USL commissioner Francisco Marcos answers questions from SoccerTimes readers.
There are 127 teams broken into three menís divisions, and two womenís leagues. Additionally, there is the burgeoning Y-League for youth boys and girls.
The A-League is the menís Division II, one step below Major League Soccer, followed by the Division III D-3 Pro League and Division IV Premier Development League.
There are two divisions in the womenís W-League: W-1 and W-2.
Below are Marcosí answers to questions submitted by SoccerTimes readers:
Question: How important do you feel soccer-specific stadiums are for MLS and USL? Do you feel that they would be more easily accepted if they were built within a soccer complex where the local communities can get more hands-on use of the facilities?
Marcos: This is an issue for all of professional soccer. For U.S. Soccer, over the next decade or so, probably the single, most important component for soccer to grow in this country as a professional business is stadiums. If soccer is going to achieve the mythical, religious kind of nature status that it is known for around the world, then we need to have stadiums that we can call our own.
Question: Is the U.S. Open Cup a tournament that is finally coming of age? How important to USL was Rochester winning it in 1999?
Marcos: The Open Cup has evolved by having all 12 Major League Soccer clubs participating in the national round of 32, which is something that we have been fighting for for the last five years. Obviously the giant-killing acts that Cup soccer is known for the world over truly make soccer the great equalizer in every country. Our results this year continue to prove that we have quality teams top to bottom.
Question: Why are there so many teams in the A-League? Isnít there a great disparity between the financial backing of teams at this level, which manifests itself on the field?
Marcos: When we started the A-League out of the merger four years ago with the old American Professional Soccer League, we felt that we needed to give as many teams a chance as possible. I keep referring to the A-League as an accordion league, where that accordion can vary somewhere between as few as 16 and as many as 32 teams. Realistically, we will probably find our level in the next year or two somewhere around 20-24 teams that feel that they have a chance to make their mark on the North American pro soccer scene. This season, there has been a good level of parity on the field . . . Rochester is not running away with it, neither is Minnesota and at the bottom, even though they haven't won yet, Connecticut has been competitive in every one of its matches.
Question: How do you view the USL's role in developing players in the country?
Marcos:We have players that are now playing on the national team, like C.J. Brown and Chris Armas in Chicago and Richie Williams with D.C. United and Tony Sanneh, who is in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin. We have proven that we can produce not just players and coaches, but administrators at all levels. Our move toward making the Premier Development League a under-23 league is an attempt to go back to a league for young players who have an opportunity to be drafted by an A-League or MLS club. Close to a third of the players currently on MLS rosters have at one time or another played in the USL system.
Question: Has a formal promotion\relegation system within USL been considered? Could a system ever include MLS?
Marcos: The USL structure allows for the D3 Pro League Champion to be promoted to the A-League, provided that the team to be promoted meets criteria set by USL and the USSF, and there is space available. The structure also allows the W-2 champion to be considered for promotion to W-1. A formal relegation process may also be added at a future date. It's not a realistic situation to contemplate in the U.S. as far as promotion to Division I (MLS). That's just the harsh reality of soccer as a business today.
Question: With the stronger A-League sides proving their viability, isn't it time to approach Major League Soccer about a merger?
Marcos: Our relationship with MLS is, at the very least, a very healthy one in the respect that we know we need each other and we know that we respect each other. We need to keep fostering the relationship and making it better. Some tweaking needs to take place, but no matter where it goes, it needs to keep going forward. I believe now that no matter what happens in the future, Division I soccer will always exist in the U.S. because if anything ever happened to MLS, we will be there. This is something that never existed in the days of the NASL.
Question: Is there any chance of seeing more teams from Canada in the A-League in the near future, specifically in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa?
Marcos: There is always the potential for the A-League to expand into other Canadian markets. There is also a possibility that the A-League could include a Canadian division. This is something we hope for and our trying to convince both the Canadian teams and the Canadian Soccer Association of going forward with.
Question: Why does the A-League play a one-game final and not a home-and-home series like in other rounds? Has a neutral site for he championship game been considered?
