It appears that the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) — like many of us — took time off over the course of the past few weeks for the holidays.
That would seem all well and good, but as time has passed, there still has not been any conclusion about the immediate future of two professional soccer leagues that sit below the top league, Major League Soccer (MLS) in the U.S. Soccer pyramid.
After a USSF board meeting in early December, it was announced that they would wait 7 to 10 days to announce what would happen as the current second division NASL was dealing with franchises in financial troubles and others leaving to MLS (Minnesota United) and a pair of teams (Tampa Bay and Ottawa) to the third-division United Soccer League (USL), where the Pittsburgh Riverhounds play.
Here was the announcement at the conclusion of the USSF meetings on December 8th.
Now it’s January. Still no decision has been made.
Some reports are pointing to a potential decision by week’s end.
UPDATE (1/6/2017 – 8:30 a.m.): Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus, confirms in an in-depth article that there will be a vote on Friday, and he also had a chance to speak with USL President Jake Edwards.
In Straus’ article, Edwards make the case for USL, but at this point, the status quo may be where things end up.
While all indications early on pointed to the USL (now up to 31 teams with MLS partnership/second team franchises) being in much stronger shape than the crumbling NASL, there are signs that remaining NASL owners are doing everything they can to buy time to salvage the league, but also to keep its Division II status, despite USL’s bid to step into that role.
As the existing NASL owners scramble to keep its league alive, it has been pointed out that numerous USL teams don’t meet USSF standards for Division II status — which would include stadium capacity and certain standards in terms of team staffing, among other things.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds appear to be one of those teams that are close in meeting the standards, but not quite there. For one thing, seating capacity at Highmark Stadium is officially 3,500 but there’s standing room capacity around the field — but minimum standards for Division II teams will be to have more than 5,000 seat capacity.
In November, when contacted about this, the Hounds are preparing to meet what ever guidelines are necessary.
“At this time we have currently met the expected league minimums for next season in regards to seat capacity and plan this upcoming fall to begin construction on meeting and exceeding the league minimums for seat capacity for the 2018 season,” said Anthony Meier, Riverhounds Director of Communications.
Despite struggles in the past few years with declining attendance that has not even filled the 3,500 seat stadium, the Hounds are still probably closer to meeting the minimum standards than a number of other USL teams, particularly those owned/operated by MLS franchises that essentially are “B” teams.
In 2010, when NASL was on the verge of starting up as a potential rival league to Major League Soccer and the USL was struggling, USSF had one season without a league in Division II status as USL went through a restructuring phase. When the smoke cleared in 2011, the USL dropped to Division III as a restructured league, while the upstart NASL was designated as Division II.
With an upcoming US World Cup bid (for 2026), the last thing that USSF will want to have is have any kind of disorganization within its second and third divisions, and likely could opt to remain with the status quo.
All of this uncertainty has many teams putting many things on hold including scheduling dates, promotions, appearances,travel arrangements and much more.
Some Riverhounds fans are getting a bit impatient.
While we await a decision from USSF, which could be expected sometime this coming week – some players and USL teams are not waiting — keeping busy signing new players.
The Riverhounds are one of those teams.
This should help the Hounds and Head Coach Dave Brandt get a head start on training and preparations for the coming season.
Other players who’ve been on NASL rosters (most notably former Hound and USL league MVP/Golden Boot winner Jose Angulo) have jumped at the opportunity to sign with USL teams as Angulo, who played in Ft. Lauderdale in 2015-16, signed with USL’s St. Louis FC.
While the Riverhounds have been fairly active, some USL teams are still holding steady, waiting, and buying time, waiting for the dominoes to fall from the USL and the upcoming MLS combine and SuperDraft, before making more roster additions.
While the Hounds roster has 20 players, not all teams have been as quick to add to their roster. Under veteran USL coaches Bob Lilly and Bill Bechner — two close rivals of the Hounds — 2015 Champions Rochester Rhinos announced in early December that they’ve exercised options on 10 players, while the only news coming from cross-state rivals City Islanders FC has been the announcement of the return of Tiago Lopes as Club President and the transfer of Liam Doyle to Sporting Kansas City of MLS.
Meanwhile, west of Pittsburgh, the two franchises that have had significant success in the past few years, Louisville City FC and FC Cincinnati each have a healthy number of players signed on for 2017. Both are already updating their website: Lou City with a “2017 player tracker” on its website, as they currently have 14 players signed and FCC includes an updated 2017 roster page with 17 players already on board.
One of players signed by Louisville City is former Robert Morris standout, Devon “Speedy” Williams.
Williams spent his first two pro seasons with NY Red Bulls organization, playing mostly with NYRII.
As January will continue to be a very busy month for many USL teams to complete more roster signings, it will be interesting to see how many more players the Hounds will sign in the immediate future, or wait until after the MLS SuperDraft and into February/early March when MLS rosters are finalized, and more players become available.