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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Different game, different team: Carolina RailHawks 2014 NASL preview

Posted by on Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 5:03 PM

César Elizondo streaks ahead for the Carolina RailHawks against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers last September at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary - PHOTO BY JOANNAH IRVIN
  • Photo by Joannah Irvin
  • César Elizondo streaks ahead for the Carolina RailHawks against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers last September at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary

No more wondering about roster additions. No more pining for boffo friendlies. And no more ice storms cancelling preseason scrimmages. Ready or not, the Carolina RailHawks open their 2014 season this weekend.

The RailHawks travel to Indianapolis this Saturday to kick off their 2014 North American Soccer League (NASL) regular season. This year, a nine-game spring season will determine one berth in the newly minted four-team postseason playoffs. The RailHawks certainly face an uphill climb as one of the five NASL teams with only four homes games in the spring, one of three teams that both open and close the spring season on the road, and the only U.S.-based NASL team required to travel to both Edmonton and Ottawa for away matches.

Continue reading…

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    Manager Colin Clarke: “It’s going to be a fun ride. It always is."

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson discusses league expansion, playoffs, MLS, paid match streaming and other topics in advance of 2014 regular season kickoff

Posted by on Tue, Apr 8, 2014 at 11:49 PM

Bill Peterson in January 2013 during his first visit to WakeMed Soccer Park after becoming NASL commissioner. - CAROLINA RAILHAWKS
  • Carolina RailHawks
  • Bill Peterson in January 2013 during his first visit to WakeMed Soccer Park after becoming NASL commissioner.
On Tuesday, Bill Peterson, embarking on his second season as commissioner of the North American Soccer League (NASL), held a couple of media conference calls in advance of the 2014 NASL regular season, which kicks off this weekend. Next week, Peterson will visit North Carolina when he attends a Carolina RailHawks fan forum planned for Wednesday, April 16 at 6 p.m. in Raleigh. In the meantime, the RailHawks open their 2014 campaign this Saturday when they visit Indianapolis to take on Indy Eleven in the debut match for that new expansion club. Indy Eleven anticipates a sellout crowd of approximately 11,000.

Both during his prepared statements and extended question-and-answer sessions, Peterson elaborated on the league’s topics du jour, from present and future expansion, to the league's new four-team playoff (yes, he used that word) format, to the news about Major League Soccer (MLS) apparently expanding to Atlanta.

Not surprisingly, Peterson said that the “outlook for the league is very, very bright.” He said the excitement about the impending debut of expansion clubs in Indianapolis and Ottawa will segue into an “edge-of-your-seat” spring season that finds teams playing nine games each to determine one berth in the league’s new championship format.

Peterson teased a few coming announcements, including, “a fairly significant commercial announcement in the coming days [that’s] one of our first league sponsorship deals with a great brand company.” He also said the league will “also have a broadcast partnership that we’ll make further announcement about later this week.” Peterson didn’t provide any details on this topic, although any suggestion this means an impending television broadcast deal was scuttled later when the commissioner said that, “our next focus of television is to secure a weekly highlights show on one of the major sports platforms … After that step, we’ll focus on getting a game of the week on a national type of platform, either cable or broadcast.”

Below are the highlights of Peterson’s remarks on particular topics, drawn from both conference calls:

On future NASL expansion:

PETERSON: We continue to look at other cities where we could possibly expand. Our focus is on the Midwest and West. Without going into any specific cities we’re talking to, I will tell you that right now there are a number of robust conversations. We will continue to take our time and make sure we’re securing the right ownership groups in the right cities before we make any final announcements.

Canada is in those plans, and we have discussions ongoing with at least one and sometimes two cities up there. I don’t think anything is imminent, but we have talked with interested ownership parties in a number of cities.

We have evaluated ownerships groups in Las Vegas. We’re not currently speaking with anyone very seriously there. We’ve had conversations throughout California, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and others. I do believe we’ll end up with one or more teams in California sometime in the near future. But trying to handicap expansion is a losing proposition because it’s a long, slow process. There’s a lot of people who have to end up on the same page and understand what it’s going to take to be successful.

