The World's Game In The Heart of the Sun Belt

Category — professional soccer

Atlanta soccer weekend, June 19-20

• The Atlanta Beat scored its first victory in Women’s Professional Soccer Saturday but even more impressively did so without its full contingent of players that has been enhanced since the folding of St. Louis Athletica.

The Beat doesn’t have much time to enjoy its victory, however, as it plays host to Philadelphia Wednesday. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennesaw State soccer complex.

• Atlanta FC got a point in NPSL play Saturday in a 1-1 draw with FC Chattanooga.

• The Atlanta Blackhawks trailed Mississippi 3-0 Saturday in their PDL contest at Alpharetta High School, then staged a late comeback, scoring twice in the last eight minutes for a 3-3 draw.

• The Silverbacks women got back on the winning track in the W-League with a 2-0 clean sheet over Tampa Bay Hellenic.

June 21, 2010   2 Comments

Soccer and the Falcons stadium proposal

Arthur Blank’s stated preference for a downtown outdoor stadium for the Atlanta Falcons — without a retractable roof that he says is too costly — is catching some flak for more than just that reason, and not just from the folks at the Georgia Dome who risk losing their primary tenant.

As my former AJC colleague Tony Barnhart wrote this morning, without a weather-proof venue, Atlanta risks losing a lot of events that have become a vibrant part of the city’s sports scene.

The Falcons owner and team president Rich McKay point out that an outdoor facility with natural grass is optimal for soccer, and it should be heartening to the Atlanta soccer community that the Falcons’ soccer interest remains strong.

Blank is harboring long-range hopes of landing a Major League Soccer franchise, dependent on a new facility for his NFL team that he has wanted for years. And MLS commissioner Don Garber recently reiterated the league’s desire to have Atlanta on board.

A new Falcons stadium also has been included in the Atlanta venue component as part of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s World Cup bid submitted to FIFA last week, with the Dome as the ready-to-go option.

The Atlanta stadium tussle figures go on for some time, beyond the December deadline for FIFA’s decisions on selecting host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, minus final venue choices.

The threat of not getting an MLS team is the greater concern. Atlanta possesses one of the two critical factors the league has required for expansion or relocation: A committed ownership group.

The other is a proper place to play. If Blank’s dream stadium doesn’t come true, then men’s professional soccer in Atlanta will be the biggest casualty. The Falcons likely would remain at the Dome, along with the SEC Championship game, Final Fours, ACC and SEC basketball tournaments and other events that occasionally are staged there.

Blank has prided himself on making the Falcons organization a positive and influential corporate and sporting citizen, and to a large degree that has happened. The Falcons are no longer a laughingstock, either on the field or in the community. That they’re upfront about their interest in soccer is a boon that the sport in this city hasn’t enjoyed in decades.

But his announcement this week also underscores the tensions that have existed for some time over the promotion of college and professional sports in Atlanta. Soccer could be caught in the squeeze if those differences aren’t resolved about a new Falcons stadium.

Gary Stokan, who leads the Atlanta World Cup bid group and is a former soccer marketer for Adidas, departed earlier this year as executive director of the Atlanta Sports Council and now presides over the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which was spun off from the ASC. He also is the chief operating officer for the College Football Hall of Fame that will be relocating to Atlanta from South Bend, Ind.

A sinister mind might wonder if Blank’s aversion to a retractable roof isn’t just about the costs. If all, or even some, of those events did leave Atlanta, the sports offerings in Atlanta would be reduced, especially during the fall football season. There would be less competition for the Falcons for the attention (and dollars) of Atlanta sports fans not fanatically tethered to the exploits of UGA, Georgia Tech, or other college teams, etc., etc.

Admittedly, that’s an Oliver Stone scenario. The Braves, who play in summer, have been outspokenly in favor of having pro sports promoted better. They don’t have any serious competitive threats to their season, since both the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream and the revived Atlanta Beat of Women’s Professional Soccer are in very small niches. An MLS team would be in a bigger niche.

