The USL Championship is about to get back underway this weekend, but today the focus falls squarely on the former world-class players making an impact on the USL off the field.
Players like Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and DaMarcus Beasley helped build U.S. soccer’s image internationally – aside from their playing careers, remember the roles Howard and Donovan played in Nike’s World Cup commercials during their playing days? – but now they’re in the process of building something new.
As detailed in a great in-depth feature by Forbes’ Michael LoRé, the former U.S. Men’s National Team trio are now playing key roles in bringing professional soccer to new cities as part-owners in USL franchises. And as the current face of Memphis 901 FC, Howard believes this is the next step in building a bigger soccer nation across the United States.
“I think that for soccer in America as a whole there can’t be enough good teams, enough well-run organizations – it doesn’t matter the league,” Howard told LoRé. “Every kid in Memphis wants an opportunity to play, whether it’s Memphis or Seattle, and if we can present more American kids with opportunities to fulfill their dreams at a high level and be successful, that can’t be anything but a great thing.”
Whether it’s the Secretary of Defense in his adopted hometown of Memphis, or Donovan with San Diego Loyal SC, or Beasley and a prospective USL League One club in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, the former internationals now being associated with the USL are notable. It’s a sign of the Championship and League One’s progression, to be sure, but it also speaks to the legacy each of the players wants to leave beyond the indelible memories they created on the field.
And as friends and former teammates, it’s also allowing the trio to serve as sounding boards for what the others are doing.
“We’re all in similar boats,” Donovan told LoRé. “Tim, DaMarcus and myself haven’t been through this before so sharing experiences is really valuable. There’s a lot of nuance you wouldn’t understand until you get in it. You also have big decisions to make and you don’t want to go in blindly not knowing anything as you make a decision on a player or a marketing idea; you want to make sure you’re getting as much information as possible.”
Beasley, Donovan, Howard aren’t the only former internationals looking to make their mark in the USL. Former World Cup-winner David Villa’s Queensboro FC this week announced its first Head Coach as the club ramps up to its new launch for the 2022 Championship season. The new team in the World’s Borough is going to have the same potential effect as those owned by the former USMNT standouts, though, in building something big in American soccer.
“I love the project and I love what the USL is trying to do,” Beasley told LoRé. “They’re trying to grow the game and have more kids playing soccer at a higher level and that’s only going to help us as a country.”
"@GombauJosep is more than the Manager of the first team" - David Villa.— Queensboro FC (@QueensboroFC) July 7, 2020
Check out what @Guaje7Villa thinks about our Coach We cannot be more excited to see the #QBFCfans growing and things at the club moving forward to be ready for 2022.
LET'S GO #QBFC ‼️ pic.twitter.com/hgYrEsb6w5
- There are going to be more USL Championship games on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes than ever before when the league returns to play this weekend. USL Executive Vice President Court Jeske sat down with Sport Business’ Bob Williams to talk about the opportunity that comes with the league’s return to play.
- One of those games on national television is going to be a Donner Pass Derby when Sacramento Republic FC hosts Reno 1868 FC on July 19 in a game that will air live on ESPN2. The Reno Gazette-Journal’s Duke Ritenhouse broke down 1868 FC’s return to action.
- Saturday marks the official return of both the USL Championship season and resumption of pro sporting events in Phoenix as Phoenix Rising FC hosts the LA Galaxy II, and from the words of Rising FC’s Santi Moar, you’d better believe the defending regular season title-holders are ready to get going again.
- For San Antonio FC defender Connor Maloney, very little has been the same since the club returned to training ahead as the Championship resumes, but as he tells the San Antonio News-Express’ Greg Luca, he and the rest of the squad are excited to have matches to prepare for at all after the pandemic cast doubt on the year.
- The Tampa Bay Rowdies will be joined by a small contingent of players’ families and fans at Al Lang Stadium for Saturday night’s home opener. Team president Lee Cohen said around 100 fans, with all attendees socially distanced, can be “easily brought into the building under stringent protocols.” The stadium’s capacity is 7,227.
- Some of you longtime Championship fans might remember the name of Isaac Kissi, who played for the Rochester Rhinos early in the league’s history. Well, while he was in upstate New York, Kissi graduated from the University of Rochester nursing school, and over the past months has been embedded in the ICU unit at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo helping curtail the coronavirus pandemic.
- The road to the USL Championship Playoffs is going to take different forms for teams following the regionalization of the league into eight groups. I took a look at which groups feel the least predictable as we get ready to resume action.
- The Championship is back this weekend, which means our weekly Pick ‘Em game is back as well. Go and download the app and see if you can outsmart us experts. (You probably can.)