The Charleston Battery announced its opponents for the 2014 Carolina Challenge Cup Friday morning in an email to season ticketholders, and the three MLS teams who will travel to Blackbaud Stadium in February to kick of the 2014 Battery season are each interesting in several ways.
The Seattle Sounders have been a perennial MLS power since moving up from USL, and remain in the hunt for the 2013 Supporters’ Shield heading into its weekend match with Portland. But with its mid-season signing of US National Team Captain Clint Dempsey on a transfer from Tottenham, the already star-studded Sounders jumped to the top of the league’s soccer-celebrity list. The Sounders feature three former Battery players and it stands to reason that with Dempsey and two other likely World Cup players on their roster, they’ll be a huge draw.
This will be their first CCC appearance.
On the other hand, D.C. United is the Battery’s most active partner in the CCC, compiling an 8-3-4 record in Charleston in February. They’ve suffered through a horrid MLS season, but salvaged some pride by winning the U.S. Open Cup. These two teams have a lot of history, and while calling it a rivalry might be a stretch, there’s some pride and tension there. D.C. fans travel well for this tournament, and could add significantly to the atmosphere.
Finally, the Houston Dynamo aren’t the sexiest team in terms of celebrity players, but they’re kind of blue-collar MLS royalty under Dom Kinnear, consistently making the playoffs and earning spots in the Championship match in 2011 and 2012. Not only that, but Houston came to last year’s CCC and was the Reserve team that the Battery played in a home-and-away series in the first year of the MLS-USL PRO cooperation agreement.
And while Charleston is usually associated with the Vancouver Whitecaps (another 2013 CCC participant) in most affiliation scenarios, both Houston and Seattle remain unaffiliated as of this morning. Seattle, however, says it wants to start its own USL PRO franchise, possibly in Tacoma.
First blush reaction? Even though Houston wasn’t mentioned by any of the 75 fans who responded to the Battery’s question “Which teams would pick for the 2014 CCC?” the Sounders were clearly the top team people wanted to see. With Seattle coming and DCU likely to bring a bunch of fans, this field looks like it’s going to draw a mixture of loyal Battery fans, general US Soccer fans and die-hard DC supporters. If this field doesn’t massively out-draw the 2013 lineup (Vancouver, Chicago and Houston) in a World Cup year, I will be beyond shocked.
This looks like a win for the franchise, and I’m already looking forward to it.
This story will be updated if I receive new information… dc…
11 a.m. Update: The official announcement is up on the Battery site.
11:05 a.m. Update: Quick email Q&A with Battery President Andrew Bell…
CHSSOCCER: What went into the negotiations with Seattle? Was there some kind of open-ended agreement between the clubs that allowed the Battery to bring in the Sounders for a future date? I’ve heard different rumors on this from different people. If such agreement existed, what was its history? And did the signing of Clint Dempsey figure into the timing?
AB: We know Seattle quite well going back to their days in USL1 and the A-League and we’ve been trying to get them here for a game for a few years. It has been difficult for them because of their schedule but fortunately its worked out so they can come for the tournament next February.
CHSSOCCER: Which was the last team to sign on for next year’s field?
AB: I think it was Houston, but I might have it mixed up!
CHSSOCCER: DC United has been your most active CCC partner. What does adding DCU to the field bring to the Battery and the event?
AB: They are probably the MLS team that we have played most over the years, and I think because of that it’s developed into something of a rivalry. They have always brought fans with them, which we have done our best to encourage ,and we always look forward to seeing them all.
CHSSOCCER: That’s two years in a row with Houston, which was also our Reserve League/USL PRO partner in 2013. Vancouver is the Battery’s most obvious potential alignment partner, but is there a special relationship between the Battery and the Dynamo as well? Or is that just incidental?
AB: Houston is another team that we have known for a long while and we have a great relationship with their staff. I’m not sure why we got picked to play them in the cross-over games this year but it ended up working out well for us!
CHSSOCCER: Is it more the norm that the Battery approach MLS teams about a CCC berth or that MLS team approach our front office?
AB: We try to be proactive about it which is why we’re able to announce it so soon. We do get inquiries from other teams but I think this year we had already been talking with all three clubs, so we have actually have had the tournament set for a while.
CHSSOCCER: Given the history of Battery players going to Seattle and the sharing of information about players like Amadou Sanyang, how would you describe the relationship between the two franchises? You have old USL ties to Seattle and Vancouver, but what can you say about this interesting pattern of a team from the Southeast being so identified with teams from the Pacific Northwest?
AB: We know Seattle well and have a good relationship with their front office and technical staff. Mike (Anhaeuser) has helped them the past couple of years with their Las Vegas combine and of course we’ve had the exchange of players, which has been mutually beneficial. I think because of this a lot of people assumed that we would affiliate with them but from very early on it was clear that that would not be the case. I guess it’s a coincidence that the two MLS teams that we are linked closest to are in the PNW but that probably says more about the quality of those two clubs and their ownership groups than anything else. Also having known us from the old USL days, they know that we try to do things the proper way and I think it gives them the confidence to keep working with us.
CHSSOCCER: Given the amount of expansion activity that’s either confirmed or being discussed across MLS, NASL and USL PRO between now and 2015, are you and your fellow club executives talking about how this will increase competition for players and affect the way you go about building teams in the offseason?
AB: I think that a potential affiliation with an MLS side is the biggest factor in that process because clearly it will have a big impact on the players that we can keep or that we want to bring in. Competition is good though and hopefully we can continue to raise the bar in terms of player quality in our league and in MLS.
CHSSOCCER: How important is a successful CCC to your ability to meet your financial and team goals?
AB: Its part of our current business model so we will do our best to make it as successful as possible.