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In limbo no more but ...
by Paul Kennedy, January 8th, 2010 7AM



[U.S. SOCCER DIVISION 2] U.S. Soccer has come to an agreement with USL and the NASL to oversee the running of a Division 2 pro league -- two six-team conferences -- for the 2010 season. A majority of USL-1 teams broke away from the USL and formed the NASL but did not have enough viable teams, according to U.S. Soccer, to gain sanctioning on its own. The agreement pertains only to the 2010 season.

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati says lots of work, including calls on New Year's Day, went into keeping D2 soccer alive and settling the many differences between teams and leagues, at least for the time being. The compromise followed the decision by U.S. Soccer not to sanction either group for 2010.

The agreement also means all claims between the parties will be dropped. USL had filed a lawsuit in Florida state court against the expansion Tampa Bay owners and Rochester's owners.

Division 2 soccer in North America had become an increasingly complicated and contentious turf. Many of the owners who viewed D2 soccer as they would minor-league baseball or hockey disappeared, shrinking the league from a high of 30 teams in 1999 to a low of 11 in 2008-09. In their place have come owners representing or linked to foreign soccer clubs or foreign soccer firms such as Brazilian-based international soccer management firm Traffic, which owns Miami FC.

Besides the ongoing dispute between USL-1 owners and USL ownership -- Nike sold its majority interest in USL (obtained via its acquisition of Umbro) to Atlanta-based NuRock Soccer Holdings LLC -- the USL and NASL teams ran the gamut from the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers, who will join MLS in 2011, and the Montreal Impact, which wants to join MLS, to Miami FC, which barely survived through the end of the 2009 USL-1 season, and Minnesota Thunder, a USL team dating to the early 1990s that will be replaced at the D2 level by a team operated by the National Sports Center in 2010 (Manny Lagos will be the Director of Soccer Operations).

The new D2 league will consist of:

USL Conference:
Austin Aztex ('09 USL-1 expansion team loyal to USL)
Minnesota ('09 USL-1 Thunder joined NASL but new group will operate '10 team)
*Portland Timbers ('09 USL-1 team loyal to USL)
Puerto Rico Islanders ('09 USL-1 team loyal to USL)
Rochester  Rhinos ('09 USL-1 team that joined NASL)
Tampa Bay Rowdies ('10 USL-1 expansion team that joined NASL)

NASL Conference:
Baltimore Crystal Palace ('09 USL-2 that joined NASL)
Carolina RailHawks ('09 USL-1 team that joined NASL)
Miami FC ('09 USL-1 team that joined NASL)
Montreal Impact ('09 USL-1 team that joined NASL)
AC St. Louis ('10 NASL expansion team)
*Vancouver  Whitecaps ('09 USL-1 team that joined NASL)
*Will join MLS in 2011.

Two 2009 USL-1 teams are no longer part of the D2 structure: the Charleston Battery, which joined the USL-2 for 2010, and the Cleveland City Stars, who were "promoted" to USL-1 from USL-2 in 2009 but were terminated by USL in November.

New York and Atlanta, which hoped to join USL-1 and the NASL in 2010, respectively, are on hold until 2011.

Still to be resolved are lots of issues:

-- schedule (28-32 games);
-- foreigner rules (USL-1 allowed seven foreign players on game-day rosters);
-- television (USL-1 had a deal with Fox Soccer Channel; NASL was negotiating its own deal);
-- day-to-day management and promotion (USL staff, third-party group or some compromise).

(Sunil Gulati talks to the media about the D2 deal.)

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