How USL-Pro Is Shaping Up

USL-Pro is expecting to be the "highest level of competition in the United States outside of Major League Soccer" according to USL CEO Alec Papadakis. But, more than likely, in 2011 at least, the USL-Pro Division will be considered by U.S. Soccer as a stabilization of U.S. 3rd Division soccer. While the NASL (with more established clubs- such as the Puerto Rico Islanders and Montreal Impact) will be considered Division 2 soccer in 2011.

This is not set in stone. However, that appears to be the proposed setup of U.S. Soccer in 2011 considering the tougher standards that have been set to be considered a Division 2 club; as well as the fact that the 8 teams looking to compete in the NASL have a better overall shot of reaching that standard. Seven out of the eight teams qualify as D2 clubs in 2011, with the Puerto Rico Islanders likely to receive an exemption in 2011; even though the Islanders do not meet all the standards this season.

In comparison many of the newly formed clubs in USL-Pro would have a difficult time reaching that standard (such as FC New York, the Puerto Rican clubs- Sevilla FC Puerto Rico and River Plate Puerto Rico, Barracuda FC, the returning Wilmington Hammerheads, etc.).

Also, the USL-Pro's most established clubs consist mainly of former 3rd division clubs anyways (USL-2), such as the Charleston Battery, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers, and Wilmington Hammerheads. Further, with former USL-1 clubs such as Vancouver and Portland moving to MLS in 2011 and the Puerto Rico Islanders moving to the NASL, the only USL-Pro teams that were 2nd division club's last season are the Rochester Rhinos and newly formed Orlando City (which competed in USL-1 as the Austin Aztex from 2008 to 2010). Additionally, the Dayton Dutch Lions, who were ready for and announced a move up to USL-2 (3rd division soccer) in the Summer of 2010 ended up in USL-Pro when that league was dissolved.

So, it is likely that U.S. Soccer will classify USL-Pro as the 3rd Division in 2011. Not that this won't make for exciting and interesting soccer, as despite the classification the USL-PRO League should be as compelling, if not more compelling than the NASL League in 2011. As USL-PRO, will have twice the ammount of expected teams in 2011 (16 compared to the NASL's 8). Further, USL-Pro may have more compelling matchups overall, with possible playoff matchups such as Sevilla Puerto Rico (who play a Spanish style) possibly squaring off with the Dayton Dutch Lions (with their Dutch philosophy) at the end of the 2011 season.

Here's a breakdown of the USL-Pro's 13 Current teams and 3 proposed teams. As well as what to expect from each club:

Orlando City SC
New 2011 club, relocated from Austin as the Austin Aztex to Orlando as Orlando City
Owners: One of the better funded clubs with respectable ownership-
English majority owner Phil Rawlins is a board member of English Premier League club Stoke City.
Another English owner, Brendan Flood, is a board member on English Championship club Burnley.
A third owner, Dan Williams, is a successful American businessman.
Affiliate/Partner club: Stoke City of English Premier League
Team Manager: Adrian Heath. More than likely the best manager in USL-Pro in the 2011 season. The midfielder had a successful club career in the top flights of England (especially with Everton, Stoke City, Manchester City, and Burnley) with an overall 559 caps and 112 goals.

Heath has also managed English clubs Burnley, Sheffield United, and Coventry City before taking over with Austin Aztex/Orlando City. So, Heath has some wonderful managerial experience as well.

Adrian Heath in his Everton days

League in 2010: USSF-2 Pro League, Division 2 in American Soccer Pyramid
Finish in 2010: 2nd in USSF D-2 Pro League, Quarterfinal Playoff Finish. Which made Austin Aztex/Orlando City one of the top clubs in 2nd Division American soccer last season. A drop down to mainly 3rd division, and worse opponents like the proposed Carribbean clubs should make Orlando City a top competitor in 2011.
Attendance in 2010: Austin Aztex/Orlando City had a healthy attendance of 3,733 in Austin in 2010 that a lot of their other USL-Pro opponents would kill for. Which makes you wonder a little about the move to Orlando City, especially considering soccer's failures in the state of Florida previously. Hopefully the decision does not bite Phil Rawlins and company in the behind.

Florida is known for Disney World, the beach, spring training, and Miami clubs. It's not known for it's sports enthuisasts.

