USL to Operate Major Indoor Soccer League

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7-10 Clubs Expected for 2011-12 MISL Season

Editorial by John Archibald

As someone who spent four years in one form of the Major Indoor Soccer League or another (yeah, we took it to the Xtreme in the second year of the New Jersey Ironmen), today’s announcement of a merger by the MISL with the United Soccer Leagues comes with much pleasure. It is a move that I wanted to happen before the doors were shut on the Ironmen years ago, but I am definitely happy to see the indoor game take a huge step in the right direction.

“We are obviously pleased to bring the top indoor soccer league in North America into the USL family,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said in an official release. “We announced several months back that we would be operating a professional indoor soccer league in November of 2011, and this agreement with the MISL allows us to move forward with our plans. Combining the experience and tradition of the MISL with USL’s team services and league management resources will ensure the MISL reaches new levels of success.”

Baltimore Blast owner and MISL Chairman Ed Hale also weighed in on the announcement. While he has his critics, Hale is about the only guy who has found a way to make money and keep an indoor franchise operating for the long-term.

"We are all pleased to join USL, which has many strong leagues and numerous franchises," he remarked. "This will give us a platform for future expansion of our indoor game throughout the country."

For years, professional soccer players could earn a pretty decent annual salary by spending the winters playing in the MISL and spending the summers outdoor in either the USL’s top or second level league. The only problem was the overlap between the end of the MISL season and the beginning of USL camps, which caused some players to miss out on that opportunity or some MISL clubs to lose some top players who had to report to their USL teams. Another issue that often came up was that players were constantly traveling throughout the year because it was rare that the same city would have both an indoor and outdoor franchise.

With this merger announcement, those problems look to be put to rest for the most part. The USL has now merged their two tiers into the USL-PRO, which battles the North American Soccer League for the second step on the professional soccer ladder in this country (behind Major League Soccer, obviously). With professional franchises in operation on either the indoor or outdoor front, it becomes somewhat enticing to owners to complete the indoor/outdoor cycle and add the missing component. Any team that is able to offer an annual salary due to having both formats would certainly become more appealing to any player - not only for more money and stability’s stake, but for the chance to establish a sense of home for himself and his family. And let’s be honest. A problem with a lot of these teams is they disappear in the offseason. With year-round play comes year-round branding, which one has to hope would lead to a bigger following of supporters. Easier said than done, but it is something I see as being a pretty accomplishable challenge.

The MISL currently has seven teams for the upcoming season, which will kick off in November. Joining the Blast, Milwaukee Wave, Missouri Comets and Wichita on the MISL side are clubs in Norfolk, Rochester and Syracuse on the USL front. The Omaha Vipers and Chicago Riot played in the 2010-11 MISL campaign but were missing from the merger announcement. Additional franchises are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, and the two-time MISL Champion Philadelphia KiXX have been rumored to be returning after a one-year hiatus.

Only time will tell if this is the positive step it appears to be, but this announcement strikes me as something that makes sense in a sport that often leaves you scratching your head. While I know the pessimists will blast everything about the merger, I encourage real fans to shut out their negativity. In my years of dedication to soccer, I have found that many of the same people who claim to be fans of the game are often the same people who keep the sport down. Block them out, support your local teams and help make a difference. And when you make your market a soccer success story, all of the pessimists will come sit next to you and claim they were always fans. Maybe then they can actually learn what it means to be a true supporter of the sport.

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