Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Making sense of the CSA's recent actions

In Canadian soccer, a lot of what happens internally in leagues and associations never seeps out to see the light of day outside of executive level meetings and a lot of the decisions made are based primarily on petty personality clashes and empire building rather than any notion of what is good for the actual participants in the sport at an amateur level or for the players, coaches and fans at the pro level. Any inconvenience caused on their part by bizarre executive manoeuverings seems to be of no consequence to many amongst the powers that be. You only need to look at what is happening in Alberta right now for the prime example of that, but that's just the visible tip of the iceberg, unfortunately. When there is a fierce debate going on between the power brokers only small snippets of information tend to be released, which fit the agenda of an insider at one moment in time. The partial picture that emerges on that sort of basis can leave people on the outside wondering just what on earth is going on, when there is a complete lack of credible Bernstein and Woodward style investigative journalism (not a cheap shot aimed at anyone just the reality of the situation) to put the pieces together and provide the full context.

I have put together a chronology of the key snippets of info that have leaked out over the past few months so that they can be read sequentially. The motivation behind recent actions of the CSA that appeared a bit bewildering when viewed in isolation starts to become a lot more obvious when this info is placed together like this and with a bit of reading between the lines a much clearer picture of what has being going on behind the scenes emerges:

Sun 8th Aug, The regular It's Called Football podcast contains an interview with Scott Mitchell describing the Hamilton Tigercats' NASL expansion bid {35:35 to 49:40} and with Dominic Di Geronimo of the CSL describing his league's future expansion plans. {16:45 to 27:00} Sharply contrasting views about the future of the sport in Canada are expressed.

Sun 8th Aug, Victoria Times Colonist reports on a friendly between Victoria Highlanders and FC Edmonton to gauge interest in a move out of PDL and into pro soccer.

“There is no doubt the Victoria organization can play pro in the NASL. The stadium needs to be bigger and other things need to be done, so it’s not going to happen overnight. But they have a good owner [Alex Campbell Jr.] and good GM [Drew Finerty], and that’s a great sign as they move forward.”

Wed 11th Aug, USSF announces tough new D2 level sanctioning requirements casting doubt on the future viability of that tier of the sport in North America.

The much-anticipated USSF D2 meeting on Monday took place in New York without much fanfare or negotiations according to sources involved with teams that participated. The meeting was in general amicable and US Soccer did allow discourse.

Thurs 12th Aug, CSL announces desire to expand to BC and an exhibition game to be played on the 27th at Swangard Stadium between Toronto Croatia and a top local amateur side, Athletic Club BC.

The Canadian Soccer League, a 13-team loop based in Ontario, will check out B.C. expansion possibilities this month in a push to become a true national league — ultimately with anywhere from 36 to 48 teams.

Wed 8th Sept, USL announces formation of USL Pro and pulls out of competing with the USL for D2 level sanctioining for 2011.

Team owners and league officials are meeting in Tampa, Florida today to lay the groundwork for the 2011 debut of USL PRO, which will be governed by team owners and present the highest level of competition in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean outside of Major League Soccer (MLS).

Wed 15th Sept, London Free Press reveals that FC London of PDL are contemplating turning pro in the new USSF sanctioned D3 level USL Pro.

There may be a new professional soccer team in London's near future. And while there are a lot of things that have to happen before then, owners of FC London in the United Soccer League's PDL division recognize that at times you have to get bigger in order to survive. Ian Campbell, majority owner of the two-year-old PDL team, has been part of meetings that will lead to a restructuring of the USL.
Tues 28th Sept, BC based Tony Waiters becomes a consultant to the USL after being involved on CSA pro soccer committees.

“I’m delighted to be joining USL,” Waiters said. “With the infrastructure USL has in place our best young players, both male and female, have a proven ladder for development. The USL pyramid is something that, hand on heart, I can recommend to Canadian and other North American organizations. With USL, Canadian teams will be able to not only look East and West, but North and South as well. It’s truly a continental opportunity.

Wed 29th Sept, Inside Minnesota Soccer reports that the NASL have initiated its bid for D2 level sanctioning from the USSF with the Montreal Impact and FC Edmonton as part of six core franchises that meet stringent new requirements.

The six teams that were included in the bid all meet the financial requirements of the new USSF D-2 standards. The teams included were: Carolina RailHawks, FC Edmonton, Miami FC, Montreal Impact, FC Tampa Bay and the Puerto Rico Islanders.

Wed 29th Sept, CSA vice-president Victor Montagliani criticizes MLS over domestic content rule changes in the Vancouver Sun and calls for a domestic league.

He feels the CSA should seriously consider launching a new league — with a high Canadian-player content — to develop young players that will move up to a higher level. Montagliani said countries that have done well at the international level recently are those whose national governing bodies have been involved in player development.

Fri Oct 1st, The CSA's Victor Montagliani describes his vision for a new D2 level national league with a U-23 format. {35:11 to 54:48}

Fri Oct 15th, The CSL's Dominic Di Gironimo discusses the league's expansion plans for a second time on an It's Called Football podcast and mentions that major expansion into Quebec will be announced during the half-time of the league's championship game at the end of the month with "several teams" from Quebec and eastern Ontario said to be joining in 2011. {1:28 to 15:20}

Sun Oct 31st, CSL announces 2011 expansion plans with no BC or Quebec teams announced.

