Written by Will Parchman

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If you’ve spent any amount of time on this website over the past year, you’ve undoubtedly read something on Gordon Wild. If not, here’s a stack of articles. Get cracking and meet me back here, stat.

Wild was, of course, one of those German players who never quite caught on with a pro club back home as a teenager and wanted to blend education with soccer here Stateside. That led him initially to USC Upstate in the tucked-away confines of Spartanburg, South Carolina. After a year there in 2015, he scored so many goals (15 in 17 games) and turned so many Power Five heads that he more or less had his pick of transfers. Maryland and Sasho Cirovski won the sweepstakes.

The Terps have been outstanding this year with Wild as the primary outlet up top. In two seasons in college soccer Wild now has 31 goals in 37 career college games. That is silly and also a little scary.

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Written by Will Parchman

Supporters

Regime transitions at any level are a difficult, muddy business. But even in the dark of their nadirs you can usually find solace in their rapidity. Like a winking star, they usually don’t take long.

There’s a reason. A clean sweep – one giant knee scope clearing out broken bone fragments and frayed tissue and cartilage that no longer fits with the new prosthesis – gives the new regime license to shape and mold and rehabilitate. Otherwise? It’s a patchwork quilt of awkward segments that don’t fit and work outwardly at cross purposes. Look at the dumpster fire that is Baylor University football right now. The school’s board of regents fired coach Art Briles on the eve of the 2016 season over a nasty sexual assault scandal, but retained his entire assistant coaching staff. The team is in full-on meltdown mode with an interim coach, and that cadre of holdover assistants just publicly supported their fired coach on Twitter in the face institutional headwinds.

This, above anything else, has been Real Salt Lake’s institutional failing over the past three years – an unwillingness to take the chisel to a fading marble arch of glory. And it is costing them more every day.

At the end of the 2013 season there was little question RSL was a model – if not the model – franchise in MLS. They had been to the pinnacle of MLS, come as close to winning the CCL as any team in league history had, and their academy was churning out players like few others (it still does, for whatever that’s worth). But tempests roiled underneath, and the edifice began shaking. Jason Kreis’s departure for NYCFC after the 2013 season was the first lightning strike. Then Garth Lagerwey left following the next season amid no small amount of acrimony from owner Dell Loy Hansen.

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Written by Will Parchman

upsl

The lower strata of American soccer – that is, everything underneath the “third tier” USL – is an unkempt rambling bramble patch of confused identity. The further into its expanse you travel, the darker the overhanging limbs and the more stifling the air. Even most of the most ardent U.S. soccer supporters couldn’t tell you the manner of beasts that live in those dens.

For some context, here’s a side-by-side look of the U.S. and England (sorry about it) cobbled together last year by Wrong Side of the Pond.

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Written by Will Parchman

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The Greek ideal of “the middle course” didn’t rise with Aristotle. Its genesis was probably in the story of Icarus, the son of a famous artist whose wings melted as he approached the sun. But it wasn’t until Aristotle that we came to understand the broader notion of moderation – the middle course – as a form of beauty.

In the end we take a great many of our social cues from Greek mores. The pilasters upholding the foundations of the reasoned, post-Enlightenment Western world were carved by it. Arthur Herman, the historian and author of the outstandingly nuanced The Cave and the Light, once called Aristotle the spiritual godfather of the internet.

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Written by Will Parchman

USL-cincinnati

The decaying underpinnings holding up what’s left of the beleaguered NASL are foundering. The league has been in trouble for the better part of 2016, but things, it seems, are accelerating. Amidst the uncertainty surrounding clubs that haven’t openly defected, many still in the league are faltering. Clubs like Rayo OKC and Fort Lauderdale are riven by internal strife. The pilings crack more quickly every day.

There have been rumors that, alongside the Ottawa Fury, longtime NASL stalwarts Tampa Bay were on their way out of the league. Now it would seem those rumors are closer to fruition than perhaps we previously imagined.

The Rowdies, it should be said, are situated in the same city as the USL’s headquarters. You know. For whatever that’s worth.

