Month: November 2018

New on SocTakes: Unraveling changes for 2019

unraveling changes - USL

Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

2019 already has the makings of a historic year for soccer in North America with not one, not two, but four new leagues launching next year. This piece here should hopefully straighten things out by summarizing and explaining what we currently know.

First up, let’s talk some USL. The top league in its system is now the USL Championship and will likely comprise 36 clubs for 2019. Teams in Austin, Birmingham, El Paso, Hartford, Loudoun, Memphis and Albuquerque are all joining the league. FC Cincinnati is set to join MLS, while Toronto FC 2, Penn FC and the Richmond Kickers will all leave the league for the new third-division USL League One, with Penn FC delaying its debut to 2020.

Moving on to USL League One, the league currently has 10 teams confirmed for 2019. These teams are new teams in Chattanooga, Madison, Greenville, Lansing and Frisco, along with former PDL (now League Two) members FC Tucson and Tormenta FC. Joining them are the aforementioned teams from Toronto and Richmond, as well as a returning Orlando City B side. The Rochester Rhinos are set to end their hiatus by joining alongside Penn FC in 2020.

Then, there’s the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), formerly run by Peter Wilt. Wilt has left to spearhead the USL League One efforts in Madison. In his absence, the league has regrouped and announced four markets along with one actual team. The first team to be “officially” revealed is San Diego 1904 FC, a club which was originally announced as part of the canceled 2018 NASL season. San Diego will be joined by clubs in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Atlanta and somewhere in Connecticut. NISA does have something of a time advantage on both USL leagues, as NISA is planning to operate on a fall-spring season beginning in August of next year, rather than March/April as is the norm for MLS and USL. The league plans to have 8-12 teams announced for the inaugural season.

In addition to NISA, the NPSL, a long-established amateur/semi-professional league, has announced a new professional tournament to be known as the Founder’s Cup. So far, 11 clubs have been revealed: Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Miami FC (former NASL), Miami United FC, Milwaukee Torrent, New York Cosmos (former NASL), FC Arizona, ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC (former NASL expansion) and Oakland Roots SC. The league is currently dividing its clubs into Eastern and Western Conferences, with plans to add one more club to the West. The inaugural campaign will run from August through November, with plans for a full spring-to-fall season in 2020.

To finish things off, Canada is finally getting a proper top division, the Canadian Premier League, planning to kick off in April. Seven teams will contest the 24-game season. Check out our CPL primer for a much deeper look at the league.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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New on SocTakes: Forward Progress: FC Dallas’ quest for DP talent

DP talent

Photo credit: Michael Barera (Creative Commons license)

I’ve supported FC Dallas in MLS since the 2011 season. The 2010 MLS Cup final was the first MLS game I ever watched, and their 2011 home opener was the first pro soccer game I ever attended. Over the past eight seasons, there’s been one overwhelmingly common complaint among fans: “FC Dallas needs a proper forward.” This comes in a few variations, all containing the desire for some sort of idealized goal-scoring superstar.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this and wondering how to approach such an article. My first idea was to compare FC Dallas to league averages and adjust for the team’s total goals scored, but that ended up without any meaningful conclusion. My second idea was an attempt to prove that Dallas can do just fine without a proper forward, but that ended up getting both boring and directly contradicting the point of this piece. My third idea was to take every Dallas DP, forward, attacking mid, etc., and figure out the best values by taking the statistics from those players, comparing it to their wages and analyzing the outcomes. That was alright, but I honestly lost interest pretty quickly.

So, I’ve come up with a new plan, one I’m sticking to. Let’s take a walk through Dallas’ history of designated players and their impact, or lack thereof, on the club’s performance.

We begin in 2007 with the introduction of the designated player rule, and the signing of Denílson.

Denílson de Oliveira made a splash at age 17 with his debut for São Paulo FC back in 1994, winning that year’s Copa CONMEBOL and earning a spot on the Brazilian senior national team. His profile grew in 1997 as he won the Golden Ball at the Confederations Cup. In 1998, he joined Real Betis on a then-world-record transfer fee of £21.5 million (~$35 million). After five years spent with Betis, he found himself riding the bench in Spain and out of the national team. He spent a single season with Bordeaux in Ligue 1, starting regularly as his new club finished second, but found his wage demands unmet by season’s end. He then joined Saudi side Al-Nassr in the summer of 2006, making 15 appearances and scoring three goals.

On Aug. 24, 2007, Denílson joined FC Dallas as the club’s first designated player for a guaranteed $879,936 and made his debut on Sept. 1, as a 55’ sub against DC United. What followed ranks among the biggest disappointments for designated player signings in league history. After scoring a penalty kick goal against Toronto in his first start, Denílson went scoreless through six starts, finding himself out of the starting lineup by the Open Cup final in October. He finished the season with just the one penalty kick goal, no assists and a grand total of 606 minutes played, and had his option declined in the offseason. FC Dallas offered him a new, non-DP contract at a much lower wage and was turned down, with Denílson joining Palmeiras in his native Brazil.