CSL commissioner Domenic Di Gironimo announced also that teams from Ottawa, Pickering (Pickering Power), the Kitchener area and Erin Mills in Miississauga have received conditional acceptance into the league for 2011.

Wed 3rd Nov, Ben Rycroft reveals that a CSL expansion team in Quebec City is pending approval due to a hold up at the provincial association level.

Two sources within the CSL say the group, headed by Jean Sebastian Roy – a partner and VP of marketing for the Quebec Kebs of the Professional Basketball League (PBL), is moving ahead with plans to bring a second semi-professional soccer team to the province of Quebec for the 2011 or 2012 season....The only hurdle now standing between Quebec City and a CSL team is approval by the local and provincial bodies – and that’s where it gets sticky. A second group, made up mostly of members of the Quebec Regional Soccer Association, recently applied to the Quebec Soccer Federation for approval to pursue Professional Development League (PDL) franchises in the region. They were looking to create a conference of fourth division soccer in the province....

Mon 15th Nov, A few days prior to the key USSF meeting in Toronto during the MLS Cup weekend, which was going to determine the fate of the NASL's D2 sanctioning bid the CSA announces a one year moratorium on sanctioning entry of additional Canadian teams into the NASL and PDL and forms ad hoc committee to explore the formation of a new D2 level national league.

The Canadian Soccer Association has announced that it has established an Ad hoc committee to examine the feasibility of a Canadian Professional League. While this committee completes its feasibility study the Canadian Soccer Association has passed a moratorium on the sanctioning of any further applications for Canadian franchises in USA based leagues until 30 September 2011.

Tues 16th Nov, Ben Rycroft reports that an Ottawa group is rumoured to be funding an NASL team in Minnesota that is required to bring the NASL's number of franchises up to the USSF's minimum requirement of eight and also to ensure that there are American teams in at least two timezones.

Two sources confirmed that Ottawa investors agreed to the funding under the provision that they would then receive an NASL franchise for 2012 - or would be able to move the NSC Minnesota Stars franchise to the Canadian capital for 2012 if additional financial support was not found for Minnesota by that time...Either decision has now been thrown into question with the news of the CSA’s moratorium on sanctioning any new Canadian D2 teams. While the moratorium is to end in September 30, 2011, it is believed additional sanctioning will not continue past that date as the CSA pursues its goals of creating a new national league.

Mon 22nd Nov, The USSF provisionally sanctions the NASL's D2 sanctioning bid so FC Edmonton and the Montreal Impact have a new USSF sanctioned league to play in next summer.

The North American Soccer League (“NASL”) was provisionally approved as the Division II men’s outdoor professional soccer league by the Board of Directors of the United States Soccer Federation (“USSF”) at its meeting in Toronto, Canada on November 21, 2010.  The provisional nature of the sanctioning is consistent with the USSF’s bylaws which require approval by the National Council of the USSF.  This approval is expected to be forthcoming at the USSF Annual General Meeting in February, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Tues 23rd November, CSA's national league plans lambasted in the Vancouver Sun by Bob Lenarduzzi of the Whitecaps and Alex Campbell of the Victoria Highlanders.

Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said that in a perfect world, the concept of a Canadian soccer league is “wonderful.” “But unless they have a plan,” he said, “it seems ludicrous to stop teams from playing (in U.S. leagues). As long as players are playing at a good level, does it matter whether they’re playing in a Canadian league or a North American league?” 

Thurs 26th November, Aaron Davidson reveals in an It's Called Football podcast that both the Whitecaps and Impact will retain membership even after joining MLS and talks of possible reserve team links and states that the identity of a 2013 expansion team will be revealed by the end of the year. {0:00 to 25:49}

Sat 4th Dec, the Ottawa Citizen reports that the sanctioning moratorium will have no effect on that city's bid for an NASL team.

I spoke with CSA General Secretary Peter Montopoli and he assured me that, when the Ottawa franchise asks the association to sanction it to join the NASL, "we are not looking to stop anything. There will be no withholding." So we can rest easy. 

Mon 6th Dec, Ben Rycroft reveals that Dominic Di Gironimo had stepped down as CSL commissioner

Canadian Soccer News has learned that Dominic DiGironimo has stepped down as the Canadian Soccer League commissioner effective immediately.

Mon 7th Dec, Winnipeg Sun reports that there will be a press conference on Monday 10th to announce PDL expansion into Winnipeg.

A press conference has been called for Monday to reveal the details of the WSA Winnipeg under-23 team that will compete in the well-respected United Soccer League’s Premier Development League at the Winnipeg Waverley Complex. Winnipeg will play a 12-game regular season in a division that will include Thunder Bay, Kansas City, Des Moines, Iowa and others this summer.

So what have we learned? Clearly the chaos caused by the bitter USL - NASL split and D2 sanctioning battle has been viewed as a window of opportunity for a major push behind the scenes for everything below MLS to be brought back under the CSA umbrella in sanctioning terms with some of the statements by the CSL's commissioner on ICF podcasts appearing to point to his league very much wanting to control that process. That push appears to have been successfully headed off at the pass, at least for now, thanks not only to the USSF's sanctioning of the NASL but also to the influence and actions of persons unknown inside the loop, who made the case for the continued use of USSF sanctioned leagues. I suspect, based primarily on the snippet about soccer association politics getting in the way of the sanctioning of both PDL and CSL teams in Quebec City, that an individual with strong family connections to the cheese trade has been the main mover and shaker in the latter category despite having had almost nothing to say on the record about any of these issues in the mainstream media.

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