In 1997, after the Braves moved to Turner Field, a local soccer group that included Phil Woosnam felt extremely chastened as it fought vainly to preserve Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium as a soccer venue.

The old home of the Braves was absolutely going to be razed, but there were suspicions that the Braves, and Robert Dale Morgan, Stokan’s predecessor at the ASC, were either hostile to a bigger soccer imprint in Atlanta or at least indifferent to it.

An outdoor stadium built for the Falcons would mean not only keeping the possibility of MLS alive, but also having it stage friendlies such as those last year and this coming summer at the Dome, World Cup qualifying and other big-time soccer events.

Atlanta could finally become a major soccer city and shed its notorious fragmentation in that sport. There’s time to make something work with or without the World Cup coming here, but right now the larger Atlanta sports community appears to be very divided.

May 20, 2010   1 Comment

MLS set to expand to Montreal

Major League Soccer isn’t giving any specifics, but there’s a press conference slated for Friday (we hear it’s in Montreal) for a “major announcement” (we hear it’s about expanding into Montreal for the 2012 season).

This is not unexpected news, nor is it a surprise that MLS commissioner Don Garber keeps saying Atlanta is on his mind for possible expansion some time down the road.

We’ve been hearing this, of course, since the inception of MLS in 1996. Atlanta has always been a market the league wants to capture, and the city is among those vying to make the final cut for the U.S. Soccer Federation’s 2018 or 2022 World Cup venue list. It’s one of the stronger candidates, in fact.

At some point, however, any discussion of MLS viability in Atlanta has to go beyond employing the usual buzzwords — like “market” — and touting all the ballyhooed numbers of youth players, various clusters of immigrant communities and the city’s history of staging big sporting events.

Atlanta also has to demonstrate that some kind of organic groundswell of a fan base exists to be worthy of having a franchise. It’s unlikely that anything like what has happened in Seattle will be replicated here, primarily because poorly-run (men’s) teams haven’t given Atlanta soccer fans much to cheer. Or, as the case is now, a team to cheer at all.

Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver — which like Montreal competed with Atlanta in the USL — have demonstrated outstanding turnout and organized, reliable team management.

To a certain degree, Montreal could provide something of a template for Atlanta since the Quebec city used big events as a springboard for the crowds the Impact have been drawing in recent years.

Somewhere, somehow, big-time soccer triggered fans to begin supporting the local team in big, lasting numbers.

Atlanta soccer boosters are hoping for the same, eyeing more big events, such as a post-World Cup friendly at the Georgia Dome between Club America and Manchester City.

In lieu of there not being a pro men’s team at all, there’s not a better option.

May 6, 2010   No Comments

First MLS goal for Jack McInerney

The expansion Philadelphia Union have gotten off to an understandably slow start thus far in Major League Soccer. But former Cobb FC standout Jack McInerney has looked good in spite of his team’s struggles.

Over the weekend he became the eighth player in MLS history to score a goal before his 18th birthday in Philly’s 3-1 loss to Los Angeles Galaxy.

In all four games thus far for the Union, McInerney has come off the bench, but his playing time figures to increase. When the hard-to-please Paul Gardner says you scored the goal of the week, then that’s something to remember, even with his usual curmudgeonliness:

“Actually I found the goal memorable for another reason: because McInerney did not immediately spin off into a wild shirt-doffing celebration or lapse into a dopey dance routine. Thank you, Jack.”

Get Microsoft Silverlight

May 4, 2010   1 Comment

It’s Atlanta Derby Day!

You don’t have to get all gussied up, or wear a fancy hat, or gulp down mint juleps — unless you want to — but there’s a little game down at Badgett Park in College Park Saturday featuring two Atlanta sides that might get your Derby juices flowing.

Okay, it’s only a exhibition, but Atlanta FC vs. the Atlanta Blackhawks is part of a full day of action on Soccer in the Streets Day. It’s the closest thing to a soccer Derby that we’ve got around here.

The SITS Under-12 team plays at 1 p.m., followed by its Under-14 team at 3 p.m. with the Derby-of-sorts (Battle of Atlanta?) kicking off at 5 p.m. The Under-19 squad plays at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free for the whole enchilada. Badgett Park is located at 3636 College Street in the heart of College Park.

