UPDATE 6:39 p.m.: The intrigue thickens with this statement from the USL. Key points: The USL opposes the new league application "on the grounds that there is misrepresentation, interference with USL business operations and substantial debt amongst the membership of the parties applying for certification." Furthermore, in what seems to be a tart point directed at the owners of Vancouver and Montreal, the statement notes that the USL's structure "has allowed USL to support and maintain the operation of member clubs such as Montreal and Vancouver during times when the then ownership of the clubs were unable to continue operating...."
UPDATE 3:22 p.m.: In a more-or-less simultaneous announcement, Montreal owner (and TOA member) Joey Saputo says the Impact are still in negotiations with the USL, and suggests that his club went along with the application for a new league to help the rest of the TOA make a deadline.
Here we go. The dissident Team Owners Association announced this morning that they have applied for an as-yet unnamed new second-division soccer league that would begin play in April 2010.
Things are busy here at the Independent, so we'll just make a couple of quick observations and then leave you with the press release.
The press release follows.
OWNERS OF PROFESSIONAL SOCCER TEAMS IN ATLANTA, CAROLINA, MIAMI, MINNESOTA, MONTREAL, ST. LOUIS AND VANCOUVER FORM NEW PRO SOCCER LEAGUE TO BEGIN PLAY IN 2010
Nov. 10, 2009 - The owners of the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina Railhawks, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, formerly of USL-1, together with St. Louis Soccer United today announced that they have formed a new professional soccer league to play in the United States and Canada beginning in April 2010.
The team owners yesterday submitted an application for sanctioning of the new league as a Division II Men's Outdoor Professional League by the United States Soccer Federation. An application for sanctioning as a Division I League will be submitted to the Canadian Soccer Association shortly and applications to other sanctioning bodies in the region will be submitted as needed.
Joey Saputo, President of the 2009 USL-1 champion Montreal Impact, was recently elected Chairman of the Board of Governors of the new league.
"This is not your typical new league," Saputo said. "Most of our teams have existed for years. We have united some of the best owners, teams and markets around a new vision for a professional soccer league in North America.
"We look forward to elevating our teams and league in order to give more opportunities to players, coaches, media and sponsors, entertain our fans and play our role in helping soccer truly recognize its potential in the United States and Canada."
Jeff Cooper, the principal owner of St. Louis Soccer United and spokesperson for the new league, said team owners have commenced a search for a league commissioner and are actively finalizing other details, including a name for the league and its sales and marking plans. The league intends to launch an extensive marketing campaign in the coming months, Cooper said.
In addition, Cooper said the team owners are in active conversations with several teams and organizations throughout the world which have expressed interest in joining the new league.
"This will be a league that will offer the best of both worlds - outstanding experience and leadership at the ownership level combined with the promise and ability to chart our own course for success as a new league," Cooper said. "It's this structure that motivated me to bring St. Louis into the new league, and why I believe the new league will have a lot of success at launch next year and well into the future."
TEAM AND OWNERSHIP BACKGROUND:
The Atlanta Silverbacks have been members of the USL-1 league from 1998-2008. The team's primary owners are Boris Jerkunica and John Latham. Boris is a serial technology entrepreneur. He was the co-founder and CEO of NetZIP which was sold to Real Networks in 2000. He is currently the Chairman of Vocalocity - a VoIP technology company. John Latham is a senior partner at Alston and Bird - one of the top law firms in Atlanta. The team competes at the privately funded Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
"For ten years, the Atlanta Silverbacks played under the umbrella of a 3rd party owned league. To put it simply, it just didn't work", said Boris Jerkunica, Chairman of the Atlanta Silverbacks. "The long term view of the team owners did not align with the short term view of the 3rd party league owners. Because of this, the Atlanta Silverbacks decided to drop out from USL-1 in 2009. We are pleased to be part of a new league that will be owned and operated by the team owners as required by FIFA."
The Carolina Railhawks have been members of the USL-1 league for three years, having ended the current season in second place with a league -leading 17 shutouts and a club record of 16-7-7. The team's primary owners are Selby and Brian Wellman, and Bob Young. Selby was the Senior Vice-President of Cisco Systems throughout the 90's, while Young was the founder of Redhat, as well as the online book publisher Lulu. The team competes at Wake Med Soccer Park in Cary, NC which is rated as one of the top soccer venues in the U.S.
