USL Isn't the Bargain Barn Any More

For quite a while now MLS and USL have had a kind of uneasy truce.

The formal agreement between the two expired several years ago and no one has made much of an effort to come up with a new one.

Part of the problem is of course that the two leagues are exact opposites of each other structurally, making any kind of meaningful partnership virtually impossible.

USL is basically a sole proprietorship, a sort of Mom and Pop outfit owned and operated by one guy, Portuguese ex-pat Francisco Marcos. Team owners pay a franchise fee to Mr. Marcos, which then gives them the right to field a team. Each team is solely responsible for their own bottom line.

MLS is a corporate entity which you join by, essentially, purchasing a partnership position. While some revenues are withheld for individual team operations, most are returned to the corporation to be used for league operations and player salaries.

(Note to passing attorneys: I fully realize that I have misused terms here which have legal definitions. Please don't point it out. I'm simplifying.)

All of which goes a ways towards explaining why the cherished dream of so many American fans - "Promotion and Relegation" - is and will remain an impossibility.

Just because your team finishes at the bottom of MLS doesn't give your partners the right to toss you out of the company (while keeping the millions of dollars you paid to join in the first place) and make you go play in some other league.

Likewise, having paid Frank Marcos a few hundred grand and then finishing first in his private league does not entitle you to go be one of Phil Anschutz' partners.

If it worked that way, nobody in their right mind would shell out $50 million to join MLS. They'd pay Frank a half million or so, spend a few million on good players, finish first in USL 1 and presto: you now own an MLS team.

Uh, no. Sorry. You want into MLS, you have to pony up the big bucks.

With virtually nothing in common besides the sport they play - which is after all just about the last practical consideration - the leagues have had very little to talk about.

And with the development of MLS reserve teams, the only practical need - a place to stash players - disappeared as well.

None of which prevented USL from promoting what they used to call "The American Soccer Pyramid", which was prominently and graphically depicted on their website. It showed that the entry level for American professional soccer was the USL (ie. Frank Marcos-owned) Super Y League, from whence you ascended through the USL (ie. Frank Marcos-owned) PDL, through USL2 and USL1.

And of course pruodly perched at the top of the pyramid was Major League Soccer.

But while this was a great sales brochure for selling parents on the idea of shelling out big bucks for Super Y, thereby starting little Johnny on the road to MLS stardom, it was pretty much completely untrue.

Being in any USL team did not and does mean you're part of some vast soccer machine, a sort of minor league feeder system which churns outprofessional players.

Indeed, the road between USL1 and MLS more often goes down rather than up. The invaluable "The Best Elven" blog keeps track of JUST THIS KIND OF THING for us, and while MLS does indeed have it's share of USL1 refugees it's pretty much a hit or miss proposition.

Because the bottom line is that there are darn few players in USL1 who haven't at least been in an MLS camp once or twice, and while some players are in the lower division because MLS won't pay them as much, for the most part they're there because MLS doesn't think they're that much better than what they have.

All of which brings us to Macoumba Kandji.

Macoumba Kandji was born in Senegal, raised in Gambia and is here in the US trying to get asylum status.

He showed up one day for a tryout with the Atlanta Silverbacks, who signed him about six minutes later.

In case you don't faithfully follow USL soccer on FSC, well, shame on you. Nevertheless, here's what you probably missed:

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Big (6'4" - 180). Fast. Powerful. Raw. Wildly talented. And the property of the Atlanta Silverbacks.

And therein lies the problem. Several MLS teams have made the trip down to A-T to drool over the guy, most recently NYRB.

They, like everybody else, figured you flash a wad of hundreds at a USL1 side and they fall over like a hooker in a bus station.

But Atlanta told them what they told the last few guys: $200,000 and he's all yours.

Well, see, MLS comes shopping in USL for the same reason your significant other goes to the January white sales: they want something cheap.

And $200,000 is a big, big chunk of allocation money, money which an MLS team is reluctant to spend on a lowly USL player.

That's the kind of money you pay to foreign clubs. You don't write that kind of a check to the Silverbacks.

Which is fine with Atlanta - as soon as the kid's immigration status is cleared up there are European teams who'll be happy to take him off their hands, probably for more than a lousy $200k.

UPDATE: HERE'S A LINK to another piece of video (also taken off a TV screen)

The kid is easy to spot - he's the guy making everyone else look like they're standing still.