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USL, CSL, and MLS


Tuscan

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I know that there was recent talk that the CSL was looking to expand out of eastern Canada into the western provinces (and possibly the Maritimes?). The USL is going to be losing both Vancouver and Montreal to MLS probably in 2011. This is going to leave no representation of Canadian clubs in the USL. I've been wondering, is the USL now a dieing league, to the point that it would be better for new Canadian soccer franchises to start in the CSL rather than try for the USL, even though the USL is considered a step up from the CSL?

Currently I would think that it would be easier for teams to bid for entry to MLS if they are in the USL rather than the CSL, but could there come a point where the CSL could reach the professionalism of the USL, sort of eliminating the middle man league?

I know that the CSL is more youth oriented than the USL, so is it feasible that eventually the CSL could become the step down from the MLS rather than going from the CSL to the USL to MLS?

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CSL franchise fees seem out of line with the quality of the league (and one could possibly make the same argument about MLS). The playing level of the USL is not far from that of MLS currently. What they are lacking is the prestige and marketing of MLS. If USL played it cards right it might be able to challenge MLS as the top league in North America. I definitely wouldn't write off the USL. One could make the argument that Vancouver and Montreal would be better off saving their 40 million and put some money into improving the USL. One of the things that raises the prestige of MLS is the name European players who give the league credibility in the eyes of fans of european soccer. It is debateable how much these players raise the playing level of the league given the mediocre performances of many of them. Maybe with a couple of well thought out signings USL could start to raise its profile and compete with MLS.

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My thoughts exactly Grizz... There really is not that much of a difference quality wise, I think Canada should concentrate on having a USL Canadian and US divsion that could challenge the MLS, the money definetly would be better spent! Take the 40 million and spend it on marketing, promotion, and some good foreign talent, and get it going!!

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The USL has jumped leaps and bounds in the quality of stadiums they play in over the last 5 years, increasing the quality of the league. The only problem is that many of the teams with new stadiums all have eyes on MLS. If Vancouver and Montreal were to stay in the USL and spend the money on marketing, promotion etc, they'd need a few of the other teams to step it up as well.

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quote:Originally posted by rick titus

My thoughts exactly Grizz... There really is not that much of a difference quality wise, I think Canada should concentrate on having a USL Canadian and US divsion that could challenge the MLS, the money definetly would be better spent! Take the 40 million and spend it on marketing, promotion, and some good foreign talent, and get it going!!

It wouldn't be 40 millions but 120 at least (Montreal + Vancouver + Ottawa projects)

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quote:Originally posted by Grizzly

What they are lacking is the prestige and marketing of MLS. If USL played it cards right it might be able to challenge MLS as the top league in North America. I definitely wouldn't write off the USL. One could make the argument that Vancouver and Montreal would be better off saving their 40 million and put some money into improving the USL.

I think that is accurate. But the problem is that there is no desire to challenge and/or present themselves as an alternative. And that's what frustrating. They use to state it on their own website, we are second divison to MLS. Yet, there are good facilities in some USL operations and some clubs are very well supported.

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The fact that pretty much all the teams are beginning to focus on getting into MLS is exactly why I say that it is a dieing league. MLS has definitely taken over the prestige element for North America, and quite frankly as long as it maintains the prestige factor, it will remain dominant. I don't see the USL lasting for any more than 20 years at this point, unless it becomes purely a stepping stone for cities to establish a team and fanbase before they make a bid for MLS expansion.

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quote:Originally posted by Free kick

I think that is accurate. But the problem is that there is no desire to challenge and/or present themselves as an alternative. And that's what frustrating. They use to state it on their own website, we are second divison to MLS. Yet, there are good facilities in some USL operations and some clubs are very well supported.

The USL has improved a lot this year and I think this is the first year where they have started to challenge the traditional view of MLS as the strongest league. Up to now there was no reason to try to present themselves as an alternative. A lot of what may happen depends on what MLS does in the near future. Does MLS take in the franchises that are ready to join it or does it keep a strict limit on expansion? Do the teams who want to join MLS decide that the expansion fee is worthwhile? Does the MLS keep increasing the expansion fee to a level beyond what it is worth? Does MLS increase the salary cap and more importantly the minimum salary in the league to raise the level of play (the MLS doesn't need to increase the number of overpaid foreigners but rather needs to increase the playing level of the average and poorer players on teams)? What is the reaction of the US Soccer Federation? Do they want a clear 1st and 2nd division or would they be happy with competing leagues?

If MLS does not absorb the stronger USL teams or these same teams decide a stronger USL is the way to go, there could be an opening for USL to begin competing with the MLS for top league status. To do so they would probably need to bring in a few name players and do well in competitions against MLS and other North American teams like the Open Cup, Voyageurs Cup and Champions League. I was critical in the past of Saputo not trying to get into MLS when the expansion fee was $10 million and MLS was clearly the better league. Now that the expansion fee is $40 million and USL is catching up on the playing field I am not so sure. As a fan I still hope we go to MLS but if I was running the team and a few of my co-owners agreed with me I am not so sure I couldn't better invest millions in improving USL instead of paying MLS expansion fees.

