USL has terminated its troubled USL-1 club, the Virginia Beach Mariners, releasing all their players and reducing the USL-1 to 12 teams just two weeks before the start of the 2007 season. The fate of the PDL's Submariners remains to be determined.
The Mariners' demise came after the apparent sale of the team from Norfolk businessman Jerry McDonnell to a company owned by Florida businessman Mike Sidebottom never went through. Sidebottom announced in December that he had bought the team but two weeks ago claimed he didn't own the team, saying McDonnell never followed through with the sale -- a charge McDonnell denied.
"This is an extremely unfortunate situation for everyone involved," said USL Executive Vice President and COO Tim Holt. "The Virginia Beach Sportsplex is an excellent facility, there is a great core of dedicated fans, and in many ways the Mariners were headed in a positive direction for the first time in several years. To have this happen in the 11th hour has been a stunning development for all, especially given the rise in the quality of ownership across the league the past few years and the stability that has come with it."
The Mariners were to be coached by former FC Dallas head coach Colin Clarke in 2007. Trouble surfaced in mid-March when the players and staff weren't paid, and Clarke canceled practice. Sidebottom downplayed the situation,telling the Virginia Pilot, "I don't think any harm has really been done to anyone other than the players missing practice, I'm sure the players were disappointed, but I don't think any particular damage has been done to sponsors or fans.''
Tidewater soccer had seen five ownership changes since the debut of the Hampton Roads Hurricanes in 1994. The Mariners became part of the A-League in 1998 but did not qualify for the playoffs in five of their eight seasons -- including the last three in a row. They were on hiatus in 2001.
The only other USL-1 team not returning in 2007 is the Toronto Lynx, which stepped aside with the arrival of MLS's Toronto FC. The Long Island Rough Riders and Pittsburgh Riverhounds, both former A-League clubs, did not return to the USL-2. New pro teams in 2007 include the USL-1's California Victory and Carolina RailHawks. There are new USL-2 teams in Bermuda, Baltimore and Cleveland. The Baltimore team is affiliated with English club Crystal Palace.
2007 USL PRO ALIGNMENT:
California Victory (new)
Carolina RailHawks (new)
Puerto Rico Islanders
Rochester Raging Rhinos
Bermuda Hogges (new)
Cleveland City Stars (new)
Crystal Palace Baltimore (new)
Harrisburg City Islanders
New Hampshire Phantoms
Western Mass Pioneers