USL PRO: Blues lose Puerto Rican rivals

The first-year, third-tier USL Pro league has been whittled down to six clubs, dropping its three teams in Puerto Rico because they were unable to meet league standards and obligations.

The Tampa, Fla.-based United Soccer Leagues, the umbrella organization that runs USL Pro and three other leagues, on Tuesday announced that Puerto Rico United, River Plate Puerto Rico and Sevilla FC Puerto Rico -- all in the league through an agreement with the Puerto Rico Soccer League -- had been removed.

That leaves just the Blues and Antigua Barracuda in the International Division, with 10 more clubs in the eastern United States. The league said completed games against the Puerto Rico clubs would count in the standings and that a new schedule and conference alignment will be unveiled later this week.

Each team will play a full 24-game schedule.

The Blues (3-1-1), who return to action against the Charlotte Eagles on Thursday evening at Centennial High School in Corona and on Saturday night at Cal State Fullerton, went 2-0-1 against the Puerto Rico clubs on its season-opening trip to the Caribbean, beating Sevilla (3-0) and Puerto Rico United (4-2) and tying River Plate (1-1).

The league cited “severe economic difficulties” and “unforeseen medical situations” with two of the three club owners is making its decision.

Sevilla and United were 1-3-2 and River Plate was 0-3-2 through six weeks of the campaign.

UPDATE: Talked to Blues head coach/vice president Charlie Naimo about the situation, and he says L.A.'s club supports the league and that the move is "out of protection of the other franchises." USL President Tim Holt says he "agrees wholeheartedly" and that action was taken after the clubs' problems with financial and operations standards became "untenable" after the league spent several weeks working with the Puerto Rican clubs.

"We're not concerned," Naimo said. "We're going to turn back into a North American league again, like [USL leagues have] always been. ... I'm not going to say [I'm] happy. I feel bad for the Puerto Rico teams because there was some talent on those teams. I feel bad for players who had professional contracts and are now out of work. I don't like to see that happen."

Holt said an announcement on realignment and alterations to the schedule likely would be made Wednesday. Among the proposals would be to place the Blues in one of the remaining two conferences and Antigua Barracuda into the other.

The Blues' and Antigua's schedules will be affected most, and Naimo said the league would pick up additional costs related to the changes.