Pitch Points promotes, relegates

Let’s round up the latest links relevant in the world of Nashville SC and US Soccer! With commentary! As always, feel free to share with a friend or share anything you’d like me to include on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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Ghost of USL Future. USL President Jake Edwards has a Big Mood about where the United Soccer Leagues will be come the United States’ 2026 host year for the World Cup. The USL has made eyes at pro-rel talk since the launch of League One was announced, but Edwards was fairly unequivocal that he hopes it’s in the long-term plans if the lower league proves itself to be sustainable:

“A lot of focus and attention needs to go into building [League One] up over a short period of time. But we’ve got to get the right owners in League One, the right stadiums and infrastructure.”

I’ve said many times that an incremental move toward promotion and relegation is the way to go (while I still remain skeptical that the American sporting culture would ever support it at the top level in the country). I would like to see it in USL, not least of which because – and this isn’t the most honorable thing I’ve ever thought – if a League One club folds, it means a lot less in the grand scheme than somebody dropping from the top flight and eventually folding.

Edwards, like MLS commissioner Don Garber, has Bad Ideas about expansion, though.

“We’re looking at the ideal number [in the Championship] somewhere around 38 or 40, and that’s where we’re going to top out and cease expansion.”

Yo, that’s dumb. I don’t need to explain the size of our country to you (well, I shouldn’t need to). Limiting the size of the first tier makes some sense, but I don’t agree that the limits it imposes are worth the benefits in scarcity of supply, etc. Artificially limiting the second division in a country comes with all the downsides and essentially none of the benefits (aside from minuscule administrative costs compared to allowing them into League One instead).

(Meanwhile, Indy Eleven’s stadium proposal looks awesome, and I would like for them to have the opportunity to compete at the highest level possible).

I promise it will come around. This is a story about basketball. I really liked one of the quotes used in it as it relates to soccer, though:

“I guarantee you that he played so much basketball without a coach, or without a ref, or without a scoreboard. Just playing. Where out of bounds is the grass, or out of bounds is the street … there’s such a difference between guys who just play and guys who are manufactured by a trainer.”

We often talk about problems with player development in our country, and about how they come back to lack of coaching, poor scouting of underrepresented communities, etc. etc. Those are all valid complaints, and complaints I’ve made multiple times in this space. However, it’s also worth noting that just as huge an issue in our nation is a lack of a pickup soccer culture.

We hear every four years about about [Brazil/Argentina/France] is built on kids who grew up playing pickup games in the streets and turned into [Neymar/Maradona/Mbappe], and those who consume soccer outside the World Cup hear it occasionally, too. There hasn’t been an American who can up with that origin story, aside from maybe Clint Dempsey. There aren’t soccer Jordan Pooles out there.

MLS Playoff format change. This is the first year of a new MLS playoff format, something that will become relevant to Nashville in very short order (hopefully, at least). Does the new format actually improve higher seeds’ chances of advancing, though? Maybe not. The kicker:

The stakes just got higher for winning the Conference in the regular season. But in general the new format does little to change the perspective of most of the teams

I don’t like the expansion to an odd number of teams in the least, but it’s whatever. I still like the idea of using group play and a smaller knockout bracket, rather than what we’re seeing nowadays. It would make it easier to fit the playoff into a smaller calendar – which seems to have been the primary motivation for the recent change – and would appeal to the mainstream American sports fan in the same way that the World Cup does: it sets soccer aside as different, but in a fun way.

Danny Vitiello is popular. This may be the lowest-profile signing to get its own bullet in a pitch points, but hey, the available literature is the available literature. The Long Island Roughriders PDL program, UAlbany athletics, and a soccer-specific site covering NYC and Long Island(!) have all covered the keeper’s signing with the Boys in Gold.

That last one is mostly an aggregation from the other two (and Nashville SC’s release), but regardless, that’s a lot of ink.

Americans Abroad. The big news of the past couple weeks has been a record-shattering transfer for US international Christian Pulisic: his $73.1 million is not just the largest for an American (by a huge margin), it’s one of the top 25 transfer fees ever. There are two confounding factors here: 1) the numbers are on a consistent upward trend worldwide, particularly in recent years, and 2) Chelsea is certainly spending to get a talented winger, but they’re just as much spending to develop business in the American market. Is it possible for Pulisic to live up to that hype? On-field, it may not be as unlikely as you think.

