PLEASE NOTE: This post has been updated since its original release. The CSL did not respond before the release date, but has since done so, and in an attempt to hear both sides of this story, I’m now including the statement they sent me.
Before we do anything else, I just want to acknowledge that beauiful alliteration there in the title. I mean, come on? Six Ss in one title? I’m basically Gio Reyna’s blogging counterpart.
Sadly, though, today’s post won’t be as fun and corny as my opening alliteration might suggest. There’s an equal parts pressing and depressing situation unfolding below the gaze of the grassroots that I want to bring to as much light as possible.
Alright, I couldn’t help myself; “gaze of the grassroots” is pretty epic. I promise I’ll get serious now.
I happened across this situation on a routine Twitter check to see what the lower-league world was up to, and what I saw quickly caught my eye. A club out of the Bronx called Sporting Soccer Club was rescinding its application to join the UPSL from the Cosmopolitan Soccer League.
The CSL is probably the single most respected and storied league in New York, but having said that, it’s pretty understandable that the UPSL would be a step up in quality and name recognition. An overall better place for a club trying to move forward to bigger and better things.
So why on earth would the club remove its application? I was baffled until a thread appeared explaining the situation.
Sporting SC wasn’t necessarily abandoning its plan of the club’s own free will. Instead, it appeared that the league wasn’t allowing them to leave.
They cited a rule they’ve had since the early 1900s about member clubs and their participance in other rivaling leagues. However, something felt off, because a myriad of the league’s clubs have teams in other leagues along with their CSL squad, and it doesn’t seem like they’ve met any resistance.
It didn’t add up. I had to figure out what was really going on.
So I got in touch with Sporting, and what they had to say made me even more shocked than I was at first.
I followed up with some questions, and I compiled a summary of the situation through the club’s eyes.
First, though, I wanted to know what the club itself is about. And turns out, the club’s identity is relevant to the issue at hand.
Enter Ed Romero, the main man at Sporting. He gave me a quick outline of who the club is:
We are a minority owned and operated club. We built this club because we felt that in the best leagues, there weren’t any minority clubs that would feature minority talent. So our club focused on building a club that can be well-organized and well-funded enough to take on the challenge of competing in the best NYC men’s amateur soccer league against top clubs. We began in 2005 in the 4th division and in 2019 we finally made it to Division 1. Our goal is to let our talent and hard work speak for us on the field. Our front office talent hasn’t let us down.Ed Romero, Founder and President
That’s pretty cool and exactly what should warrant a club being worthy of moving to a national league.
Exactly what SmallWorld wants to celebrate, in fact: celebrating diversity, creating opportunities for unity, and using soccer as a tool to make communities better.
However, it seems the club has come across quite a few road blocks on this mission.
The CSL is the only competitive league in NYC. Our goal was to always get to Division 1. It hasn’t been easy or pleasant. There were challenges along the way. Being honest, there is a reason why we are the only minority operated club. The league is set up with strict standards to ensure a certain type of club make up the league. In the top two divisions, we are the only minority operated club. That’s one out of 26 clubs. But we have proven that we can play by their rules and be successful. Hopefully others can follow.Ed Romero
Well, that made me stop completely in my tracks. Maybe I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I am to hear that minorities are so underrepresented and unaccepted in lower-league soccer, but it hurt all the same to see a club suffering from exactly what I set out to dispel with SmallWorld.
But all that being said, Sporting should still be celebrated for their persistance and success despite the obstacles. That’s part of how soccer works at this level; there are setbacks for everyone.
But here’s where it gets really frustrating. Sporting saw an opportunity to move forward through expansion into the UPSL. In the words of Ed Romero:
These predominantly young players have ambition to play professionally or in a high amateur level. Leagues like the CSL and UPSL give players an opportunity to showcase their talent. The CSL is local while the UPSL is a regional and national league. It’s all about the players.Ed
There’s the ambition and the motivation. But apparently, they actually had the means to make the move as well, which not many clubs can say they have access to.
We are blessed to have great funding and we wanted to see what the UPSL was all about. We had no intention of leaving the CSL. We just wanted to try the UPSL. The UPSL is growing and in NYC. So we thought we would give it a try.Ed
Seems like a great scenario for both sides. But, as previously stated, the CSL is blocking the scenario altogether. Ed gave me a bit of a window into why that might be.
The CSL controls the NYC affiliates soccer market and the UPSL is invading this space. It’s war and we are the victims. I represent income that if others follow my lead might change the future of the CSL.Ed
Makes sense for sure. But what doesn’t compute is the fact that a deserving club is being thrown out the window for the sake of a territory skirmish, if that is in fact involved in the decision.
I’ll also mention here that I reached out to the CSL by email as well, asking them for any comment on the scenario that I could quote. They did not immediately respond to my inquiry, so I found what I could about their response to the club.
Sporting said in a public Tweet that they hadn’t heard from the CSL officially yet either, but they did apparently get this from a CSL email:
Since 1928, the CSL has had a rule that in order to be a member club, a club cannot field a team (whether first, reserve, experimental) in another league that plays at the same time, a rival league.CSL email to Sporting SC
Further, they supposedly received the following statement from an undisclosed board member (as retrieved by the same Twitter thread, so again, unofficially from the CSL).