Updates on the status of expansion clubs in Northern Virginia and Oklahoma City:

In both cases, basically we’ve gone through an ownership reorganization for completely different reasons. They’re starting to come out of that process, we’re hopeful we’re still on target for 2015 with both clubs. There was a delay in the stadium in Virginia. That led to some other issues among the group that was going to build the stadium. Ultimately, that’s forced [the Virginia Cavalry FC] ownership to consider different options, and that’s the process we’re going through now, as well as reorganizing that ownership group. I hope we’re getting close to finishing that process and will be able to share more information when everything is buttoned up.

Oklahoma City is very simple. It’s a very clear cut ownership reorganization, and the focus now locally is securing the stadium where they’ll play in 2015.

Jacksonville [Armada FC, in Florida], on the other hand, is gangbusters. As you know, I live in the area, and it’s just amazing the reaction they’re getting from everyone, whether its fans or people in the general community. Companies want to sponsor them. They’re going to open up very strong next year, and we expect all three [expansion clubs] to open up next year.

Thoughts on the reported expansion of MLS to Atlanta, currently home to the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks:

There’s no surprise here; I think everyone’s known for some time of [MLS’] intentions in Atlanta. We continue to evaluate what that means. My personal opinion is that Atlanta is a city that would benefit from more than one professional soccer club and may actually raise the awareness and excitement levels throughout the region. I think this could be a good thing for all of us, on and off the field. Having said that, I’m not the owner of the team. [The team’s owners] continue to evaluate their situation. They don’t have to make a decision today; I don’t think [the MLS club] will play before 2017. We do have a long tradition with the Silverbacks and Silverbacks Park … They feel very good about the direction they’re heading.

At some point [the Silverback’ owners] have to decide whether it matters that there’s another club in the Atlanta area. They’re going to think about what type of effect this may have on their commercial sponsorships, their fan base, and on community and government support.

The NASL’s current relationship with MLS:

We really don’t have formal relationships with other leagues in this country. That is, I guess, on purpose. We’re not a developmental league. Having said that, we’re a decentralized league and part of what we contend is the global soccer economy. You see players moving back and forth between the leagues, and that’s healthy. You see a lot of cooperation and discussions at the team level, and that’s healthy. But, they do what they do, and we do what we do, and that’s best for everybody right now. That’s probably the way it’ll stay for some time.

The NASL’s new four-team playoff format instituted for 2014:

It’s a piece to our competition that we think makes our regular season more exciting, not less exciting. Our next goal is to get to 18 clubs … but part of that vision is to maintain the split [regular] season and maintain a single table once we get to 16 or 18 clubs, and also institute a small playoff feature at the end of the season. Basically, the question came down to why wait until we get to 16 clubs, we can do this now.

There are a number of reasons we felt this [playoff format] was beneficial. One, it still maintains a strong reason to play hard and win the spring and fall seasons. At the same time, you’re recognizing teams that played really well over the course of two long seasons, and they get a chance to prove that they’re the best team in the league. We’ll keep the competition at four teams going forward. This is not a way to allow mediocrity into the finals. This was a way to create even more competition.

By awarding the Soccer Bowl hosting rights to the spring season champion last year, it allowed the league to advance plan around the championship site months in advance. That advance determination has been eliminated by this new playoff format. Was any consideration given to preserving that element?

This whole concept was debated for months, and a lot of different models were put forward with a lot of evaluation. At the end of the day, we felt the structure we settled on was a better competitive structure. It may not be the best business structure. I think if we determined our championship location after the spring season, there’s a good chance we’d sell more tickets and get more sponsorship and local support. But, we weren’t sure it would provide the best competitive balance for the clubs. So, it’s a case of doing the right thing. We may have sacrificed some short-term revenues. But it was more important to have the competition line up correctly and get those teams seeded in a manner we felt was reflective of what they earned throughout the season.

Reasons why the NASL decided to implement a paid service for live match streaming this year:

We want to provide all of our fans with all of the action, whether their team is home or away. But that costs money. At this point in our development, we’re not looking at receiving substantial rights fees from any broadcasters. So we’ve got to come up with a model that makes the most sense for everybody where we can provide those match feeds, currently over the Web, while at the same time find a way to help offset some of the cost. Maybe we’re heading in a direction everybody is going to follow one day soon anyway.

