The confrontation between the new ownership of the United Soccer Leagues and a dissident group of first division owners led by the Carolina RailHawks has escalated a notch.
Three dissident clubs, including the RailHawks, haven't paid their fees to participate next season. On the USL's Web site, work has begun to remove links to the RailHawks, as well as to the Miami FC and Minnesota Thunder clubs. On one page, the soccer-ball icons for those three cities has been removed. On others, the club crest and mascot names have been removed.
In a just-published post on Inside Minnesota Soccer, blogger Brian Quarstad writes that Minnesota Thunder management confirmed that USL President Tim Holt has sent out an email informing players for Carolina, Miami and MInnesota that they are released from their contracts.
However, it's not clear that the USL has the authority to do so (unlike the MLS, which owns all player contracts under its single-entity structure). According to Quarstad, Minnesota is taking the position that the league does not have that authority. Quarstad promises to post a copy of Holt's email later today.
We haven't been able to get a comment from RailHawks management yet. We'll keep working on it.
The other bit of news—which Quarstad doesn't support with a source—is that the other two main dissident owners groups in the Team Owners Association (TOA)—Montreal and Vancouver—have both signed on with the USL-1 for the 2010 season. Vancouver, of course, is headed to the MLS in 2011.
The TOA consists of Carolina, Minnesota, Miami, Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, the 2010 expansion club Tampa Bay Rowdies and ownership groups without active teams in Atlanta and St. Louis.
There are now eight current USL-1 clubs that have active links on the USL site. The two expansion clubs, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and FC New York (which is not a TOA member), also have active links.
One club, the Cleveland City Stars, is for sale—sketchy Internet reports of a buyer that will keep them in Cleveland have not been confirmed—but appears to be a USL-1 member in good standing.
The current brinksmanship was not unexpected: After the late August sale of the league to NuRock Soccer Holdings, the TOA, which had seen nearly two years of negotiations to buy the league themselves come to naught, announced a "chill" in relations with the league. In a subsequent interview with Triangle Offense, RailHawks majority owner Selby Wellman laid out the likely scenario in the near future.
But I would expect somewhere in the next 30 days or so they'll start coming out to us, wanting us to recommit to play in 2010 in USL. If they don't come to the table with us having the ability to control our league, we won't play with them.
Finally, Miami-based blogger Kartik Krishnaiyer adds this intriguing tidbit of analysis to the Quarstad post:
The breakaway league that now is likely to be pursued by Minnesota, Miami and Carolina would need to be approved by the USSF and FIFA. These approval processes could take anywhere from a month to several months, leaving the three clubs affected and its potential allies in other markets in the limbo for the start of the 2010 American calender season.
However, if the new league seeks to adhere to the international calender, and begin play after the 2010 World Cup, the three affected clubs, in fact have plenty of time to try and put this new organization together and receive the requisite approvals.