Our (Soccer) Christmas Wishes

As we enjoy another Christmas Day, we thought we’d make our wish list for Santa, much as we did when we were in grade school, except today we focus only on our soccer wishes. What would we ask for if we could could have these gifts under the tree on today? Our staff sat down and made three wishes we’d ask Santa to grant this holiday season! Happy Holidays everyone!

Dominic Bisogno

1. My first wish is for soccer in America, lower league and otherwise, to continue to embrace its diverse roots. In a time when world football is facing the racism that exists within it, I hope that soccer in the US can reflect the utter melting pot that it and the country itself are. I wish that clubs don’t hide their immigrant roots or inspirations. I wish that clubs don’t avoid connecting with their neighborhoods and communities and settle for a cardboard cutout blueprint of what a club in the US is supposed to look or sound like.

2. My second wish is that every club out there continues to grow in exposure. More supporters, more likes, more tickets, more views, whatever that may mean, I want every club out there to grow this Holiday season and in the upcoming year. This is hugely important for a club’s survival and having that foot print is key to a club being remembered.

3. For my third wish, I wish for the continued growth in local soccer and local soccer journalism in this country. While things are not always great or perfect, the environment seems to be ever crawling toward improvement and the amazing reception our site has received makes me feel this is truer than I’d ever realized prior. We’re making history every day, I hope you all allow us to keep doing that in 2019.

Dan Vaughn

1. Of course my first wish is Pro/Rel for this American pyramid. I want teams to have the chance to stand on the merit of their play. It makes for a better environment, it trims the fat, it grows the game through excitement and hope. No fan of lower league soccer would ever argue against Pro/Rel, but I think the positives vastly outweigh any negatives. I’m sure all my other writers skipped this one because it’s so obvious. It’s the proverbial wish for more wishes, but whatever - Pro/Rel Now, Santa.

2. For three more teams to join Northern Ohio Soccer League. We’ve interviewed the guy running NOSL, he’s a solid guy who just wants to see growth of regional soccer in Ohio. He’s got three clubs, he wants six to start the league with, I wish some people would step up and put together some clubs. It’s great for talent growth and would create another regional league we can all support.

3. Finally, for UPSL clubs to focus more on brand management. Look, we want to support all clubs in the lower tier, but it would be amazing if more clubs took time to better their crests. So many clubs seem to be in a hurry to roll out, but not willing to focus on growing social media, polish their website, update their timelines. It’s 2018 (soon to be 2019), managing the technology and polishing the brand aspects of your club are bare minimums to grow your following and increase your chances of survival!

Joaquin Colon-Nava

1. The Return of Women’s Soccer to Boston - Since the final collapse of the Breakers in January there has no women’s soccer team from the Boston area in any sort of national league. For that matter there’s no team in Boston of any kind that sells tickets. At this point it’s unlikely there will be a team in 2019 as well. My hope is that halfway through the year it’s announced that someone is bringing women’s soccer in Boston back to that higher level, hopefully not later than in 2020.

2. A Successful launch for the New Leagues - The more soccer the better and 2019 is big year for lower league soccer expansion. From the Wisconsin Primary Amateur Soccer League(WPASL) to the National Independent Soccer Association(NISA) there are quite a lot of new leagues looking to launch next year. Here’s to hoping they pull it off successfully and provide homes to countless teams in the future.

3. Greater collaboration among independent soccer - If there has been one constant since the beginning of US Soccer it has been instability and infighting. Likewise, the “independents” of men’s lower league soccer have often been the victims infighting. With competing leagues, clubs vs their own leagues and our own governing bodies, in a not insignificant way it’s affects practically everyone nowadays. The American soccer community can’t seem to get out of our way. Now I don’t think we’ll ever see all the infighting stop but players, clubs, leagues, fans all have enough problems on their own. Can we try communicating properly and not stabbing each other in the back?