It’s also forced our clubs to improve their broadcast quality. So I think the fans who have followed us in the past should be pleasantly surprised when they start to see the improvements in the production and entertainment value of those matches.

The reasons behind the NASL’s recent announcement that it’s moving its league headquarters to New York City:

The New York move was more about efficiency. As we’re starting to grow and develop, you find that you can develop more of those relationships in New York than other places. It’s more about efficiencies in having broadcasters, potential sponsors, agencies and marketing companies all located there. We’ll maintain a small presence in Miami. We have an executive who stays in California. We’ll continue those locations. But everybody else we bring on will be based in New York moving forward.

The seemingly widening player salary imbalance between the NASL’s member clubs:

I suspect salaries for players have increased. The teams are becoming a little more competitive. They’re reaching for slightly better players. That doesn’t always mean you have to pay more money, but sometimes it means you have to pay more money.

I expect to see some margin between what clubs are spending, and as long as we don’t feel there is a competitive disadvantage to what somebody is spending or not spending, then we’ll let the guys go out and participate in the free market system. There’s no indication there’s anything wrong with the system we’re in right now, and there’s no real concern on my part at this time. The clubs are spending within their means, and a lot of the clubs are increasing their revenues and putting that money back into the club.
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    During a couple of Tuesday media conference calls, Peterson elaborated on the league’s topics du jour.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Come fly with us: Triangle Soccer Fanatics reorganize and recruiting new members

Posted by on Fri, Apr 4, 2014 at 9:20 AM

  • Photo by Derek Anderson
Oh when the ‘Hawks go marching in,
Oh when the ‘Hawks go marching in,
Lord how I want to be in that number,
When the ‘Hawks go marching in.

If you've ever attended a Carolina RailHawks game, you’re already familiar with the Triangle Soccer Fanatics (TSF). You’ve heard their chants and the bang of their bass drum. You've seen the flags, banners, posters and tifo. And you've watched the orange smoke envelope the 309 Depot, named for the section at WakeMed Soccer Park that the RailHawks’ supporters group calls home throughout the season.

Now, TSF wants to hear from you. This week, the group officially announced its reorganization as Triangle Soccer Fanatics Inc., a 501(c) nonprofit organization. The club will be run by a board of directors comprising five elected officers, two at-large board members chosen by lottery from the paid membership base, and two advisory members from outside the organization. The corporate officers and board members receive no compensation and serve as volunteers.

[Note: David Fellerath, former culture editor at INDY Week, is one of TSF's advisory board members.]

In addition to a revamped mission statement and formalized structure, TSF also revealed a new paid membership plan for area residents eager to collaborate with fellow fans of the Beautiful Game. The three tiers of membership include a standard membership ($25 annually) that provides a wealth of TSF and RailHawks merchandise plus voting privileges within the organization. A founding membership ($100, available only during the RailHawks’ 2014 spring season) supplies all the standard membership benefits plus a TSF jersey, pint glass and inclusion in a TSF team photo with the RailHawks. And, there’s a youth membership ($15 annually) that provides many of the standard membership merchandise, sans any voting rights.

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    The official Carolina RailHawks supporters group announces its new corporate structure and paid membership benefits.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

NASL unveils new 2014 postseason format

Posted by on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 4:18 PM

Today, the North American Soccer League (NASL) unveiled a new postseason championship format effective for the 2014 season. Branded “The Championship”—and conspicuously not “playoffs"—in the league's press release, the new format will comprise a four-team, two-weekend tournament with a semifinal round held the weekend of November 8-9 and the championship final held the following weekend, November 15-16.

The tournament format, approved this week by the NASL Board of Governors, will feature the winners of the NASL’s spring and fall seasons at its top two seeds. The two season champs will be the top two seeds in the postseason, with the top seed being whichever club notches the better combined regular season record. These top two seeds will host their semifinal match.

The three and four seeds in the tournament will be the next two clubs that post the best overall records from both seasons combined. If the same club wins both the spring and fall seasons, the clubs with the second, third and fourth best overall records from both seasons combined will qualify for the championship.

