I’m gonna to be off the soccer beat for a couple of days while I pay some bills with freelance assignments and repair work, but there’s still plenty to talk about from the weekend.
Like, for instance, somebody got a little bitey over in the EPL… Don’t you wonder if Brendan Rodgers called a team meeting afterward and told the Liverpool players “This is why we can’t have nice things.”
Also, just in case you were off wandering around behind the little animals all weekend and not reading this website, the Charleston Battery got their first win of the season (here’s the game story and here’s the requisite game notes from Sunday — go read them, and then Tweet your friends. No, seriously, do it. We need the traffic.), but let’s put that in context with a ….
USL PRO Weekly roundup
Even though the USL PRO regular season began on March 23, this past weekend was the first with all teams in action.
On Friday, Rochester picked up a road point in a o-o draw at Charlotte, despite being out-shot 11-4 on the road.
One night later, the Rhinos demonstrated that the bottom of D.C. United’s roster is better than the bottom of New England’s roster, at least when they square off at Richmond with the New England boys on short rest. The Kickers, DCU’s affilate, beat the Rhinos, the Revolution’s affiliate, 4-1 on Saturday. BTW, there’s more about Kickers/DCU below…
Orlando City bounced back from last weekend’s disconcerting 0-1 road loss at Los Angeles by taking a 3-2 win in their home rematch against the Blues. Jamie Watson. who absolutely obsessed Battery fans may remember from his one appearance for Charleston on loan back in 2009, led the way for the Lions with two goals and an assist.
The Blues finished up their Florida visit at VSI Tampa Bay FC Sunday night, but ended it on a blue note, losing 2-3 to the Alphabet Soup Boys in Plant City.
Harrisburg took a 2-1 road win over the Colorado Rapids Reserve squad. So much for the theory that down-roster MLS players are inherently better than an average USL PRO team.
Of course, Antigua lost at 0-2 at Wilmington on Friday and 0-4 at Charleston on Saturday, a two-day stretch in which opponents out-shot the Barracudas 41-10. In their three matches so far, the Barracudas have been outscored 0-8.
On the bright side, Antigua has a very nice national anthem.
And finally, one of our favorite players from the Battery’s 2013 preseason, Gibson Bardsley, picked up right where he left off in Dayton Saturday, registering five shots and a goal in the Dayton Dutch Lions’ 2-1 season opening win over Pittsbugh. Bardsley couldn’t quite nail down a spot on the crowded roster here, but he scored the Lion’s first goal of the season despite playing a man down from the 28th minute. The outnumbered Lions broke a 1-1 tie in stoppage time for the winner.
Bardsley led Dayton in scoring in 2012, and when the roster situation in Charleston broke against him, the staff here released him early enough to return to his previous club.
This week’s USL PRO schedule features Phoenix FC at the Real Salt Lake Reserves tonight. Orlando City visits Charlotte on Tuesday, and then there’s the usual full slate of Friday-Saturday-Sunday matches.
This time it’s winless Pittsburgh playing back-to-back road games, first at Charlotte on Friday and then at Blackbaud Stadium on Saturday.
Dayton pulls double duty too, first at VSITBFC on Friday, followed by Orlando on Saturday.
Wilmington does the West Coast circuit, visiting Los Angeles on Friday, traveling on Saturday, and then playing at Phoenix on Sunday.
The league table looks a little silly at the moment, since the Blues have played six matches and Dayton and Wilminton only one. Harrisburg City, Charlotte and Charleston have each played twice.
But while we’re on the Battery…
So the match-up wasn’t great. And there was an element of frustration even with the 4-0 score, given all the opportunities that slipped away. But in retrospect, it was probably a fairly memorable event.
The championship rings, the relentless attacking, Colin Falvey‘s palpable sense of relief when we chatted briefly on the field during the fireworks display. And then the scene on the pitch after the match, with players and coaches and fans and media all mingling together in the smoky, noisy darkness, all the artificial distinctions and barriers blurred. Our club experience here in Charleston won’t ever rival the Portland game-day scene that converted me to soccer, at least not when it comes to intensity and scale, but the small-market, we’re-all-in-this-together vibe on Saturday seemed spontaneous and real.
You expect the fans to welcome the players back after the six-month off-season. But many of the veterans and several of the new guys hung around out on the pitch long past the minimum requirements of good public relations.
You don’t get that kind of informal interaction between athletes and fans as your franchise makes its way up the pyramid. Even in places where the supporters’ culture reaches out to the players, most of those interactions are going to be mediated. Players are wise to be wary. Front offices have to sweat security concerns.
But Saturday, we had it all. A great way to open the 2013 season.
Meanwhile, in MLS…
RYAN RICHTER STARTS IN TORONTO: Former Battery man Ryan Richter got his first MLS start Saturday in the Reds’ 1-1 home draw against Houston. Last week he went 83 minutes at right back in relief of the injured Darel Russell against Philadelphia, his hometown team and the first stop on his professional career.
