Part II of the Original Series
"Promoting the PASL: A Conversation with Kevin Milliken"
Futbol rapido, cage ball, English pit soccer, indoor soccer, arena soccer. These are the names given to the sport played by many here in the United States. It is fast, physical, hard-hitting, and features lots of goals. This style of soccer is the trademark of three leagues here in North America: the Xtreme Soccer League (XSL), the National Indoor Soccer League (NISL), and the Premier and Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL).
What separates each of them is much more than a name or a choice of words. The PASL is the only league with a complete structure from top to bottom: Professional, Premier, W-League, youth clubs, and the U.S. National Arena Soccer Team. PASL-Pro is the best known of all the divisions, while the Premier division helps with player development. PASL also differs from the other leagues because of its affiliation with FIFRA (Federacion Internacional de Futbol Rapido).
The PASL is fortunate to be led by a true soccer professional, Kevin Milliken. Milliken has many years of experience in American soccer and was a key figure in the early days of the United Soccer Leagues (USL). His attention is now focused on making the PASL a household name here in North America and across the world. Milliken has created a league with what looks to be a winning formula:
Network of Indoor Soccer Arenas+A European Club Approach+League Structure of the USL=Success of the PASL
Critics suggest that there is not enough room for three separate leagues, running on three independent schedules. They suggest that the three leagues should merge in order to become more viable and to cut costs in a difficult economic environment. This idea has been discussed in different venues by different people, but an agreement was never reached. I found Milliken to be extremely open-minded regarding the issue of competition. He probably would disagree with calling the NISL and XSL competition. He doesn't see it that way. "Any soccer is good soccer" is the motto he leads by. You won't hear him bashing other leagues or being critical of outdoor soccer. Milliken should be seen as a soccer ambassador, promoting the beautiful game to the masses.
Competition among rival leagues is not the only consideration. The economy is always mentioned when a discussion of emerging professional sports leagues appears. The economy, though devastating to many across the country, will not cause this league to fold. Milliken said that "we will keep doing what we are doing. Our business model works in this economic environment." The PASL offers an affordable form of entertainment for hardcore and casual fans alike. People want to be entertained with sports and love an opportunity to leave "the daily grind" behind for even a few hours.
In particular, arena soccer is appealing to casual fans because typical Americans can identify with 50 shots, 17 goals, and the concept of a power play. These fans might not be as willing to sit through an outdoor game that ends in a 0-0 draw. The outdoor game is a different animal with a different audience: soccer families.
Futbol rapido is extremely popular in Mexico. Tens of thousands of fans will show up to games at open air stadiums across Mexico. This influence has an effect on the Premier League as 60% of the players there would be classified as Hispanic.
The popularity of arena soccer is increasing in the U.S. and there is a chance that it has a sustainable future here. Milliken is able to see the big picture of successful American soccer. It is not exclusive to indoor or arena soccer. All styles of soccer and all leagues must work hard to fulfill the promise and potential of soccer here in America.
The stars of the PASL do come from a variety of backgrounds, including home-grown talent. The league's biggest name, Brian Farber, splits time between the USL and PASL-Pro. Often called "the world's fastest soccer player" or "the king of indoors," Farber is the star of the Stockton Cougars, but spends his summers with the Portland Timbers of the USL. He runs a 4.20 in the 40 and is a force to be reckoned with in the indoor game. You can nullify speed outdoors, but "the gloves are off" in the arena. There are no offsides penalties that slow down the speed and pace of the game. The smaller field is beneficial to faster players as well as it creates more 1 v 1 situations, which can be exploited to score goals.
Cincinnati's Craig Salvati looks to be a rising star in arena soccer after completing an All-American career at the University of Maryland. And don't forget Jesus Molina, MVP of the 1999 Premier League Championships, who helped Stockton win this year's Pro Finals. Molina is an example of the success of their player development system, having success at both divisions.
Milliken sees consistent growth and some change taking place under his watch. San Diego has already been added for the 2009-2010 season with Louisville a strong possibility for expansion. Milliken warns that weeding out of some teams may occur as the league takes shape. He does realize that the outdoor and indoor game will remain separate. The best case scenario might be the creation of a superleague of indoor soccer, which includes the PASL, NISL, and XSL. Regardless of the end result, arena soccer has found its niche in the U.S. market.
Part I-Peppe Pinton
Part III-Mark Geissbauer
Part IV-Grant Wahl
Part V-Steve Bell