Teams will retain their seeding throughout the tournament, with the top-seeded semi final winner will host the championship final.

“We have a vision for how we want to be structured when we reach 18 clubs,” said NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson in a statement. “The Championship is an integral part of that vision and the fan feedback we received overwhelmingly supported the decision. The already fierce competition in NASL just got tougher.”

Last week, Triangle Offense published a marketing survey the NASL recently circulated to select markets and supporters groups asking for reaction to possible changes in the league’s postseason format. This survey contained most of the elements of the new postseason format the league announced today. Although posited as a mere proposal in the survey, today’s announcement by the league clearly shows that those purported changes were, in fact, well beyond the exploratory stage.

Today’s announcement also represents an about-face for a league that spent the better part of the past year trumpeting the efficacy of its new split season and single-game championship format. Semantics aside, the league has essentially adopted a four-team postseason playoff system. This alteration will expand postseason pool and avoid outcomes like last season, when the two teams with the best combined records over the entire NASL regular season—the Carolina RailHawks and Tampa Bay Rowdies—were excluded from postseason play because neither won the spring or fall championship.

That said, this change also jettisons awarding hosting rights for the Soccer Bowl final to the spring season champion. While controversial among some supporters, this perk allowed the league to identify the site of the championship months in advance, enabling it to plan and coordinate ticket sales, travel, and marketing and other related events surrounding the championship weekend well ahead of time. The fruits of this advance planning were on display during last November’s Soccer Bowl weekend in Atlanta.
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    Semantics aside, the league has essentially adopted a four-team postseason playoff system.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Carolina RailHawks release 2014 preseason schedule

Posted by on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 10:33 PM

The Carolina RailHawks do not open play in their 2014 North American Soccer League regular season until April 12. But with training camp now open, the club has solidified its preseason scrimmage schedule.

According to David Vaught, the RailHawks’ Vice-President for Operations and Communications, the team’s preseason scrimmages will all take place at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. The following is a list of matches, including opponents and kickoff times:

Sat., March 8: Charleston Battery - 2:00 p.m.
Tues., March 18: UNC-Wilmington - 5:00 p.m. *
Sat., March 22: UNC-Chapel Hill - 2:00 p.m. *
Fri., March 28: N.C. State - 9:30 a.m.
Sat., March 29: Charlotte Eagles - 1:00 p.m.
Sun., April 6 - Old Dominion University - Noon *

* = kickoff time tentative and subject to change
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    The team’s preseason scrimmages will take place at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

NASL survey contemplates changes to postseason format and season calendar

Posted by on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 10:45 AM

The North American Soccer League (NASL) has commissioned an online survey to select markets and supporter groups seeking their input regarding possible changes to the league’s postseason format and regular season calendar.

The unpublicized survey, forwarded to Triangle Offense by a person close to a supporters group of a NASL team, is being disseminated via SurveyGizmo, an online survey software program.

At the outset of the survey, the league says, “As we consider making significant changes to our competition structure, we would like to request your input and feedback as it relates to postseason play and the NASL calendar.”

First, the NASL states “it is considering a proposal” to alter the season-ending Soccer Bowl championship into a four-team, single-elimination competition that would commence at the end of the regular season.

“The participants would be the respective Spring and Fall season champions,” the survey reads, “and the teams that boast the next two best overall combined (both seasons) records.”

The survey also asks for suggestions for a suitable title for this overall league champion.

This possible alteration dovetails with comments from NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson during his press conference following last November’s Soccer Bowl in Atlanta. Asked whether league expansion might pave the way for an eventual playoff system, Peterson responded that while he remained opposed to full-blown “playoffs,” he could envision the possibility of a limited postseason “tournament.”

There is no indication in the survey that any future change would affect the 2014 Soccer Bowl postseason format.

The survey also solicits fan opinion on whether the NASL should follow the established summer-based U.S. soccer schedule or the traditional, winter-centric European model. However, the survey does not contend that there is any standing proposal regarding shifting the league’s regular season calendar.

When reached for a response, a league official confirmed the survey's existence. This morning, when asked about the document, a representative of a supporters group associated with the Carolina RailHawks confirmed that it had also received it. 

