When the San Diego Loyal announced their intention to fold at the end of this season, the need for USL teams to own their stadiums and control ticket revenues became a flashpoint once again. MLS competition played a part in San Diego’s decision, but their instability stemmed from a lack of revenue at the gates.
By contrast, clubs like Colorado Springs and Louisville have flourished in their own soccer-specific venues; both draw more than 7,000 supporters per match on average. Hartford Athletic sits a shade below 5,000 and currently plays at the city-owned Trinity Health Stadium.
This week, Hartford announced that Nick Sakiewicz was joining the organization as CEO. Sakiewicz is a graduate of the University of New Haven and has served as the commissioner of the National Lacrosse League and a front office executive for the Arizona Coyotes, but he cut his teeth in MLS. Indeed, Sakiewicz was the mastermind behind the construction of Philadelphia’s PPL Park and the venue that would become Red Bull Arena.
Hartford didn’t announce any specific plans, but the new CEO’s experience may tip the club’s hand. While his stint in Philadelphia ended somewhat controversially, Sakiewicz has the nous and local connections to shore up Hartford’s situation and provide an informed direction going forward. Given the state of the USL at large, it’s a smart hire, and one that other clubs should take note of.
On the pitch, Hartford had already been eliminated from the playoff hunt, but the rest of the league was firing on all cylinders. What went down in Week 29? Let’s dig in.
1.) Pittsburgh (No change)
Result: W 2-1 v. New Mexico
Using an unchanged lineup in back-to-back games for the first time since March, Pittsburgh looked assured if a bit slow in a rain-drenched matchup on Saturday. New Mexico had the right idea by constantly probing into the gaps behind the Riverhounds' outside defenders in the 5-3-2, but the danger was rarely more than hypothetical. In the other direction, Albert Dikwa was as lively as anyone on the pitch, putting in the hard work in hold-up to open space for his teammates.
New Mexico went hyper-aggressive in a match 5-3-2 that attacked more like a 3-2-5, but Pittsburgh never missed a beat. Wing backs Dani Rovira and Junior Etou were immense all night, and Bob Lilley chose the right moment to relieve Rovira's tired legs against the particular threat of winger Amando Moreno. It's all fairly easy right now in the Keystone State, but Lilley holds this team to the no-nonsense standard that makes the illusion of simplicity possible.
2.) Charleston (+3)
Result: W 2-1 v. Tulsa
Ahead of the USL's roster freeze on Friday, Charleston shockingly added Mark Segbers, a do-it-all 27-year-old who could rightfully claim to be the best full back in the league. Segbers only has two goals and four assists over the last two years, but that speaks to the weakness of his former club in Miami more than anything else; few other players are as aggressive bombing into the final third. Ben Pirmann was an assistant in Memphis during Segbers' stint there, making the link-up natural. Now, Charleston is in the enviable position of having three high-end full backs for two spots.
With Fidel Barajas in the lineup for the first time since late August, the Battery rode their U-17 starlet to a big win over Tulsa on Saturday.
Barajas will be super-charged by the overlapping threat of Segbers, but he did it all on his own with two wild curling goals in the match at hand, beating a man one-on-one before bending a shot past the goalie. This is a Charleston team that has two routes to success: counterpress and create a break against a transitioning opponent, or lump it long from the back and hope for a defensive error. Barajas punctuated both such moves to see his improving squad up into second place, and there's more to come soon, it seems.