[MY VIEW] Once the only pro game in town, second division soccer appears to be on its way out in the United States. And it's too bad. D2 leagues propped up U.S. pro soccer in the lean years after the North American Soccer League folded in 1985 and before MLS launched in 1996. Without D2 soccer, MLS wouldn't have teams in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. But while the eight-team NASL has released its 2011 schedule, it has -- to no one's surprise -- lost its provisional sanctioning from U.S. Soccer.
From a high of 30 A-League teams in 1999, D2 soccer dropped to 11 teams in 2009, but the USL First Division collapsed in a dispute between club owners and USL's new ownership group.
U.S. Soccer stepped in to keep D2 soccer alive when it organized the D-2 Pro League in 2010. It was a one-year deal after which the 12 teams went their separate ways.
Portland and Vancouver joined MLS. AC Saint Louis, whose sister club, Saint Louis Athletica, ceased operations in the middle of the 2010 WPS season, and Crystal Palace Baltimore are gone.
That left eight teams. Six (Miami FC, Carolina, Minnesota, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Puerto Rico) joined the NASL and two (Rochester and Austin-Orlando) moved to the new USL PRO, the nucleus of which consists of D3 teams from the old USL Second Division.
With the NASL added teams in Atlanta and Edmonton to give it eight -- the minimum for D2 sanctioning -- U.S. Soccer's provision sanctioning was withdrawn because more than one team didn't meet its D2 financial requirements.
The NASL recently took control of the NSC Minnesota Stars, and the Carolina RailHawks' ownership group is in the process of being dissolved.
Without the support of Traffic Sports USA -- the subsidiary of South American soccer company Traffic USA -- the NASL would have three teams -- Montreal, Puerto Rico and Tampa Bay -- and Montreal will be gone next year when it joins MLS. (A ninth NASL team is supposed to open in 2012 in San Antonio, where USL hopes to also set up shop.)
More than 100 D2 and D3 teams have operated since the 1990s, but minor-league soccer has never succeeded as a business proposition. Unlike minor-league baseball or hockey, there aren't enough home dates in a season to bring in the revenues to make minor-league soccer go. And MLS has stayed out of the minor-league soccer business, meaning the farm-team concept that works in minor-league baseball or hockey -- with subsidies of player expenses -- has never taken off in American pro soccer.
While CEO Aaron Davidson -- Traffic Sports USA's president -- remains optimistic that the NASL will go forward in 2011, D2 soccer is certainly a concept that has lost its shine.