In a statement, Jarrett Campbell, the founder of the group, Triangle Soccer Fanatics, declined to comment on its specifics.

"The NASL has been great about reaching out to supporters to gather our opinions on the league," Campbell wrote.

"In the past, members of Triangle Soccer Fanatics[...] have participated in a number of focus groups, surveys, supporters' summits and one-on-one dialogues with the league front office. We really appreciate the opportunity to have our voices heard, but would prefer not to comment on the specific contents of any individual focus group or survey conducted by the NASL."

Indeed, this effort at eliciting fan input on such key issues stands in positive contrast to the cloistered posture adopted by the league prior to other recent format changes, including the split regular season instituted in 2013 and the truncated spring season schedule for 2014.

Click below to view a .pdf of the NASL survey:

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Duke soccer star Sebastien Ibeagha on his decision to spurn Major League Soccer for Europe

Posted by on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 12:52 PM

Ibeagha, seen in a game during his senior season. - PHOTO BY ANDY MEAD/ YELLOW CARD JOURNALISM
  • Photo by Andy Mead/ Yellow Card Journalism
  • Ibeagha, seen in a game during his senior season.
On Tuesday, Sebastien Ibeagha turned 22 years old. The same day, Major League Soccer concluded its 2014 SuperDraft of rising amateur talent. Ibeagha, a regular fixture in the U.S. youth national soccer setup since his teenage years, the 2012 ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time college All-American as a defender for Duke University, wasn’t part of the selection process.

In fact, as the draft wound down two days ago, Ibeagha (pronounced ibby-AH-ga) was spending his birthday 3,800 miles away in Aalborg, a city situated near the northern tip of Denmark. There, Ibeagha is training with Aalborg BK (aka AaB Fodbold), a top-flight team in the Danish Superliga. He expects to play in his first preseason matches this weekend, in hopes of eventually showing well enough to merit a professional contract offer.

Ibeagha could already have a professional contract. Indeed, he could have signed a contract with MLS three years ago. Triangle Offense spoke with him by telephone on Tuesday, to discover the reasons this blue chip college talent decided to eschew MLS for the wintry pitches of northern Denmark.

Continue reading…

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    "At the end of the day, playing in Europe is a dream for a lot of players, including me."

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Revamped NASL website introduces new features, subscription fee for live matches

Posted by on Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Being a fan of lower-division soccer often carries an expectation of a lower standard of play and presentation. But for fans of the North American Soccer League (NASL), one upside to this has been free online streaming of matches. Now, that is coming to an end, but the league is betting that a newly designed website, with numerous bells and whistles, will be enough to entice fans to pay a $4.99 per month subscription fee.

When Bill Peterson became commissioner of the NASL nearly 14 months ago, one of his stated goals was improving the league’s Internet presence. That aim takes a large step ahead today with the launch of the NASL’s revamped website, which will link the league and all its member clubs under a unified digital platform.

Whether soccer fans will queue up to pay nearly five dollars a month to watch NASL matches online remains an open question whose answer will largely hinge on whether the broadcast quality of matches improves along with its online platform. While clubs like the Carolina RailHawks and New York Cosmos offer widely approved game webcasts, other teams continue to struggle with the quality of their production and on-air talent. Developing uniform broadcast standards must go hand-in-hand with the improvement of the league’s online presence in order to lure premium content subscribers.

According to the league’s press release, the new website is the product of a new partnership between the NASL and PERFORM, a multimedia sports content distributor that owns one of the largest digital sports rights portfolios, including, through contracts covering more than 200 sports and their associated leagues, tournaments and events.

Beyond the new website's streamlined appearance and accessibility, the biggest change for NASL fans is that heretofore free live streaming of league matches will now feature as part of a monthly subscription package that will include live and archived matches, as well as the promise of “additional premium video content,” all for a monthly fee of $4.99.

The website also promises game day features such as a Match Center where fans can view live stats and interact via social media while watching streaming matches.

“We are investing in enhancing our live streaming of matches and are making them available as part of a monthly league-wide subscription package that we believe offers great value,” said NASL Commissioner Peterson in a statement. “Sporting events around the world are increasingly being viewed via online platforms and this partnership with PERFORM will push the NASL to the forefront of how soccer fans access matches in the future.”