Our good friend Jason Longshore of SITS talks to the NPSL Insider about his involvement with the FC.

The Blackhawks are back for their second season in the Professional Development League, which is under the auspices of the United Soccer Leagues.

Update: Final score is Atlanta FC 2, Atlanta Blackhawks 0.

Things appear to have settled down in lower-division North American soccer since last summer’s fiasco between the USL and some breakaway owners, including the Atlanta Silverbacks, who may or not be playing in the newly-formed NASL next season.

The AJC talks to the Atlanta-based Nu Rock Soccer Holdings duo who bought the USL stable, a transaction that set off the firestorm, but it doesn’t really express how hostile matters got.

The Atlanta Beat remains on the road tonight, playing Philadelphia in a battle of expansion teams. But the Beat’s new home is just about done, and they’re inviting everyone up to Kennesaw Sunday afternoon to have a look around.

Update: The Beat remains winless after falling 1-0 to the Independence.

May 1, 2010   1 Comment

No Atlanta team USL/NASL league in 2010

The U.S. Soccer Federation announced on Thursday that the warring factions of the United Soccer Leagues and the breakaway North American Soccer League will field a joint Division II league in 2010, under the federation’s auspices.

But there will not be a team on the field from Atlanta.

The 12-team, two-division league will be comprised of six USL teams and six more from the NASL, which had included the Atlanta Silverbacks. The full breakdown is here.

USSF president Sunil Gulati said on a Thursday conference call that both Atlanta and New York are not ready to field teams in the coming season:

“It was pretty clear to us that Atlanta was never going to play this year, and New York it became obvious early on.”

Here are some previous posts on the dispute, which was triggered late last summer when the USL was sold to Atlanta-based Nu Rock Soccer Holdings. That organization fielded a USL-sponsored Professional Development League team in Atlanta last summer while the Silverbacks went on hiatus.

Silverbacks president Boris Jerkunica had balked at USL leadership for several years before withdrawing, but he has not publicly commented on his plans for returning to the second division level. The Silverbacks will continue to field a team in the USL-run amateur W-League.

I have a request in to Jerkunica once again asking him to address these issues and others.

More information will be posted here as the story develops.

January 7, 2010   2 Comments

U.S. Soccer won’t sanction NASL or USL

If you were hoping the end of the year would bring with it a resolution to the feuding between the United Soccer Leagues and the breakaway North American Soccer League, think again.

The U.S. Soccer Federation on Wednesday said it was refusing to sanction either second division league for the 2010 season, and ordered both to work something out in the next week.

Some instant reaction to the news is here, here and here, with the opinions mixed.

And in the strongest rebuke the USSF is accused of preferring the status quo, feeling that Major League Soccer would be threatened by the NASL, which includes the Atlanta Silverbacks.

The USL, purchased this summer by Atlanta-based NuRock Soccer Holdings, issued a release that doesn’t say much at all.

The NASL is “disappointed” by the decision but promises to co-operate.

Of course, if it and the USL had been as conciliatory as they’re both trying to sound now, there wouldn’t be the bitter impasse that may last a good while longer.

December 30, 2009   3 Comments

While the fate of the USL/NASL lingers . . .

Here’s an update on the United Soccer Leagues/North American Soccer League dispute that is reportedly being refereed shortly by the U.S. Soccer Federation. It runs down the teams involved in the breakaway NASL alliance that is seeking sanctioning authority. However, the Atlanta Silverbacks, who helped strike the match that led to this point, do not appear to be fielding a team next season:

“The Silverbacks ownership were the first to show their unhappiness with USL by dropping out of the league in the fall of 2008 after other teams had also threatened. The TOA are claiming that Atlanta is a team scheduled to play in 2010 but word on the street is they will not be ready to play until 2011.”

I’ve also heard this on the grapevine, as well as that the Silverbacks amateur women’s team in the USL-run W-League is a go for next season. However, Silverbacks chairman Boris Jerkunica has not commented publicly on any of this, despite repeated requests from Atlanta Soccer News.

