up for last two-plus months because of the coronavirus pandemic.But for some German-based members of the United States men’s national team, the day was mostly one to forget. Here’s a look at how the nine of the 10 Americans on Bundesliga rosters — Josh Sargent and Werder Bremen face Bayer Leverkusen on Monday — fared as play resumed.
M Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund
Saturday’s Revierderby against local rival Schalke was supposed to mark the first Bundesliga start for Reyna, the 17-year-old son of two-time U.S. World Cup captain Claudio Reyna and former U.S. women’s national team winger Danielle Egan.Instead, the prodigy picked up an undisclosed injury during warmups and was replaced in manager Lucien Favre’s lineup by Thorgan Hazard, who scored in Dortmund’s 4-0 win before he too limped off the field in the second half.It’s too early to know how long Reyna might be sidelined. What’s clear is this wasn’t the way Reyna wanted (re)opening day to go. The news seemed to set the tone for the rest of the day. An injury sustained in warmups prevented 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder Giovanni Reyna from making his first Bundesliga start.
M Weston McKennie, Schalke
The hard-running Texan made his seventeenth start of the season on Saturday, sliding into his preferred defensive role in central midfield. However, despite his best efforts, McKennie could do little to prevent Dortmund’s high-octane attack from repeatedly carving through the heart of Schalke’s defense.Although he was in the vicinity for all four BVB goals, it’s hard to pin any of them on McKennie. Maybe he could’ve closed down Erling Haaland a little bit more quickly before the Norwegian teenage sensation set up Raphael Guerreiro for the game’s final tally. Let’s be real, though: at that late stage, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome either way.
M Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig
The 20-year-old might have been the bight spot by default. After missing much of the last year with lingering groin and toe issues, Adams made just his sixth league start of the season, going 68 minutes at right wing back and producing two near-misses offensively in a 1-1 tie with Freiburg.
D John Brooks, Wolfsburg
Things were going just fine for Wolfsburg, up 1-0 coming out of the dressing room at halftime at Augsburg. That changed shortly after the intermission, when the rangy center back Brooks jumped high to clear a corner kick and inadvertently directed the ball straight at his own goalkeeper, Koen Casteels, instead.Casteels did enough to parry the deflection off the underside of the crossbar, but Augsburg defender Tin Jedvaj reacted quickly enough to nod the bouncing ball home and erase Wolfsburg’s lead. Brooks wasn’t charged with an own goal, but it was his mistake nonetheless.Fortunately for Brooks, second-half sub Daniel Ginczek bailed out the visitors with a 90th-minute game-winner.
M/F Ulysses Llanez, Wolfsburg
The 19-year-old attacker was promoted to Wolfsburg’s first team a month ago, not long after his star turn for the USMNT in a February friendly win over Costa Rica.That move prompted speculation that Llanez could make his senior debut on Saturday. In the lead-up to the game, though, coach Oliver Glasner indicated that the youngster isn’t quite ready for primetime. “We’re doing the lad no favors if we immediately throw him into cold water,” Glasner said.Llanez’s next chance will come when Wolfsburg hosts Dortmund on May 23.
M Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf
Morales had been a starter for most of the season before losing his place in mid-February, just two games before the Bundesliga began its hiatus. The recently-turned 30-year-old — he celebrated his birthday May 12 — resumed that reserve role on Saturday, playing the final 22 minutes of Fortuna’s scoreless draw with fellow relegation candidate Paderborn.
G Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf
After injuring his knee in training late last month, it was no surprise that Steffen, 25 years old and the USA’s No. 1 goalkeeper, wasn’t between the sticks (or even on the bench) for Saturday’s clash.
M Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt
Despite starting nine of Frankfurt’s last 10 games before the COVID-19 suspension, Chandler had to settle for a supporting role in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Borussia Monchengladbacch. While the hosts did score their only goal after Chandler entered the match, he failed to make any real impact during his 18 minutes on the field.
D/M Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach
The 32-year-old 2014 World Cup standout has been limited to just three starts for Gladbach this season, in part because of injury. That was the case again on Saturday, with Johnson unavailable because of an undisclosed muscle problem.