Meanwhile, fellow USMNT winger Timothy Weah has gone on loan from Paris Saint-Germain to Scottish Premier League juggernaut Celtic. He’s expected to be a game-changer with his speed, which sounds like a potential striker role along with the wider position we’re accustomed to seeing him play with the Nats.

American “prodigy” (ESPN’s word, not mine) Ben Lederman has had a rough go since moving to Barcelona as a youngster, for reasons both external – Barça was punished by FIFA for violating player registration regulations, preventing him from playing for the youth setup for a while – and just because it’s difficult to break into such a setup. A cautionary tale that “move to the highest level possible,” while it sounds good on the internet, is not always the best fit for every player. Finding the right move (which sometimes includes staying domestic) is far more important.

Former US international David Wagner was sacked by Huddersfield Town this week, meaning the German-born manager is out of work. He intends to take some time off, but it’d be cool to see him come to the States. He has limited experience (outside of MNT camps) on this side of the pond, so the connection you might expect aren’t there, though.

Etc.: Not a ton of new information in this radio appearance from NSC Technical Director and Nashville MLS GM Mike Jacobs, as long as you’re paying attention to the day-to-day. … Nascar at the Fairgrounds will require upgrades to the track. … Former Nashville SC CEO Court Jeske takes a gig with the USL. … The company that puts on the International Champions Cup has purchased a Latino-focused multi-platform company – the one that puts on Alianza de Futbol in the United States each year. … Donate donate donate. … I like Peter Vermes. … NSC defender Justin Davis joins the FiftyFiveOne pod for a nice long discussion.

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Pitch Points plays in Germany

Welcome to Pitch Points, wherein I round up some of the interesting links around the world of Nashville SC and US Soccer. As always, if you have something you want me to share, let me know in the comments or through social channels on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Photo by Reto Stauffer (Creative Commons license).

Bundimericans. The Bundesliga’s official site is perhaps not an unbiased source when it comes to why the Bundesliga is a good fit for young Americans, but the point remains: it has proven to be in recent years. One of those reasons is fairly obvious:

There are several factors that make the Bundesliga more suitable for American players than Europe’s other top leagues, and one of them is purely administrative: it is easier to get hold of a work permit in Germany than in the UK, where non-EU players are required to have featured in a certain percentage of their country’s recent competitive matches to obtain an endorsement from the English FA.

I wonder if that’ll change when the Brexit fully extricates England from the EU. The British are going to have a ton less access to top European talent (in the way they currently have limited access to American talent), and while that won’t bring about an untimely death of the Premier League, of course, it could certainly help the other four of the Big Five leagues strive to surpass it in global reach.

Of course, our most well-known export to Deutschland in recent years will end his German adventure in the Summer Transfer Window. Christian Pulisic is headed to Chelsea. The style/fit is one thing Pulisic cited for being interested in the move, and how he adjusts to what many consider a higher level of play will be one of next season’s most interesting storylines.

Ayre Force One. Quick quote or two from Nashville MLS CEO Ian Ayre, though the entire article is behind a paywall that’s probably not worthwhile for somebody who’s overseas. The difference between building an MLS club versus heading a Premier League team is obviously a large one. How Ayre navigates it will write the story of the club’s early days.

Speaking of whom, a little bit on how the CEO role was diminished with the hiring of a sporting director, which partially facilitated his departure from Anfield. Ayre announced he was leaving the club no so long after that, and retired even earlier than was scheduled. The personnel on the front-office side – and what he learned about how that should be structured from his trials and tribulations at Liverpool – will be informed by his time there.

Personnel. MLS Multiplex covers the Cameron Lancaster signing. Speedway Soccer has its profile of the USL’s single-season goal-scoring record holder. It’s almost easy to forget how exciting a signing this was, only a couple weeks removed from its announcement.

Another signing (and one that I think was both under-heralded at the time and remains so) is Kharlton Belmar. At least from a fan perspective, seems like it made sense for Sporting KC to unload him to Nashville, to allow Swope Park to give minutes to younger kids. That’s always the intriguing tightrope walk that MLS2 sides between trying to win and trying to develop players for the first team.