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I like the CSL and the quality of play is good. I'd like to see that league continue to improve the standard of play, enforce basic principles of professionalism, require all clubs in the league to create a player development infrastructure and become an integral part of the pyramid, especially here in Ontario.

However, for the good of Canadian soccer, we need more clubs in USL1. I've been saying this on a bunch of threads but MLS is bad for Canadian soccer development, even though I will admit that TFC joining MLS has been very good for boosting the profile of soccer in Toronto, Ontario and Canada as a whole (although I think the big story is still the level and intensity of fan support because its not like the onfield product has been worthy of the attention the team receives).

I firmly believe that the priorities of MLS are not in synch with the needs of the Canadian soccer community. We need a good number of professional clubs competing at a relatively high level of competition and operating in an environment that actually gives clubs an incentive to invest in player development. The MLS is too expensive to join for Canada to ever get more than 3 or 4 clubs. Plus, this is the USSF's pet league and the goals of the USSF are to develop American soccer, not help Canada become a stronger footballing nation. One or two teams won't rock the boat much but if 15-20% of the MLS clubs are located in Canada, there will be serious pushback. USL, on the other hand, only wants stable owners capable of meeting the obligations of the league. There aren't really any politics involved with entry into USL1. If you have the money and a suitable facility, welcome to the league.

Furthermore, the rules regarding MLS youth academies are clearly structured in a such a way as to not compete head to head with NCAA. Why else would you require a player to be involved in the youth system for 2 years before they can be signed to the 28 man roster (and why only a maximum of 1 player per year can be promoted). Why can't these academy players be signed to contracts immediately upon entering the academy (answer: it will screw up NCAA eligibility). Where is the financial incentive to load up an academy with the best players possible? I've wondered aloud what will happen with the Whitecaps impressive residency program if the 'Caps were to be chosen to enter MLS in 2011. Would it operate as a seperate business so that it can continue intact. Such a program would be not work within the MLS rules framework as they exist today.

I think that the USL has made a huge improvement over the past 2 years. It has become my hope and ambition to see a 6-8 team Canadian division in USL1, a league where the cost to join the club is reasonable and a member club can be as ambitious as it wants to be. If there are investors in Canada who actually care about soccer, they'll see that they only choice is USL1. If you are someone like Kerfoot/Lenarduzzi, Saputo or Melnyk, who want to play ball with the "big boys", then go ahead and blow your load on a $40 million expansion fee but I think they'll find it to be a far different and more frustrating league to be a part of, especially now that USL1 has become a more stable operation. As has been echoed above, if the clubs that are intent on abandonning USL1 would simply reinvest in the league, I sincerely believe that it can contend with MLS neck and neck for the status of top team in North America. The top 5% of players in MLS are definitely the best players in the US/Canada but after that, there is very little to choose from and when you get down to player #12-28 on an MLS roster, I'd argue that the depth players in USL are better than on any team in MLS, other than maybe Houston and New England.

Another thing...would joining MLS really mean significantly better ticket sales for Montreal or Vancouver? I'm asking this sincerely. We all know that the Saputo family gives away a ton of tickets for Impact matches. Would those people who are going to games for free right now actually be willing to shell out to buy MLS tickets? Is FC Dallas or Columbus Crew really a bigger draw than Vancouver or Rochester? Is this about growing the sport or about a massive ego stroke for rich guys wanting to be part of the perceived "big league"

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USL has a far more European structure that is better for fans. It has a single table, with no real salary cap.

There are two USL clubs in the Champions League, and I personally would like to see CONCACAF allow a USL club to qualify for the Champions League from the league.

I think that we could certainly see it evolve as a real challenger to MLS, because the fans are established in these cities. Where will the fans come from for Philly? At least USL clubs have some tradition - as short as it is in some cases.

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quote:Originally posted by RJB

I think that we could certainly see it evolve as a real challenger to MLS, because the fans are established in these cities. Where will the fans come from for Philly? At least USL clubs have some tradition - as short as it is in some cases.

Where did the fans come from in Toronto or Seattle? (those massive USL attendances in both of those cities were negligible compared to overall MLS attendance numbers).

Philly already has the biggest supporters group in MLS.

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It's an interesting idea to think of what $80-120m could do for USL, but unfortunately I don't think it's enough to effectively challenge the perception that it's a second rate league. Even if it were, I don't know if it would be wise to do so. We simply don't have enough supporters/financial backers to have two North American leagues competing against one another.

Another way to look at it is that the franchise fees from Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, NY2 (I hopre Brooklyn), Philly, St. Louis, Portland, etc., ultimately redefine the MLS: lose the single entity, loosen the USSF developmental agenda, lose pointy ball lines, increase the cap, get a single table, who knows, maybe even ditch the name MSL?