Sources: MLS Orlando tournament taking shape with four groups
Jeff Carlisle S. soccer correspondent ESPNFC
The Athletic was the first to report the new details, with sources confirming that the situation remains fluid and that many details haven’t been finalized. Both the league and the MLS Players Association (MLSPA) would also need to agree on the tournament’s details in order for it to be played. At one point, the plan for the league’s teams was to head to Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports some time during the first week in June, with the teams using much of that month to get back in game shape. (ESPN is owned by the Walt Disney Co.) Games would then commence about a month later.But sources told ESPN that with just 10 days remaining until a possible travel day for players and staff, there is a sense that it might be mid-June before all of the teams could arrive in Orlando. Once in Florida, the teams would be tested regularly and be quarantined.
Sources confirmed The Athletic’s report that there would be three groups of six teams and a last group of eight, giving teams a minimum of five games each. The top two teams in each group which would advance to the knockout round. Supporters Shield holders LAFC, reigning MLS Cup champions the Seattle Sounders FC, last year’s U.S. Open Cup winners Atlanta United FC, and hometown team Orlando City SC would hold the top seeds in each group. Toronto FC would also be a seeded team in the eight-team group. Nashville SC would take up residence in the Eastern Conference, accounting for the unbalanced groups. Group stage games would count in the league standings, but the knockout games wouldn’t.In terms of the league’s plans for after the tournament, one possibility is to schedule 18 regular season games with only intra-conference matchups, with nine teams from each conference qualifying for the playoffs. Similar to the mini-tournament, Nashville would be in the Eastern Conference.But the Orlando portion of the plan is meeting with resistance from the players, who are balking at being separated from families for upwards of 10 weeks while also existing in quarantine conditions, all while hotel staff will be able to come and go as the wish, creating a vulnerability within the MLS “bubble.” At minimum, there are plenty of questions that will have to be answered before the players agree to head to Orlando.”I would start off by saying that I think every one of us agree that we want to get back to playing,” Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya told ESPN’s Taylor Twellman. “I want to get back out there, being competitive, [playing] games. The staff wants to be out there, fans want to be watching games, but I will say that this all feels a little bit rushed.”Bedoya later added, “I think the players are taking all the risks by going down [to Orlando], being isolated, it’s a strong term to say, but it’s like being in a luxurious prison.”ESPN has previously reported that MLSPA has sent a counterproposal to the league regarding player salaries for the 2020 season, with the union confirming that the amount of economic relief would exceed $100 million.
Utah Royals to host summer NWSL tournament as league makes plans for return to play
All nine National Women’s Soccer League teams will play a tournament this summer in Real Salt Lake venues, the Salt Lake Tribune has confirmed.
The tournament, first reported by The Washington Post, could be officially announced before the end of the week. The NWSL would be one of the first professional sports league to announce a return to play after COVID-19 shut practically everything down in mid-March.The tournament will go from June 29 to around July 22 and be played at Rio Tinto Stadium and Zions Bank Stadium in Sandy and Herriman, respectively. Rio Tinto is home to RSL and the Utah Royals FC, while Zions Bank Stadium is where the Real Monarchs play their home games.The plan is for the first three games to occur at Zions Bank Stadium, while the semifinal and final rounds of the tournament will be at Rio Tinto, per a source with knowledge of the plan. The source requested anonymity to discuss details not yet announced.Testing for COVID-19 will be “regular,” but the exactly frequency is yet to be determined. Players and staff won’t be quarantined, but will have restrictions on what they do off the field.Teams will stay in the dormitories near RSL’s training facility and at some hotels. Training sessions will be held mainly at the Herriman facility, with some at America First Field, where the Royals practice.The OL Reign, Sky Blue FC and Chicago Red Stars are slated to arrive in In Utah on Monday or Tuesday of next week.Whether spectators will be allowed is still to be determined. The hope is a small, possibly previously selected group of fans can attend to start, with numbers growing as restrictions in the state continue to lift. Most of Utah is currently under “yellow” risk level, but certain cities, like Salt Lake, are still in “orange.”Games will be broadcast on one of the many CBS platforms per the new deal between the network and the NWSL.