Players: Looks like the Austin Aztex will keep their team mainly intact in the move to Orlando City. Forwards Jamie Watson and Maxwell Griffin(who both tallied 10 goals a piece in 2010) return to anchor the front. The defense is anchored by talented players such as Leonard Griffin (who played in MLS), and Haitian national player Mechack Jerome as well as Jamaican national player Kieron Bernard, the midfield is run by a young Brazilian miastro Sullivan Silva, and in net is a solid keeper in former Tigres product/ Mexican international Miguel Gallardo. Jay Needham is also another solid American defender with 50 appearances with a first division Norwegian club. So, Orlando City should have one of the better, established lineups in 2011's USL-Pro season.

Orlando City's solid lineup will include the Brazilian Sullivan Silva and the MLS seasoned Leonard Griffin.

Expected Finish in 2011's USL-Pro: 1st or 2nd. Have to be one of the favorites with a solidified roster, solid ownership group, and an experienced coach on and off the field.

Rochester Rhinos
Owner: Rob Clark
Affiliate/Partner club: None
Team Manager: Bob Lilley, Managed Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps from 2002-2007. Scored 73 goals in 173 appearances in indoor leagues with the Harrisburg Heat
League in 2010: USSF D-2 Pro League, 2nd Division
Finish in 2010: 1st in USL division of USSF D-2 Pro League and 1st overall
Attendance in 2010: 6,464 average attendance, wonderful soccer specific stadium probably helps with attendance. The Rochester Rhinos are one of two clubs with a legitimate soccer specific stadium in the USL-Pro league.

The Rhinos have strong attendances and a nice home advantage at Marina Auto Stadium

Players: A strong roster includes experienced central defender and captain Frank Sanfilippo holding down the defense with nearly 200 USL-1 caps since 2005. The midfield includes talents such as Jamie Franks, former Toronto F.C. player Tyler Rosenlund, and former F.C. Dallas regular Aaron Pitchkolan (who had 68 appearances and 5 goals for the MLS club from 2005-2009).

MLS experienced Pitchkolan will lead the Rhinos midfield into the USL-Pro 2011 season.

Expected finish in 2011's USL-Pro: 1st or 2nd. The champions of the USSF Second Division regular season and USL conference champions have much easier competition to contend with this year overall. Therefore, a repeat placing should be expected.

Charleston Battery
Owner: Englishman Tony Bakker
Affiliate/Partner Club: None
Team Manager: Michael Anhaeuser, former Battery player with 115 caps for the club in the mid- 90's. Retired after a bad ACL tear in 1999. Came on as an assistant in 2004 and has had the head job with the Battery since 2005.

League in 2010: USL-2, Third Division in U.S. Soccer
Finish in 2010: 1st in USL-2 regular season and playoff champions.
Attendance in 2010: 3,641 average in 5,113 soccer specific Blackbaud Stadium

Blackbaud Stadium and the Battery play host to three MLS teams in a tournament at their stadium every preseason. Last year's opponents included D.C. United, Toronto F.C., and Red Bull New York.

Players: The Charleston Battery have been led by South African Stephen Armstrong since 2006 in the midfield. The former Watford, D.C. United, Kansas City Wizard, and Columbus Crew player has been a veteran rock in the Battery midfield. Armstrong has 111 appearances and 25 goals for the Battery. Other players of note include Irishman Colin Falvey who has made a career in the leagues of Ireland and New Zealand before joining up with the Battery. Mike Zaher is a good young American defender who played well for the Battery in 2010 and has 10 appearances with MLS San Jose.

Expected finish in 2011 USL-Pro Season: 1st-3rd. I would expect the Battery to finish behind a team with a little more punch in their roster like Rochester and Orlando City. But, the Battery are the only USL-Pro team that won everything they set out to win before their season, as they won both the regular season and their playoffs. That kind of focus might put them on top.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Owner: Former team manager Gene Klein
Affiliate/Partner Club: Everton F.C. of English Premier League
Team Manager: Former Riverhounds player and first ever player drafted by the Riverhounds in 1999, Justin Evans. Evans played in Poland, made 30 appearances in MLS, then finished out his career in second division U.S. soccer with over 80 appearances for the Battery and 33 for the Riverhounds before becoming assistant and than head manager of Pittsburgh.