Marcos: There are very few leagues worldwide that have a two-leg final, but at the same time there are travel and television considerations. Marketing a one-game final, builds greater excitement for the match. The importance of having one of the markets actively involved is crucial in maximizing the exposure and attendance associated with the match.
Question: What are the requirements for placing a team in he A-League, D3 Pro League, PDL or W-League. Who should be contacted?
Marcos: To enter a team into USL, one should contact the corresponding league manager. The current franchise fees range from $7,500 to $250,000, while minimum stadium capacities range from 1,000-5,000. The other varying factor is the amount of travel that is required.
Question: How does a player try out for the PDL or other USL leagues?
Marcos: Each team in the USL system conducts its own tryouts and should be contacted directly. Most teams prefer to receive player resumes. Contact information for each team is available on our web site at www.unitedsoccerleagues.com.
Question: Why is the Super Y-League geared toward 14- and 15-year-olds rather than older youth players, such as U-17s and U-19s where there could be a natural transition between the youth level and college and pro leagues?
Marcos: The Super Y-League began last season with a U-14 and U-15 division and has expanded to include a U-16 division for the 2000 season. We began the league so that the youngest players could be with us for the longest time. The plan for the Super Y-League is to have girls and boys age groups ranging from U-14 to U-18 with 12 regions nationwide and over 1,000 teams. Next year, we plan to add a U-17 division and maybe even U-18, but for sure, we will have each in place for 2002. We will stop with U-18, because we feel with the PDL becoming U-23 entity, more college players will enter this league.
Question: Has the Y-League been successful in developing young talent?
Marcos: The Super Y-League gives teams an opportunity to develop young talent by providing a higher level of competition in the United States. It is USL's expectation that these players will eventually advance into not only the professional leagues of USL, but also onto MLS and even national teams. Leagues like the Y-league are essential in providing league-type of competition for youth players, as opposed to playing in high-level tournaments here and there during a season.
Question: Does the (indoor) I-League still exist? If so, what are he plans for its future?
Marcos: We are keeping the entity alive with teams who play in individual tournaments during the offseason. We intend to have teams eventually form an I-League again in the near future as a method of marketing and simply as an offseason training option.
Question: Will the USL have future involvement in the indoor game in the U.S.? If a merger between the two indoor leagues WISL and NPSL happens, is it possible that new league might join the USL?
Marcos: If a merger of these two leagues should occur, we would look to developing a relationship that is similar to that which we possess with Major League Soccer. We do not, however, intend to ever have a major indoor league.
Question: Why is there such a great effort to Americanize the game in the United States? Isnít the American audience large enough and sophisticated enough to support the game the way it is played around the world?
Marcos: For a long time, the feeling was that American fans wanted to see a winner. This season, USL has opted to allow games to end in ties after 20 minutes of sudden-death overtime. The historic move is an attempt to see if Americans are ready for ties. Now, the only major difference we have in our game is the bonus point, which awards a point to a team that scores three or more goals in a game regardless of the outcome. We believe that over the past season and a half, this system has been successful in encouraging teams to play more attacking soccer. It's important to note that the world is changing and is beginning to understand that the game needs to changing. We simply realized that changes in the game were underway.
Question: Will the A-League expand into Portland, Ore., for the 2001 season?
Marcos: The proposed Portland franchise will enter the A-League in 2001 and I believe that they will probably have every chance to duplicate Rochester's success. We believe that the ownership and management of this group will have a very good chance at being one of the A-League's most successful franchises.
Question: Has a Maine franchise been considered for the league?
Marcos:Discussions have been ongoing with a group in Maine for some time, however the lack of a facility has prevented a team from playing there. We have actually sold the franchise rights to Ed Anderson of the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League. Anderson will have a team when he can find a stadium.
Question: Why is it that the PDL is not in Texas, a state with an MLS team, possibly a second in the near future, and several high-profile players in the league? Is the cost of membership too high?
Marcos: There has been talk with several groups in Texas, as well as the surrounding area. With the addition of Louisiana as a provisional franchise this season, there may be a possibility of a Texas division in the near future. We do believe that Texas has every possibility of being a full division.