Brian Burden

I am looking forward to 2019 being the year of the little guy and the city that surrounds that little guy. My first wish is that stories like the one I wrote on Cleveland SC become commonplace for NPSL and UPSL clubs, as well as other teams working hard every day away from the spotlight to better themselves and the cities they play for. We will be highlighting those cities as well; their youth systems, their supporters, the professionals they have helped prepare for the next level. Nobody was talking about Atlanta and soccer in the same sentence just a few years ago. My plan is to make sure you know about the cities you are cheering for before they hit the big time.

Much closer to home, I am rooting for a big 2019 for Christos FC. They recently won their four straight Maryland Major Soccer League Fall 1st Division Title (story to come soon) and they narrowly missed out in the qualifying stages on reaching their third straight US Open Cup. Everyone who falls soccer at these levels now knows of Christos FC’s run to the fourth round of the 2017 cup, and it is precisely those David vs. Goliath fantasies that make the little guy in all of us root that much harder. Christos FC has also come to an agreement with FC Baltimore, which is now FC Baltimore Christos, for the upcoming NPSL season. FC Baltimore Christos reached the playoffs in its inaugural season. Let’s hope this collaboration produces an even deeper run next season.

We profiled Rose Shoen and her incredible influence on Azteca FC and Sacramento-area soccer. Her story is inspiring. Let’s stop making it an exception. There are numerous hard-working, talented young female coaches in the game today. The more that have the opportunity to coach and influence on the NPSL level, the better. Diversity and open minds can only make the game continue to grow at an educated rate in this country.

I am certainly a homer here, but I wish that former University of Maryland product Zack Steffen has a successful move to Europe in 2019. No, I am not naïve. I know the signing with Manchester City does not mean he will slide in behind Ederson at the Etihad, or even earn a loan at another top side, but Steffen needs to set the bar high for this new, young generation of talented US netminders. He certainly has the chance to snag the men’s team position for the next decade, but the least he needs to do is make it so that whomever does earn the spot between the pipes is top quality.

Last, but certainly not least, no matter if you were a fan of the hire, I am hoping that 2019 is the year you get behind Gregg Berhalter as head coach of the US men’s national team. To say that the selection and interview process was flawed would be an understatement, but now is the time to back Berhalter’s boys as they prepare for 2022 qualification. Everyone is excited about the newest, youngest and brightest making highlights now, but patience is key. There are guys you are not even thinking of that will be critical for the national team by the time the qualification cycle ends. There has not been a national team coach that has made every right decision, and you are certainly going to quibble with several of Berhalter’s, but the malaise that surrounded the last qualifying cycle was as big a problem as the poor performances on the pitch. Stop assuming we are going to make the World Cup and do your part, whatever that may be.

Steven Ramirez

Dear Soccer Santa,

I've been such a good supporter this year. I volunteered with my local club and still bought my ticket each week. I went to watch high school soccer and spoke with players about honing their ability and trying to achieve the ultimate goal. I watched countless matches on Mycujoo and traveled all throughout Southern California to watch local soccer. I wrote about players, owners and clubs who all strive to put the best product out on the field and while I had criticisms about the state of soccer, I always put faith in the many people trying to make this soccer landscape live up to the potential it has. All I have is three wishes Soccer Santa, just three wishes that I feel would benefit not only my experience and love for this game, but every fan's relationship with the beautiful game.

1. I wish lower league clubs take an initiative to inform the public on who their players are.

Not many clubs take the initiative to keep an updated roster on their site or social media. Shout out to the clubs like Motorik FC Alexandria who take the time to announce all of their player’s information: name, age, nationality, number and most importantly position. Then there are the game day lineup announcements. I have watched countless matches and always have to refer to players by their number. This means I don’t know who to follow and if I love the way a player plays I have no name to help continue to following his or her career. If a players information is public, fans and writers can help develop hometown heroes and create stories that help promote their club.

2. I wish that mainstream media can shine a light on lower league soccer and stop ignoring the beautiful history our sport has.