Internet issues and doorbell distractions: The challenge of calling ‘ghost games’ from home
May 20, 2020 Ian DarkeESPN.com writer
When the Bundesliga resumed last weekend, it was not just players, coaches and officials dealing with “the new normal” brought about by the coronavirus. Commentators also faced doing their job with the prospect of new problems; barking dogs and noisy toddlers might not realise someone is trying to do live coverage of Bayern Munich in the next room.Men and women behind the microphone, as well as producers and various technical staff, are having to work from home because of restricted access to the sanitised stadiums of the Bundesliga as well as TV studios. And so, live from my office in southern England, I described the scenes for BT Sport viewers as Hoffenheim lost 3-0 at home to Hertha Berlin. In the days leading up to the game, it felt as if enough electrical equipment to build the International Space Station was delivered to my home. With the help of a masked engineer operating at a safe distance, it was lashed together, but please do not ask me how it works.This technical wizardry left my office looking rather like the flight deck of a 747 preparing for takeoff. Armed with a set of instructions about which buttons to push and when, I was linked to the studios of BT Sport in East London as well as to producer Jayne Dinnin, who was also working from home and wearing her fluffy carpet slippers.I should say that, even pre-pandemic, it was not totally uncommon for commentators to broadcast games using TV pictures — we call it working “off tube” in the trade — but usually that takes place in a soundproof booth. Calling a game from home, though? That was a new one on me. I doubted it could even be done, but thanks to some very clever technicians, pictures from a stadium more than 500 miles away were beamed into my house.There was one snag: No matter how sophisticated the kit you are using might be, there is dependence on the strength of a broadband signal. Any weakness can lead to the picture freezing at a vital moment, which happened to me in the second half from Hoffenheim.Robert Skov was about to take a corner for the home team when the picture froze and the next thing I saw was Hertha goalkeeper Rune Jarstein with the ball in his hands. What happened in those missing 20 seconds will remain one of life’s mysteries.
My colleague Paul Dempsey had an even better story as he commentated on Borussia Dortmund‘s 4-0 win against Schalke from his living room. During the first half, a delivery man from the local supermarket kept banging on his front door. How was he to know — or care — that Erling Haaland was about to open the scoring?How else did this experience compare with a commentator’s usual routine?For a start, there is no travel involved, which is not the worst thing if you are avoiding traffic jams, delayed trains and endless checks at airports. And sitting at home also means there is warmth and plenty of available refreshments, which is not always the case when you are stuck on a lofty, cold gantry at Everton or Watford. That is where the good news ends, though.
Covering a match in an empty stadium with no atmosphere — Geisterspiele, as Germans call these “ghost games” — is the biggest difference. However good the entertainment might be, the event feels like a reserve game. German viewers have the option of watching with added sound effects and that is worth a try to pump up the feel of it all.Then there are the small things that can prove vital in this job, but are denied by not being at a ground. For example, there is no chance for a bit of banter and swapping information with colleagues in the media room over a cup of tea and a bite to eat.Nor can we go to that privileged spot inside the tunnel where you might get the chance to check a snippet of vital late team news; think of the Ronaldo drama when he was out of — then back in — the Brazil team before the 1998 World Cup final. You might also get to learn a team’s tactical formation, though Jose Mourinho told me once: “You will work it out for yourself.”Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and a host of other guests every day as football plots a path through the coronavirus crisis. Stream on ESPN+ (U.S. only).Remembering that 90% of a commentator’s job is identifying the players, another vital tool lost in lockdown is the chance to watch players warm up. At the ground, you can look through binoculars to check on anyone who might be unfamiliar.Hand on heart, I had not seen a lot of Hoffenheim and Hertha this season. It meant that, despite watching a few tapes ahead of their meeting, calling the game with those occasional picture freezes was one of my toughest assignments. I think we got away with it, though, and responses from viewers were kind. They understand there might be glitches in these troubled times, but most were glad just to have some proper football to watch.ut home-produced commentaries? They will never catch on, even if the commentator can be mowing the lawn five minutes after the game.I will do it all again on Sunday when title-chasing RB Leipzig play Mainz. Wish me luck.