League in 2010: USL-2, U.S. Soccer 3rd Division.
Finish in 2010: 3rd in USL-2 and Semifinal appearance in playoffs where they just lost out to the eventual champions, the Charleston Battery.
Attendance in 2010: Around 900 average. But, averaged around 1,500 for their playoff games (pictured below)

Pictures from the Semifinal game against Charleston

Players: The Riverhounds are led by some award winners in 2010. Japanese midfielder Shintaro Harada was a MVP finalist and won most valuable defender of USL-2, forward Jeremy Deighton won rookie of the year in USL-2 with six goals in 13 appearances, and Hunter Gilstrap won goalkeeper of the year in USL-2. The Riverhounds are led in defense by Yugoslavian Nikola Katic and captain Nathan Salsi.

Harada leads the Riverhounds from his defensive midfield position. Harada has played in the J-League with many caps for clubs such as Yokohama Marinos and ALO's Hokuriku.

Expected finish in 2011 USL-PRO Season: 3rd or 4th. The Riverhounds have a young team that will just get better. In a new division that won't be that much different skillwise from USL-2, I would expect the Riverhounds to find themselves around 3rd place again.

Dayton Dutch Lions F.C.
Owners: Mike Mossel & Erik Tammer. Tammer was a former striker, mainly in the Dutch Erstedivise, with 314 overall appearances with 153 goals. Mossel was a former player as well. Both own Dutch Sport Managing businesses in Holland.
Affiliate Club: FC Twente, Dutch 2010 League Winner & Champions League club in 2011
Team Manager: None currently. Was former Ajax legend and Dutch national player Sonny Silooy. But, a bumpy and sometimes inconsistent season that found the PDL favorites finishing in 3rd place in their division and out of the PDL playoffs probably led to the club and Silooy parting ways. The Dutch Lions 2010 finish was slightly disappointing considering that the Dutch Lions were the only team in their division with professional players (Oscar Moens, Hans van de Haar, Geert den Ouden, among others) on their roster opposed to the rest of their PDL Great Lakes division opponents in 2010, who had entire roster's consisting of college players.

After the Silooy departure, it will be interesting to see if the Dutch Lions (who at times like to be flashy) decide to go with another big, expensive name to lead the team into the USL-Pro 2011 season or if they go in house with Ivar van Dinteren. van Dinteren, who played with the Dutch Lions in 2010, has led the Dutch Lions youth program since Silooy parted ways with the club and some rumors tap him as a more affordable replacement. van Dinteren has play 279 professional games, with most of them coming with Erstedivise sides FC Zwolle and Helmond Sport.

League in 2010: Professional Development League, U.S. Soccer's 4th Division
Finish in 2010: 3rd behind Forest City and Michigan Bucks, Great Lakes Division of PDL.
Attendance in 2010: 1,274 average (6th best in PDL), Dutch Lions will look to build on their attendance with more knowledge on promoting and a more competitive and interesting schedule.

Players: The Dutch Lions are likely to return Oscar Moens, the former Dutch national team keeper and PSV player was a rock in goal for the Dutch Lions; Moens was one player worth the dosh. Other players that were overwhelming consistent include George Davis IV and Bret Jones, both could likely expect to be called back in. Some other Dutch Lion, Dutch players who could find their way back in are possibly Johan Wigger and possibly a couple others. Bas Ent would be on the Dutch Lions wish list, but Dutch reports have him inking a 3 year deal with Toronto F.C.

I expect most of the 2010 Dutch Lions roster to get an invite to camp to at least battle for their spots, but I also expect a decent ammount of changes in 2011.

Expected finish in 2011's USL-PRO League: 3rd-5th. The Dutch Lions likely have a bit of rebuilding to do. But, their owners are ambitious, they'll add more talent to their roster, and should compete in USL-Pro right away regardless. Depending on who they bring in from Holland they could jump up to 1st or 2nd.

Richmond Kickers
Owners: Rob Ukrop, heir to Ukrop Supermarket Chain and professional soccer player, mainly indoor but included a stint in 1996 with the New England Revolution.
Affiliate club: None
Team Manager: Englishman Leigh Cowlishaw who played his entire footballing career in Richmond, Virginia. First with the University of Richmond and then for the Richmond Kickers with 152 caps and 20 goals since 1993. Cowlishaw is still rostered and the 39 year old still makes the oft appearance for the Kickers. Cowlishaw has been the player/manager for Richmond since 2001.

The Richmond club which has been around longer than all MLS teams, is known for their stability.

League in 2010: USL-2, U.S. Third Division.
Finish in 2010: Second in USL-2 regular season, reached the final and lost against Battery in playoffs.
Attendance in 2010: 2,022 average at The City Stadium, pictured below. The Kickers use the ground solely at the moment, therefore it could be considered soccer-specific in some manner.