The time of the NASL’s demise is most likely at hand. Perhaps not this year, but it is contracting faster than it can possibly hope to expand spread over time. Even if this isn’t the end of the league as a concept, it certainly looks like the end of the league’s current iteration. Like an elderly grandparent nearing the end of the road, this all feels both expected and sad in some equal measure.

In the short term, puncturing the NASL won’t likely do much to impact the American soccer scene. The NASL is currently just 12 teams, and if it contracts like we expect it will that number could be in single digits by the time a proposed 2017 season would start. Many of those teams are already poorly run, have flagging fan support and lack dedicated home stadiums. Players good enough will simply flee to other leagues. Call it a winnowing process.

In the long term, though, the fall of the NASL knocks out the last section of wall keeping the invasion from rolling over the final defensive bastion. The NASL has quietly been at odds with MLS since reforming in 2009, stymieing any broader collaboration between the two on any significant scale. And its possible demise would clear the pathway for the first true promotion-relegation system in U.S. professional soccer.

The U.S. soccer’s pyramid is, at present, a completely theoretical construct. If someone from a country with a connected system asked you to provide it, this is where you’d point him.

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But in reality this is an example of looking through a glass darkly. The NASL and USL are beneath MLS in theory, cobbled together off a series of judgments calculating revenue, support, quality, staffing. Everything, really. And it makes sense. MLS is a better league than both. Nobody argues.

But there is no actual mechanism hooking these three into this shape. They are three independent orbs rotating around the same sun but rarely interacting with the gravitational pull of each other. Conventional wisdom has long had the USL and all its previous iterations underneath the more widely known NASL. Not only is that now wrong, but there’s no actual consequence to that conclusion even if it wasn’t. It’s a line on a piece of paper. The leagues never interact, so what, ultimately, does a pyramid matter?

If the NASL does collapse, I think a few things happen. For one, I think the USL and MLS bond strengthens the same way two relatives become stronger by the loss of a third. The primary reason the USL usurped whatever claim the NASL had to the No. 2 spot on our figurative pro ladder is in organization. They’ve frankly been better in every facet, from promotion to media interaction to stadium sites to team building to expansion. It’s folly to not see the MLS tie-in here. The retraction of the NASL means less inhibition. Or it should, anyway.

But the one thing that should happen next not only to solidify the USL’s position but to lay the groundwork for the flowering of American soccer’s next generation? Pro-rel. Today, we are talking about pro-rel. May God watch over us from above.

Whatever your thoughts on the topic, the divisiveness tends to ward off wider discussion. Completely understandable malady. Some ideas become so corrupted by their messengers that the virus is downloaded onto the idea’s hard drive. The loudest (and thereby angriest) pro-rel advocates in this country have done more to damage their cause than they probably understand. By and large they have packaged their message into grenades, not pamphlets. So I understand the recoil. Unfortunately, in the current climate, disclaimers are still necessary in matters of promotion and relegation in the U.S.

But I think to ignore the opportunity facing the USL is to miss the future.

The USL has been expanding at pace for the past three years now, and the vast majority of MLS clubs now have affiliates, if not teams operated by central command, in its ranks. The league is still attached to its regional model, which is understandable. The stated goal has always been to get the league to 36 teams divided between three conferences with 12 in each. It had 28 this season, with Nashville and Reno already announced. You can probably expect more soon – welcoming the most well organized of the NASL defectors will help – meaning 36 is not a distant goal. I’d expect that in the next few years.

Once the USL reaches that benchmark, it is time it embarked on the great promotion-relegation experiment.

The way the USL does this is ultimately up to them, but there’s a fairly tamped-down pathway to follow. Play the, say, 2018 season the way it’s currently arranged; 36 teams, three conferences, one unified postseason. Then in 2019, cut the table in half based on the previous season’s results, 18 and 18. The top 18 go to USL I, the bottom 18 move to USL II. Then incentivize USL I, giving teams some sort of small monetary benefit for staying up to create a bottleneck to the first tier. At first that might be whatever bonuses the league can afford. Just make it something.

