October 6, 2008

Dissecting the USL's response to the Puerto Rico fiasco


Many thanks to the anonymous poster who has made us privy to an e-mail conversation between a Puerto Rico supporter and Tim Holt, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the United Soccer Leagues.

While there are many conspiracy theories floating around about the decision to award the championship game to Vancouver, the following list of reasons was given by Mr. Holt as factors that played in the league's decision:

"The major determining factors include stadium and field considerations, television, fan attendance, media coverage, hotel, transportation, ancillary events, visiting team support, and other financial requirements."

If we break these down one by one, you'll see that, aside from some unknown act of God, there's no reason that the league's explanation has basis.

1. Stadium and Field Considerations
- Anyone watching Sunday's game on FSC could have noted that Swangard Stadium's pitch was an absolute disaster. Patches of turf here and there, an absolute embarrassment. Loubriel Stadium's pitch, however, has weathered much more action as of late, with the Islanders having played three CONCACAF Champions League matches and three USL matches in less than a month, yet looked considerably better on Sunday. I'll admit, watching the Islanders host Santos Laguna almost 2 weeks ago looked terrible, as heavy rains waterlogged the pitch and made it almost unplayable. But this is your CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH. This is the one game you have to showcase your league in front of the largest audience of the season. And you want to do it on THAT kind of field?

Puerto Rico 1, USL 0

2. Fan Attendance
- You're kidding me, right? Attendance for Sunday's two semifinal matches? 9,112 in Puerto Rico, 4,992 in Vancouver. Over the season, Puerto Rico averaged 4,716 fans for their 16 home games thus far. Vancouver, on the other hand, has averaged 4,996 fans for their 17 home games. So, not much difference between the two teams, right? Well, what needs to be looked at is yesterday's attendance numbers to get an idea of what kind of crowd would show up on Sunday for the final. Obviously, Islander fans turned out in numbers on Sunday, posting their largest attendance of the season. And with the capacity at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium being 12,500, it would be hard to imagine the Islanders NOT selling out the final. Swangard, on the other hand, boasts a capacity of a meager 5,288. Sure, the stadium was upgraded for the 2007 U-20 World Cup, but the added seats for that event were just temporary. And I have not read anywhere that the Whitecaps will be increasing capacity for Sunday's game. In that case, how can you deny a stadium that holds more than twice what the other does?

Puerto Rico 2, USL 0

3. Media Coverage
- Up until the CONCACAF Champions League, the USL might have had a good argument. All of the talk about the logistics needed for Fox Soccer Channel to broadcast the final is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. As mentioned before, this is the league's showcase event. And if you look at the USL's broadcast schedule on FSC for the 2008 season, you'll see that Puerto Rico wasn't even included ONCE to host a home game on the network for the season. HOWEVER, any arguments about the stadium not being ready for a television broadcast are out the window, as the team has been featured on FSC at home against Alajuelense, Tauro FC and Santos Laguna in little over a month. And don't give me this crap about FSC wanting to use their OWN equipment. That's like a touring band going overseas and wanting to take along their own equipment, it just doesn't happen unless you're U2. You rent equipment to make things work, which FSC could do.

Puerto Rico 3, USL 0

4. Hotel and Transportation

- I'm bunching these two together because I feel they're alike and critical for any organization looking to host an international event. We all know Vancouver is a world city, as is San Juan. Both have modern airports, modern amenities and modern lodging. Hell, the international media could even stay at a hotel in San Juan that has a casino and have a little fun for once! (Although in the case of Christian Miles, I don't think that ANYTHING on this planet can get him to have some fun.) And as far as fans getting to the game? Nothing can top the Loubriel's own metro station, the Deportivo Station that drops you off at the stadium. Swangard? The closest rail station is the Patterson Station, which requires a long walk through a heavily forested part of Central Park in Burnaby or a transfer to a bus line that will drop you off at the corner of Boundary and Kingsway. Sure, you can't drive from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico, but who needs to drive these days? I mean, are they expecting that many journalists from Seattle to drive up for the USL First Division Championshp

Puerto Rico 4, USL 0

5. Ancillary Events

- Both stadiums currently have the Whitecaps and the Islanders as their only tenants, so no other sporting events would be held there in the week leading up to the match. And the Islanders will be playing in Torreon, Mexico on Wednesday for their game against Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League. So how can you say that "other events" are a problem?

