When the MASL last month announced a new affiliation program with M2, its two season old developmental league, it wasn’t hard to imagine a AAA baseball, G-League basketball, or AHL hockey-style player development partnership where each MASL team would have its own M2 counterpart. While that could still happen over a longer evolution, M2 will look very different in 2019-20 after more than half of last year’s 15 teams have reportedly elected not to return for the upcoming season.
It is believed that the Sockers 2, Fury II, Stockton Rush, Arizona Lightning, Las Vegas Knights, Detroit Waza Flo, Cincinnati Swerve, and Chicago Mustangs will not return to M2. The Juarez Cuervos are also not returning after the El Paso Coyotes suspended operations. New Mexico Elite hasn’t posted anything on their Facebook page since May 19.
One common reason for the exodus was travel costs, something Rochester Lancers owner Sam Fantauzzo wasn’t happy about either. “Playing in M2 last season was a disappointment,” he said. “We spent $35K for our Ontario California final four playoff and organizers had nothing organized and the host hotel should have been condemned years ago,” Fantauzzo added.
Adding to the league turmoil, the MASL declined to renew M2 commissioner Kevin Milliken’s contract. Milliken founded the Professional Arena Soccer League and orchestrated the merger with MISL expat teams that resulted in the formation of the MASL. In 2017 Milliken founded M2, an idea he first floated as early as 2011.
Milliken, who has operated the Premier Arena Soccer League independent of the MASL since the MASL’s formation in 2014, had a clause in his contract that allowed him to operate other leagues. While nothing had changed, a July press conference announcing new partners in the PASL seemed to raise alarm bells within the MASL.
“I never received any formal verbal or written dismissal or non renewal notice from the MASL,” said Milliken. “They simply removed my name from the website, and I did not receive my monthly payment in August.”
One concern the MASL had according to one team owner, was uncollected team fees from M2 teams who were behind in their payments. “The M2 generated enough revenue to cover its expenses, which is a big accomplishment for a new league,” Millken countered. “It was operated under budget and with support from only three M1 teams. I am proud of the work I did creating the PASL-Pro and then using it to create the MASL. It was a good 10 years for our sport. I have plenty of work to do with expanding the PASL, launching and activating all parts of our Federation (American Association of Soccer 5-6-7), and the upcoming WMF World Cup in Australia. I look forward to continuing to build our sports of arena and small-sided soccer.”
M2 as it existed helped spread the MASL gospel to more markets and grew the potential team and player pool. What was missing was participation and support from the MASL teams.
In 2018-19 only four of the 15 M2 teams were affiliated with an MASL team.
Ontario had only four players spend time with both the Fury and Fury II: Marcus Jordan (20 games with the Fury, 4 games with Fury II), Robert Tornel (20/1), Jose Gonzalez (11/1), and Claysson De Lima (1/7).
The only three players who played for both the Sockers and Sockers 2 were veteran Chad Hagerty and journeyman Eli Galbraith Knapp, who each appeared in one Sockers game, and young defender Manuel Rojo who saw action in seven Sockers 2 games and five Sockers games.
The other MASL teams largely ignored M2.
Success stories through two years are few and far between, but MASL Director of Media Relations Jeff Husted pinpoints one major story. “The most obvious answer to this is Adrien Perez,” Husted says of the Fury star who signed with Major League Soccer’s LAFC. “He made the team through the M2 tryouts and immediately began to shine for the Fury II. He was quickly brought up to the Fury, but he would not have had the chance without the Fury II.”
The MASL described an affiliation system where MASL teams would pay rights fees to their M2 counterparts when they called up a player to the big league roster. That seems like a tall order considering MASL teams didn’t have to pay any transfer fees the last two years and still didn’t sign any players off M2 rosters.
The new affiliation program would also require a major adjustment to the current MASL roster rules. Active MASL rosters are limited to 20 players, but teams can sign as many players as they want and retain their rights for the season. Some teams that didn’t even have an M2 affiliate last year had over 30 players under contract. “The MASL Board of Directors is finalizing the roster rules as well as other rules/standards for the upcoming season currently,” Husted assures. “These will be discussed and voted on at the MASL’s Fall Meetings.” Those meetings will take place September 18 and 19 in Orlando.
It’s not all doom and gloom for M2. While the league hasn’t made any announcements, Chihuahua Savage from LMFR, a new Wichita Wings team led by FC Wichita owner Blake Shumaker, and the Austin Power (yeah baby!) are expected to join. The MASL recently announced staff additions to handle the increased workload of an organization that is trying to get itself to the next level.
The Lancers, however, maybe realizing how disjointed the current M2 map is, are making a push to return to the MASL. “We belong in the MASL,” Fantauzzo said. “We operate at the same level as Milwaukee and Utica. With two part time staff members, that do it for fun, we sold out all 18 games for indoor and outdoor and every game was a party last year.”
M2 starts later than the MASL, but even with a December 1 starting date it’s late to be looking for teams. “The MASL decided early in the offseason to provide more support to M2 and has been working to find ways to move forward in a responsible manner towards stability and growth,” said Husted. “To that end, we have received interest in joining the league from across North America, with some teams potentially being ready to join for the upcoming season.”
What that season will look like remains to be seen. Either way Fantauzzo says, “I’m not sure what the future holds but the indoor Lancers will play in 2020.”