What’s in the USL’s future? The league made vague hand motions toward “pyramid structure” and what that might mean in the long-term when announcing its rebrand, but this story is as definitive as I’ve seen in suggesting (from an official league source) that pro-rel is not only something they’re aware of, but actually interested in, if feasible.

Discussion of a new cup competition that would include all Championship and League One clubs to launch in 2020 has already begun, with long-term potential for promotion and relegation between the two professional divisions.

It remains vague, yes, but does demonstrate a willingness to consider in the long run. Obviously I’ve been a skeptic on the topic, but a limited scope (like between two USL divisions) beginning at a lower level is certainly a path toward a long-term future including promotion and relegation.

Etc.: It appears Ramone Howell is playing domestically in Jamaica during the offseason. … MLS Combine is this week. … One Pittsburgh Riverhounds game to catch? When they host Nashville SC. … Doesn’t directly relate to us, but the 2019 MLS schedule will be released this afternoon. … Ropapa Mensah held a mini-tournament in his hometown over the Christmas season. … University of Tennessee senior Khadija Shaw has an incredible (at times heartbreaking) story, and was The Guardian’s female footballer of the year. … How will NYCFC compensate for the loss of MLS all-timer David Villa? Nashville SC will be among the first to find out Feb. 22.

Pitch Points might try to form megaclub

Running through some links of interest to Nashville and US Soccer. As always, please feel free to follow (and share stories!) on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or your social media platform of choice. If you have a story you’d like me to cover in one of these posts, never hesitate to reach out to me on those social channels, in the comments here, or at t.w.sullivan1@gmail.com.

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Club images courtesy those respective clubs. Beautiful graphic by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Major local youth shake-ups. You can read into a couple organizational changes in youth clubs whatever you’d like. I have thought (and continue to think) that by and large the most prominent clubs in the area are trying to position themselves to either be acquired by Nashville SC when it founds its Development Academy team in the not-so-distant future, or at the very least trying to become affiliated clubs.

There have been various mergers (at the very least, consolidating and sharing of resources) in the past year-plus, and Nashville FC Youth and Tennessee Soccer Club are the latest to explore combining forces.

Club leaders said the merger discussion was the product of their collaboration to support the push to bring a Major League Soccer team to the city in 2017-18. Both clubs had coaches and volunteers on the MLS2Nashville Committee.

The clubs stressed the potential merger is designed to provide more opportunities for youth players in Middle Tennessee to develop and play at a higher level. Each club now has approximately 1,500 players at either the recreational or competitive levels with teams based in Davidson, Williamson and Rutherford Counties.

Does it seem weirdly premature to announce that you’re in discussions with another club with the possibility that nothing happens? It sort of does to me. I guess there’s a bit of a responsibility to families already involved with either club, and a bit of a feeling-out of public sentiment, but… still weird.

Meanwhile, Nashville United Soccer Academy is reorganizing its administration, in a way that seems to be geared toward a more “True Academy” and professional structure top-to-bottom. You may recall NUSA was one of the programs involved with a major merger over the summer, joining forces with Tennessee United and Murfreesboro United.

My thoughts on the matter are basically the same as they’ve always been: more opportunities for kids (and particularly more opportunities with good coaching and good development) are aways better. If these moves help do that, great. It’s always possible that a laudable goal is not achieved – fewer distinct clubs could mean fewer opportunities if teams within different clubs are merged as well, etc. – so it’s worth keeping a skeptical eye on, as well.

Obviously, our state doesn’t produce nearly the number of high-level players it should, so anything that can move toward growth is good.

My ideal layout would be more hyper-local clubs whose best players feed into bigger academy-type clubs, and in turn those clubs’ best players entering a Nashville SC in-house academy. I understand the organizational overhead costs saved by pooling resources in a slightly different way, and just hope it doesn’t mean less soccer for anyone out there. More soccer is better.

The Fury-Concacaf saga plays on. Then it ends with minimal fanfare. USL obviously wasn’t particularly concerned about Concacaf’s refusal to sanction the Ottawa Fury for cross-border play in 2019, having released the Championship alignment and schedule, but it had to go  (or didn’t if an obviously CYA and untrue statement from Concacaf is to be believed) to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Also, the headline here is, uh, something else:

Is CONCACAF playing its own games with the intention of crippling Fury FC?