Hoping to have some confirmation soon.

December 17, 2009   No Comments

Silverbacks not among teams sued by USL

I’ve refrained from posting here on the continuing battle between the United Soccer Leagues and the newly-formed North American Soccer League until the frantic, twisted scenario sorted itself out a little bit.

Instead, the scrap over the future of minor league soccer in North America reached full boil on Wednesday, with the news that the USL has filed suit against three teams in the breakaway league that includes the Atlanta Silverbacks.

The Silverbacks are not one of those teams, but the Rochester Rhinos, Crystal Palace FC (Baltimore) and Tampa Bay Rowdies are the subjects of allegations that they are in breach of contracts binding them to the USL for the 2010 season.

The USL didn’t make a lot of the lawsuit news on its own site, issuing a statement accusing The Owners Association, the consortium of owners who formed the new league, of “tortuous interference.”

If it reads like it was written by a roomful of lawyers, get used to it. Reportedly both leagues met with the U.S. Soccer Federation at the behest of the latter on Monday, but the “productive meeting” Sunil Gulati described apparently wasn’t so productive after all. There may even have been additional legal threats made against other breakaway owners.

The Silverbacks have been generally silent about their involvement in the move to the NASL (not to be confused with the pro league that went by the same name from 1968 to 1984). That was the case well before the lawsuit filing on Wednesday. Silverbacks president Boris Jerkunica notified Atlanta Soccer News that he was traveling out of the country and could not comment until next week at the earliest.

That response is similar to previous requests for comment by ASN. Jerkunica did say in early November that “we are putting plans together as we speak” about preparing to compete in 2010.

The current franchise holder for a USL First Division team in Atlanta belongs to the same NuRock organization that sponsored a team in the USL’s Professional Development Soccer League last summer.

The Silverbacks also have not clarified the status of their women’s team, which has been competing in the USL’s amateur W-League and last summer reached that league’s playoffs.

The Silverbacks joined the NASL breakaway league after several years of being disenchanted with the way the Tampa-based USL conducted its operations. Jerkunica’s longest statement to date on the fiasco was issued in early November:

“For ten years, the Atlanta Silverbacks played under the umbrella of a third-party owned league.  To put it simply, it just didn’t work. The long-term view of the team owners did not align with the short term view of the third-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.”

For the moment, there doesn’t appear to be any expedient manner of resolving a growing legal fight that could threaten the start of the North American soccer season next spring. The fate of both leagues could very well be on the line.

December 9, 2009   7 Comments

Atlanta’s three amigos at MLS Cup

Three people I know are luxuriating right now in the all-soccer waters in Seattle, site of Sunday’s MLS Cup between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake, thanks to an all-expenses-paid promotion courtesy of various league sponsors.

Jason Longshore of Soccer in the Streets and Colin and Chris Martz, former colleagues at the Atlanta J-C and big-time soccerheads, have been Tweeting from the Supporters’ Summit, the Commissioners’ Gala and elsewhere.

If you want to keep up with their Tweets, here goes: @longshoe, @thrashboy, @thechrismartz, with the latter posting this a few euphoric hours ago:

“I want to come to #MLS Cup every year”

• The Atlantan who will be competing at Qwest Field — Conyers native Clint Mathis — will be vying for his first MLS championship. The RSL veteran played in this game exactly 10 years ago for the Galaxy, who fell to D.C. United.

• The current Galaxy feature Becks and Landon, whose mid-season rift appears to have healed rather nicely.

• More than 40,000 tickets have been sold in what’s quickly become North America’s spectator soccer hotbed. MLS gave the hosting nod to Seattle barely halfway into the Sounders’ inaugural season and likely will be coming back to the Pacific Northwest again and again.

• Here’s the hometown Seattle Times page devoted totally to MLS Cup.

• And for the first time, MLS Cup is on cable and in prime time, shifting from ABC to ESPN with an 8:30 p.m. EDT start.

November 22, 2009   No Comments