Because in the end this is ultimately mimicking global pro-rel. It is a means to a broader goal, but it has to start somewhere. And you have to start at the base. The fact that the USL is already hooked into MLS makes this an even more enticing place to begin. Because down the line it allows MLS, if it is so inclined, to simply attach the USL’s two divisions onto its back hitch. Then, immediately, you have a three-tiered pro-rel system.

The only immediate issue I see, aside from whatever unforeseen back end monetary kerfuffles might arise, is what to do with the Galaxy 2 or Sounders 2 or any second team in the event of a promotion situation. And to that I’d say to simply look to Spain. A club’s second team can’t progress to the same level as the senior team, meaning Barcelona B can never ascend to La Liga so long as Barcelona is in it. This system has worked abroad for years. It can work here too.

There are operational hurdles to implementing this plan because of course there are. This is American soccer, the longing land of single entity. Convincing incumbent MLS owners to get on board won’t be easy. And to be sure, MLS may not be open to pro-rel in large part because there is no currently viable option on their table. All the USL can do is create a sort of closed two-tiered pro-rel (my colleague Travis Clark termed this “faux-rel,” which I think works nicely) and hope the seed germinates. In the meantime, the USL will have a functioning promotion and relegation system which will almost certainly attract new fans simply on the basis of novelty.

My hope is that something grows out of the mounting detritus of the NASL. The USL doesn’t need the NASL’s collapse to attempt this most audacious of plans. But it may need that kick to spur on to something larger than any single club or even any single league. Let it be pro-rel and perhaps we’ll see that American soccer’s capabilities can shock even the most skeptical of us.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Alex Muyl took a settling touch, spun around to face the teeth of his own attack and realized immediately he was all alone. Another touch and here was Felipe streaking toward the box from his spot deep in the midfield.

Muyl saw him. He’d checked his shoulders as soon as he received the pass slightly off the elbow of the box, and he saw Felipe’s run almost immediately. After the second touch Muyl was perfect, laser-guiding his square lead ball to Felipe’s favored foot in space. Felipe only needed a touch before letting it go. 4-0. Game over.

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Written by Will Parchman

Alphonso-Davies-flip

Like a leery parent watching his teenager take his first teetering steps into the perilous world of courtship, Carl Robinson’s done everything but encase Alphonso Davies in a tinted shield of graphite. But light escapes, no matter how much you try to tape the windows.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Sit with this for a moment — exactly who are the Houston Dynamo?

There is no way to cushion the barbed fact that the Owen Coyle era in Houston was a twisted wreck of misshapen identity. It wasn’t that Coyle didn’t know the American game or the American player or even the system in which they inhabit. At the end, it didn’t look as though he cared to learn.

More than any other team in the league, Houston desperately needed its last shift in coaching paradigm to work. Forget for a moment that Coyle came from outside the league (where the success ratios drop precipitously compared to those with domestic experience) and focus instead on everything around him, on the shroud around the club itself. There is no more puzzling market in the country, and no club has failed to tap into its own city like Houston has failed. Coyle was the opening. Or so they thought.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Christian Seifert first met Don Garber in Miami in 2007. The year was an important historical marker for the working legacy of both men, albeit in significantly different ways.

Two years earlier, Seifert was elevated to CEO of the DFL, the governing body of the top two tiers in German soccer: the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga. A former executive at MTV, Seifert brought a distinctly different and 21st century approach to the position. In 2000, as part of a broad effort to reorganize the German system following a string of disastrous performances from the national team, the DFL was formed to oversee the top two tiers as a sort of single conglomeration of individual shareholders. This is how Seifert saw the clubs, not necessarily as separate entities but as 36 individual parts of a single overarching business.

The only other nation to do it this way is France, and the German model quickly separated itself as the city on a hill. Among other benefits it allowed the second tier to benefit more heavily from TV revenue, the impressive rise of which in Germany has been badly overshadowed by the funny money being tossed around in England.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Tata Martino lost in the court of Argentinean public opinion. And when the gavel hit there was no doubling back.

How will MLS receive him, if he is next?

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