Starting a semi-pro soccer team from absolutely nothing isn’t the easiest of tasks. It requires a million emails, hours of phone calls, contracts, lawyers, suppliers and a lot of sleepless nights.
“Start-up soccer” is a concept gaining momentum around the country as a growing number of communities are looking to break from the current mold of US Soccer and build a more intimate and organic soccer experience in their hometowns.
Due to the constraints of the US soccer pyramid (no promotion/relegation), you don’t start a semi-pro team for money or notoriety. You do it to create a vehicle for helping thousands of players in your community and to provide soccer crazy fans in your local area a team they can call their own.
That's exactly why this project was started.
I’ve been involved in soccer my entire life. It began in Illinois and carried to California.
During my travels as a player and coach, only a handful of communities I visited were equally as invested in soccer than Yolo and Solono counties.
Most of these soccer crazed communities had their own teams.
We didn’t and it made no sense.
In small corners throughout our country, Saturday nights are soccer nights. A quick YouTube search generates pages of videos showing towns across America drawing a thousand plus fans to intimate venues. These fans create an atmosphere complete with flags, drums, chants and flares that resemble a South American game rather than one in the US.
In response, these clubs reinvested back into their local communities, providing fans and players a chance at what they’ve been longing for: Opportunity.
American soccer has found itself in a sticky situation. We’ve thumbed our noses at the structure which produces global superstars and tried our own experiment that has no resemblance to the proven system practiced around the world.
What did we change?
In every single soccer playing country except the United States, you, and I mean YOU, can start a soccer team. With hard work, determination and sound planning, the amateur team you and your buddies started on a napkin can rise to the highest levels of world soccer.
For example, if you live in England, a structure exists so you can go from a pub team to the English Premier League (the most lucrative league in the world) by building a club from the ground up. Get to work!
This “open system” is based off merit (winning) and promotes its best teams and relegates its worst teams. The more you win, the higher you go. The more you lose, the lower you go. It’s an OPEN pyramid.
The movement within this pyramid is known as promotion and relegation, also known as ProRel.
Within ProRel, the stakes are much higher due to the threat of being dropped to a lower division. This fear drives clubs to construct better facilities, train better coaches and scout and develop better players. If clubs don’t improve, they get passed by. As a result, the game flourishes.
A picture of the ProRel pyramid in England can be seen below:
Now let's look at the US version of the soccer pyramid:
Unlike the rest of the world, the United States has a “closed system”.
The only way to enter our top flight is to buy-in. Nothing to do with merit (winning), only money (hello billionaires).
Our closed system was marshaled in by the US Soccer Federation (USSF) alongside Major League Soccer (MLS). It's the number one reason attributed to the current state of the game in America.
In order to have a closed system, two organizations needed to work together.
The first organization is Major League Soccer, our top division. Major League Soccer, is a single entity. They allow investors to buy into the league and in return, these investors gain rights to operate a team owned by the league.
Second is the USSF. The USSF is our countries soccer governing body. Its purpose is to uphold FIFA law and preside over the game as a neutral actor.
While a natural relationship exsits between the two parties, at no point should they be operating in sync to lock out competition, especially if that relationship breaks FIFA law and suppresses the game for the financial gain of a closed group of individuals.
However over the past 16 years, this is exactly what has happened.
The bond between the USSF and MLS took off under a man named Sunil Gulati.
Sunil Gulati is viewed as the Darth Vader of American soccer. He is the former President of the USSF who after a lot of resistance, decided not to run for re-election. This was due to the 2018 World Cup debacle.
Prior to being the USSF President, Sunil served as MLS’ deputy commissioner. This made him a close ally to leaders at Major League Soccer.
Under Sunil's watch, the USSF and MLS furthered a cozy financial relationship. As President, he pledged to Major League Soccer the USSF would make commitments on the commercial and competitive side so MLS would become the leader of soccer in America. An unprecedented step and idea frowned upon across the soccer spectrum.
As time went on, both Major League Soccer and the United States Soccer Federation needed each other to succeed but there was one big problem, the majority of MLS teams didn't (and still don't) make money. Some even labeled the league a ponzi scheme.
Sill, the price tag to buy into MLS kept going up. The most recent round was held at an astonishing $150 million dollars.
How did Major League Soccer get ownership groups to invest a significant amount of cash into a money losing venture?
Three words: Soccer United Marketing, commonly referred to as SUM.
SUM is the for profit marketing arm of Major League Soccer. They have marketing and TV deals all over the soccer landscape, including with MLS and US Soccer Federation.
SUM is currently valued at over $2 billion and with each passing year increases in value.
The only known way to get a piece of the company is buying your way into MLS, as the owners of SUM are MLS investors. Knowing this, a groups $150 million investment looks more like a buy into a marketing company rather than a soccer team. It also produces a conflict of interest so obvious it's almost comical.
Where is the USSF in all of this?
After all, the reason they exist is to stop a situation exactly like this from occurring.
What if I told you the CEO of Soccer United Marketing was also the Commissioner of Major League Soccer and sat on the USSF Board of Directors?
Regulation alarm bells would be shooting off, right?