UPSL Commissioner Yan Skwara on the Steps ahead for the United Premier Soccer League
Amateur and semi-professional soccer are no longer taking the backseat for national coverage of the beautiful game. With leagues across all regions of the United States, a planned strategy is meant to be established in order to further the discussion of what the next steps are for player development at all levels.
GoalNation’s Diane Scavuzzo spoke with UPSL Commissioner Yan Skwara on the growth of the league and the direction moving forward.
Soccer News: The United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) is approaching the beginning of the 2017 Spring Season with sights set on the future of helping grow the game of soccer in America. The launch of the UPSL women’s league — WUPSL — and now becoming a national league are both huge steps in what the commission Yan Skwara calls, “meeting the needs of our members.”
GoalNation spoke with Skwara on the ambitious plans for growth and the importance of building a sustainable league for the future. With well known coaches like Eric Wynalda taking on the head coach role of the UPSL LA Wolves in 2017, one can only expect great soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: As Commissioner, what is your goal for the UPSL?
Yan Skwara: The goal for the UPSL is to continue to grow and operate a competitive, professionally run National Pro Development league — “Connecting American Soccer” — by leading the charge and actually implementing Promotion/Relegation into our league in 2017.
It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another to do it.
The UPSL has initiated the Pro/Rel movement by taking that action in our league with our teams. The UPSL believes that it is what the majority of soccer players and fans across America want in our national game.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why is the UPSL going national?
Yan Skwara: Connecting American soccer requires going national. Becoming a National league became our goal once we saw that we were being embraced by the soccer communities all across our country.
We feel this is a natural progression. Opportunity is everywhere. California gave us our start, but there’s great soccer all over America.
Diane Scavuzzo: The league seems to be going through an extensive growth period. Recently launched a women’s league and now you’re expanding your reach across the country. What is motivating or funding this expansion?
Yan Skwara: Excitement in the game is funding the expansion.
It’s easy to find the capital when there’s passion.
This country is a boiling pot for soccer that’s bubbling over. People, players, investors want that opportunity. They’re looking for that opportunity and that’s what Promotion/Relegation is all about. They want to build something that they believe in, and the soccer community has been seeking a driver for Promotions/Relegation for some time.
Our clubs and teams have the opportunity to build something special and they know it. That’s incredibly motivating.
Launching the Women’s United Premier Soccer League was a very natural move for us at this time as we had many of our existing UPSL Men’s teams knocking on the door asking us to set up women’s league for their women’s side using the same UPSL league model (low cost/local travel/two season in 12 months).
We took the next step and launched the WUPSL and will be announcing new expansion teams very soon.
The WUPSL is going to be a great women’s soccer league as the sport continues to explode across America.
The women have been a great leader in the development of the game in the U.S. and we are very excited to support women’s soccer. Having a low cost membership entry and having teams with a close geographical proximity to one another is what the women’s game has been lacking.
Diane Scavuzzo: Should people be concerned you’re growing to quickly?
Yan Skwara: Managing our growth is certainly a big focus for us, but we have the right people to support the growth — With the USPL expanding, it’s just a matter of managing the day to day operations and keeping the wheel steady as we grow.
Diane Scavuzzo: Are you able to go national without being concerned about travel cost?
Yan Skwara: The UPSL’s current structure is a set of five regional conferences with a regional/national playoff.
We have conferences set up with travel pools, which all teams contribute to so that winners of the conference have funding in place when it comes playoff time.
This helps offset the costs of our playoff teams. Sponsorships also play a major role for every team, allowing many to operate.
The UPSL supports our membership with sponsorship/marketing support.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the benefits are playing in your league?
Yan Skwara: The benefits of playing in the UPSL seem to improve year to year as we grow and develop new strategies and new corporate league partners.
Most prominent, and I think the one most soccer clubs/players are attracted to is that all our member clubs are eligible to participate in the qualifying rounds for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The UPSL also is a league that operates and runs two seasons in a twelve month period — so our teams are playing 10 months out of the year.
Our competing leagues typically have 3-4 month playing windows.
Our leagues entry costs are the lowest in the industry, if you compare to our competing leagues and yet on the field, we are apples to apples — as proven in the most recent 2016 US. Open Cup results.
We also have generous sponsors, like Admiral Apparel and Molten Balls, that provide our teams with state-of-the-art equipment just for becoming a member of our league.
Another benefit of the UPSL — we are implementing Promotion/Relegation.
Teams, fans, players sponsors and investors all want Pro/Rel now.
Another benefit to playing in the UPSL is minimum standards are different than our competition — we do not require 2,000-3,000 seat stadiums. This can feel like an unnecessary expense.
The UPSL also does not have a 30-mile territory rule — we feel this can stunt growth.
Diane Scavuzzo: How competitive are the games?
Yan Skwara: The proof is in the pudding. Last year, in the 2016 U.S Open Cup, we had several of our teams compete and have good runs. Two examples, the L.A.Wolves cruised into the third round by beating the Ventura County Fusion (PDL) in Round 1 (1-0) and then upset the Orange County Blues 2-1 (USL) before bowing out.
On the flip side, we had La Maquina (UPSL) make a a great run beating the Sacramento Gold (NPSL) in Round 2 and then blanking the L.A Wolves in Round 3 for a ticket to play the L.A. Galaxy (MLS) where they went toe-to-toe until they were beaten in overtime 4-1.
We expect the 2017 Spring Season to be the most competitive yet, as we saw some really great soccer this last year, and this season it will only be better as we are implementing Promotion/Relegation in Southern California since we have 34 teams in two divisions.
At the end of the season, the top two teams from the Western Championship Division will move up to the UPSL Pro Premier and the bottom two in the Pro Premier will move down to the Championship and we can already feel the teams ready to go to protect their positions in their respective divisions.
Games are as competitive as the teams can roster their players — and this looks like it will be a bang up year on the field.
Diane Scavuzzo: How professional are the teams?
Yan Skwara: We stress to our teams that professionalism is important, and we have increased our standards to reflect this.
We want our clubs to be able to reach for their goals, and that begins by taking pride in how each does its business.
Not every team is going to meet our standards, but that is part of the process, too. Marketing, communications, soccer operations are all very important aspects of the business that we stress to all our teams.
Diane Scavuzzo: Can you name some of the top teams and coaches?
Yan Skwara: With so many new teams having entered for the 2017 Spring Season, it would be a disservice not to mention the four UPSL clubs currently participating in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. L.A. Wolves FC, La Maquina Las Vegas Anahuac and Moreno Valley FC are all awaiting their next fixture in the tournament. L.A. Wolves FC is coached by U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer Eric Wynalda, and Moreno Valley FC is a USASA Regional Champion.
Idaho has two teams represented in the UPSL, Magic Valley and Boise FC — both teams will look to make their mark this season.
There’s a real movement happening — that’s a real thrill to be a part of. Colorado Conference is up for grabs in its first season, so we will see who comes out on top. May the best team win and hoist the 2017 UPSL Championship Cup!