"Over the past two years we have been working tirelessly to re-structure the league to be owned and controlled by the owners in order to elevate our league on and off the pitch. The owners make substantial investments in their teams. However, the level of national level investment required has not been made because the league has always been owned, operated, and controlled by third parties. We simply want our league to be operated and managed like all other pro sports leagues around the world." - Selby Wellman, Carolina Railhawks owner
Miami FC is owned by Traffic Sports USA, the regional office of Brazil-based Traffic Marketing Esportivo, one of the leading soccer companies in the world. Traffic founded Miami FC in 2006 and brought the 1994 Brazilian World Cup Champion tandem of Romario and Zinho to lead the team. Traffic commercializes many of the top international soccer events in the region including: Copa America, the majority of FIFA World Cup qualifying matches in the Americas, Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana and Copa do Brasil. Traffic also owns a team/academy in Brazil (Desportivo Brasil); co-manages a team in Portugal (Estoril); and controls player funds in Brazil and the United States featuring established high profile players and top youth prospects on the U-20 and U-17 national teams.
"When your league is owned by someone else, you aren't incentivized to invest in or be loyal to your league. That's precisely why our league is so relatively unknown and has so much turn-over in teams. With this decision, we gain control of our own destiny and can finally structure and operate our league in a manner which truly positions us for growth and success." - Aaron Davidson, president of Miami FC
The Minnesota Thunder was founded in 1990 by Tom Engstrom and coaching legend Buzz Lagos. Just finishing its 20th season, the Thunder have historically been one of the most winning clubs in all of North America. The Thunder claimed the Commissioners Cup in 2000 and have been in three league championship games winning the league title in 1999. The Thunder is owned by Dean Johnson, Managing Director and Principal of Wingfield Corp. Johnson earned his B.A. with honors from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota and he earned his graduates degree from the Ruhr Universität in Bochum, Germany. The team plays in a newly renovated 10,000 seat soccer-specific stadium, which includes a full-field indoor training facility.
"After years of failed efforts to work and improve the current structure of our league, we must take control of our own destiny. When you are doing something that is objectively correct and good for the game of soccer, no one can question you." - Dean Johnson, owner of the Minnesota Thunder, Wingfield Corporation managing director and principal
The Montreal Impact can be considered an overnight success that is 16 years in the making. It is Canada's most decorated soccer franchise, with 2 League Championships, 3 Commissioners Cup, 7 Voyageurs Cup and the only team to represent Canada in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions league. Bolstered by its strong fan support, the club regularly plays in front of sold-out crowds at its privately financed 13,000 seat soccer specific stadium. Although the Impact is now structured as a Non Profit corporation, it will continue to be part of the legacy that Joey Saputo and his family will leave to the Montreal Sports community.
"We feel that the league in its current state has handicapped the growth of our team and the league itself; ownership and control of our league are critical to our individual and collective growth." - Joey Saputo, Montreal Impact owner
Jeff Cooper is the owner and chairman of Saint Louis Athletica of Women's Professional Soccer and his St. Louis Soccer United group oversees the largest youth soccer program in the Midwest, St. Louis Scott Gallagher, which is headquartered at the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park that in March was transferred to St. Louis Soccer United. Cooper's overarching goal is to bring men's professional soccer to the St. Louis area, which is rich with soccer tradition at levels from youth through college. A native of Granite City, Cooper played soccer under legendary coach Gene Baker at Granite City High School before continuing his playing career at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. He graduated in 1991 from DePauw University with a BA degree in political science and with a JD degree from St. Louis University Law School in 1995. Cooper formerly sat on the board of the English League One football club Brentford.
"I continue to be committed to starting a professional team in St. Louis, where our club would be fully and enthusiastically supported by generations of soccer fans here in our region. I have been in close contact with the teams over the past year and am very impressed with and fully committed to their mission. There is no other way. The teams must own and control their league."
In 1974, Vancouver Whitecaps FC played their inaugural season in the North American Soccer League and have since been the hallmark of professional soccer in British Columbia and Canada. In 1979, the Whitecaps won the NASL Soccer Bowl and in 1983, 60,342 people came to watch the Whitecaps play Seattle Sounders in the first sporting event to be played at BC Place Stadium. From 1987 to 1992, as a member of the Canadian Soccer League, Vancouver won four straight championships before the club joined what is now known as the United Soccer Leagues First Division. In 2002, Greg Kerfoot took over the ownership of the Whitecaps and created a full club model that encompasses professional teams for men and women, extensive youth development and grassroots participation programs, facility development, and the Whitecaps Foundation to support specific initiatives related to health and wellness through soccer. Since 2004, the Whitecaps have won two USL-1 championships and two USL W-League championships.
"We believe that ownership involvement is crucial for a successful, healthy league. Securing a league license now is a preliminary step that will allow the teams to be in position to take further steps, should that be necessary. Our goal continues to be to pursue what is in the best interest of the sport." - Bob Lenarduzzi, Vancouver Whitecaps FC president