For MLS’s new youth league, cooperation a critical component | Charles Boehm
May 14, 20201:32PM EDT
Charles BoehmNational Writer
If you read Wednesday’s announcement of founding members and other details of MLS’s new elite player development platform carefully, a distinct theme emerges.Need a hint? Consider this word cloud from the release: Collaboration. Collaborative. Co-create. Conversations. Collaborate. Alongside. Inclusive.With a centralized professional league like MLS standing up this new national competition as the successor to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, a project of the U.S. Soccer Federation, it might sound counter-intuitive that members will have more input and a greater voice. But that’s exactly what the non-MLS clubs involved are saying loud and clear.Did I say “non-MLS”? Scratch that – the preferred term is “elite academies,” another example of the consciously inclusive mindset at work.“We all felt that this is a step forward, for the simple reason that the USSDA was run by the federation. This is run by professional clubs, like in the rest of the world,” said Roberto Lopez, academy director at respected Florida youth club Clearwater Chargers and a former U.S. Soccer staff member, in a conference call with media on Wednesday.“Most important, we strongly feel that we’re partners. Every meeting we have with MLS, they emphasize the need for us to bring to the table our needs. They want our experience at our level, they want to know how to go about doing things. It’s very, very inclusive and we have a seat at the table. And that’s why I feel that this is a major, historical step forward.”Fueled by the coronavirus outbreak and a range of other factors, the collapse of the Development Academy unfolded along a startlingly short timeline last month, moving from hot rumor to official announcement in under a week’s time. That left many member clubs in the dark and unsure of the future, a particularly uncomfortable situation in the midst of a global viral pandemic that’s severely destabilized both the professional and youth landscapes.So openness and stability were paramount concerns as MLS went about conceiving its new youth platform, explained Fred Lipka, the league’s Technical Director of Youth Development. That means many of the DA’s existing standards and principles will carry over, at least in the first season or two, while consultation continues on longer-term improvement and evolution.“We had to find an environment that was going to be equal to or greater than what was the Development Academy. And I think if you look out in the landscape, there really wasn’t a current league or platform that met our requirements,” said Jeffrey Saunders, sporting director at historic New York club Metropolitan Oval, an affiliate of NYCFC that’s groomed Justin Haak and a long list of other future professional players over the years.“We worked in conjunction with the MLS leadership over the last four or five weeks to craft what a league could look like and what would be the best design to meet the goals of MLS and non-MLS clubs, as well as youth players as well as elite clubs. … in a way, we’ve created a bespoke professional player pathway that will facilitate quality and quantity of professional player development.”
Perhaps inevitably given it was a federation undertaking, the DA took on a top-down character over most of its 13 years of existence. That said, it’s widely agreed to have moved the North American game forward and leaves a positive legacy for its successors to build upon.“I personally felt that it gave us the standards that we needed at the time to allow us to compete on a higher level with international teams, to develop our players,” said Lopez. “Simple things like a requirement of coaching licenses, 10-month seasons, training four times a week, not playing more than one game a day – I think that took us to another level. And I think, in my opinion, within a very short time the results were evident. And now, with this new platform coming up, I think this is going to take us a step further on what the USSDA had done.”A perceived rift between professional and youth member clubs reportedly complicated the running of the DA in its final years. But the tenor has changed dramatically among those involved in the working groups that laid the groundwork for MLS’s new project. It’s believed clearer communication and a collaborative mentality can break down barriers and misunderstandings of the past.“There was a lack of trust with elite academies,” Mickey Kydes, technical director at Connecticut club Beachside Soccer and an MLS player in the league’s 1996 inaugural season, told MLSsoccer.com. “There was a lack of trust and the first thing we said to [MLS] was, if we don’t collaborate and we don’t have a voice at the table, we can’t go forward with this.“But I can tell you right now, it’s pretty impressive. I’ve never been part of anything like this where we’re actually sharing ideas and giving feedback back and forth and working together. It’s not like they’ve come in and said ‘we need this, this and this, and you have to do this, this and this.’ It’s really different. It’s really discussions and conversations that are on a different level that I’ve never experienced in my 45 years in this country.”As Sporting Kansas City manager and sporting director Peter Vermes pointed out, no one has invested more time and money into youth development in recent years than MLS and its clubs, and the league taking a more active leadership role may serve to clarify the big-picture goals of domestic player production.“It’s been made very clear by MLS leadership that they wanted to take a fresh approach to not just the structure of a youth platform, but also the execution of it and the philosophy or ethos of it,” said Saunders. “Both elite academies like Metropolitan Oval and MLS understand that without collaboration, we can’t achieve our mutual goals.“It’s the old adage: We’re looking for one plus one equals three. Together, we’re far more powerful, and can have a much greater effect on youth development in this country than we would separately.”
