New USL format a boost for Hogges, says Scope
United Soccer League's (USL) decision to combine their First and Second Division into one professional league will help Bermuda Hogges realise their long-term plans, believes team co-owner Paul Scope.
By 2012, Scope would like the Hogges to have an academy team in the Premier Development League (PDL) as well as a senior side in the new USL Pro League.
He said the USL's “innovative move” would reduce travel costs for the teams taking part in next summer's inaugural USL Pro League as it would be adopting a regional format.
“Next season will see the USL combine their Division One and the Division Two as part of a innovative and clever set-up with two regional conferences effectively creating one league,” said Scope, who attended the USL's Annual General Meeting in Florida last month.
“It'll certainly reduce the travel budget and therefore I see no reason why the Hogges should not have reasonable ambitions to play in what will be the second tier of US soccer behind the MLS.
“We're committed to the PDL next year but as I've already gone on record as saying I'd like us one day to have a team in the professional league and an academy team in the PDL.”
The USL's merger was a response to the reduction in the number of teams caused by several of their sides breaking away to set up a rival league, the North American Soccer League (NASL), last year.
Scope said the USL had weathered that storm and by combining their two divisions had cemented their position as the top league outside the MLS.
“I'm more encouraged than ever about the health of USL,” said Scope. “Last year there was some disruptions with some teams deciding to break away to join the newly set-up North American Soccer league, while you had the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers announcing their moves to the MLS.
“Basically the USL have won the day and fended off the challenge from the NASL which does not have enough teams to become the second tier of US soccer.”
The Hogges had a three-year stint in the former USL Division Two before switching to the PDL last season as part of a partnership with the Bermuda Football Association (BFA) to prepare their Under-23 players for upcoming competitions.
It remains unclear whether the BFA will continue to provide financial support for the Hogges as part of that agreement which saw the association take full charge of team affairs last term.
National Under-23 coach Scott Morton led the Hogges last summer but that could change if the Hogges owners regained control over coaching and player selection.
North Village boss Shaun Goater, a Hogges co-owner, was hugely disappointed at being overlooked by the BFA last season after throwing his hat into the ring for the top job, and would be the likely frontrunner if there was a coaching switch.
“We're hoping the BFA will continue their support,” said Scope, who is the president of First Division side Robin Hood. “I read recently that (BFA president) Larry Mussenden has requested for their (Government) funding to be restored to its promised level of a few years ago.
“The nature of the agreement we have with BFA next season will determine who coaches the Hogges. Last season the BFA had full say in team matters but it's too early what will happen . . . we've not even thought about it. I'll be sitting down with (co-owners) Kyle Lightbourne and Shaun Goater soon to discuss how we move forward.”
Although the Hogges finished bottom of their PDL conference last term, Scope points to the progress of the Bermuda Under-20 national team and UK-based players Nahki Wells, Tahj Bell and Quadir Maynard as tangible evidence that the franchise is helping develop players on the Island.
The Under-20s went undefeated in their recent Concacaf Championship qualifiers while Wells, Maynard and Bell have all attracted the interest of professional English clubs.
“The progress of the likes of Nakhi Wells, Quadir Maynard and Tahj Bell who are all playing at various levels in England shows that the Hogges cannot merely be judged on results,” said Scope. “Their progress has made me more determined than ever and convinced that the Hogges are important for Bermuda football.
“I'm sure some of the recent Under-20 success is down to their players gaining valuable experience in the PDL last summer. We've put in so much work and effort over the last four years, so it's rewarding to see our labours bearing fruit.”