It is a rare year for the MLS in 2016 as it features stability. The same 20 teams and the same 20 stadiums. But don’t get used to it as the league continuously expands. On the stadium front, the only notable item is up in Toronto, where TFC embarks on a long, season-opening road trip again as their home, BMO Field, sees Phase 2 of their renovation completed. A new canopy will cover much of the seats and the field is set-up to host the Argonauts. Otherwise, there are two ugly name changes to speak of as PPL Park changes to Talen Energy Stadium and Sporting Park switches to Children’s Mercy Park. And as for Don Garber’s baby (NYCFC), they remain stuck in Yankee Stadium for the foreseeable future.
In the NASL, we find the 2016 season +1 on the franchise ledger. The Atlanta Silverbacks are gone as that city prepares for the MLS, while in San Antonio, their soccer is now in the USL as the new Spurs ownership group tries to cozy up with the MLS connection. In Miami, an ownership group is skipping right past David Beckham’s stadium trouble and they have brought Miami FC into the league as they will play in FIU Stadium. They will be the closest team to the Puerto Rico franchise that also begins in 2016. A La Liga team, Rayo Vallecano has invested in an NASL franchise as Rayo OKC will play at the 6,000-seat Miller Stadium, located at Yukon High School. All of these non-American soccer nicknames drive me nuts. What does Rayo, Real, United, Sporting, FC, etc. have to do with American soccer? It’s a trend that I wish would stop, but keeps on going full speed ahead. I like to see Portland Timbers, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Richmond Kickers. Anyways, side tangent over, it is interesting that Oklahoma City will now have two teams as there is also the Energy, who enter their third season in the USL. It just shows you convoluted the American Soccer Pyramid is.
Another trend I hate is that of MLS teams owning these developmental squads in the USL. I ranted about this last year and how we are veering away from communities having a team and showing civic pride, but now it is about big brother more than ever. Swope Park Rangers will play in Kansas City, while Orlando City B (how original) will use a complex in Melbourne. There are at least two local teams joining: Rio Grande Valley FC and Bethlehem Steel. The Steel is a great nod to the historic club team back in the 1920s that dominated the first US Open Cup competitions. Their logo is great and so is the name, but everything else, not so much. The team doesn’t even have a website (you have to go the Union’s page) and they’ll play in Goodman Stadium, a horrible place for soccer with it’s far away seating sections. Down in the Rio Grande Valley, they are doing things right and are set to open RGVFC Stadium. Progress looks slow based on Twitter Pics, but hopefully the place is ready in a month as it looks like it will be good. Lastly, the Austin Aztex had stadium issues and are sitting out this season.
I may sound like a grump here, but as great as the growth of soccer in this country is, there are many frustrations developing at the club level…..New MLS teams starting in big cities where they will get lost in the professional landscape (Atlanta, Minnesota), not to mention them likely playing in football stadiums….The NASL wrongly insisting it is a first division….The NASL having such a strange Spring and Fall season schedule with weird playoffs….The MLS taking over the USL as we lose our “minor league” identity and growth in other cities….Two lower-division teams in the same city?
Not wanting to end on a sour note, let’s finish with some amazing stuff that truly makes me smile as a soccer fan. There are remarkable things going on at the very bottom of the soccer pyramid in the amateur-level NPSL. Grassroots teams have been developed by fans and the story of both Detroit City FC and Chattanooga FC is awesome. I highly recommend checking out both links…almost brings a tear to my eye.