Total of 95 clubs join forces as part of MLS’s elite player development platform
May 13, 20202:24PM EDT
It’s a new era for soccer development in North America.A total of 65 elite academy clubs which formerly participated in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy will join MLS’s existing club academies as part of a new elite player development platform that is set to transform youth player development in the United States and Canada.The 95 clubs become founding members of the new platform which will include more than 8,000 players throughout the U.S. and Canada and will consist of elite year-round competition, as well as player identification initiatives, coaching education opportunities, and additional programming to create the premier player development environment.The platform will operate with a groundbreaking governance structure that promotes collaboration, innovation and input across all areas of the soccer landscape. Within the structure, technical working groups will provide recommendations on the platform’s strategic objectives and standards, outline competition guidelines and formats, as well as introduce platform programming. By unifying the elite player development landscape and creating a collaborative structure, the new platform will accelerate and enhance player development in North America.Applications for additional clubs to join will be available in the coming weeks. More information about the competition structure as well as the platform’s official brand will be announced at a later date.With a focus on maximizing each player’s potential, the new development platform will not only provide high-level, year-round competition for players, but will provide important programming, education and innovation in the key areas of player development:
- Player Identification
- Personal Growth
- Community Outreach
“There is strong positive momentum and excitement among MLS club academies and elite academy clubs to co-create a platform that will deliver an unparalleled experience for the nation’s top players and clubs,” said Fred Lipka, VP and Technical Director of MLS Player Development. “The development of professional and elite players requires a comprehensive and integrated approach, beyond just the competition format, and we are having daily conversations with academy clubs across the country who are committed to building that environment with us.”Since launching the MLS club academy initiative in 2007, Major League Soccer has demonstrated unprecedented commitment to the development of top level professional players in the United States and Canada, including an investment of more than $70 million last season alone. This investment has produced more than 250 homegrown players that have become professional and national team players, including recent standout players such as Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas, Solar Soccer Club), James Sands (New York City FC academy, New York Soccer Club) and Matt Real (Philadelphia Union, FC Delco).The elite academy clubs that are Founding Members of the new platform have also been leaders in the development of players for college, MLS and the national teams. Combined, MLS Academies and the elite academies joining the platform have produced more than 90 percent of the U.S. Youth National Team players in the last year, making the new platform the top destination for the best young players in North America.With the launch of this new platform, MLS and the elite academy clubs will not only continue to develop world class players but will create a world class soccer development culture that supports and inspires elite players throughout the countries.“The Sockers FC Chicago organization is excited about this great opportunity to collaborate with MLS, in the development of this new competition platform,” said David Richardson, Sockers FC Chicago Technical Director. “In our soccer communities we feel that our work as leaders of Elite Academies alongside the leaders of MLS Academies will help to shape a world-class soccer culture in our country. This will be a benefit to all that play, coach, referee, and support our game from the grassroots to the professional level.”“Major League Soccer’s inclusive approach to the greater soccer market is the most exciting aspect of this movement,” said Ryan Miller, Portland Timbers Academy Director. “This new competition will continue to provide a platform for the top player development clubs in the country to get the most meaningful games. Elite player development requires the highest level of competition and this platform will provide that.”
Will the Pandemic Crash the National Women’s Soccer League?
With interest at a peak following the World Cup, the NWSL seemed poised to finally make a leap—until COVID-19 stopped the 2020 season before it could begin.
STEPHANIE APSTEINMAY 15, 2020
Emily Menges likes to move. Before games, the Portland Thorns FC defender generally strolls around town, stopping at a farmers’ market (“So Portland,” she says. “I know.”) before heading to Providence Park to warm up. So on Saturday, April 18, which should have been the Thorns’ National Women’s Soccer League season opener—broadcast on CBS All-Access—she awoke with a pit in her stomach. The game had long been canceled. So had the farmers’ market.Menges just hopes this break, caused by the pandemic, doesn’t become permanent. “I do worry,” she says. “Every player knows how precarious this league is. It is scary to think about.”She is right to be concerned. Since its 2013 launch, the NWSL has faced a central paradox: Despite featuring beloved World Cup heroes, the league has failed to attract widespread notice. This season, though, it finally seemed poised for a breakthrough: Stars like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Rose Lavelle have reached new heights of celebrity—and the media was catching up. On March 11, the NWSL announced a landmark deal with CBS that, for the first time, would air games on network TV. Just a few hours later, though, Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the NBA shut down. The NWSL followed, wiping away