No? Of course not? What would their motivation be to cripple the Fury? There is none (other than some semi-wild conspiracy theories in there). They’re enforcing the rules of FIFA and their Confederation. They’re doing it in a way that’s overbearing and not in a sporting spirit, perhaps, but to assume malice when there’s an obvious, non-malicious motivation – even if there’s a selfish one by former Canada Soccer head (now Concacaf head) Victor Montagliani – to get Canadian teams playing in the federation and league they’re bound to by FIFA statute doesn’t seem unfair.

There was basically never a chance that the Fury couldn’t play in USL this year, given that they always had the blessing of both the Canadian and American federations.  It’s more likely a power play by Concacaf to set up the “OK, but for this year only” situation where they force Fury into CPL in 2020 and beyond – which seems pretty fair to me, actually. Of course, it resolved to the positive Friday afternoon.

For whatever reason I’m obsessed with MLS roster rules. Fortunately for our purposes, that will become relevant in about 10 months’ time. For now, we’ll just call it a weird quirk.

Anyway, Paul Tenorio predicts the distant future at The Athletic ($), primarily in the form of trying to decide what the salary cap, designated player, and other roster rules will be within a couple years of the United World Cup:

I think it’s possible that MLS clubs will have a $20 million salary budget in ten years’ time, about five times more than in 2018. In this vision, there are four designated player spots, which allow teams who want to spend substantially more on star players to continue to do so.

There’s obviously a hell of a lot more there, including the reasoning for this structure (and more detail to it).

The Lancaster-ing. This will obviously be a running topic on the site (along with all the other offseason player movement), but it should come as no surprise that Cameron Lancaster’s signing has drawn some big attention. USA Today Sports Network Tennessee spoke with Lancaster the day his signing was announced:

“I was really impressed with the vision and ambition they (Nashville MLS GM Mike Jacobs and Nashville SC coach Gary Smith) had with turning Nashville SC, already a top USL club, to a top MLS team,” Lancaster said in an email to the Tennessean. “After facing Nashville last season and seeing the improvements they made each time, and then to make the playoffs in their first year as a team, I knew Gary was a top manager. He had a good group of players, and that excited me.”

The Louisville Courier-Journal discusses the Englishman’s departure from LCFC.

Bundimericans. Gregg Berhalter has been on a tour of Europe, checking in on US Internationals in the various overseas leagues. The Bundesliga’s official site caught up with him to talk about some of the key Americans plying their trade in Germany’s top flight.

On Christian Pulisic:

“I’m not too concerned about where he’s lining up. We want him affecting the game, we want him playing between the lines, taking on players one on one, and it will be up to the team to get him in, and find him in, those positions.”

Weston McKennie (after making fun of Schalke for the bizarre – and ongoing – center forward experiment they’ve been subjecting him to):

“I would say central midfield. I think he’s very good, [he has] a very good ability to win balls. That’s [at] a high level, I think he’s seen that at Champions League level, winning the ball and playing to his teammates.”

And channeling his inner Klinsmann:

bundesliga.com: How important is it for you that these players are playing in Germany, as opposed to the MLS for example?

Berhalter: “The Bundesliga is a top league in the world so that’s taken into consideration when you consider a player’s performance. For us to be a top team in the world we need players performing in top leagues in the world, so that’s one of the issues we’re faced with. This is a high-level programme and if you can perform here that means you’re a high-level player.”

Plenty more in there on a few other key Americans (John Brooks, Josh Sargent, Bobby Wood, Haji Wright) in Deutschland. On this side of the pond, putting together the January camp with almost exclusively MLS players is always an interesting task ($).

Etc.: Ian Ayre’s move across the pond sees the Liverpool Arena and Convention Center name a new chair to replace him. … Nascar will be joining soccer at the Fairgrounds after a long hiatus. … Richie Ledezma transfer to PSV shows that USL (Real Monarchs in this case) can be a path to Europe, though there’s probably something to be said for the MLS team that invested in his development losing him on a free transfer being bad for the long run. … Learn how to build a club. Surely it’s very easy.

As always, thanks for reading. Share buttons below.

