By John Archibald, Resolution Sports
USL I-League Announced at Press Conference in Rochester
Rochester, N.Y. (Wednesday, July 21, 2010) – When originally founded in 1986, the United Soccer Leagues (USL) started as a professional indoor soccer league. Now with a multiple-tier men’s platform and women’s league, the USL announced today that it will re-enter the world of professional indoor soccer with the launch of the USL I-League.
“One of the most exciting aspects of the I-League is that it will provide existing USL professional outdoor teams with the ability to operate on a year-round basis,” USL President Tim Holt stated. “Additionally, the teams would have the opportunity to retain many of their established players for the entire year.”
The USL made its venture back into indoor soccer official today when the league held a press conference in Rochester, New York, also proclaiming that the Rochester Lancers would be the inaugural franchise of the newly founded I-League. It is expected that the next two cities to join will be Syracuse and Hampton Roads, Virginia, while additional markets are currently in negotiations with the USL as well. The hope for the I-League is to launch in November of 2011 with a championship game to be held the following March. The USL also said today that it is looking to have the I-League broken down into a five division alignment, with the proposed regions being in the Northeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-South and Southeast.
“Today’s announcement was made possible by a lot of hard work and dedication from many people, but it’s only the first step in what will ultimately become an exciting new entertainment option for soccer fans throughout the United States and Canada,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis remarked today. “With the direction and leadership provided by USL’s experienced management team, the USL I-League is destined to become a huge success while providing many new opportunities for players and fans alike.”
What is unknown at this time is the impact that this announcement will have on the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL), which has existed in some form for over 30 years. At its height, the MISL sold out venues across North America, but it has seen significant problems sustaining franchises since the debut of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996. Prior to the launch of MLS, the MISL regularly boasted the best soccer players in the country. The league is currently planning its upcoming season of play with five returning teams – the Baltimore Blast, La RaZa de Monterrey, Milwaukee Wave, Philadelphia KiXX and Rockford Rampage - with one additional expansion franchise called the Missouri Comets set to join the league when it resumes play this November.
Saying there is room for two leagues to battle for the top spot in indoor soccer is a bit naive, but a merger of the two leagues could make significant sense for both sides. The MISL has long been the winter spot of many outdoor players who spend their summers playing in the USL, while it now would make sense for those players to stay in market if their outdoor team had an indoor counterpart. The USL also plans to apply for affiliation with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), which would give it a bit of instant credibility. What the MISL has on its side is history, with a small group of long-running franchises on its roster. If the two were to battle for the attention of the indoor soccer fan, they could possibly cancel each other out. However, if the two leagues are willing to negotiate, indoor soccer may have just gotten itself a pretty significant bit of good news today.
One other bit of turmoil that would likely need to be resolved before the negotiating between the USL and MISL can even begin would be the split between the USL and the North American Soccer League (NASL). Three of the member clubs of the USL’s top division broke away to form the NASL in 2009, and the two groups have yet to see eye-to-eye on basically all matters. The two leagues first planned to play completely independent of one another until the USSF stepped in and essentially demanded the two sides find a way to work together. The temporary solution was the USSF Division 2 Professional League in which the two leagues serve as separate conferences. A resolution between the two groups beyond this season has yet to be formally discussed or achieved.
Most nay-sayers out there are quick to blast any concept of something beyond MLS even attempting to play the game of soccer in this country, but the I-League could possibly be a successful venture for the USL and indoor soccer fans alike. No question it would take a massive amount of work from a lot of people, but the opportunity for a front office staff and players of a USL franchise to now have a year-round initiative could find its place in the American soccer sports scene. Expectations would need to be tapered a bit, but there are certainly a number of people who became overly excited about the possibilities that were created today.
The nay-sayers will blast me and anyone else who would even suggest the I-League has a shot at making it, but negative people and bandwagoners have never had any influence upon my life. Quite frankly, I don’t hear them speak. I just hope those who will ultimately direct the I-League have that same attitude, and maybe, just maybe, the volatile world of American soccer just got the great news today that I want to think it did.