The new goes live today, and individual club websites revamped for the PERFORM network will go online over the coming weeks.
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    Whether soccer fans will queue up to pay nearly five dollars a month to watch NASL matches online remains an open question.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Lumps of coal: New NASL 2014 spring season truncates schedule and fairness

Posted by on Mon, Dec 23, 2013 at 9:23 AM

Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the league
Not a rumor was stirring, much less any intrigue
When out of my  e-mail there arose such a clatter
I sprang to my laptop to see what was the matter

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a shrinking spring season with just nine games to cheer
More rapid than RailHawks its commands they came
As the press release shouted and called teams by name!

“Now Strikers! now, Silverbacks! now, Fury and Eddies!
On, Cosmos! On, Indy! on Scorpions and Rowdies!
For a berth in the Soccer Bowl! To the top of the table!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash ... if you’re able!”

I still support the North American Soccer League’s split regular season format. But, they’re making it really, really hard.

In July, the NASL announced their 2014 regular season would retain the split format adopted for 2013. However, the league shifted its midseason break to coincide with the FIFA World Cup. As a result of this and various other factors, the 2014 spring season would comprise 10 games per team to determine both a berth in and hosting rights for the season-ending Soccer Bowl championship. The 2014 fall campaign, which would begin on July 19 following the conclusion of the World Cup, would be a 20-game season to determine the other Soccer Bowl opponent.

However, when Virginia Cavalry FC announced earlier this month that the expansion side would delay their debut until 2015, that left the league with 10 teams for 2014 instead of 11, and a seeming mathematical quandary. Sticking with the same format not only meant lopping another game off the already truncated spring season schedule but also an inequitable allocation of home matches.

Last week, the NASL announced that’s exactly what it is going to do. The 2014 spring season will begin April 12 and run through June 8, with each of the 10 clubs playing a nine-game schedule to determine the spring champion. Far more insidious, however, is that five teams will play five home games: the New York Cosmos, San Antonio Scorpions, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Indy Eleven and Ottawa Fury FC. The remaining five teams—the Carolina RailHawks, Atlanta Silverbacks, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, FC Edmonton and Minnesota United FC—will play only four home games.

In a sport where home field advantage is renowned and with a schedule of only nine games, half the league playing one more home game than the other half is a patently unfair construction. Not only does it compromise the league’s competitive balance, but it also denies revenue from that lost home event to five presumably cash-strapped lower division soccer clubs. Meanwhile, the other five league members won’t share in the financial sting.

Compounding the inequity is the murky manner in which the spring season haves and have-nots were selected. A league official told Triangle Offense that determining the teams that would host five spring home games came down to venue blackout dates and other “scheduling considerations.”

This was also the reason given to Curt Johnson, president of the Carolina RailHawks. Speaking with Triangle Offense, Johnson says he was not part of any discussions with league officials over how many home games the RailHawks would host during the 2014 spring season. Indeed, Johnson says from April and November of next year, the team has only a single blackout date involving its use of WakeMed Soccer Park.

Would it have interfered with the RailHawks playing a fifth spring season home game?

“Not to my knowledge,” Johnson responded.

Such lack of transparency invites speculation as to why particular teams came to receive an additional home match. San Antonio has its privately-funded stadium to finance, Tampa Bay has the league’s newest deep-pocket owner, and Indy and Ottawa are the league’s two debut expansion franchises. And, of course, there’s the New York Cosmos™. It’s probably no coincidence that the two teams with the largest average attendances by sizable margins in 2013—San Antonio and New York—were among the chosen five. On the other hand, the three clubs owned and represented on the league’s Board of Directors in 2013 by Traffic Sports—Carolina, Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta—will play four spring home games.

In the case of the Carolina RailHawks, Johnson notes that the spring schedule delivers other particular disparities. Carolina is one of only three teams—along with Ottawa and Minnesota United—that will not play at home to open or conclude the spring season. Meanwhile, three teams already rewarded with five home games also get to open and close their spring seasons on home turf: New York, San Antonio and Tampa Bay.