U.S. Soccer is not 26 years old. It did not begin with MLS and it seems that the mainstream media outlets have ignored that fact. It should start with the promotion of the U.S. Open Cup and while the tournament is going through its own troubling changes, it’s still the biggest event that can shine a light on the amatuer clubs in the country. Most of that tournaments games aren’t even on national television, rather they sit on the U.S. Soccer website where they lack promotion and are viewed far less than they deserve. What would happen if these lower league clubs got the promotion they deserved?

For the longest time, I thought my closest choice to watch live soccer was either High School, Orange County SC or LA Galaxy. I had to search to find my local club, but many other soccer fans around our nation won’t do that same work. Without mainstream media taking a focus on lower league soccer more fans will continue to travel hours to watch their “closest” club, when some of the best soccer stories lie a few blocks away from them.

3. I wish for bigger sponsors at a lower level.

While soccer in this country is starting to gain more traction and develop a bigger fan base, more big name companies need to get involved with promoting the sport. Target has become a huge promoter of soccer and are helping to create more safe places to play and even help create more coaching schools around the country. What would happen if another big company got involved and provided scholarship opportunities for children to play within various expensive academies? Or a company provided grants to coaches who are looking to create free academies for boys and girls.

I would also like to see bigger sponsors of regional and national leagues. If there was an airline or travel company that sponsored NPSL pro, teams could fly their squad around at a lower cost. Big companies could also sponsor regional tournaments that offer a large prize pool that could help sustain a club for a few years. While amateur soccer isn’t played for the money, it takes a lot of money to keep clubs afloat and bigger sponsors means more competitive clubs.

Phil Baki

Let’s get one out of the way, my perennial wish is that US Soccer had a true pyramid and promotion and relegation but I’m going to focus on the more immediate (and perhaps more grantable in the near term) wishes about American Soccer.

1. My first wish is that the State Soccer Associations across the country would have had the courage to force a true election and debate by providing Chris Kessell (or any other candidate who comes from outside the US Soccer Federation itself) with the three letters of nomination required for a candidate to run. Our current system is so insular and exclusive in the way it is run that only a few people knew of Cindy Parlow Cone’s candidacy and in that secrecy the Athlete and Pro Councils basically consolidated all the votes necessary to win her the election before she was even nominated. The State Associations would not have the power to overturn her election, but they could have driven the conversation surrounding important soccer issues into a broader public forum. Instead they chose the status quo, and another opportunity for discussion about true reform is passed by.

2. My second wish is that USSF had maintained US Open Cup Local Qualifying rules through this year's tournament at least. Teams won their 3rd Qualifying Round games and in the past that would mean a berth in the US Open Cup First Round. Now, we know there will be at least a Fourth Qualifying Round to pare down the amount of local qualifiers even further. These teams entered the process in August, with three qualifying games being the target. Now that more professional teams are slated to exist in 2019, the number of local qualifying slots is being adjusted. Here’s my simple solution, once Open Qualifying begins, that should be the cut off for adding new pro teams to the tournament. After your first full season as a professional team, then you get your entry to the USOC. Instead, pro teams are given far more time to prepare for the USOC while local qualifiers are jumping through hoops before the Final of the previous year’s Cup is even played. The USOC 2019 Handbook does outline that a Fourth and Fifth Qualifying Round might be necessary, but teams won their 3rd qualifier with no understanding of what that meant. The Open Cup should encourage amateur participation, and I wish USSF would stop doing everything they could to discourage it.

3. My final wish is that USSF, USASA and the stakeholders of amateur level soccer in the US would get in a room and hash out a legitimate structure to the game Division 4 and below. The lack of true structure in US Soccer is problematic for a number of reasons, but the most obvious effect that it has is that it is exceptionally hard to define what success for a given club, player, or manager is. The thing about the amateur levels though is that, right now, we have the infrastructure in place to structure the game and help these clubs define success for themselves. While they wander the wilderness that is D4 and below right now, lots of smart people are figuring out solutions to this problem. With a bit of structure from the governing bodies that are supposed to provide it, the game could be a lot more secure at these levels.

From all of us at Protagonist Soccer, may you have a wonderful holiday season filled with happiness, love, and soccer!