Following three goals and 30 appearances, mostly off the bench, Denílson turned down several offers from Europe, mainly on wage issues, and eventually signed for Hải Phòng F.C. in Vietnam for the 2009 season for a V.League record salary of $5.5 million. He scored a goal from a free kick on his debut, got injured not long after, and was gone only three weeks after signing. His debut in Vietnam ended up being his final professional appearance, as he was injured not long after. He signed a contract in Greece with then-first-division Kavala F.C. He showed up out of shape, out of form, and without having participated in meaningful training for over six months. Needless to say, the club was unhappy, and despite the club’s struggles, he was cut just four months into his contract without ever making an appearance.

FC Dallas’ leading scorers that season were Carlos Ruiz and Juan Toja. Ruiz actually posted his worst season for Dallas that year with only seven goals, but was comparatively a bargain at $435,000. He left Dallas during the offseason, ending a highly successful three-year stint with the club in which he scored 31 goals and assisted on another 10. After initially being traded to the LA Galaxy, Ruiz was injured during the season opener and found himself replaced by Edson Buddle in the starting lineup. After making 10 appearances, mostly off the bench, he was traded to Toronto FC and unfortunately failed to succeed. He spent the next few years a journeyman, playing for Olimpia in Paraguay, Veracruz in Mexico, and DC United. He then returned to his original club Municipal in Guatemala, playing 18 months in what was arguably his most successful spell in nearly a decade. Finally, he signed on as a late-season addition with FC Dallas in the latter half of 2016, making just a single appearance as a substitute but scoring a goal in his 14 minutes on the field. He retired at the end of the year.

Toja, meanwhile, had a very unusual career. He was a regular in Dallas until suffering an ankle injury during the 2007 All-Star Game, which led to a reduced role and declining performance the following season. In August 2008, he moved to Steaua București in Romania. His strong performances there allowed him to crack the senior Colombian national team for the first time that October. His performance began to wane with Steaua, and he was transferred to Aris in Greece on a three-year deal, but following two seasons in which he again failed to meet expectations, he returned to MLS through the allocation process in August 2012 and joined the New England Revolution. By then, injuries had taken a significant toll on his abilities, and he made just 23 appearances through the end of 2013 and quietly retired at age 28.

This concludes part one of many on the ongoing struggle for FC Dallas to sign a top-tier goalscorer. As long as Dallas continues to sign designated players who fail to meet expectations, there will be fresh material to discuss.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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New on SocTakes: MLS Cup Playoffs: Conference semis 2nd-leg scenarios

The Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs return this evening with the Seattle Sounders hosting the Portland Timbers to kick off the second legs of the conference semifinals. The three other second legs go down Sunday. Here’s a visual of all the second-leg scenarios:

Seattle vs. Portland

Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake

Atlanta United FC vs. NYCFC

leg scenarios

New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC

leg scenarios

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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New on SocTakes: MLS Cup Playoffs: Conference semifinals radial bracket

2018 MLS Cup radial bracket

The eight remaining MLS sides will play out the second legs of the conference semifinals beginning Thursday evening with one match on the docket and finishing up with three more Sunday. Who do you think will advance to the Eastern and Western Conference finals? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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Things I’m Adding Here Soon(ish)

So, I’ve been making plans to use this space for more than just mirroring what I do elsewhere, and here’s the short summary of what I have planned for my website in the nearish future.

First up, I plan to post at least one unique thing here per week of some sort. I want to keep writing, and to write a wider variety of content, and this lets me share things and get feedback publicly while still having full control over everything. I have some things on PC gaming that I’d like to do, as well as writing about writing stuff, and some non-soccer related musings on sports. All of that will end up on here.

Secondly, I’m working on getting all of my graphics projects on here. This includes all the soccer flags, radial brackets, and more. I want to make it nice and easy to share not just what I’ve made, but also the thought process of why I did what I did. This isn’t quite as simple as I’d ideally like it to be, but it’s coming.

Third, I’m adding a few pages of “recommended” stuff. These range from the software programs that I use to get work done, the books and movies that have influenced the most, links to websites I use for research, and that sort of thing. Basically, if it contributes to my work in any meaningful way, it’ll end up in a tab. Thinking about calling this section “Essentials” because I’m a pretentious hipster.

Fourth, I’m adding a contact/submission/commission thing for people who want flags made for something. I want to make more flags for a wider variety of things, and this should hopefully give me ideas I never previously considered.

