Part two off our off-season filler takes a look at three things USL got wrong this past season. All of these are things that were preventable and need to be corrected or avoided going into 2016. You’ll also notice that everything we list here can be summed up in the idea of ‘being more professional. For as much as the league took positive strides to look more professional, now is the time to make more than superficial changes and operate a more professional league.
1. Schedule Release – Last season, the league schedule was released on February 2. That provided only seven weeks between knowing the schedule and the season opening. Many of our members, as well as fans from around the league, were already scheduling vacations and other activities for the summer months and then having to plug in the league dates. To say this was a massive disservice to the customer is an understatement. For fans on the fence about purchasing season tickets, not knowing the schedule was a major factor in not purchasing. Furthermore, the late schedule release also meant that Highmark Stadium had to hold off on booking other events until they knew what days the venue would be available. That’s a ton of potential cash the club probably let walk out the door because the league couldn’t get a schedule put together.
We believe a schedule not being released before January 1 is unacceptable. The team is offering incentives to purchase season tickets before the new year. It would be nice if people knew how many of those games they could attend before plunking their money down.
Most likely, the hangup centers around teams that don’t control their home fields and they have to see what days they will be able to host matches. While it is an issue, clubs that control their venues shouldn’t be held hostage by clubs that are tenants. Set up a reasonable deadline to submit open dates for your venue and push the schedule out.
2. Who is on the Roster? – We’re going to combine a couple seperate roster complains under one section, so follow along.
With the evolution of the league ushering in a combination of MLS2 teams and independent clubs, there has to be limits in place with loaned players. The MLS2 teams essentially have two full rosters, or more, of players to choose from. Normally this isn’t an issue, until you get to a weekend where the MLS team doesn’t have a match but the USL side is in action. Then, we see a flood of MLS contract players being ‘loaned’ to the USL team for a day. This is essentially having half the league operating under a seperate set of resources than the other half. ‘Have’ and ‘have nots’ to be sure. We conceed the idea that MLS/USL clubs should have the right to move players up and down, but the idea that they can constantly yo-yo between the leagues is disingenuous to the notion that USL is a seperate professional league. We would love to see language added to the league loan policy that allows a player under contract to an MLS or NASL club to be loaned to a USL team only once in a 30 day period. If the loaned player stays with the USL side for multiple weeks, great. That means they could possibly go back to the parent club and then back to a USL team right away since 30 days or more had passed since the original loan was made. However, it will stop a players from going back and forth multiple times a month. This is a fair compromise between MLS sides wanting to get playing experience in USL without making a farce of the loan system, which is what has certainly happened the past two seasons.
We also believe that USL must start to observe and respect MLS/NASL suspensions and not allow players suspended in the parent club’s domestic league to serve that suspension by playing USL matches. By continuing to allow this to happen, they are devaluing the integrity of the league by being a safe haven for suspended players to still play. Respect yourself by respecting other leagues’ suspensions.
The final point in our roster complaints deal with the roster freeze. If you were unaware, USL imposes a roster freeze a couple weeks before the regular season ends. Anyone not on the USL roster at this time is unable to play for a USL team for the remainder of the regular season or playoffs. Our complaint isn’t with the roster freeze, it’s with the lack of communication. There should be a news release, similar to the discipline reports, the day after the roster freeze listing roster for the remainder of the season. Let the paying customer know who is and is not eliagble going into the playoffs. We specifically asked the league for a copy of NYRBII’s roster prior to their playoff match against the Hounds. The league apparently didn’t feel like sharing that information. Without publicly releasing all the rosters, we can’t really be sure the freeze is being respected as the MLS2 sides bounce players back and forth all the time (see roster complaint #1). Show the rosters and give the fans the assurance that there isn’t any funny business going down.
3. The home field BS that went down between Orange County and LA Galaxy II – The 2015 USL playoffs didn’t go by without a very controversial decision being made. After the opening weekend of the playoffs, LAII, the 5 seed, were set to travel down the road to play top seeded Orange County. OC, who is a tenant at UC Irvine’s stadium, were not going to have access to field for the playoff game. (To be fair, we’re not looking to give a pass on teams that don’t control their own field) OC made arrangements to host the game at a nearby high school stadium’s turf field, with seating for 4,000. The league even accepted this and publicized the change in location on their playoff brackets graphic. Then, a few days before the game, word got out that there would be another change in venue. Sure enough, the next morning it was announced that the game would be played at LAII’s home, Stub Hub Center. Just like that, the home field advantage that OC earned by winning the West was gone. Sure enough, LA won.
The disappointing thing in all of is was the league not being honest about what was happening. Did they cave to LA crying about having the play on turf? Did the league have a sudden change of heart about their #1 seed hosting at a high school stadium with football lines? Was OC given a little paper incentive to play nice with this change? We don’t know. The best the league cared to share was “This change has been agreed to by all parties in order to provide the best possible conditions for both clubs and the fans”. We’re sure OC fans were thrilled with the change. Why couldn’t the league be more open and honest about the factors that went into making the decision? Lay all the facts out there and let people make their own value judgments about the decision. By sweeping this aside as they did, it left all of us to speculate. It all came off incredibly shady and in no way professional. We want more professional.
Next week we turn the crosshairs to the beloved and look at three things the Hounds got right this past season.