The American Professional Soccer League, or APSL, is trying something different. There is tangible growth in soccer’s popularity in the United States each year and as Major League Soccer, or Division I in the U.S., grows and attracts more quality players that helps the lower divisions grow as well. Currently, the APSL is not a professional league, the players are students and professionals looking to gain exposure for a shot at a bigger club or simply playing the game they love.
Casual fans in the United States might not even know that there is a fourth division U.S. Soccer but there is and what these teams are trying to do is important. Formerly known as the National Adult League, founder and commissioner, Bert Mahecha sought out to create a league run by team owners with the owners given absolute freedom to run each team as they see fit.
When league business needs to be attended to, each owner gets one vote but Mahecha gets two. He is not only the commissioner of the APSL but a team owner as well.
Make no mistake, this is an amature league that each team pays to be a part of. This means that each team is run very differently. Boca Raton FC, for example, is owned by a businessman in Boca Raton and strives to run as a professionally owned and operated team where other clubs take a more laid back approach to their seasons.
APSL champions, Boca Raton FC, have tried to be as productive in their offseason as they were during the regular season. With the highest APSL average attendance, even occasionally beating the attendance records of third division USL teams, Boca Raton FC is currently on a four-month unbeaten streak but their luck seems to have changed when trying to sign a local player, Scott Gordon.
Born and raised in Boca Raton, Gordon has had an extensive player history in the United States. He played for Lynn University and was given tryouts for MLS sides FC Dallas and Chivas USA before being waived by both teams and ultimately signing for NASL side, Fort Lauderdale Strikers. For the past two years, Gordon has played for Red Force FC, an APSL side that survived the NAL folding and transitioned to a fully fledged APSL team this year.
When Boca Raton FC made the announcement that the team was joining the APSL in April of 2015, Gordon reached out to team owners with the intentions to play for Boca Raton. However, the team owners told Gordon to wait, his Florida State Soccer Association Player Card expired on August 31, 2015 and once it expired the team would be free to sign him.
The transfer policy for APSL players is simple, $50 that goes to the league and an additional fee if the club feels the player warrants it. However, fees cannot be attached to a player with an expired FSSAP card, as Gordon’s was as of August 31, 2015.
According to the official FSSA rule book, “Registrations are valid for one seasonal year which is established to be from September 1st of one calendar year to August 31st of the following calendar year. This means that all player registrations and their player passes expire on 31 August every year. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
Once August 31st came and went, Boca Raton FC went about officially adding Gordon to their roster. Gordon was going home to Boca and the news was updated quickly on the Boca Raton FC official team website.
However, when Red Force FC’s owner Gabriel Vega noticed this he emailed Boca Raton FC’s owner, Douglas Heizer indicating that he wanted $500 for the sale of Gordon to Boca. Vega stated that Gordon was worth $500 to the club and that they could not let him leave for free. Gordon is no doubt worth that much money but this is an amature league, and once a player’s FSSAP is expired, it is illegal to request money for the transfer of that player.
FSSA President, Richard Moeller, was made aware of the situation and stated that requesting $500 for a free agent was against the rules. Despite this, commissioner Mahecha called an “urgent meeting of the Executive Board” to further discuss the situation.
After the meeting Boca Raton FC later received a letter confirming that Gordon would indeed be playing for Boca Raton FC this season, however the player had been suspended for two games for “actions of unbecoming of a premier player”. Once the vote was finalized one member of the Executive Board changed their mind and wanted to suspend Gordon for three games. The rest of the Board agreed to suspend Gordon for an additional game.
There is a main season that runs from April – August followed by a Fall tournament that began earlier this September. Gordon will miss a total of three games during the Fall tournament for simply being a free-agent looking to play for a different team.
The FSSA cannot rule in this suspension, there are by-laws in place by the APSL that allows the league to rule on matters of suspension for players.
This story is important for a few reasons, this type of divisional system exists in typical “big” soccer countries and provides upper tier teams with talent and helps create a more unified structure that can encourage a more competitive nature surrounding soccer in the United States.
The APSL needs to look beyond themselves in this moment, free-agents like Gordon should be free to choose what teams to play for, giving other teams incentive to grow their organizations to make their teams a place free-agents want to play for.
For now, the powers at be have decided and Gordon will have to wait.