Richter generally looked pretty good, and figured in his club’s lone goal. It won’t show up on the score sheet, but it was Richter’s low pass into the penalty area that initiated Toronto’s scoring sequence in the 58th minute. Houston disrupted the possession, but when Toronto’s Jeremy Hall recovered the ball he found enough space to put a shot past Tally Hall for the 1-0 lead. Yet in what’s becoming a habit for the club this season, Toronto surrendered a last-gasp equalizer to the Dynamo in the 94th minute.
“I thought I did OK,” Richter told Armen Bedakian of the Waking the Red blog. “I could have done better with my crossing, my passing, and almost kept a clean sheet.”
He ended the game with three fouls and credit for one shot.
THE MLS GIVETH & THE MLS TAKETH AWAY: So one of the selling points to the MLS/USL PRO cooperation agreement signed by the two leagues back in January was that teams that decided to affiliate would send at least four players down on loan from the senior club. That’s nice if the MLS team is paying the salary for four prospects on the roster at a club with a typical tight minor league club, but it also begs the question: Can the minor league club count on those loaned players? Because if they plan their roster around them and then the player gets recalled, its the junior club that’s hosed in midseason.
The answer, we were told, was that the affiliation loans would be season-long, although the exact terms would be worked out between each pair of affiliates.
Well, on Sunday we got a peak at how the system actually works when forward Casey Townsend showed up in uniform for D.C. United, which signed its affiliation deal with Richmond on Jan. 24, one day after the leagues made their agreement public. Townsend scored two goals for Richmond against Charleston and looked prepared for a big season in the third tier.
When D.C. United announced the deal that sent Townsend and three others to Richmond on March 19, its press release stated that the four “will all join the Kickers for the 2013 season.” And the MLS announcement of the agreement between the leagues on Jan. 23 said that “Club affiliations between MLS and USL Pro sides will be tailored to the needs of each specific team, and will include at least four MLS players going out on a long-term loan to their USL affiliate.” USL’s Jan. 23rd press release said “Each club affiliation will be customized to meet the needs of the respective teams, but all will include at least four players on long-term loan from the MLS parent club to its USL PRO affiliate.”
So, in the case of Richmond and D.C. United, what does “long-term” mean? Apparently, “until the MLS club starts worrying about its place in the Eastern Conference table.”
Steven Goff, who is one of the better soccer beat reporters in America, asked DC Coach Ben Olsen about a Townsend recall last week.
“We haven’t scored a lot of goals, so we are always looking for guys who are in form,” Olsen said. “He certainly looks to be progressing pretty good with that group. Nothing is off the table right now… They are not there as a punishment; they are there to develop and for them to eventually help us here, whether that is in a week or in two years.”
Well, it looks like the answer there is “a week.”
Or is it? The Richmond Times Dispatch published a story about Townsend on Friday that completely missed the recall angle, but did offer this tidbit:
Townsend trained with Richmond for much of the preseason but now practices during the week with D.C. United. When he competes with Richmond, he typically arrives the day before the match, which does little to enhance the on-field connection between him and his new club.
And then on Saturday, Goff broke the news that Townsend might be sticking around for the weekend.
*Casey Townsend, who scored twice last weekend while on loan at third-division Richmond, will remain in Washington for United’s match Sunday against the Philadelphia Union, Coach Ben Olsen said. Earlier this week Olsen had hinted at a recall. It remains unclear, though, whether Olsen will include Townsend, a second-year pro from the University of Maryland, on the game-day roster. Meantime, the Kickers (1-0-1) will host Rochester (0-2-1) tonight at City Stadium.
Townsend missed the Kickers’ match against Rochester (the Times-Dispatch’s game coverage didn’t even mention the absence of the home team’s offensive star), but the only way I knew about his departure for DC was that I saw him on the sidelines trying to enter the game as a late sub in DCU’s 2-3 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday
Does all this mean that Townsend is gone back to DC for good? Who knows? I asked USL PRO about the affiliate loan rule via Twitter and got this response.
@chssoccernet The agreements have a basic outline, but each affiliation is agreed upon by the two partner clubs.
— USL PRO (@USLPRO) April 21, 2013
So now you know what I know.
I’m particularly interested in the MLS/USL PRO cooperation deal because there’s so much at stake for North American soccer in its details, but perhaps more importantly because the ongoing courtship between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Charleston Battery pivots on the internal fine print of the relationship. Clearly, any agreement between those two clubs would have different details than the arrangement between DCU and Richmond, which are separated by 100 miles of I-95 and who apparently predicated their deal on the ability to share loaned players day-to-day.
But whatever that turns out to be, we’ll have to wait for the announcement.
Speaking of MLS, ask me about my fantasy team…
Actually, don’t, as Xarktopia LLC dropped to 4th place in The Regiment’s League table.
Some rotten bastard named Mike Buytas won the weekly competition and reclaimed the King of the Hill title by scoring a Zusi-licious 87 points. Luke Largin gave him a valiant run with 78 points, which was good enough to move him into second place in the overall table.
Last week’s winner, Ben Smith, tumbled to last place in this week’s contest with 43 points. That was still good enough to keep an 11-point hold on 3rd place. Melissa Grooms and Jonathan Lawrence finished tied for 3rd on 67 points this week.
Speaking of The Regiment…
Just some fan photos to pass along from the first home match of the season.
TOP IMAGE: Digital illustration by Dan Conover.