A Cunning Plan

Now beginning its 20th season (though not without some amount of labor strife), with 20 teams in the league, two more in the queue and more on the way, overseas broadcast deals starting to materialize, and an increasingly large flow of globally-known talent making its way to American and Canadian shores, it’s pretty safe to say that MLS is more or less around for keeps as America’s top soccer league. Any long-term failure of the league is going to be due to pilot error that will need to be more and more egregious by the year.

Which is to say, the decades-long contest to be America’s top soccer league is finally, decisively over.

But don’t tell that to FutbolUSA. FUSA is a league formed on the theory that American soccer is under-representing Hispanics, noting that there were only three of them on the 2014 World Cup squad: Omar Gonzalez, Alejandro Bedoya, and Nick Rimando. (Since then, the team has also fielded Luis Gil, Miguel Ibarra, Greg Garza, Michael Orozco, Alfredo Morales and Rubio Rubin.) But at the same time, FUSA is adamant that what they are doing is “not Hispanic outreach, inclusion, or integration.” This is said with a graph right next to that statement showing the percentage of Americans that have been or are projected to be Hispanic in the coming years, and a structure designed to maximize opportunities for Hispanics without actually enforcing it, so the truth of that statement is debatable at best.

FUSA aims to begin play later this year with two divisions of 16 teams each, with promotion/relegation introduced after the third season. Each division is to consist of four divisions of four teams each, the winners of which then enter into a playoff. They’ve already determined the city distribution of this: San Francisco/Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, Fresno/Visalia; Los Angeles/Long Beach, Anaheim/Santa Ana, San Bernardino/Riverside, San Diego; Phoenix/Glendale, Tuscon, El Paso/Las Cruces, Albuquerque; and Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio/Austin, Houston/Galveston, McAllen/Brownsville. Further expansion will then spread to the rest of the country.

FUSA has yet to actually find an owner to facilitate this. But when they do, they “will be individually owned and operated by team owners that possess a combination of financial resources, prior business success, a commitment to the Hispanic community, and a passion for both soccer and winning.” But they’re totally not doing Hispanic outreach.

Already, this looks like a league with ambitions way outpacing its abilities. Announcing a 32-team league before you’ve even found owner #1 seems the work of folly. A successful league will usually start with a group of people deciding that they will start the league by forming teams of their own, and then the rest boils down to finding anyone else who might want to join in. Owner buy-in has to be the origin story.

But even with that, that is nothing compared to these statements:

  • FUSA is not a feeder league or a minor league of any existing US soccer leagues.

  • FUSA is a challenge to the current US soccer status quo.

  • FUSA will become USA’s premier professional soccer league within five years.

In essence, FUSA does not wish to live alongside MLS. It instead seeks to supplant it; replace it. And it intends to do this by specifically targeting a minority- a sizable minority, but a minority nonetheless- with a regional league. This is utter madness.

And not just because MLS is around. FUSA also has to deal with Liga MX. When people born in Mexico and points south migrate to the United States, there’s nothing that makes them adopt an American club as their primary. They may, and likely have, come to the country with a pre-existing affection for a Mexican club, one that persists as they watch that club on Univision or Telemundo or ESPN Deportes. In the two California counties bordering Mexico, Liga MX side Club Tijuana is actually the favorite club overall, beating out the LA Galaxy despite being over a decade younger, being formed only in 2007. As far as San Diego is concerned, Tijuana’s close enough for them.

One suspects they won’t be throwing that aside. A start-up club, sure. A start-up league? That needs to show some promise.

FUSA’s official Twitter account has a grand total of four tweets, the first on February 10. Two of them decry Hispanic presence in American soccer, the third announces the league, and the fourth is, “5 IFTTT recipes to share Instagram pics like a boss “.

That’s not very much promise. Nor is the fact that I cannot, offhand, locate a bio of league president Michael Mauriello. There are a number of Michael Mauriellos on a Google search, but it’s not clear which one is the one we need to be seeing. Which is another worrying thing.

If I had to predict a lifespan for this league, it would not be one in which FUSA ever overtakes MLS. Or achieves any kind of parity with MLS. The immediate infusions of cash it would need to do that are held by people who, right now, would much rather be spending their time just trying to get into MLS and taking established routes to get there. I’m not sure that FUSA will even find enough owners to field a league of the size it seeks. When it does get going, I doubt it will be going for long. Maybe two years, with any clubs that get off to an actually sustainable start- and there won’t be many- proceeding to try and latch on with an already-established league so that at least they can survive.


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