USWNT to play a SheBelieves Cup match in Nashville

Press release:

CHICAGO (December 6, 2018) – U.S. Soccer announced on Thursday afternoon that the U.S. Women’s National Team will return to Nashville as a part of it preparations for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. In a 10-game build up to the World Cup dubbed “Countdown to the Cup,” the U.S. WNT will play England at Nissan Stadium on March 2, 2019 in the SheBelieves Cup.

Nashville SC Season Ticket Members will have exclusive presale access to tickets for the game.

A four-team round robin tournament, the 2019 SheBelieves Cup will include the U.S., England, Brazil and Japan, playing doubleheaders in three cities from February 27 through March 5. Brazil and Japan will open up the March 2 doubleheader at Nissan Stadium at 1 p.m. CT while the U.S. and England will play at 3:30 p.m.

“This schedule checks a lot of important boxes in our preparation for the World Cup,” said U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis. “We’ll get to experience a variety of teams in regard to their strengths and styles of play and almost all of countries will be in their World Cup preparation as well. We are playing tough games in Europe, which is vitally important, and also get to play quality opponents in front of our home fans at venues all across the USA. It will go fast, but these games will be a major factor in pushing us to be at our peak once we arrive in France next summer.”

The U.S. WNT is 3-0 all-time at Nissan Stadium, taking down Canada in 2004 and France in 2016 by identical 1-0 scores. The USA also beat Scotland 3-1 in 2013.

As a part of the SheBelieves Cup, U.S. Soccer will hold a Girls’ Fantasy Camp in Nashville from March 1-4. It will include training sessions with former Women’s National Team players, premium match tickets, behind-the-scenes access and more. The camp is open to girls born in 2005, 2006 and 2007. For more information, contact fantasycamp@ussoccer.org.

More soccer in Nashville is good, and more national team games in Nashville are even better!

Pitch points: With plans! Maybe!

Jacobs and Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre
“We’ve GOT to formulate a PLOT” – Eminem-inspired and forward-looking. Courtesy Nashville SC

For future consideration. Bournemouth has hired a loan manager to track their players who are out with other clubs. Maybe not that interesting on its own (they’re hardly the first to do it – certainly Manchester City and Chelsea have entire departments to manage their empires) – but does indicate a seriousness about the way they intend to do business. As Nashville SC enters the big leagues, these are the sort of ideas that they’ll want to stay on the forefront of. Personnel management (from academy to senior team, to scouts, etc.) is such a huge part of being a club that gets the most out of its resources.

Fortunately, the Nashville Soccer Supporters’ Trust president David Wasiolek got a sitdown with GM Ian Ayre (must be nice 😒), and came away with some positive takeaways in that regard:

  • The club has a strong vision of what a Tennessee-wide academy system would look like and how players could be developed and monitored across all the youth organizations and age groups. Personally, Ian would like to see this begin either simultaneously with the start of the team or even earlier.

  • Ian is working hard with Mike Jacobs on identifying top talent to bring to Nashville. There is a great desire to build a team of exceptional talent that also reflects the diverse flavors that make up the stew we call Nashville.

Those are the key newsworthy items, and a positive sign. There isn’t enough talent in Tennessee to primarily build a roster from home territory – New York/New Jersey is ain’t, much less Southern California – but as the club builds, it can play a role in helping change that.

I’ve been involved in that area of things in a different sport (American football) for most of my professional career, and will be extremely interested in seeing how it plays out.

Bethlehem Steel to Philadelphia. Bethlehem Steel announced this week that they’ll be playing the 2019 season at the home of their parent club, Philadelphia Union, with a change to USL stadium requirements:

Unfortunately, we have been informed by the USL that Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium no longer meets the minimum requirements set forth by the league due to a lack of stadium lighting. Upon hearing the decision that we could not return to Goodman, we visited and analyzed multiple other potential venues with the aim of keeping Steel FC in the Lehigh Valley, but there was no solution that met all the league requirements that could be ready in time for the 2019 season, including field size, capacity, and lighting, among others.

As a result, Bethlehem Steel FC will play next season at Talen Energy Stadium while we evaluate stadium options for beyond 2019.

Steel supporters are not happy, feeling betrayed not by the Steel’s front office, but rather by the Union.