Puerto Rico 5, USL 0

6. Visiting Team Support
- This is probably the most laughable of all the excuses the USL has given. In order to properly dispel this reason given by the USL, one must look at the economic makeup of both the Vancouver and San Juan metropolitan areas. Why? Because traveling the longest distance between two USL First Division requires money, and a great deal of it. Vancouver, on one hand, is noted for being the second-most expensive city in Canada to live and having the most most expensive average price for a major city in Canada. That being said, it isn't cheap to live in Vancouver. On the other hand, San Juan and the island of Puerto Rico are known for its massive poverty, despite being tied to the United States government. Per the 2006 U.S. Census, 45.6% of all Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line, a percentage greater than that of any of the 50 states. So, who has more of an opportunity, financially, to travel to the other team's city and stadium to attend the game? RHETORICAL QUESTION FARLEY

Puerto Rico 6, USL 0

7. Other Financial Requirements
- Who has first option to buy the rights to host the final? Who will put up more money? Well, one thing to keep in mind: According to the e-mail given to us, Montreal (and Joey Saputo, easily the richest man involved in the USL,) would have let Puerto Rico host the final had Montreal advanced. It's unfathomable to believe that the Islanders management would pass up an opportunity to make history, sell out the Loubriel and leave a permanent footprint for soccer on the island of Puerto Rico by letting Vancouver bid more. But something smells funny here. Either there was some under the table money changing hands or the site for the final had already been decided (which I think is entirely the case, considering how fast the information went up on the Whitecaps website following their win).

Puerto Rico 7, USL 0

When it all comes down to it, I still can't see any reason why the USL can logically and within good reason deny Puerto Rico from hosting the final.

Now if someone wants to come up with a blog post arguing the case for the USL and the Whitecaps, by all means, be my guest.

But from where I'm sitting, it doesn't look just to me.

Just as the United States government has screwed over and ignored the island of Puerto Rico for close to a century, to me it appears that the USL is just following suit and screwing over the good people of Puerto Rico again.

Comments are more than welcome...


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. i just finished a request for the U$L people to answer those exact questions but you sir said it all.

I don't think anyone can argue any of those 7 point against... logically I mean

Anonymous said...

You're welcome - I'm an Islanders fan, but am friends with a couple of Silverbacks and enjoy the blogs that you guys post here...

Anonymous said...

i was told there was no way puerto rico would get the final, the bid process was in this order:

montreal , rochester ,vancouver

montreal with highest bid ,vancouver the lowest

Anonymous said...

You make excellent points, and this is coming from someone in Vancouver.

Anonymous said...

Anyone that watch those games, knew something was odd with the refs.

Now I may sound like a ranting fanatic but the ref crew for Friday had one assignment don't let the Islanders reach the final Since 2-0 is not a big lead playing PR at home (yes the league knows it) they send an even bolder crew just do anything the prevent any possible PRI championship game... at minute 36, (second goal, and the same minute were Miranda was shown a red card at the previous game) I guess the ref said "these Rochester guys are doing my job too difficult" and blatantly ignored any hard foul against Noel and Atieno.

By the way, PRI proved again that at full strength it hard to win, even score against the Islanders.

Longshoe said...

Montoya loves you EG and your comments about this one.

From my limited knowledge of the situation, the final location had to have been already decided due to the bid process. That's how USL did things in the past, and that's how USSF does things for the Open Cup. Vancouver (and Montreal, from the comments made) just outbid Puerto Rico. The bidding process probably includes guaranteed money that the league would make from the game, that's how the Open Cup process was done.

I guess Puerto Rico just didn't make a big enough bid. It shouldn't come to that. If the league has standards for stadiums for participating in the regular season, then everyone should meet those. The standards shouldn't be higher for a final than they would be for a regular season game. This isn't the mid-90's where games were played in parks and middle school fields that couldn't do TV. All the stadiums have to be able to support TV, why would you have USL Live and the FSC deal otherwise?

Get rid of the bid process and give the final to the best team left. OR, do a 2-legged final so each team gets some love. Otherwise, you look rather foolish.