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

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

Silverbacks officially join breakaway league

The Atlanta Silverbacks are one of six First Division organizations in the United Soccer Leagues that announced on Tuesday they have formed a separate league and filed for formal recognition from the United States Soccer Federation and the Canadian Soccer Association.

Boris Jerkunica, the Silverbacks chairman, sent me this release and commented succinctly:

“Here is the result of three years of work.”

He told me he “can’t comment on things right now beyond what is in the press release.” I asked him if the Silverbacks — who didn’t compete in 2009 in part because of disagreements with USL management — will field a team for the 2010 season. Jerkunica would say only that “we are putting plans together as we speak.”

The other organizations involved in the Team Owners Association (TOA) consortium include the Carolina RailHawks, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, Montreal Impact, St. Louis Soccer United and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who are bound for Major League Soccer in 2011 but will field a second-division squad in the yet-unnamed new league.

Late Tuesday afternoon the USL — whose purchase by the Atlanta-based NuRock Soccer Holdings Inc. this summer led to the breakaway threat — issued a statement saying it opposes the TOA’s application:

“. . . on the grounds that that there is misrepresentation, interference with USL business operations and substantial debt amongst the membership of the parties applying for certification.”

The USL did not elaborate on those points but defended its ownership model — a major bone of contention with Jerkunica and the other TOA parties — and said it will undergo “upcoming reforms” that also were not specified.

Inside Minnesota Soccer has been on top of the league-wide story all along and has all the goods.

Here’s what I’ve been blogging on the subject over the last few months.

November 10, 2009   No Comments

With season over, fate of USL at stake

Kartik Krishnaiyer reports today that the breakaway threat involving several United Soccer Leagues owners — including the Atlanta Silverbacks in something called The Ownership Association — is looking more likely.

Among the developments: Even some Professional Development League owners are unhappy with USL management, and further fractures in the developmental system of North American soccer could result.

Also, the new Atlanta-based owners of the USL system, whose purchase from Nike led to the breakaway threat after years of disenchantment, don’t appear to have satisfied the essential complaints about the organization:

NuRock Soccer Holdings, it is confirmed to us by multiple sources has a management plan for USL which does have some new wrinkles to the old operating procedures of the league. However, these changes we are told do not address the numerous, articulated concerns of the TOA.

Silverbacks president Boris Jerkunica told Atlanta Soccer News recently that serious machinations are continuing, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

Whether there will be organized men’s soccer of any kind in Atlanta — either with the Silverbacks or a PDL franchise run by NuRock last season — is among the unanswered questions apparently being sorted out.

October 19, 2009   1 Comment

Some advice for USL brass, new and old

Fresh off their intervention with the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Sunil Gulati, longtime United Soccer League boss Francisco Marcos and Alec Papadakis, one of his designated successors with the Atlanta-based NuRock Soccer Holdings, are rubbing elbows with some of the leading suits in the global game.

Don’t laugh too hard. It makes sense for North American solons to be there, and certainly their presence couldn’t be any more audacious than Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber’s admonition to the big spenders of Europe to follow the single-entity model.

I can hear ringing peals of laughter for that one.

What remarks, if any, the USL brass might have for their fellow soccer executives in Londontown aren’t known right now, but here’s some very practical advice they might be wise to bring back to these continental shores:

“Let us hope Marcos and Papadakis are doing a lot of the learning part, as back in the US, the league they run is falling apart as if it were American soccer in the twentieth century. This is a shame, because much of what USL has achieved over the past two decades has been pretty impressive: a structure containing, in 2009, well over 100 professional and amateur clubs critical for the development of American soccer.”

And this:

“Forgotten in the byzantine details is one simple fact: USL-1 remains the only league in the world where the team owners do not control the league. This is why when the league seems unable to even properly schedule and market its USL-1 Championship final — Away from the Numbers reports that “the date and time of the Championship final second leg remains something of a mystery” — it becomes clearer why some owners believe an overhaul is needed to professionalize and market its elite division.”