I feel multiple ways about it (first off for the supporters: if you want to feel like the organization owes it to the local fans to stay in Bethlehem, you should have worked to get more than 2,300 fans out to each game). At the same time, clearly the Steel or Union felt like they’d be able to get waivers indefinitely – “the NASL gambit” – or is truly not all that invested in staying in Bethlehem.

USMNTakes. This story with Steve Cherundolo was pretty interesting. The former Men’s National Team standout was a guest coach with the Nats during their two-game stint in Europe. He was recently fired as part of the Stuttgart coaching staff, and has some outsider takes. For subscribers to The Athletic, Paul Tenorio has much more with Cherundolo.

I also present this:

I disagree (and strongly). You call up guys who give you the best chance to win, regardless of their club situation. That’s particularly true for guys whose club situation comes with an asterisk. Is “only turned 18 in February and was ineligible to play for his club team” or “can’t beat out Neymar for a spot in the lineup” damning? Is it worse than “is mediocre starter on mediocre MLS team?” I’d say no.

If the games were meaningful, you could convince me otherwise, but given that Dave Sarachan’s lone mandate seemed to be to blood the young talent – and that it’s the one thing he did pretty well in his 13 months as MNT manager – I don’t understand the complaint. That’s particularly true when Weah in particular proved to be one of the better players for the team over this time period. Clearly “playing for club team” isn’t the only indicator of high performance (which goes back to the above).

The headline here comes across as “finally, proof Christian Pulisic cares about the USMNT” which is an epically dumb take. Fortunately, the story is much more productive. It does, however, include a mention of the hot take to end all hot takes (if only to refute it, as the story implies).

Meanwhile, Tyler Adams writes for The Players Tribune, including the unsurprising “will be going to Europe in January” news. U-20 standout Alex Mendez will sign with Freiburg. And of course, goalkeeper Zack Steffen will likely sign with Manchester City (and then almost as likely, head out on loan somewhere).

Etc.: Add Madera Café in Plaza Mariachi to the soccer bars list. Thanks to reader Santiago for bringing it to my attention. … English clubs’ academy output. … Are we still talking about Jonathan Gonzalez? In a way, yes. … Probably the one guy with a legit argument for beating Matt Pickens as USL keeper of the year does so. …  … Austin Bold’s coach is also the coach of the USVI team. … Story on Liam Doyle’s re-signing from the Isle of Man, and one on Ropapa Mensah from one of the many Ghanaian soccer outlets. … USL Players Association earns league negotiating recognition.

Pitch Points is annoyed that #stadium_stuff is back in the news

Rounding up the latest across the internet in links that are interesting and relevant to soccer in Nashville, the US National setups, and beyond. If there’s anything you’d like me to share in a future post, you can always let me know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram – and hit those socials with a follow while you’re there – or drop anything in the comments.

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how dare you disrupt this post-industrial wasteland with nice new buildings! Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

#stadium_stuff. Save Our Fairgrounds has inexplicably been allowed to continue their frivolous lawsuit against Metro trying to stop construction on the MLS stadium. If you had any questions about whether they’re actually concerned for Nashville, or just want their way or the highway, with the citizens of Davidson County on the hook for the legal costs… well, you shouldn’t have needed more evidence, but now you have it. (As an aside, maybe they should link up with their spiritual companions in the NASL leadership? Spitballin’ here).

Meanwhile, Nashville’s NPR affiliate has a (very very brief) story on the Community Benefits Agreement, with a throwaway quote from the author of Field of Schemes saying “yeah well this is just another way to get people on your side,” which, yeah? That’s the, uh, point?

Elsewhere in #stadium_stuff, this is actually old news (Mortenson-Messer awarded construction bid), but pending the outcome of SOF’s frivolous lawsuit, we have a timeline:

According to city documents, final plans should be submitted to the MLS by Feb. 25, 2019, with construction starting the following June. The stadium is scheduled to open Feb. 19, 2021.

I would assume we get public release of the final-final plan within a week or so of submission to MLS, and the stadium is scheduled to open in plenty of time for the second season in the big leagues.

MLS to Copa Libertadores? This would be interesting, essentially a combination of the current Copa Libertadores (the South American club championship) and Concacaf Champions League (North American version of same). It’d be similar to Copa America Centenario on the national team side of things: cooperation between the two confederations.

