A View from Afar / Commentary

Ocean City’s Chevaughn Walsh just changed U.S. pro soccer

Photo courtesy of Ocean City Nor’easters

Ocean City Nor’easters star striker Chevaughn Walsh just changed American professional soccer a little bit.

The PDL’s most valuable player signed a professional contract with the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds this month and is expected to play out the rest of the season.

Such moves are very uncommon, and Walsh’s signing could herald a new trend in American professional soccer, hammering another nail into the coffin of the MLS SuperDraft.

The PDL is at base an amateur league that plays a short season from May through August, effectively time between spring and fall semesters at college.

In turn, PDL draws mostly top college players and some graduates still seeking a team, and it serves as a shop window for scouts, in addition to a college season many talent evaluators feel is too short. To some, the PDL is a higher level of competition that better reveals a player’s suitability for the pros.

After the PDL season, most players return to college for another season. The most impressive ones enter MLS via the MLS SuperDraft. For example, Philadelphia Union players C.J. Sapong, Ray Gaddis, Keegan Rosenberry, and Leo Fernandes all played for PDL side Reading United prior to being drafted by MLS clubs.

The college graduates on PDL squads generally stick around because their pro prospects didn’t work out after graduation, but they’re not giving up. A few good ones earn pro contracts in USL thanks to this last fling in PDL, such as the Union’s Ken Tribbett.

But it’s rare for players to willingly forfeit their college eligibility and skip the rest of their undergrad years to enter the USL immediately after the PDL season ends.

Walsh has done just that.

Perhaps he’s a unique case. The Jamaican national, who is of no relation to me, was a junior college All-American last year, but we had heard little of his future college prospects. Maybe there were none.

Regardless, why should he stay in college if he has no interest in the education and just wants to play pro soccer?

USL is offering that avenue now, and it’s immediate, without the need to wait for the MLS amateur draft.

Other players are surely taking note. Fresno Fuego’s Christian Chaney signed with Sacramento Republic FC straight out of the PDL season too, although there are some differences. Chaney played juco ball as well, but he had earned a look from an Armenian side in February before returning to PDL in the spring.

The Walsh signing is yet another sign of significant change in how players come through the American system to reach the pros, and it explains why MLS clubs don’t value the draft as much as in most other American professional sports. USL is a better option than it ever has been. And unlike college soccer, it comes with a paycheck.

Miscellaneous Union and U.S. soccer notes

Bedoya and Creavalle, imperfect together: Yes, we’ve noticed how much Alejandro Bedoya does not like playing with Warren Creavalle. Bedoya has not seen the best of Creavalle, who has been a weak link in midfield since Bedoya’s arrival. That said, Creavalle demonstrated better play than this earlier in the year, so it could be a matter of chemistry. Once Brian Carroll returns from injury, expect him to step right back into the lineup, unless Maurice Edu unexpectedly shows up in a Union lineup one day.

Roland Alberg, second striker: That’s what he is. Don’t bother calling him a midfielder, but don’t pretend we have evidence he can be a No. 9 either. He was invisible in his one start at center forward with the Union. Alberg’s best role may be instant offense off the bench, particularly with Tranquillo Barnetta rightly lodged in at the No. 10. Anyone remember Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, the former Detroit Pistons guard who helped establish the “sixth man” role in the NBA? We do. That may be Alberg. The guy can find the net.

Hey, you never know: I ran into a U.S. soccer contingent early Monday morning at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, having taken the overnight flight from Newark. When I saw the group sporting what looked like U.S. Soccer gear — look, I hadn’t had a lick of sleep, and for some bizarre reason it made sense at the time that they could have also been tennis or volleyball players — I walked up to a coach and asked who he was with. He said the U19s. I asked where they were headed, and he said, Tourney in Serbia. Which one? I asked. You wouldn’t know it, he said. And it’s true, I pay very little attention to youth international teams, like most people. Still, I found it funny because of how presumptive it was. I chuckled, looked at my two-year-old son waking up in the baby stroller, decided that keeping him asleep was far more important than chatting with this coach (who clearly wasn’t interested in talking with me, probably after a similarly long transoceanic flight), and turned to walk off.

Then I added, “Hey, you never know. I know (former Serbia U19 head coach Veljko) Paunovic left Serbia for MLS, for example.” He laughed in surprise and acknowledgment.

The world is changing. Yes, Americans pay attention to soccer.


