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USL expansion offers quick promotion for Dayton Dutch Lions

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Mike Mossel always saw the USL Premier Development League as a springboard for Dayton Dutch Lions FC. After a successful debut in the PDL last season, the Lions were pegged for promotion to USL-2. But the recent creation of the new USL PRO league, essentially a merger of the USL’s top two divisions, has expedited a process that Mossel, the co-owner of DDL, fully expected to experience in coming seasons.

“Our plan was to move up to USL-1 in three years,” says Mossel. “This speeds up the process.”

The Lions will be one of 16 eventual teams (13 as of late November with three more franchises expected to be announced in the next few weeks) in the new three-division USL PRO format when the season gets underway in April 2011. Three of those current sides – River Plate Puerto Rico, Sevilla FC Puerto Rico and Antigua’s Barracuda FC – will be based in the Caribbean, which presents a new set of opportunities and challenges for the league and its participants.

“We’re excited about the new franchises coming in,” says USL PRO Senior Director Chris Economides. “It’s a little bit of a challenge from a geographic perspective. We’ve asked our teams to make one, two-game trip into the Caribbean.

“We have to have some long-term vision,” he adds. “Ultimately, the goal might be to have a self-sustaining Caribbean division.”

Economides says the response to the new-look league has been positive and he is confident the USL PRO model will prosper, calling it a “national league with a regional footprint.” He expects a high level of play, particularly with the addition of the Caribbean teams.

“It’s a talent-rich region and it won’t do anything but enhance the level of play in our league,” Economides says.
Mossel is also excited about his team’s prospects in the new league, though he admits it will mean changes in his organization both on and off the pitch.

The Lions expect to keep some of their best players but will certainly need to add talent, which Mossel sought out in a recent trip to his native Holland, where players from 15 different countries showed up for tryouts. The office staff will need to expand, as well.

The more demanding travel schedule will also mean higher costs for DDL. Mossel says the Lions will have to “reshuffle the cards” in terms of finances, which will put the onus on the franchise to make more revenue on the sponsorship side.

They could also channel some money from marketing budgets into the travel budget, if necessary.

But those are things Mossel doesn’t mind doing for the opportunity his franchise has to play in USL PRO. While long trips and back-to-back games may not be ideal, they are simply part of the program.

“It’s the way U.S. soccer is,” says Mossel, suggesting the Lions could bring in more Dutch players when their domestic season is done to reinforce the lineup.

“But it’s very exciting because playing away in Orlando and Puerto Rico in front of 10,000 people is a lot better than playing Kalamazoo or Cleveland in front of 50 people.”

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