The travel might be… interesting… but there are certainly ways around that. I’ve advocated for some time that the continental North and South American nations band together to form a new confederation (while the Caribbean teams band together to form their own, which would feature a lot fewer 10-0 scorelines against the USAs and Mexicos of the world – each group finds its level with a new confederation, essentially), and any cooperation is a symbolic step toward that, if not an actual one.

TFCII piece. The Athletic also covers life in the USL($), though (and this is not the fault of the author, their TFC beat reporter), I’d wager that MLS B-sides have a pretty different experience from independent teams at both ends of the spectrum. It also frames life in USL in a way that I don’t much care for – though I don’t think it was the intention of the author to slam the league – it’s just been interpreted that way.

It’s one thing for college players to have crappy life on the road where they’re not paid and coaches (more in revenue sports, but college soccer coaches are well-compensated, too). Somebody – the labor! – is getting the raw end of the deal there. In a minor league sport where the players are making about as much as possible while the team is barely surviving (or in many cases, unable to do so)… I have more of a problem acting like somebody is being wronged, except inasmuch as everyone is being wronged by the market’s lack of making soccer profitable. Obviously, I would love for there to be a world in which guys can making a living playing second-division soccer in the United States (and teams should obviously thrive to do as much for them as they can). But the reason we *don’t* have that isn’t some greedy-owner situation, either.

MLS2 sides and independent USL clubs also have very different organizational goals and finances from each other… perhaps it could be considered an indictment of Toronto FC from top-to-bottom ($28 mil in salary among MLSPA members) more so than the USL system.

NPSL Pro. The long-rumored/planned/whatever professional division of NPSL will launch in 2019. The teams:

New York Cosmos, Detroit City FC, Milwaukee, Chattanooga FC, Miami United FC, Miami FC, San Diego Albion, Cal United, Cal FC, FC Arizona and Oakland Roots.

At least two of those are extremely expected (Detroit and Chattanooga), while there’s a notable exception in Jacksonville, though there’s a note at the bottom of the story that they’re still exploring the professional opportunity while keeping one foot in a commitment to the amateur variety of NPSL.

My thought? Cool! More opportunities for soccer – and particularly professional soccer – in our country is always a good thing. Much like I’ve said the anti-NCAA (the college soccer pathway, not the objectively evil organization) zealots are wrong: the more pathways, the more opportunities for the sport to become profitable and the more opportunities for development. That’s good!

I do question the viability long-term, especially in markets with at least one MLS team (New York, Miami) and the smaller markets with USL competition (Chattanooga, Cal FC), but I hope they’re successful. Not sure how I’d feel about every non-MLS/USL-affiliated professional league failing over time. It would say bad things about our soccer culture. (No problem watching the fake NASL fail over and over again, though. Screw those guys, even if two of them are involved in this project).

fh. Good stuff on Dos a Cero (and its death?) from The Athletic($). … The basics of the Dortmund bus bombing story aren’t exactly new. That doesn’t make the story any less wild. … World Cup tactics and the return of the counter-attack. … Louisville City helped energize the area’s soccer community. We’re seeing that in Nashville as well, though perhaps starting from further behind. … Memphis’s USL team announces first signings. … USMNT losing prospects to Mexico as players head to the land of their heritage for opportunities. … This agent-fee story is probably way more interesting to a Europe-focus audience. … Nissan will host a Gold Cup semi next Summer. Holy cow I’m out here clearing oooooold links. … USYNT’s Konrad de la Fuente one of the 60 best 2001-born players in the world.

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Pitch Points gotta catch ’em all

After an extremely long delay, Pitch Points is back. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the latest updates. Some of these links are old because portions of this post have been sitting in my drafts folder for literally months. We regret the error.

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Slipping through the cracks. I thought this 343 Coaching podcast with Joey Anthone of @USAProspects was fascinating. It’s most interesting to me coming from the world I do (I cover high school football recruiting at the day job, or given that FCAC is not a for-profit venture, we can just say “the job”).