October 8, 2009   1 Comment

Where do Silverbacks stand in USL fiasco?

That the United Soccer Leagues is in a state of flux these last few weeks is to apply very polite phrasing to what’s becoming a full-fledged disaster.

Ever since the Atlanta-based NuRock Soccer Holdings Inc. was named the shock new owner of the USL system earlier this fall, franchises in USL-1, where the Atlanta Silverbacks played until the past season, have been threatening to break away.

Just to serve up a little more background before I update this story:

The Silverbacks reportedly have been involved in these breakaway efforts, although club president Boris Jerkunica has not had any official comment. silverbacks

According to an official USL release, NuRock was to take over franchise rights for a USL-1 franchise from the Silverbacks, who did not field a team in 2009 because of Jerkunica’s differences with USL management on a number of issues.

This summer NuRock operated Atlanta’s entry in the Professional Development League, an amateur entity in the USL system, after moving the team from Augusta.

The Silverbacks continued to field a team in the USL-run W-League, a women’s amateur league, ostensibly to keep a competitive toehold in USL. The Silverbacks women reached the W-League playoffs, in fact.

Now, on to the latest twists in an already melodramatic narrative:

Over the weekend, USL president Tim Holt told players in Miami, Carolina and Minnesota that they were being released from their contracts because those teams had not renewed franchise rights for the 2010 season.

Those three teams, along with the Silverbacks, formed an entity called The Owners Association (TOA) when the breakaway effort began. Also reportedly involved in TOA are Vancouver and Montreal, which have reached the upcoming USL-1 finals and which have been admitted to Major League Soccer or have MLS aspirations, respectively.

Today the excellent Inside Minnesota Soccer site picked up on a North Carolina report that USL and TOA representatives were meeting in New York with U.S. Soccer Federation head Sunil Gulati.

I contacted Jerkunica again today to find out where the Silverbacks figure in this situation and I got the following reply. It’s not much, but it reflects the general chaos and uncertainty about the fate of minor league soccer in North America:

“There is a lot of stuff going on. I can’t divulge much right now. The only thing I can tell you is that this battle has been going on for over two years and is one of the reasons the Silverbacks pulled out of the 2009 season. Hopefully, it will be cleared up soon.”

That all parties involved in this have been together with Gulati ought to be an encouraging sign that perhaps some accommodation can be made in an increasingly bitter dispute. Says Carolina owner Brian Wellman, who’s had some loose lips from time to time during it all:

“It seemed like at least a lot of the tension has stabilized because everyone finally got to meet face-to-face and everyone knows what everyone’s goals are.”

Then again, there’s this: Tom Dunmore over at Pitch Invasion came across this link describing how the USL has botched the scheduling for the USL-1 finals.

“No wonder many USL-1 teams want to break away from the league office,” Dunmore wrote on Twitter.

Some previous posts I’ve written about all this can be found here, here and here.

October 7, 2009   5 Comments

On the Beat, scouting for experienced players

The Women’s Professional Soccer college draft isn’t until January, so Atlanta Beat coach Gareth O’Sullivan and his rivals were busy looking over W-League prospects this weekend at that league’s scouting combine in Tampa.

The women’s amateur league that includes the Atlanta Silverbacks had 35 of its players drafted into the WPS a year ago. While those numbers won’t be the same, O’Sullivan said he was looking ideally for two or three players to help stock his expansion club:

The W-League has girls in it that have got a couple years experience, that have been able to, maybe, mature a little bit, get that experience. And I think that’s important. When you weigh up a collegiate player against a girl that has a couple years W-League experience, you’re usually, probably, gonna go with the girl from the W-League.

Kimmie Germain would love to be one of those girls. The daughter of former Atlanta Chiefs player Kip Germain recorded a video for the USL site as she talked about trying to impress the scouts. Her mother played for the U.S. national team in the mid-1980s, so her soccer pedigree is rather strong: “I think they are looking for something special.”

September 28, 2009   No Comments