Going into this season, there were many questions that were being asked around the soccer world about what the NASL would actually stand for. Was it going to be a true “Second Division”. Was it going to be a “feeder league” for MLS teams? Or was it going to be a league that could actually stand on its own and prove to offer great soccer to fans, not just in the NASL towns, but around the country?
These questions are still being asked today as they were when the formation of the NASL was announced months ago. And the only way to really look to see if these questions are being answered is to look at what is currently happening with the NASL teams.
Looking at the rosters this year, there are a few impressive players. Darren Kenton, Greg Shields, Brent Sancho, Matt Jordan and Júnior Baiano all have some sort of decent overseas or MLS experience. Still, they were the few players that knew what it was like to play at the next level. And even though they did have stints at the top level at some point in their careers, they are still what many would consider ‘minor league’ quality.
In addition to these players, many of the signings that we see happening around the NASL seem to be, well, weak. Yeah, we look at some and say there might be a good player here or there. But the fact still remains that most of the signings look to be along the lines of a typical minor league team in any sport.
Then came AC St. Louis and their announcement of Steve Ralston joining the team. Ralston, who played for the US National Team and who captained the New England Revolution during their four trips to the MLS Cup finals (though they pulled a Buffalo Bills in all of them), showed that the St. Louis franchise were looking to actually ‘build’ a team for the future.
Basically, while some of the teams currently look like nothing more than a Triple-A style of soccer, AC St. Louis looks like a team that wants to not only show that they have the team to win, but they are serious about taking on the MLS as well. And when you yank a record-holding MLS player out of their league, that shows the seriousness of the franchise’s efforts.
Jeff Cooper, Chairman of AC St. Louis, has done a great job of bringing in some high-profile staff into the fold as well. In addition to Claude Anelka (yes, every man deserves a second chance), Cooper brough in Francisco Filho. Many might not know Francisco, but to start off he is Brazilian (good start). Second, he was a coach that worked at Clairefontaine, the training facility for the French National Team and one of the elite training academies in France. And if you put those together, well….1998 France – World Cup winners against Brazil…2002 Brazil wins World Cup…2006 France make it to World Cup final. See, there is a nice trend going on. Hopefully, Francisco will be the guy to pull off the job.
So, here is my main point…Is AC St. Louis setting the bar by which other NASL teams will have to compete in order to be a successful? It is true that St. Louis, Tampa and Minnesota have a bit of an advantage over the other older, established teams as they can start from square one as far as recruiting and coaching.
But with the quality of their signings, it seems as if AC St. Louis is bound to be something more than just a “Second Division” team. They look to be going places.
Filed under: AC St. Louis |