Joey has some consternation about some of the players he’s communicated with only getting US looks because of his coverage… but that’s just the way this world works, man. Maybe it’s not in other countries, maybe it’s not the way it should, but that’s the reality in a country this large: it is in football and basketball (sports in which the United States is far more advanced than the competition in comparison to our status in soccer), and you can bet your booty it’s the case in a sport that’s considered secondary or tertiary in our culture.

Part of the landscape in a country this big, and with this much talent, is that the media plays a role in the scouting thing – as should high school coaches, club coaches, college coaches, etc. That’s the sort of thing we need to figure out as a country, that the federation needs to figure out for purposes both self-serving and not: how to take advantage of everyone’s skillset that’s available.

Minor leagues are our future. Forbes delves into how second-division soccer and below can be key to future World Cup for the United States. It uh, does not actually do that so much as it’s just a feature on FC Motown – there’s a throwaway line or two about how a local club can show people what it’s like to be a pro, and about how maybe they’ll add some sort of youth team in the future.

Howeva, the point is more important than actually making it (and of course it’s one I’ve made in the past): American soccer needs the local clubs to help be that developer and example, and (this ties into the final graf of the section above, as well) in a country this size, unless and until we have more community clubs like it, kids are going to slip through the cracks. That’s what makes it especially frustrating for me to see people complain about, for example, the pay-to-play system (though the complaints themselves are legitimate to a large degree). Think kids shouldn’t have to pay to play soccer? Start your own organization that’s free for them.

From Olympics to the World Cup. Stars and Stripes FC takes a look at how much impact Olympic success has historically had on the next World Cup cycle for the USMNT. Short answer: not a ton.

There are 16 teams at every Olympics. One caveat to remember is not the best U23 players are at the tournament because they overlap with the Euros and Copa America. Also, during qualifying, players don’t have to be released for the tournament, so the deepest teams are the ones who qualify for the World Cup, not the top heavy ones.

Important caveats, yes, but if the analysis is strictly “does the Olympic tournament predict the next World Cup,” rather than “is the Olympic tournament strongly correlated with future success,” or “why might it not correlate?” then we good. In fact:

The players who will help boost senior national team success, like Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie if they stay on track, will most certainly not be released for qualifying and may be needed with the senior team for the summer of 2020.

So essentially, we wouldn’t expect it. As mentioned in the first pull quote, Olympic qualifying and tournament can be more a measure of U-23 depth than U-23 quality. And of course, different nations treat it differently (Neymar was an overager for Brazil at the most recent Olympics, for example, whereas other countries simply don’t value it quite like that).

Building from scratch. This is more a feature on new CEO Ian Ayre than it is actually a story about how to build the MLS side from scratch, but interesting nonetheless.

He said: “When you are creating something from nothing, you have to create a DNA, then bring in people who fit. If you look at Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, culturally he was a brilliant fit for the club.

“For us, it means starting with scouting and analysis. By doing that we can begin to build a picture of the type of player we need in the timescale we are looking at.”

Appointing a coach is “some way off”, according to Ayre. Discussions have taken place internally, though, and he expects to be working seriously on a couple of names by the end of the year.

That’s certainly newsworthy-ish (as long as you don’t consider it the obvious way to build), at the least.

No, YOU’RE on loan. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about the European mega-clubs and their loan practices lately, especially after FIFA regulations to limit the number of players that clubs can have out on loan have been proposed.

Seems to me that this would be detrimental to players from the United States, who routinely use big-club money to transfer abroad, then get loaned out elsewhere within the continent (Matt Miazga with Chelsea, Erik Palmer-Brown with Man City, to name a couple that spring immediately to mind). Closing off a path for such moves doesn’t seem to benefit Americans at all.

Should the legislation come to fruition, one potential change could be a necessity for MLS to bring its outgoing transfer rules, policies, and practices closer to something approaching sanity, which is good in the long run, but more in a way to react to overcome new difficulties than a way that nets positive.

Etc.: This list of suggestions from the united supporters of FC Cincinnati will be an interesting document for Nashville fans to revisit (and make their own version of) in a couple years. … Very in favor of as many teams getting an opportunity in the US Open Cup as possible. … One of Nashville SC’s owners is a good dude. … Will be interesting to see what the Tampa Bay Rays do with the Rowdies. … Nashville got a boost for hosting 2026 World Cup games thanks to a solid job (and sales pitch) with the Mexico friendly.