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Friday, May 21, 2010

Reports suggest serious difficulties for AC St. Louis, second-division soccer

Posted by on Fri, May 21, 2010 at 12:58 AM

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Disturbing reports are circulating tonight in the soccer blogosphere that the two professional soccer teams based in St. Louis are on the verge of collapse.

AC St. Louis, the expansion team for the USSF D2 Pro League, and the Saint Louis Athletica of the Women's Professional Soccer league, both owned in part (at least until very recently) by Jeff Cooper, a St. Louis lawyer, are in serious financial disarray, according to multiple reports.

Firm, on-the-record comments are in short supply, but different news sources are reporting that the cash flow for the two teams has dried up, and that payroll obligations have not been met. There appears to be the possibility that both clubs could fold mid-season.

Inside Minnesota Soccer's Brian Quarstad, the country's most informed reporter on America's lower divisions, extracted a vague quote from Neil Buethe, a spokesman for the U.S. Soccer Federation, in which he said, “U.S. Soccer is aware of some challenges that are currently going on and we are diligently working through the situation.”

Quarstad and others are reporting that Cooper, an owner of the franchises and the public face of professional soccer in St. Louis, has stepped away from the clubs. Tom Timmerman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that two investors from London, Sanjeev and Heemal Vaid, are the majority owners of AC St. Louis.

There will be more to come. Reports suggest that the USSF is working to find fresh funds that will allow the two clubs to continue operating.

For Carolina RailHawks fans, the situation with AC St. Louis will seem disturbingly apt as they witnessed an inauspicious start for the club in its very first game, played Saturday, April 10, at WakeMed Soccer Park. The new team played the first 30 minutes with only 10 players.

There are many troubling ramifications of these reports. One of the less serious ones concerns scheduling: If AC St. Louis folds, Carolina would lose its one remaining game against that team, but other clubs, because of the unbalanced schedule, could be looking at three- or four-game holes in their schedules.

Of greater concern is what this means for the health of Division 2 soccer in America in general, and the fledgling North American Soccer League in particular. Cooper is the interim commissioner of NASL, and his involvement in NASL followed his unsuccessful bid for an Major League Soccer franchise and his unsuccessful attempt to purchase the United Soccer Leagues. Here's an interesting interview with Cooper that was conducted by Peter Wilt and published by pitchinvasion.net in February. The story begins with this:

This week’s column is a Q & A with Jeff Cooper, one of the most fascinating leaders in American soccer. Cooper, a St. Louis area attorney and businessman, plunged into professional soccer only a few years ago and in that short time has arguably emerged as the most powerful man in soccer in the Midwest and one of the most influential in the country.

A more telling exchange occurs midway through:

What more did your group need to show MLS to get a team? What obstacles prevented you from meeting MLS’ standards?

JC: We needed more financial depth. It’s that simple.

We'll be following this story as it develops.

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