Fifth, and finally, I’m working on a “Public Gratitude” page, wherein I list all the people I want to personally thank for helping me get to where I am. Some of these people are authors or writers that influenced me, others are the individuals who offered me the chance to work on something new. I personally find it important to let people know when they’ve done or made something that has personally either affected me or inspired me, and I want to keep all of this in a nice central place. It’ll be interesting to see all the names written out in one place.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m not counting this as my weekly post, even though i have every right to, because I’m (of course) setting arbitrary rules for myself once again.



New on SocTakes: MASL preview: Southwest Division

Southwest Division

Photo credit: Dravecky (Creative Commons license)

Welcome back to our series of previews for the upcoming MASL season. This edition focuses on the Southwest Division.

If you missed the other parts, click here to read those. With that done, let’s jump back in.

The Southwest Division has gained one team returning from a season-long hiatus, and lost one team that has exited the league entirely. The Dallas Sidekicks are back, as promised with their announcement last September, and have a reorganized front office containing a number of fantastic soccer people. Meanwhile, the Soles de Sonora have stepped away from the MASL and are instead contesting the Mexican LMFR-Pro. This leaves the division with four teams, same as before.

Dallas Sidekicks – Allen, Texas

  • Founded: 2012
  • Home venue: Allen Event Center (6,006)
  • Head coach: Simon Bozas
  • Last season: hiatus

When the Dallas Sidekicks were refounded back in 2012, they were an absolute juggernaut in the MASL, finishing 13-3, 14-2 and 14-6 in their first three seasons. Despite not winning a championship, the team was undeniably among the strongest in the league on and off the field. That is, until a combination of financial issues and broken contracts led head coach and legendary player Tatu to step away from the team, with new ownership coming in and Simon Bozas appointed as Tatu’s replacement. Immediately, things fell apart. The Sidekicks went 7-13 two seasons in a row, well outside playoff contention, and saw their attendance plummet below 2,300. Then, the hiatus, which I actually wrote about earlier this summer. They’re officially back now, and things are already looking promising. In conversations with minority partner Michael Hitchcock — also of Fort Worth Vaqueros and Denton Diablos — the attitude is incredibly different and, in my opinion, much improved. I’ll 100 percent be at the home opener.

El Paso Coyotes – El Paso, Texas

  • Founded: 2016
  • Home venue: El Paso County Coliseum (6,500)
  • Head coach: Jose Luis Trevino
  • Last season: 11-11, 3rd in Southwest, DNQ
  • Average attendance: 2,067, 12th in MASL

The El Paso Coyotes had the absolute worst debut season in MASL history, going 0-20 in the 2016-17 campaign. Improving from that catastrophic debut to 11-11 the next year made them undeniably the most improved team. They actually looked consistently solid, even holding their own against a stupidly dominant Monterrey Flash side. Honestly, given the departure of Sonora, the Coyotes could easily contend for the playoffs this season. The battle between them and the Sidekicks is going to get interesting, as that second playoff spot in the Southwest is likely going to one of those two teams.

Monterrey Flash – Monterrey, Mexico

  • Founded: 2013 (2017-18)
  • Home venue: Arena Monterrey (17,500)
  • Head coach: Mariano Bollela
  • Last season: 20-2, 1st in Southwest, lost final to Baltimore
  • Average attendance: 3,006, 6th in MASL

Monterrey joined back when the league was still the PASL and made an immediate impact, finishing just one game behind dominant Dallas and Hidalgo squads. The next year, Monterrey came out swinging, losing just twice en route to a first place finish. They flattened Dallas 11-1 in their first playoff game and cruised to a championship title. Then they took two seasons off stemming from financial issues. The Flash returned last season and dominated the Southwest Division, and lost the championship game at home by just a single goal. Monterrey has regrouped and improved, and they’re such an easy favorite to do what they do once again.

RGV Barracudas FC – Hidalgo, Texas

  • Founded: 2014
  • Home venue: State Farm Arena (5,500)
  • Head coach: Genoni Martinez
  • Last season: 3-19, 4th in Southwest, DNQ
  • Average attendance: 1,361, 15th in MASL

RGV took the 2016-17 season off, following their second MASL season in which the Barracudas finished 8-12. Despite the on-field performances declining in their return campaign, winning only three of 22 games, attendance climbed substantially, with the team posting their highest average yet. This offseason, they’ve retooled their roster around several significant additions from Sonora and Monterrey, and at the very least should have their offensive issues from last season resolved. If they can figure out how to stop leaking goals, they might be alright.

Soles de Sonora – Hermosillo, Mexico

With the four returning teams out of the way, here’s a brief summary of the current situation in Sonora. The Soles, who made the finals in 2016 and 2017, are electing to sit out the upcoming campaign. It’s believed that they’re likely to field a team in the Mexican LMFR-Pro, and they have left the door open for a potential return in the future, but it might not be under the Soles name. Considering how strong the team was on and off the field, there’s no doubt that the league wants to return to Hermosillo, but the big question is ownership. Right now, that’s about as much as we know.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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