Players: Richmond is led in defense by German defender Sascha Gorres with 139 appearances and 14 mainly header goals. Brazilian playmaker Gerson dos Santos anchors the midfield. Richmond is led up top by a couple of Brits in Englishman Matthew Delicate (who has been on fire since rejoining the Kickers in 2009 with 24 goals in 39 appearances) and Scot Ross Mackenzie who usually does the feeding for Delicate.

Matthew Delicate has had the Delicate touch for the Kickers as of late, bagging 24 goals in 39 appearances since 2009.

Expected finish in 2011 USL-Pro Season: 3rd-6th. Kickers have a strong lineup but lack a little pizazz and creative punch; other than the Brazilian Dos Santos. I see the Kickers finishing either right in front or right behind the Riverhounds in 2011.

Charlotte Eagles
Owners: Pat Stewart, the Charlotte Eagles are also a division of Missionary Athletes International (MAI), an organization which undertakes sports ministry to share the message of Conservative Christianity through the environment of soccer. Hence, the cross in the crest.
Affiliate/Partner Club: None
Team Manager: Mark Steffens, head coach since 1997

League in 2010: USL-2, 3rd Division in U.S. Soccer
League Finish in 2010: 4th in USL-2 and did not qualify for playoffs.
Attendance in 2010: 911 on average

Players: Columbian Jorge Herrera, formerly of Hurcan and Millionarios, is the Eagles creative force in midfield with 22 goals in 61 appearances. Herrera can link up with new Uruguayan forward Gustavo Bentos (who only has over 500 caps and over 200 goals at the age of 33). Zimbabwe striker Patrick Daka leads things up top as well with over a 100 caps.

Columbian Jorge Herrera is the creative force in the Eagles midfield, that will need more creativity to compete in USL-Pro.

Expected finish in 2011 USL-Pro League: 7th or 8th, maybe as low as 10th. A weaker club overall out of the USL-2 group. Not real ambitious, not putting a lot of money into attracting crowds, a good finish every few years. Probably have had the same coach for too long as well, since 1997, despite only three good seasons.

Harrisburg City Islanders
Owners: Eric Pettis
Affiliate/Partner Club: None
Team Manager: Bill Becher

League in 2010: USL-2, 3rd Division in U.S. Soccer
Finish in 2010: 5th, since arriving on the scene the Harrisburg City Islanders have never finished better than 3rd in the 3rd division. But, have made a lot more noise than a lot of other 2nd Division or 3rd Division teams in the most important competition usually for these clubs- the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. In 2007, 2009, and this past 2010 season the Harrisburg City Islanders have knocked off a MLS club to reach the quarterfinals of that competition.
Attendance in 2010: 1,711 average attendance

The most well-known City Islander, Cepero played for Red Bull New York in an MLS Championship against the Columbus Crew in 2008.

Players: Danny Cepero is the highest profile player on the City Islanders. The goalkeeper played for Red Bull New York in their MLS Cup final against the Columbus Crew and scored a goal from 80 yards away on the Crew earlier in that season (video below). 29 year old Englishman and Blackburn Rovers youth product David Schofield anchors the City Islanders midfield with 112 caps and 6 goals since joining the club since it's inception in 2004. Other than those two, not a lot of significant names on the Islanders

Expected finish in 2011 USL-Pro League: 8th to 10th, the City Islanders finished last in USL-2 last season, and the addition of a couple more tougher squads from the second division along with the Dayton Dutch Lions won't help their standing. It isn't good when your highest profile player is your goalkeeper. However, the City Islanders have been giant killers against some MLS clubs taking a nap. If some of the tougher clubs in USL-Pro take a nap against them as well, they could get results.

Wilmington Hammerheads
Bill Rudisill, one of two investors from North Carolina and the other from Chicago, Illnois that bought the club and are looking to re-instill it's success in 2011. The club had to take a year off last year because of the USL barring Wilmington under owner Chuck Sullivan, who wasn't meeting the requirements of USL such as not playing players since mid-season.
Affiliate/Partner Club: None
Team Manager: Englishman David Irving, former Everton and Oldham Athletic player. Also played for the NASL Ft. Lauderdale Strikers

League in 2010: None, but formerly of USL-2 in 2009
League Finish in 2009: 1st in USL-2 and Semifinal playoff finish.
Attendance in 2009: 2,000 fans on average a game, 5,000 for playoff games.