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I emailed Cary and received a reply the same evening, are you sure you didn't typo his email address? He didn't really have a lot to say, but I will post his response regardless. He was vague towards a few points that I was really hoping to get a good meaty response to, but it's understandable that he might want to keep some of the info private in the organization.

quote:Hi Cary,

I recently read that there have been plans in the works to begin expanding the CSL further west (and also into the Maritimes?) in order to create a truly national league. This got me thinking about the situation of Canadian soccer. In 2011 both Vancouver and Montreal are most likely going to enter MLS, leaving the USL with no Canadian representation. The USL is shrinking, becoming more of a gateway into MLS rather than a unique professional league. The CSL appears to be more of a youth-oriented league, although now that Montreal will be entering MLS, the Trois-Rivieres Attak will basically become a reserve squad for the Impact's MLS fanchise. This lessens the gab between the CSL and the MLS. I'm curious, what is the direction of the CSL in the future, as in, in what direction does the organization wish to evolve? Is the CSL looking to stay as more of a semi-pro, development league, or are there plans to try and build towards a full, professional organization on par with clubs like those currently in the USL (averaging 3500 - 8000 fans per game, etc...).

I'm very interested in seeing how things play out, and in fact hope to become part of it eventually once I'm done school. I see the next 10 - 20 years as being a turning point in Canadian soccer, beginning with the entrance of both Vancouver and Montreal into MLS, and new clubs being established across the nation. I look forward to your insight into these matters.

Thanks,

Jeff Salisbury

quote:Jeff,

Thanks for the email.

Basically, the vision is to have a league with 20-30 teams across Canada (in 4 or 5 divisions). This would be done in a divisional format, whereby, teams would not travel outside of their territory except for the Championship (similar to the CHL in this sense). As far as the pro issue, not sure, but the key is not to force it. In other words, what we want to insist on is (a) quality soccer (B) strong marketing and © financial capacity from all teams. If this happens, the market will initially determine the salaries, etc...

I know this is somewhat vague, but I agree with you, a fiscally responsible, national vision is exciting option for the CSL in the next 10 years.

Cary

I think that if you are at all interested in this, that it would be good to email Cary with your own questions and concerns. I think that the more people that start showing interest towards the CSL, the more they may realize that there is a basis of interest across the nation. I can't wait for the day that Saskatoon (or Calgary, Victoria, any western city) plays Quebec City (or London, Fredericton, any place out east) in a CSL championship, or in an FA cup style tournament.

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quote:Originally posted by Richard

I am pleased to see Kaplan backing down over the professional player business.

I don't think Cary is backing away from "the professional player business".

I think the league aspires to have every player in the league on a professional contract at some point but you don't go from crawling to sprinting overnight. its a process and will take a long time.

The league has only in the last couple of years started to "stabilize" and even still there are issues (i.e. Windsor).

The day that CSL teams have fully integrated player development infrastructures integrated into the operation is the day that the players will start to make a decent amount of money to play at the top level. They need revenue sources above and beyond ticket sales. Sponsorship is one source but its inconsistent. The only reliable revenue source I can envision for CSL teams is to offer a full range of soccer programs for the community they operate in. A team will not be successful on its own...a club can be very successful.

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quote:Originally posted by Rudi

Where did the fans come from in Toronto or Seattle? (those massive USL attendances in both of those cities were negligible compared to overall MLS attendance numbers).

Philly already has the biggest supporters group in MLS.

The fans in Seattle are already in place. Maybe not 20 000 a week, but at least there is a tried and tested core. It could even be argued that in Toronto they were already in place too, as they jumped ship from the Lynx.

What team does Philly have? In these cities where MLS goes simply because it's big and has 'strong' ownership just manufactures fans like the NHL has done in Carolina, Atlanta, and Nashville. These are fly-by-night fans, that just want a winner.

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Why do we even have USL teams to begin with. I's rather we leave the USL 1 and 2 to be all American (although they have puerto rico and bermuda) and just have MLS and CSL teams. If we could get 3 or 4 teams in MLS that would be fantastic. With all the other teams we should create one huge CSL or CSL 1 and 2 with solely Canadian professional clubs. That way the pyramid could be:

MLS (USA and Canada)

USL 1 (USA) CSL 1 (Canada)

USL 2 (USA) CSL 2 (Canada)

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quote:even still there are issues (i.e. Windsor)

What are the issues with Windsor?

Although I hope that Canada could eventually have it's own fully professional league, I don't mind the idea of the USL and CSL becoming on par with each other with MLS being the highest level. What about the idea of MLS being the one and only league for North America, with multiple divisions (ex. like the FA)?

I hope MLS abolishes the East and West divisions and creates a single table, that is one thing that I absolutely love about the USL.

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