Moreover, only two of Carolina’s five road opponents are located in the eastern time zone. Indeed, the RailHawks are the only team in the league that has to travel to both Edmonton and Ottawa for road matches.

This scheduling triple-whammy has left a sour taste in the mouths of RailHawks officials.

“I’m disappointed. I’m frustrated,” Johnson says. “I don’t think it’s the schedule it could have been for us. I think it’s a very difficult schedule. It puts us behind the eight-ball right from the start compared to the five teams that host five home games.

“At this point, it is what it is,” Johnson continues. “But for people who are analyzing schedules to see who got the most difficult one, I think it’s pretty clear who got the most difficult one.”

That said, Johnson says the team’s focus continues to be winning championships and entertaining their fans.

“This is a distraction,” Johnson says. “This is unfortunate from the RailHawks’ perspective. But it’s not going to define our season.”

While the removal of Virginia Cavalry FC from the 2014 schedule created these immediate scheduling snafus, the original sin was the league’s decision to suspend play for five weeks during the entire World Cup. In contrast, Major League Soccer will take a two-week break from June 12–24, during the initial group stage.

Moreover, the initial decision to reveal the 2014 split season format back in July when there was still an obvious risk for further upheaval prior to formulating the final schedule was a PR misstep. After the Cavalry bowed out, there were other options available to NASL officials, including adding a 10th spring game with opponents determined by rivalry, regional proximity or random draw in order to even out the number of home matches. Or, abandoning the pretense of completing a compressed spring season prior to the World Cup break in order to explore more flexible scheduling options.

Instead, the NASL has chosen a fundamentally flawed setup. And for five of its teams, this season’s salutation goes out as 2013 starts fading from sight:

“Happy Christmas to all, and enjoy your extra plane flight.”
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    I still support the NASL's split regular season format. But they’re making it really, really hard.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'What have you done for me lately?' - Brian Haynes reacts to the sudden end of his tenure as Atlanta Silverbacks manager

Posted by on Tue, Dec 10, 2013 at 9:58 AM

Brian Haynes (center) and Eric Wynalda (right), along with Silverbacks goalkeeper Joe Nasco, face the media following Atlanta's loss to the New York Cosmos in the NASL Soccer Bowl on Nov. 9. - NASL/ANDREW SNOOK
  • NASL/Andrew Snook
  • Brian Haynes (center) and Eric Wynalda (right), along with Silverbacks goalkeeper Joe Nasco, face the media following Atlanta's loss to the New York Cosmos in the NASL Soccer Bowl on Nov. 9.
In a surprising move, the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League announced yesterday it was declining to exercise their option to extend the contract of head coach Brian Haynes. A month after Haynes’ Silverbacks lost the NASL Soccer Bowl 1-0 to the New York Cosmos, the league’s 2013 coach of the year now finds himself out of a job.

Originally brought to Atlanta in July 2012 as an assistant to interim manager Eric Wynalda, Haynes assumed the managerial reins a month later after Wynalda left to resume his Fox Soccer television duties.

In 2011, the Silverbacks finished last in the league standings with a dismal record of 4-4-20. In 2012, prior to Haynes and Wynalda’s arrival, the team was staggering along with a mark of 1-5-8.

After taking over as interim manager on Aug. 16, Haynes guided Atlanta to a 3-3-1 record over the remainder of the 2012 regular season. Haynes was named full-time manager in the offseason, and his Silverbacks raced out to a record of 6-3-3 over the NASL’s spring season, part of the league’s inaugural split regular season format. As a result, Atlanta was crowned spring season champions and awarded both a berth in the Soccer Bowl and the right to host the league final in November.

Over the intervening months, however, Atlanta struggled during their otherwise meaningless fall campaign, mustering only a 4-4-6 record. Although the team regained much of their early season form for last month’s final, the Silverbacks ultimately fell a Marcos Senna golazo short of a Soccer Bowl championship.

Triangle Offense spoke with Haynes by telephone Monday afternoon, mere hours after he was informed his tenure as the Silverbacks’ manager was over. Since the Soccer Bowl, Haynes says he had been going about preparations for next season, including an open tryout last weekend and a planning session about three weeks with club officials, including Wynalda, currently the Silverbacks’ technical director.

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