Players: A bit unknown after a year off in 2010. Many of their former players have moved on to other clubs and it will be tough for Wilmington to reacquire most of them. Therefore, the Hammerheads have to rebuild again.

Expected finish in 2011 USL-Pro League: 10th to 12th. This could go really good for the Hammerheads after a year off if they could get a lot of their players back. If so I see them finishing ahead of less ambitious Charlotte and Harrisburg City. However, I don't see that being so easy. So, I think Wilmington struggles a little bit in their first year back and get it together in 2012.

Sevilla Puerto Rico
Owner: Spanish businessman Alberto Santiago Vega
Affiliate/Partner Club: Sevilla of La Liga
Team Manager: Michael Megaloudis

League in 2010: Puerto Rico Soccer League, Not part of U.S. Soccer
League Finish In 2010: 2nd
Attendance in 2010: A few hundred. Apparently trying to build a new stadium of 13,000 in the small town of Juncos with only 40,000 people. Here is the rendering below. Don't know how these clubs will operate in U.S. 3rd division, outside of Puerto Rico's only big market (San Juan- 2.5 million people) where even Puerto Rico Islanders struggle to get 5,000 people.

For more information on the stituation on the new USL Puerto Rico clubs, click on this story. Better hope Sevilla Puerto Rico is getting cash from Puerto Rico Spain.

Players: 32 year old Cuban striker Alberto Delgado is the only notable face with a short stint in Colorado in 2004 with 13 caps and 1 goal.

Expected Finish in USL-Pro 2011 League- 11th to 14th. They might be better than the one true U.S. expansion club, F.C. New York. Have had the most success out of the Puerto Rican clubs being possibly gained.

F.C. New York
Owners: Jo-Ellen Trieber and Doug Petersen
Team Manager: Englishman Matt Weston, former Ispwich and Manchester United player

Jo-Ellen Treiber, Doug Petersen, and company revel in new franchise.

Team news: New franchise, will play at Hofstra University's 13,000 stadium in Nassau County even though the team's emblem is representative of Queens; Where the club was intended to play.

Expected finish: Will do better than most of the Puerto Rico clubs just because their an American club, with a better pool of players and more resources.

Barracuda FC of Antigua
Owner: Antiguan Gordon Derrick
Team Manager: Scot Billy McEwan; who played for Hibernan, Blackpool, Peterborough United, and Rotherham United. And managed Sheffield United, Rotherham United, and Derby County before coming to Barracuda F.C.

Attendance: Had one team match in April 2010 against Puerto Rico Islanders that drew 1,000 fans to their stadium below.

Team News: Also had two friendlies scheduled with the Montreal Impact in 2010 that they had to cancel because of financial difficulty. Respected Montreal Impact owner- Joey Saputo, whose club is MLS bound in 2012, accused the Antiguan club of a serious lack of professionalism for cancelling the friendlies.

Good omen there for Barracuda joining USL-Pro.

Expected Finish in USL-Pro 2011 League: Who knows, 12th to 15th.

Club Athletico River Plate Puerto Rico
Owner: Argentinian Steven Alvarez
Affiliate/Partner Club: River Plate of Argentina Primera
Team Manager: Argentinian Walter Zermatten, former Argentinos Juniors player and became River Plate Puerto Rico coach after playing for the club in 2009.

League in 2010: PRSL, Not in U.S. Soccer
Finish in 2010: 1st
Attendance in 2010: Best attendance ever was 3,000 but probably 500 to 1,000 in San Juan play in Estadio Sixto Escobar (below)

Very nice website for the club, seems like River Plate funds them well.

Players: 34 year old Argentinian striker Juan Sara leads River Plate's attack. The former Dundee United, Gallipoli, Huracan, FC Locarno man has 4 goals in 2 games since joining recently. He's joined by Argentinian/Guatemalan Claudio Rojas who at 36 has played for River Plate of Argentina and many Mexican clubs. Rojas also has 24 national caps for Guatemala.

Expected finish in 2010: 6th to 10th. River Plate is plus 27 in goal differential and leads the PRSL with 18 points at the moment to the Islanders 13 and Sevilla's 10. They could make some noise in the USL-Pro if they keep getting Argentine's from River Plate.

Other clubs expected to join:
Indios de Mayaguez of Puerto Rico

Pali Blues of Pacific Palisades, California

Puerto Rico United of Puerto Rico

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