  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    In reference to Creavalle’s early season better play, the over all pace of play in March and April is slower than it is in August and September. He’s pretty good in preseason and early season. For whatever reason as the league speeds up, his offensive skills have not.
    The relationship between the USL and MLS will continue to evolve. Analogies to professional baseball farm teams only go so far. Major League Baseball controls the rosters and personnel decisions of the farm systems thoroughly. They probably also gain compliance with their wishes through meaningful financial subsidies I am guessing. The big clubs have been around for a while and have meaningful financial reserves and resources.
    The USL has two kinds of relationships to individual MLS clubs. One type, of which the Union and the Steel are only one example, is the wholly-owned affiliate, while the other is the independent affiliate has Harrisburg used to be to the Union before the Steel. the Key difference is that an independent affiliate can tell the MLS side “No,” as it seems Harrisburg did early in 2015. Since “No,” does not cut off a substantial revenue stream, they can survive the defiance.
    Pittsburgh is an independent affiliate of the Columbus Crew this season.
    USL contracts seem to be legally independent of Major League Soccer. Had Matt Jones remained injured and unable to play this coming weekend, that legal separation would have been illustrated by the use of the “Extreme Hardship” loophole in the MLS roster rules [public media version] that allows the separation to be bypassed. [Jones is available to the Steel later this evening, and I expect him to start as a tune-up for starting in goal in Chicago in Andre Blake’s absence.]
    Were MLS to restrict an independent USL side’s ability to sign a Chevaughn Walsh, they would seriously weaken USL’s status as an independent legal entity I would suspect, and in the long-term tht would lead to MLS having to support USL financially. MLS is not yet making enough money to do that. [That would take TV contract fees similar to those for the NFL, MLB and NBA in this country, and the six giants of soccer in Europe.

    • excellent content OSC.
      MLS isn’t making enough money to support itself… I wonder if it will ever make enough money to support an entire other division… which leads me as usual full circle to the problem.. just like an ouroboros.
      course $200 million dollar franchise fees may begin to help and then hey.. they will be $350 million dollars and MLS will have cemented itself as….. yeah yeah yeah.
      Shake my Head. Sigh. Ho-Hum. However it is framed.

    • There is an example of an upcoming USL team (Rio I think?) that strictly follows the minor league model of the MLS team managing the roster and players while the USL owner takes care of the stadium and marketing. It will be interesting to see where it all goes.
      I’m hopeful there will be more and more independent teams throughout the country (MLS or otherwise) and that even if pro/rel never happens, we’ll have the opportunity to see some giant slaying in the Open Cup every year.

  2. Jim Presti says:

    Serious question: Does anyone else notice that Stewart, Curtin, and now Bedoya are all quick to criticize MLS and it’s rules/structure publically in press conferences – and in Bedoya’s case via social media? Granted Curtin and Stewart are a bit more subtle, but in most cases their feelings are pretty clear when you read between the lines. Is this a just a matter of unrelated circumstances throughout the year or is the Union staff trying to effect change from within?
    Could they be insider proponents for movement to an open pyramid? Have they started to show their hand? Stewart is clearly familiar with the challenges of an open structure. Was he brought in because of his vision and his familiarity? How does Sugarman and – more importantly – Graham view the pro/rel situation?
    The Union could potentially be in a better place than other MLS franchises with a strong and growing academy structure, a wholly-owned USL team, a soccer-specific stadium, pragmatic and business-oriented ownership group, and a verbal commitment to developing and building American talent for the International level.
    Have I gone too far? Too much tin hat?

    • I don’t see what’s in it for Sugarman and Graham to advocate for pro/rel.

      • Jim Presti says:

        Retaining and reinvesting profits instead of re-distribution among the other franchises – just from a basic financial incentive.
        Regarding player acquisition and development, the MLS front office and their committees which are made up of different owners and ownership groups [If I remember correctly] control the rules, regulations, and operations of the league. So see all the roadblocks they’ve run into this year alone with Rosenberry, Bedoya, discovery lists etc.
        There are plenty of incentives for motivated owners to make money.
        Then go ahead and tack on solidarity payments [if USSF ever gets there] and you have a very viable business model that can keeps the wheels moving by effectively identifying, developing, and selling young talent.

      • We’re on the low end of average attendance and don’t have any local media deal.
        They’d have to be very confident in their ability to develop talent (if USSF even allows it as you said) or to become more relevant in the local sports landscape to accept the risk of relegation.

      • Jim Presti says:

        Re: Average paid attendance. Union tends to over in the middle of the pack. Not anywhere near the low end.
        Given their recent roster moves and trades, the confidence in their academy is definitely building for sure.

