Club Profile: Coast Soccer League
Premier: Getting It Right
from the December 18, 2000 issue of Soccer
2000by Soccer America
Youth Soccer Letter executive editor Dan Woog
A Southern California league for elite
teams impresses from top to bottom.
Across America, there are many well-organized soccer
leagues. Numerous leagues also offer top-notch
competition. Then there is the Coast Soccer League
Chances are, if any league has innovative ideas for
administration, publicizing players, finding good
officials or handling disputes, Southern California's
CSL already does it. In fact, the CSL probably did it
An up-to-date, easy-to-navigate, interactive Web site
filled with the latest news, photos and features on all
66 teams - and every player? Got it.
The best officials in the state, with a well-oiled
system for finding them, keeping them happy - and
eliminating the poor ones? Check.
Clever ways to avoid scheduling conflicts, cut down
on unsportsmanlike conduct, even entertain thousands of
spectators week after week? The CSL Premier League has
The Premier League is a 2-year-old offshoot of the
Coast Soccer League, a 1,000-team competitive league
stretching 300 miles north from San Luis Obispo to the
Mexican border. The CSL itself is no stranger to solid
organization: Boys and girls teams ages U-10 to U-15 are
divided into Gold, Silver and Bronze brackets, with
different rules and procedures for each group. More than
30 CSL alumni have played in MLS.
But the Premier League goes one step beyond. There is
only one bracket, with three age groups for both males
and females: U-16, U-17 and U-19. Only eight to 12 teams
are accepted in each group. It is truly a league for the
best of the best.
TOUGH SCRUTINY. The CSL Premier
League's strict procedures begin the moment a team
applies for entry. Applications, due May 15 of each
year, range from one page to 10. The minimum
qualification is that a team has won at least the CSL
U-15 Gold bracket or CSL League Cup, the California
Youth Soccer Association-South state cup, or a major
tournament like the Surf Cup. Records are scrutinized to
see how many wins came against quality opponents.
Rosters are examined too; a minimum of nine returnees
from the previous season is required to ensure that a
team can defend its record.
The selection process is handled by a board that
includes Gary Sparks, a retired real estate executive
who serves as Premier League chairman, and two other
administrators. They base their decisions on
recommendations of age-group selectors. Each age group
has its own selector; he or she is a coach or
administrator of a team already in the Premier League.
Each team's selection must be ratified by the entire CSL
The Premier League does not accept unqualified teams
simply to fill up a division. If, however, they find
more qualified teams than available slots, a playoff is
scheduled. Every applying team competes in a round-robin
event, held on a weekend.
Teams passed over for selection may appeal the
board's decision, indicating which team they think they
are better than. It has happened once. The appeal was
upheld; the team not accepted went on to place fifth in
the CSL Gold bracket. "We're not perfect," Sparks noted,
"but we do make fairly informed decisions."
Last spring, 200 teams applied for 66 slots. Two were
not filled, because administrators felt they lacked
enough good teams in one age group. As soon as the
selection process is complete, scheduling begins. The
season runs from the second weekend in September through
the third weekend in November.
There is one scheduling certainty: No matter where in
Southern California a team hails from, it knows it will
play every weekend at either the San Juan Capistrano
polo fields south of Los Angeles (a training site for
the 1994 World Cup), or the University of California at
Irvine a few miles away.
Games begin at 8 a.m., and more than 3,000 spectators
flock to the fields each day. They are greeted by a
tournament-like atmosphere, complete with flags and
vendors selling international food, lattes and
On two weekends teams play both Saturday and Sunday;
the rest of the autumn they play just one day (no games
are scheduled on PSAT, SAT or ACT test dates). Teams in
12-team groups meet each opponent once; those in the
eight-team bracket have voted to play everyone else
Each weekend the Premier League distributes an eight-
or 16-page newspaper that includes schedules and field
layouts, articles by the likes of CYSA-S Olympic
Development Program director Steve Sampson and referees,
tips on avoiding injuries, and contributions from
INFO AGE SAVVY. But the flow of
information does not stop there. The Premier League
posts the contents of each newspaper on its Web site
(www.cslpremier.com), as well as updates, standings and
photos. The site's true value, however, lies in its
profile pages. Each team has its own page - and so do
all players. They can post information about themselves
from 99 pre-set academic and athletic categories (each
team manager has a password, to control inappropriate or
inaccurate postings). Each player also has his or her
own Premier League e-mail address, for use when
communicating with college coaches.
The comprehensive player profiles are then downloaded
into a template. The result is a sharp-looking 416-page
Premier League media guide. Copies are sent via priority
mail to over 1,000 college coaches across the
"They go nuts over it," Sparks said proudly. They
also respond: When coaches come to scout players at
Premier League matches, they often carry their media
guides. Coaches have come from as far east as Harvard
and Dartmouth (they are usually already on the West
Coast for college games). Premier League administrators
cultivate those college coaches, as well as Sampson's
ODP scouts, by providing free parking and food, even
lodging if requested.
ATTENTIVE TO REFS. The league is
equally attentive to its referees. All 16 Southern
California referee associations are asked to nominate
their top officials for the Premier pool. A committee,
comprised entirely of referees, selects the best of
those. Officials vie to work Premier League games for
several reasons: They have their own tent; three-man
teams are paid at the rate of $1.20 per minute - and
they are guaranteed at least three games a day.
Of course, admits Sparks, even the best-laid plans
occasionally go awry; inadequate refereeing does occur.
The Premier League covers that contingency too. Any
coach or team administrator can file a complaint against
an official. The game result will never be overturned,
but the referee committee examines the complaint for the
good of the game. That happened five times this fall.
Three officials were sent for additional instruction;
the other two situations were judged to be "sour
grapes." In addition, the referee committee's assessors
removed two officials on their own, without complaints
"Because teams have this privilege, it is mandatory
that referees be treated with respect," Sparks states.
Therefore, all comments must go through the coach. If
there are physical or verbal assaults on a referee, that
team can be removed from the league. So far that has not
"Coaches are scared to death of removal," Sparks
says. "They know how the process works." This fall, only
two coaches were red-carded for dissent. "In youth
soccer, that's phenomenal," Sparks notes.
PENALIZED FOR CARDS. The Premier
League watches cards closely. Teams are assessed one
point for every yellow card, two for each red. If a team
accumulates 20 points, it loses one point in the
standings; at 30, it loses two more standings points.
Any team that amasses 40 card points will be summarily
dismissed from the CSL - not just the Premier League,
but the entire organization. That has never happened.
The highest point total this year was 26, in the boys
U-19 league. The highest in girls U-16 was just
Teams follow their point totals closely on the Web
site. This year, first place in the boys U-19 league was
determined by one point - a point that was lost by one
team because of cards.
Despite the high level of organization, membership in
the Premier League is relatively cheap. Teams pay $800
to compete, double the cost of the regular CSL. Revenue
also comes from advertising by member clubs (and the Los
Angeles Galaxy and Orange County Wave) in the media
guide, along with Web site sponsors. Expenses cover
field rental, referees and two trainers on site at all
games. All league administrators are volunteers.
Though it is perhaps the most innovative in the
country, the CSL Premier League refuses to rest on its
laurels. In the future, organizers hope to make
arrangements with airlines to help college coaches fly
More than 200 Premier League athletes are going on to
play college ball, and one coach has offered six
scholarships to league members. "That's the name of the
game in premier soccer: to promote college opportunities
that would not otherwise be there," Sparks says with
CSL Premier League: http://www.cslpremier.com
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