By Michael Lewis
I’ve covered the beautiful game for a few decades and never, never have I seen such a more volatile offseason in U.S. Soccer or U.S. soccer.
It’s been one major headline or controversial scenario after another, whether it was a national bombshell — the U.S. national team failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in eons — or on the local end — the Boston Breakers folding only months before its season kickoff.
Some older fans might point out 1985 was a pretty pathetic year for U.S. soccer. The original incarnation of the North American Soccer League just went out of business and the national team was eliminated in contention for Mexico 1986 in the CONCACAF semifinal round.
It certainly was bad and devastating enough, losing a first division soccer league and failing to reach soccer’s promised land in only a matter or months, but given the soccer interest between now and then, well, there is so much more at stake today.
And these earth-shattering events has touched the big five — U.S. Soccer, Major League Soccer, United Soccer League, North American Soccer League and National Women’s Soccer League.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the pieces that have brought us here:
No World Cup for U.S.
If Nov. 19, 1989 will be remembered as the international door opener for American soccer, then Oct. 10, 2018 forever stamped soccer’s day of infamy. If you have forgotten, the U.S. qualified for its first World Cup in 40 years in 1989, as it defeated Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain, 1-0, on Paul Caligiuri’s goal. In Couva, Trinidad last Oct. 10, the exact opposite transpired as the Americans, who needed only a tie to reach the 2018, failed to in a crushing 2-1 defeat to a Soca Warriors team that already had been eliminated. It was the first time in 32 years, or since the 1986 World Cup that the red, white and blue would be sitting back home as spectators. The absolute shock and failure of finishing fifth in one of the easiest confederations opened up a huge wound as American soccer took a few huge steps backwards. What transpired in Couva will be not forgotten, lamented, analyzed and talked about for years, if not decades. This massive failure has set the tone for the rest of what has transpired since.
U.S. Soccer presidential election
U.S. Soccer has never seen anything like it, at least not in modern times. Eight candidates are vying for president in wake of the World Cup failure. On Oct. 9, there were two — incumbent Sunil Gulati and Steve Gans. On Oct. 11, the list was about to grow long and lose Gulati, who decided not to seek a fourth term. Not reaching the World Cup opened the door for a field that includes eight candidates. They include four former U.S. internationals — Eric Wynalda, Kyle Martino, Paul Caligiuri and Hope Solo, two U.S. Soccer insiders — Kathy Carter and Carlos Cordeiro and attorneys Michael Winograd and Gans. I just wonder how things would be different if the U.S. managed the equalizer in Couva.
NASL uses the USSF
Regardless had the U.S. reached Russia or not, the NASL would have filed suit against the USSF. The federation decided to rescind NASL’s Division Two status for 2018. The league filed a preliminary injunction against the USSF and an anti-trust lawsuit as well. We’re still waiting for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to render a decision. An expedited hearing was held Dec. 15 and here it is a month and a half (46 days) later. Regardless what transpires with the injunction requests, NASL officials said they will pursue the anti-trust suit.
Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt wants to move the MLS original team to Austin, Texas, unless a downtown stadium is built. Needless to say, Columbus soccer supporters have been in an uproar for several months and created #SaveTheCrew. MAPFRE Stadium, the first soccer-specific stadium build in Major League Soccer in 1999, is miles out of the city’s center at the Ohio Fairgrounds. And it has few of the anementies of the modern stadiums that have been built since. Last week it was reported that Precourt was talking with Columbus leaders and with local investors who want to keep the club in town. Hmmm. Perhaps this crisis will have a happy ending. Only time will tell.
Rochester Rhinos go dormant
Like it or not, soccer franchises come and go in the United States, but this news was stunning, disappointing and sad. Once considered the model minor-league franchise, the Rochester Rhinos were forced to go dormant for the 2018 USL season. On Nov. 15, Rhinos co-owners David and Wendy Dworkin set a Nov. 30 deadline to raise $1.3 million or the franchise would cease operations. “We are at a crossroads, and need to find a path that will bring sustained success for the Rhinos,” David Dworkin said. The Rhinos plan to hold a series of USL matches at the stadium. However, city officials sent a letter, dated Jan. 19, to the Dworkins, saying their decision to not field a team this season puts them in default of their lease as operator of Capelli Sport Stadium. The city, which owns the facility, has given the owners until midnight Feb. 28 to vacate the facility. I can’t make this stuff up.
Boston Breakers fold
It’s never a happy story when a team folds. It’s horrible when it closes shop just before the kickoff of a season. Some two months before the start of the NWSL season, the Boston Breakers went belly up this week. The Breakers competed in all three women’s soccer leagues — the Women’s United Soccer Association, Women’s Professional Soccer and the NWSL. The league held a dispersal draft Tuesday. And this comes after FC Kansas City folded late last year as new owners — Utah Royals FC had the rights of KC’s players transferred to the expansion team. Two teams that go to the great soccer league in the sky within a matter of months. Not an encouraging sigh for the NWSL, which will have nine teams for 2018.
I hate to say this, but what’s next?
The U.S., Canada and Mexico are pushing a united bid to host the 2026 World Cup. Its only opponent is Morocco. If the World Cup doesn’t return to North America, it would be devastating news, especially after the U.S. lost the 2022 bid to Qatar.
That couldn’t happen, could it?
Well, no one expected the U.S. to fail to reach Russia in 2018, did they?