As reported by Brian Quarstad of Inside Minnesota Soccer http://www.insidemnsoccer.com/ on Wednesday, AC St. Louis owner Jeff Cooper did not attend the USSF meeting this week that were convened specifically to discuss future requirements for Division 2 soccer owners. Also missing were representatives of the Puerto Rico Islanders, the Portland Timbers and the expansion Atlanta Silverbacks and Orlando franchise. Portland will be playing in MLS next season, and it has been reported that the Atlanta and Orlando ownership groups have run into major financial difficulties that would prohibit them from fielding teams in 2011.
As the Fanatic reported in early June, Cooper also did not attend the NASL meetings held in Montreal. Earlier this year, Cooper was also the commissioner of the NASL, but his name is no longer listed on the NASL website as a member of the league’s staff, nor as a member of any league committee. Cooper was a major player in the establishment of the NASL, which occurred when a group of former dissatisfied USL team owners, and Cooper, decided to break away from the USL and form their own league. With lawsuits threatened by USL entities, the USSF sanctioned a compromise league for 2010 that featured both the NASL teams and the USL teams that stayed in that organization, to be run by the USSF, with the provision that USSF would not run D2 in the future.
Mr. Cooper has kept an extremely low profile since the start of the season. When news of financial difficulties with AC St. Louis and the St. Louis Athletica were made public in late May, Cooper issued a press release after the Athletica folded, stressing the failure of the Vaid brothers, English investors in both clubs, to supply the funds that were required. As far as I am aware, he has not made any further public statement concerning the future of the team. Nor is he seen at AC St. Louis games, or in the NASL offices.
When Cooper failed to show at the NASL meetings in June, some suggested that he was too busy seeking investors. Some posited that he was embarrassed because of the folding of the Athletica team. Well, ok. But to be absent from the important USSF meetings that are formalizing the future requirements for D2 soccer in North America? Absurd. Fool me once, shame on you…….you all know the rest.
It was reported in Brian’s article that Cooper has had a falling out with other NASL owners and US soccer, and vice versa. That’s quite understandable. Apparently the NASL owners were none too happy with the black eye that Cooper’s financial problems gave the league, and USSF were not pleased that the Athletica folded so quickly and easily. And it is said that Cooper has been very dissatisfied with what he perceives as a lack of support from both entities. Got it. But to not show up at the meeting? That is beyond my comprehension. As a season ticket holder who plunked down $420 in good faith for one season ticket to the expansion AC St. Louis club, I expect the owner of the team to represent the club at meetings that directly concern that club’s future. That is a reasonable expectation. And for the owner not to attend demands a reasonable explanation.
The sad part of this is that, after a rocky start, the AC St. Louis club has been playing fairly well since the beginning of June, posting a 4-3-5 record along with two wins in the US Open Cup that got them a date with the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. Goalkeeper Alec Dufty has six clean sheets in league play, and Mike Ambersley is fifth in USSF D2 in goals scored. The team, under the direction of Coach Dale Schilly, has played a more attacking style of soccer and has a shot at postseason play. Although crowds have diminished since the season opener, AC St. Louis has never drawn a crowd under 2,000 for a home date, even on a week night. Not great, but not bad for a city that hasn’t had professional men’s outdoor soccer in thirty years and a team that has done little marketing and has had more than its share of controversy. Plus, AB Soccer Park, the team’s home field, was donated to the team by Anheuser-Busch and is a very nice soccer specific park, perfect for D2, in a reasonably central location.
So my question is…what gives, Mr. Cooper? I appreciate the effort you’ve made over the years to bring an MLS franchise to St. Louis, and I am thankful and quite happy to have an NASL franchise in St. Louis. But I don’t understand the no-show behavior. It’s time to stand up, or stand down. If you want to be the owner of a professional soccer team in St. Louis, show up to meetings and represent for your home town. If you have lost interest, please stand down so that someone else, someday, can own a professional soccer franchise in this town that deserves one and can support one. Nothing personal, but the “invisible man” act is wearing thin and does not instill confidence in the future of professional soccer in our city. Players, coaches, staff and fans at least deserve the courtesy of knowing what’s going on.