While flipping through my soccer channels in search of a game, I spotted USL Breakaways on Fox Soccer Channel and taped it. Given the news of the past few weeks, and the generally clumsy PR operation of the United Soccer Leagues, I wanted to see how the USL is presenting itself.
I watched the hour-long program, which was hosted by Andrew Bell, former marketing director and current president of the Charleston Battery, who is young, British (Scottish?) and has a bit of Warren Barton about him (he's also an FSC announcer). There wasn't much news in this infomercial, produced for USL by Cultural Videos and Sports Communications, Inc., but I noticed a couple of points of emphasis.
First, the opening 30 minutes were devoted to the Super-Y league and its annual tournament in Tampa. We saw kids playing, and interviews with U15 players and coaches. No doubt intentionally, this segment spotlighted one of the main strengths of the United Soccer Leagues: fostering youth development.
After a segment featuring banquet highlights from the annual general meeting, and the Hall of Fame inductees (including Scott Schweitzer, star defender for Rochester who coached the Carolina RailHawks for its first two seasons), the theme of "development" was picked up midway through the program with an interview with USL President Tim Holt.
Holt didn't engage directly with the fact that the first division that seems to have all but collapsed, but instead sounded the theme of "player development."
Here are his remarks in full, with emphasis added:
Tim Holt: Yeah, it's exciting, there's a new direction, a new culture about USL. Probably most people know at this point, USL was acquired by NuRock Soccer Holdings from Nike, which was the previous owner. Nike Inc and the Umbro brands and Nike Soccer Brands will stay on as long-term partners in a 10-year partnership, so we get the best of both worlds. We have committed ownership from NuRock, Rob Hoskins, Alek Papadakis, their CEO. They're soccer guys but they're accomplished business executives, and they're really bringing professional—more sophisticated approach to everything we do from our front-office standpoint, allowing us to serve our teams better. And it's just a real exciting time, obviously, to be able to continue the relationship with Nike and Umbro, especially Umbro, the long time partners with USL, it's very exciting. So we're a few months into that transition, it's been almost seamless, and we look forward to furthering that into 2010.
Andrew Bell: The league [is] also a vehicle for the players to develop, and we had a great example here as Anton Peterlin from the Ventura County Fusion of the PDL certainly to the English Premier League.
A: Well that's what we're all about. It's player development, so whether it's player development from the PDL to USL One, or from the PDL to Major League Soccer or European Leagues, that's USL's all about. It's a player development league. Anton Peterlin, what a great story, a player that's identified playing with his PDL club, Ventura County Fusion through a connection with Graham Smith, ends up at Everton, signs a contract with Everton-it's a direct pathway from the PDL to the English Premier League. Great stuff. And it's not the only story where we have that. There's countless examples of players who have moved on from PDL or USL-1 or USL-2, either to Major League Soccer, or other international leagues around the world. So, one more super example. To us, that's as exciting as anything that we do. It's as exciting as teams winning championships or having sell-out crowds because ultimately you know, we're in this to develop players and further the growth of soccer in the United States and Canada.
After the conclusion of the Holt interview, Bell tells us, with all the optimism he can muster, that "It's time to look ahead and see what's in store for the USL in 2010." The next segment turns out to be a very brief interview with Chris Economides, Senior Director, USL First Division Operations (and part of the RailHawks' founding ownership group). Here are his remarks in full:
Chris Economides: Yeah, we're very excited under Alek Papadakis' and Rob Hoskins' reign now—we fully expect to grow the league. We have certain reforms that are going to be in place for the USL-1 teams coming in 2010. We've got a long list of expansion candidates that we're working on to bring in 2010 and 2011, and we're very excited about the future.
Finally, there's been other news on the USL/TOA/NASL front, and Inside Minnesota Soccer's Brian Quarstad is totally on top of it: Cleveland is out of the USL, and Vancouver says their NASL team will be based in Edmonton.