Tag Archives: mls

Elk Grove Soccer Stadium: Cart Before The Horse?

The Sacramento Business Journal reports that this Wednesday the Elk Grove City Council will be asked to begin identifying up to 120 acres of land that could be purchased for construction of pro soccer stadium.

On the one hand, this is a great long term development for soccer in the area but the goal of the group behind it, Northern California Soccer LLC, is to bring in a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise.
A noble cause but something of a pipe dream – something akin to thinking that just because you build a racetrack, you’re going to get a NASCAR race. MLS wants expansion cities with a fan base that have shown they are willing to PAY to see soccer – as shown by the likes of Seattle and Portland – not just somewhere that has a lot of kids that PLAY soccer.

The current second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL) was also mentioned in the story, which would make more sense for Elk Grove, but given the recent co-operation agreement between MLS and third-tier United Soccer League (USL) Pro, it leaves the future prospects for the NASL on a shaky footing.

The Elk Grove plan also seems to be at odds with Warren Smith and partners, who have already lined up a USL Pro franchise for Sacramento and have chosen to play at Hughes Stadium starting in 2014. This is a college athletics venue not conducive to soccer and to thrive, the team would need a soccer specific stadium sometime in the near future.

So, we have one group building a team and no stadium. Another group building a stadium with no team.
There are plenty of soccer playing 5th graders in Elk Grove who could work out a logical solution…


USL Pro and MLS to Partner?

Information has emerged from the United Soccer Leagues (USL) Annual General Meeting that a proposal has been put forward for an agreement with Major League Soccer (MLS) to integrate the USL Pro and MLS Reserves League starting in 2013 with full integration in 2014.

Under the terms put forward their are a few scenarios:

– If an MLS city has a USL Pro team nearby, the MLS team will provide 5 players and pay their salaries.

– If there is no USL Pro team nearby, the MLS reserve side will become a new, permanent team in USL Pro.

– All USL Pro teams will have an MLS affiliate, except for Antigua Barracuda, who will continue to work with the Antigua & Barbuda national team.

The fact that the USL has not yet published the USL Pro 2013 schedule points towards these talks progressing beyond just a proposal.

With a new franchise coming to Sacramento in 2014 it points to a direct tie up with the San Jose Earthquakes, so don’t be surprised to see coach Frank Yallop or GM John Doyle poking around Hughes Stadium in the coming months…


Sacramento & USL Pro: Great Idea, Awful Stadium

The announcement a few days ago that the United Soccer League (USL) would again expand in 2014 with a team in Sacramento gave me both a sense of excitement and skepticism.

A definite positive is the fact that the ownership group is led by Warren Smith, founder of the Sacramento River Cats – the most successful (and best supported) minor league baseball team in the recent decade. His experience in building a sports organization from scratch will be invaluable over the coming months and his knack for attracting investors even more valuable in the years to come.

Another group, led by Fabian Nunez in partnership with Sacramento suburb Elk Grove, has been chasing a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise but that is a very tall order given New York City is a shoe-in for the next team and the other leading contenders (Atlanta and Orlando) both have lower division teams with an established fan base.

Warren Smith, however, is looking to create that fan base in Sacramento by starting with a team in a lower tier (USL Pro currently being the third tier in the US soccer pyramid) and building towards an MLS bid. This seems like a much more sensible idea and is the kind of approach that was successful in Seattle and Portland with the Sounders and Timbers. A Sacramento MLS   team would also be a natural rival for the San Jose Earthquakes, something the league is actively encouraging.

The ingredients for a solid fan base are here:

  • The area has a vibrant youth soccer culture
  • Many adults play in both indoor and outdoor amateur leagues.
  • Sacramento is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the USA with large numbers of people of Latino and European decent – who were brought up on the game.
  • The Sacramento Knights indoor team drew good crowds to Arco Arena from 1993-2001, averaging over 6,000 per game,

There is even a ready made feeder club opportunity with established amateur team Sacramento Gold FC, who play in the fourth tier National Premier Soccer League (NPSL).

My skepticism over the teams prospects lies in their choice of venue, Sacramento City College’s recently renovated Hughes Stadium. The 84-year old facility has hosted a huge variety of events but its layout is simply not good for soccer.

MLS learned very quickly that games need to be played in soccer specific stadiums and pushed their teams to build them. A big element in soccer is the atmosphere inside the ground – the high noise level, the chanting of fans and their closeness to the pitch. That last element is impossible at Hughes Stadium with its athletic track between the playing surface and the stands –  plus there is no viewing area behind the south goal and behind the north goal the seats are 100′ away!

Compounding the problem of creating a “soccer atmosphere” is the sheer size of Hughes Stadium which has a seating capacity of over 20,000 (in comparison the new Earthquakes MLS stadium will hold only 18,000). With the highest average 2012 attendance in the USL Pro league was at Orlando City with around 6,600 fans but the Los Angeles Blues could only manage crowds of around 600. Why would Smith choose to play home games in a cavernous stadium that will at best be only 1/3 full – and at worst practically empty?

Sure, the first few exhibition games will be packed – maybe even sell-outs – but for the long haul it seems to be a very strange choice. Hopefully it is just a temporary solution while the team raises funds for a permanent home elsewhere in Sacramento.

Despite my reservations I will be actively following, promoting and  commentating on Warren Smith’s endeavor over the coming months as I see it as a great step for soccer in the region.

Start practicing your chants and I hope to see you at a game!