Detroit and Tampa Bay: USL’s Trump Cards?

Few markets are as under-served, yet as rich in soccer potential as Detroit. Yesterday, USL’s leadership decided to add Detroit as a first division club, bringing the grand total of teams

The nation’s 8th largest TV market and was a successful host during the 1994 World Cup. Dan Duggan, who owns the Michigan Bucks, one of the most successful PDL teams has formed meaningful community partnerships that will make the team’s foray into the  second highest USSF sanctioned professional division successful. You can listen to my interview with Dan Duggan here. The interview conducted this past May, discussed the possibility of the Bucks making such a move.

Detroit has been preparing for such a move for a long time and is a market, that despite the recent volatility in the auto industry ready for big time professional soccer. USL has used trump card in the battle with the TOA : expanding to a big TV market, with a committed owner and a history of incredible success in both PDL and the US Open Cup. The promotion of Detroit also disarms some of the TOA’s argument that has been floated about big markets versus small markets. Detroit is a massive market and they have put their faith in USL.

Other news to come from the USL meetings in Beaverton (the home of Nike) is that Baltimore and Edmonton will also be added to the USL First Division next season along with previously announced Ottawa. I can report the Baltimore entry will be Crystal Palace and Ottawa will be part of the same organization as the current PDL team, Ottawa Fury. Edmonton’s ownership is a mystery.

The two previously announced expansion sides, Tampa Bay and FC New York were in attendance at the meetings. Tampa Bay carries one of the most historic names in American soccer, the Rowdies, and is being run by one of the greatest American players of the NASL generation, Perry Van Der Beck. Despite being an active member of the TOA, Tampa Bay has appeared to have made peace with USL, whose administrative offices are after all just down Dale Mabry Road from where the Rowdies and Mutiny used to play.

The success of these meetings could put the breakaway ideas of the TOA on the defensive. Vancouver and Montreal have an out plan with MLS, but Carolina, Miami and Minnesota have to be seriously concerned that USL’s aggressive plans will grind any momentum the TOA had to halt. (As it stands, Montreal may not be all the way in with the TOA, anyhow)The three clubs who have been scrubbed from the USL website risk not being able to field competitive side in the 2010 season, based on recent developments.

Miami, which is owned by the mega football promotion company Traffic Sports likely has the contacts and connections to find its way out of this hole. But do Carolina and Minnesota? Only time will tell if they can crawl back to USL and take a dose of humble pie, or work with Miami, and the two Canadian clubs to create a breakaway drawing in some current PDL or NPSL sides. That possibility is still on the table, although losing Tampa and seeing USL promote Detroit makes the TOA’s big market vs small market argument less relevant.

Any concerns about USL’s existence going forward can now be quelled. It is the TOA and its member  clubs that now find themselves both on the defensive and in the unenviable position of having to quickly change the terms of the debate otherwise risk falling into oblivion.  For lovers of the beautiful game in Alberta, Michigan, Ontario, Maryland, Florida and on Long Island, the TOA dispute should matter little. USL Professional Soccer is coming to a stadium near you.