In the latest edition of the SoccerNation Sitdown, our own Nate Abaurrea is joined by Matt Morse, the President of So Cal Premier and the Director of Coaching at AC Brea in Orange County.
Part 2 of the conversation starts off with an interesting look into the booming growth of professional soccer in the United States. Morse and Abaurrea talk about the current structural organization, or lack thereof, in American Soccer, examining the meaning of terms like professional, amateur, and semi-pro, tying it all back to the core philosophies of Morse and So Cal Premier. Morse and Abaurrea also take a brief look at Chula Vista FC, the San Diego area side that plays in So Cal Premier’s U-23 division.
Nate Abaurrea: Matt, I want to go back to your comments on teams leaving So Cal Premier to join professional leagues. You said it’s something you don’t have a problem with, as long as it’s done in an ethical fashion. What do you make of the current situation in American Soccer in regard to new amateur leagues springing up all over the place, and teams at both the amateur and professional levels jumping from league to league? How does it all relate to the operation of So Cal Premier as a non-profit amateur league?
Matt Morse: What I currently see from national organizations like U.S. Soccer is confusion and identity crisis. Because of that, there’s a lot of gaps. There’s also a lot of opportunities. There are tons of amateur leagues popping up, and it’s creating a bit of confusion on the ground level. An interesting example is a league in Florida that just came out publicly saying that they have teams in Southern California. They’re supposedly going to have a California division of a Florida based amateur league!
In this day and age, sadly, you just make a few claims, you get some internet traction, and suddenly it’s real. And most importantly, you can call your league almost anything you want. There are no real rules for what other countries would call divisions 4 through 7 or 8. There are no standards, no classification. Nobody really knows where or what they are in terms of tier status, even at the top with some of the professional leagues.
MLS claims Division 1. NASL is still Division 2 after fighting so long for Division 1 status. But USL is now also Division 2. And the USL-PDL is basically at Division 3, along with the NPSL, but even that’s not official. That level of confusion is hanging around the pyramid.
Then there’s amateur leagues that claim they’re professional. They’ll even put “Professional” or “Pro” in the title when the players don’t have contracts! In my mind, you’re not “pro” if you’re not getting paid as part of a contract.
Nate Abaurrea: How do you feel about the term “semi-pro”?
Matt Morse: What exactly is semi-pro? I hear that term all the time in American Soccer. What does it really mean? Does it mean guys are getting paid under the table? Is it just amateur soccer with players being paid cash on the side? That’s not professional at all. Either your pro or you’re not.
It’s also impossible to regulate. There have been quality players for years in this country who from weekend to weekend will go from men’s league to men’s league and play for a hundred or a couple hundred bucks a game. It happens. What should we call those guys? Quasi-Pro? The semi-pro terminology is laughable to me.
Nate Abaurrea: Where do you see So Cal Premier fitting in with all of this?
Matt Morse: I want to align So Cal Premier with U.S. Soccer as a 4th 5th and 6th division. I would put our teams up against any NPSL or UPSL team, even most of the PDL teams, and I know they can hold their own. We’ve seen it with many of them making runs in the U.S. Open Cup. But without the USSF or U.S. Club Soccer creating an official structure for the lower leagues, we’ll never be able to officially call our teams anything other than fantastic amateur soccer clubs.
Around the world, you have “pub leagues”. Here in the States, a “pub league” team can essentially brand themselves as professional. It makes it quite confusing, guys saying they’re playing in a “pro league”. Again, what does that really mean? Are they just buzz words?
Until U.S. Soccer steps in and creates the official structure, leagues, teams, and the players themselves can legally call themselves whatever they want. We as So Cal Premier, we can say we’re Division 3! There needs to be some proper regulation.
Nate Abaurrea: Do you think there may be some advantages from all this for So Cal Premier clubs?
Matt Morse: I do. I look at traditionally strong national leagues like the NPSL and the PDL. You regularly see teams from the UPSL and So Cal Premier beating those teams in the U.S. Open Cup. I feel like with the NPSL and the PDL, you don’t always get what you’re paying for.
There are clubs paying upwards of 50 -75 thousand dollars for 14 official games a year! Sometimes, it’s just because a league publicly claims that its players routinely get drafted into MLS. Guys are going pro and getting drafted because they’re good players, not because they played in a certain league.
Jorge Villafaña just got called into the U.S. National Team for World Cup Qualifiers. He played in our league as a 19 year-old amateur. We’re extremely proud of that. But he’s on the national team now because he’s an exceptional player who worked as hard as he possibly could, not because he played So Cal Premier. We would never advertise things in that way.
At the end of the day, so many of these teams are just amateur squads with unpaid players that play 12-20 games in the summer. With the Open Cup runs, for instance, I feel like our sides are very much in the advantageous position, because they are cohesive units who know one another as players and as people.
Nate Abaurrea: I have to ask you about a San Diego area side that plays in So Cal Premier, currently with a side in the U-23 division. What have you made of the rise of Chula Vista FC?
Matt Morse: Chula Vista FC is a great story. They have a vision. They want provide for their players. I love how they found us, by word of mouth and personal research in the Southern California soccer community. Jose Diaz and the rest of the staff and players have been great. They drive up north for every game, but they’re promoting big time in Chula Vista and San Diego.
I would love to run a San Diego division in our league. For a club like that, to put a team together and now be able to compete and even make runs in the U.S. Open Cup, it just represents a fantastic model. They did it, and you can do it too. A team that is interested in joining So Cal Premier, they can call Chula Vista FC, find out exactly how much money they spent, get a sponsor and make it happen. Chula Vista FC sees the value of our league. They’re in it for the players, prolonging the careers of young men and not letting their soccer lives end once they finish playing U-19.