The CSL has always maintained that any Club fully vested with the League cannot participate in another League during our season. We have bylaws in place, no matter how archaic one may consider them, as well as “unwritten” rules that have been adhered to all these years.CSL board member
Well, from what I can tell, clubs have been participating in other leagues quite regularly while also maintaining their status in the CSL.
It’s more than a little disappointing, then, that Sporting has to deal with this difficulty in expanding to the UPSL while other clubs don’t seem to be held to the same standard.
But here’s where it gets messier, though,
The CSL did eventually respond to me with an official statement, and I’ll break it down now:
The CSL, an ENYSSA member, is the oldest and one of the best amateur leagues in country. We have a proud history of excellence representing US Soccer going back nearly 100 years.CSL Official Statement to SmallWorld
Okay, everybody’s in agreement there. No questioning the CSL’s quality or history. Let’s continue.
With an active board and a vibrant membership, we are governed by laws that have allowed the league to prosper and thrive. These bylaws help to guide our mission.CSL Statement
Yeah, of course. They run their league with laws, totally normal and reasonable.
We are not stopping Sporting Astoria from joining the UPSL. They may do so at any time.CSL Statement
As far as I know, this is universally agreed upon as well. Sporting can obviously choose to leave CSL and join UPSL if they so desire, but their ideal scenario as I understand it is to be a member in both leagues.
However, according to the rules that govern our league, Sporting cannot remain a member of the CSL and join the UPSL with the same organization/club/team and players because we are in direct competition with the UPSL. Over the years, we have been more than accommodating to clubs and teams that want to join other leagues that do not directly compete with the CSL.CSL Statement
And NOW we meet some contention. This is still somewhat vague as far as why other clubs have been able to join their desired leagues and Sporting just so happens to desire to join a league that’s in “direct competition.”
In fact, there has been a CSL team that was simultaneously involved with the UPSL. I asked for some clarification from the league, because none of this was adding up.
They did, in fact, have a clarification for me.
The NPSL has traditional been a summer league that plays from May-August. In May our season is spinning down toward the playoffs and there is very little over-lap with our league. The UPSL has been traditionally a West Coast league that has been slowly expanding across the country. Now that they have a more established East Coast presence, they have come into our purview. Only recently, the format of the UPSL has changed to a Fall/Spring schedule, that has created a direct conflict with the CSL.
According to our rules, we cannot allow clubs to participate in both essentially diluting the product. We have an obligation to our membership to ensure the best possible product. Again, clubs have the option to leave but they cannot be in both. There are other much smaller and less professional leagues (including indoor), that operate during the week in and around the city. These leagues do not compete with the CSL in terms of schedule, quality of product and organizational structure.CSL Clarification from Official Statement
It would appear, then, that because of the timing and particular league Sporting is trying to join, their situation falls under the category of direct competition as defined by the league and its Board of Directors.
However, I don’t know that the potential of the league or Sporting SC is being realized by this particular decision, whatever its motive, and at the very least, Sporting deserves the chance to see some of the fruits of their more than 15-year labor.
It seems that whether it be territory wars, fear of losing finances, simply a reversal back to a long-standing rule, or even discrimination against Sporting in particular because they stick out ethnically, something on the CSL’s part is keeping the club from an opportunity to grow.
They earned their way to the top of their league and rose above obstacles to get where they are. And they ought to be lifted up by the soccer community around them when they have the chance to reach even higher.
The CSL did have a closing piece of its official statement as well:
Sporting is a good team with good players. We are happy to have them as a member of the CSL. If Sporting wants things to change, we encourage them, and all teams, to follow the processes and procedures that are in place and bring their ideas to the membership for discussion.
Ed, too, was complimentary of the CSL’s quality. He made sure to reiterate to me that he’s very appreciative of the CSL and the opportunities it’s given his club and squad members.
I personally would like to state my own respect for the league and its high reputation as well as Sporting SC. Both organizations are fantastic and deserve each other’s quality.
To summarize, Ed and Sporting feel that they’re being unjustly kept from joining a league that the CSL has ruled to be too close a competitor to allow. Both sides seem to bring a lot of prior contention to the table, but at the end of the day, the issue in the eyes of the community seems to boil down to whether or not Sporting or any other club should be allowed the freedom to join a competing league as well as keep membership in the other.
Are you with Sporting SC here? Should they have the right to expand to UPSL and continue to be a part of the CSL? Or do you feel like the CSL is simply following the rules it’s held since the beginning and no wrongdoing is involved?
Be sure to let me know on SmallWorld Social and in the comments of this post. Thanks for reading, and if you feel like Sporting SC deserves some recognition in their cause for expansion, share this all over socials and spread the word! If you’re with the CSL, show them some love as well!
In fact, no matter where you side on the issue, be sure to follow both organizations, as they’re both very deserving of any attention they get in the lower-league community.
As always, support local soccer, unify those around you, and seek out diversity!