      • A pay day?
        Sugarman seems to view his ownership as an investment. Should the MLS open up from their single entity structure then other investors (domestic and overseas) might look to purchase teams. Based on the initial investment he made, Sugarman would likely turn a decent profit if he would sell his stake.

      • While true, that’s happening either way. I think he wants to turn a profit every year in terms of the team making money.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      What tin hat? Isn’t your last paragraph what they have publically stated they want to be?
      On the complaints, Bedoya lived through a trilateral negotiation, not a bilateral one. Curtin is honest about his feelings, and everyone listening to Earnie Stewart knows the environment from which he came. If he did not complain about MLS’s Byzantine etc., etc., no one would believe him.
      why do you think the de facto chairman of the Academy Board of Trustees’ opinion of pro/rel is more important than that of the principal owner? the assumption puzzles me and my question is genuine.
      I would think both would oppose equally because they have calculated their business plans on the assumption of its non-existence. Each is spending considerable money. Neither is going to want to increase his exposure to risk.

      • Tin hat as in conspiracy theory etc. Re: exposure to risk. Just like general investing principles, greater exposure to risk typically yields greater profits and vice versa. The pragmatic business owner weighs both while exploiting inefficiencies in the current market.
        I think we can also say that the Academy structure and development system in the US is drastically inefficient. Excellent opportunity to invest and exploit especially when you are already ahead of the game.
        Re: Sugarman & Graham. Not sure what their principle investments have been to date. They may not have as much loss exposure right now, but they may have more to gain if the fruits of the business were not also divided among the remaining franchises or completely lost to clubs abroad. This is a common occurrence in the US youth soccer development system now. If they push for solidarity payments along with an open pyramid, there is more risk – but infinitely more to gain.
        If they were relegated, how long do you think it would take them to gain promotion with the current corp of NASL and USL teams, especially with a decent youth academy pumping out talent year over year? I doubt they would drop down for too long. Vision and Philosophy coupled with an executable Plan tends to exceed very well in the business world. No reason it can’t happen in this soccer market… except for MLS, SUM, and USSF have a current stranglehold.

      • Re: Graham vs. Sugarman. Just my impression that Graham is much more heavily invested on the soccer side of the business whereas Sugarman is more of the principle financial investor. Graham worked to bring Stewart in and is in charge of the Academy.
        I see Sugarman as more of a “silent owner” than as a vocal agent for change, whereas Graham strikes me as the kind of person who is emotionally invested in US soccer from the youth level to the professional level. There is no substitute for passion.

    • It often does seem to be that the morass of MLS rule bogs down medium and and smaller market teams more than it it benefits them. Perhaps I’m just ignorant, but I don’t recall having read much about LA or Seattle having to get into negotiations with a bunch of other clubs when they want to sign a Dos Santos or a Jordan Morris, etc.
      But yeah, I think it would be in the interest of a club like Philadelphia — one that is shorter on cash but (newly) rich in smarts and organization to compete on actual merits.
      MLS rules must drive Stewart nuts.

      • There was a fun flow chart floating out there a while back that essentially suggested if you were LA, SEA, TOR, etc you got the benefit of the doubt, rules changed in your favor, and you got your man. If not, then you are SOL.
        Opening the pyramid would only make the middle and smaller markets stronger and better. Forced to compete or drop down.
        Plus everyone would have the rules applied to them equally.

  3. Yes, yes, yes on Alberg. I’ve been saying for months that he’s basically a poacher striker (and a fine one at that), not a CAM, and certainly not a solo #9. I feel like Dan Walsh and I are the only ones saying this on this site.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      I’m not sure what he is.
      At the moment I’m inclined to duplicate Dan Walsh’s luxury tag and hang it on Alberg in addition to the prior attachment to Ilsinho.
      I think he needs another full year for assessment as this one has contained many different adjustments. I’m not yet ready to believe I should not give up on him.
      Do keep in mind as you think about him the positive successes Jim Curtin has had improving some of his players, along with the obvious lacks of such success.

      • His defensive effort has improved over the last few appearances. It is pretty clear that it has to if he wants to crack the starting lineup consistently which is a powerful motivator for change. Time will tell but for this season I think having him as a super sub is very useful.

  4. Terry Gibbs says:

    The real reason was he was at a junior college and could not transfer to a four year school because his GPA was so bad. The USL was his only hope unfortunately

    • Probably the case. Still significant though.

      • Terry Gibbs says:

        Not probably- definitely lol He wouldn’t of even got close to the mls super draft because he would of falling out of status with his student visa since he’s an international student.

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