not only Menges’s season opener in Portland, but that day’s CBS headliner, between Lavelle’s Washington Spirit and Rapinoe’s OL Reign.While all U.S. professional sports leagues face challenges—the pandemic has already shuttered the XFL—few run on quite the same shoestring as the NWSL. The league does not divulge revenue, but its minimum salary this year is $20,000. In the WNBA, it’s $57,000. In the NFL, it’s $510,000. For players, the travel is commercial and the perks nonexistent: Some teams work out not in state-of-the-art complexes, but local gyms.U.S. Soccer, the national governing body, helps keep the NWSL afloat by paying club salary and benefits for the 23 players on the national team—$1.4 million last year—and providing other management services, which included $843,000 of administrative expenses last year, according to an internal audit. Some people in women’s soccer have expressed concern over the status of that arrangement. In April, amid laying off and furloughing dozens of employees, U.S. Soccer applied and was approved for government relief via a Payroll Protection Program loan. This week, however, U.S. Soccer decided to return the loan. Asked whether its subsidy of the league could be imperiled, a spokesman for U.S. Soccer said, “Nothing has changed in terms of our financial support.”Amanda Duffy, the former NWSL president who is now executive vice president of the Orlando Pride, points out that the league is well-suited to survive, since it’s used to budgeting as if it can afford no extravagance. “The NWSL was going to be entering its eighth season of operating but is still very much in its infancy,” she says. “We haven’t moved out of that stage of making every single decision related to keeping the league in business.” Still, the league had moved forward with plans to grow its profile, in part by attracting more international stars with lucrative opportunities. The introduction of an allocation money system–akin to the one implemented in MLS, where an extra allotment of money can be used to spend beyond the salary cap on players whose salaries can exceed the league maximum–promised to lure some big names. One of them, France’s dynamic Kadidiatou Diani, was potentially headed from Paris Saint-Germain to Portland. But the pandemic and the logistical and medical concerns it has carried changed everything. Diani, 25, wound up re-signing with PSG through 2023 earlier this month.”Just didn’t make sense given all the variables of these times. Respect the decision and will see what happens in the future….” Thorns FC owner Merritt Paulson, who also cited Diani’s personal and family aspects, wrote on Twitter.The timing of all of this could scarcely be worse: Many Americans seem to care deeply about women’s soccer only when the U.S. women’s national team is playing in the World Cup or Olympics. Those are offset such that every four years, there is a World Cup one summer and an Olympics the next. Those 12 intervening months represent the best chance for professional women’s soccer to break through the public consciousness.People within the NWSL expected this to be the best stretch yet: Last July, the U.S. national team had defended its title at the World Cup in France with an average live audience of 82.18 million people for the final. NBC said it expected 200 million Americans to watch the Olympics. And last year’s NWSL attendance was up 21.8% per game over 2018, to an average of 7,337 fans. Seven of the nine teams drew franchise-record crowds.U.S. national team veteran Becky Sauerbrunn, traded from Utah to Portland in the off-season, was supposed to open 2020 with her new team on CBS All-Access as part of a new NWSL media deal.Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated However, they now face a foreseeable future without fans. Epidemiologists agree that it will likely be unsafe to gather large crowds until a coronavirus vaccine arrives—potentially more than a year from now. In the meantime, people familiar with the NWSL’s plans say clubs are split on whether the league can afford to stage contests in empty stadiums. Some teams, such as the Thorns and Utah Royals FC, which draw well, rely on gate revenue; others, such as the Houston Dash, were not expecting much in the way of ticket sales anyway. They might be able to forge an agreement if a sponsor is willing to eat some of the cost.The alternative might be worse: a season without games at all. And here is another place the NWSL faces a disadvantage. Even if the 2020 season is canceled entirely, Yankees fans are not going to forget that they are Yankees fans. Sky Blue FC fans might need some reminding.
“You’re going to lose the margins,” says Julie Foudy, the two-time World Cup winner and two-time Olympic gold medalist who now calls soccer for ESPN. “You’ve got to continue to keep [fans] emotionally engaged, to give them a reason they’re going to spend their limited resources [on the NWSL] when the games do open up.” Until then, the NWSL is trying to navigate a path forward. When President Donald Trump held a conference call with league commissioners in April, he notably left off NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird, but people familiar with the league’s plans say that the NWSL hopes to be among the first leagues to return to action. (Baird, through a representative, declined to be interviewed for this story.) Players have been asked by teams to return to their areas by May 16—a date that, as of press time, had not been changed—and have begun planning socially distanced workouts at their facilities: one player at a time, each with her own ball and cones, wiping down everything she touches afterward. Eventually they hope to progress to small-group training with coaches directing from the stands.“I think the league is going to do every single thing they possibly can do to stay open and have some kind of a season,” says Menges. And, she points out, the NWSL is not alone in its dashed plans. The coronavirus has also pushed back the Olympics. Maybe women’s soccer can sustain some of its momentum after all.
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