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D2 soccer loses its shine
by Paul Kennedy, January 27th, 2011 12:42AM

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TAGS:  my view, nasl, usl, ussf division 2

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[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in Atlanta and Edmonton to give it eight -- the minimum for D2 sanctioning -- U.S. Soccer's provision sanctioning was withdrawn because more than one team didn't meet its D2 financial requirements.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.



0 comments
  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: January 27, 2011 at 7:57 a.m.
    This is absurd. Division I, II, III are arbitrary terms. In any country, the best league is division I and the next one is division II and the next is division III. this is regardless of the gap between the divisions. Criteria are put to simplify things not to complicate them. There should be exceptions for the sake of continuity. US soccer should give Division II status to NASL, Pro USL or both. It's not reasonable to have division I and III without division II. This is a joke.

  1. Stephen Finger
    commented on: January 27, 2011 at 9:54 a.m.
    Completely agree with the above post about definitions. Under the guidelines put in place last year, there may not have been an official "D2" in any year in the past. I am actually okay with US Soccer putting in conditions for an official D2 league. It encourages investors to make big commitments to teams. However it is disingenous to say that today's second level, officially called "D3", is not comparable to previous year's second level, then called "D2".

  1. Donald Barg
    commented on: January 27, 2011 at 10:46 a.m.
    The guys above are spot on. Sunil and Dan need to get a much better P/R spin and handle on this issue or the sport suffers I know the taxpayers in Rochester NY were hoping to watch Pro Soccer when they subsidized the building of their SOCCER SPECIFIC park! Their loyalty to the sport should be rewarded by some quality exhibition matches if they are required to endure another reorganization

  1. Simon Provan
    commented on: January 27, 2011 at 11:51 a.m.
    Paul, Unfortunately, your article pays no homage to how the indoor game kept the game alive between the original NASL and MLS. While indoor is now on it's way out, it was incredibly popular, with the original MSL and indoor NASL averaging crowds at NBA levels. In fact, I would agrue that indoor soccer kept the game going in the states more than any minor outdoor leagues. The point is, D2 soccer was nowhere near the only game in town and in fact for many, many years, took a back seat to the indoor game.

  1. David Huff
    commented on: January 27, 2011 at 12:23 p.m.
    @ Gus, Stephen and Donald - welcome to how the MLS/SUM/USSF group that controls American soccer runs things for their own direct interests and not for the good of the game.

  1. Paul Bryant
    commented on: January 27, 2011 at 5:04 p.m.
    I did not know Crystal Palace ceased operations. I attended a couple of their games. A major problem with these lower division operations is that they do not play in dedicated stadiums. Cryatal Palace played home games at the University of Maryland Baltimore County's football stadium. There is nothing worse than watching a soccer game on a football field. I also watched them play the UK Crystal Palace team at a minor league baseball park. The management just didn't get it.

  1. Ray Shines
    commented on: January 27, 2011 at 7:50 p.m.
    How dumb are some of you people, really? How exactly is holding people's feet to the fire "in USSF's direct interests and not for the good of the game?" A strong second and third division aren't good for the game? Is that what you're saying, David Huff? Or are you just so jaded from years of USSF-bashing that it's your default mode and you can't look at cases on their merits? The status quo gets us used car salesmen owning A-League teams and saying "You can't control the attendance." The status quo gets us teams averaging 1,200 people a game in markets of more than a million people. The status quo gives us 75% of teams folding, historically. This is what you want? For USSF just to look the other way? Why, so you and 1,000 other people can have a game to go to? Oh, but wait...most of you don't even GO to games, and you don't care about the second division until drama comes up like this and you get to bash USSF and show us how little you know about what's best for American soccer. As for indoor...yeah, indoor kept the flame alive for the game in this country...until about 1987 or so, when it ceased to be a big deal. Then the outdoor teams that grew out of the ashes started to take hold a bit. It certainly wasn't "many, many years" that indoor ruled the roost by default. You people don't know your history, you don't know how things work, you can't see what's right in front of your face in terms of what's good for the game, you just want more of the same...for some reason I can't fathom. This is why you get the leagues you deserve: because you're too dumb to deserve better.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: January 28, 2011 at 12:37 a.m.
    Wake up on the wrong side of the bed did we Ray? You may be making some good points, but all the name-calling detracts from what you're saying. The professional soccer scene below the MLS is certainly quite confusing. I was a season ticket holder for many years with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, which started with the inaugural season of the A-league, and the quality of play and the crowds were quite good (3-4,000 average), though the field was poor (narrow HS stadium, football field with a big crown), and it was very difficult to get to the games (a function of a poor road system and Pittsburgh's difficult suburban topography). Every year the crowds became smaller and the team dropped down divisions, as well as moved to play in different HS stadiums (easier to get to, but turf fields, so the atmosphere was more like attending a good HS game than a professional game). They played 2 years in a very nice baseball stadium (that absolutely sucked for soccer, since the best seats focused on the corner flag, where home plate was). I finally gave up my season tickets last year, mainly because I was having trouble getting people interested in going to the games. It's been a discouraging scenario, because I think that had they initially invested in a soccer specific stadium that had decent access to Pittsburgh (when the team had good players and was in the A-League), I think they could have drawn good crowds. But given the history of the franchise (primarily the declining attendance), it would take quite the leap of faith for investors to do that now. But maybe someday, someone with a vision and some extra cash will take up the mantle. On a more realistic note, it would be nice if the professional soccer scene in the US were a bit more comprehensible (with league names somehow indicating their status in the hierarchy). Having somewhat rigorous requirements for teams to enter might be useful in making that happen.

  1. Andrew Wight
    commented on: January 28, 2011 at 8:35 a.m.
    D2 has lost it's shine in Rochester as well. I've been a season ticket holder for more than 10 years and I can tell you at this point, the people still buying tickets are doing it for the love of the game more than the love of the Rhinos. We've obviously had our issues with the previous owners killing a lot of interest. Now we have a great new owner but D2 has been a mess since he started..... The Rhinos obviously made the right choice to be in the USLPro this year but I don't see an extended run in "3rd" division soccer being the way to make money in a 13,000 seat SSS. D2 needs to get it's act together. In the meantime, I'm buying ticket for BOTH of our teams this summer. Marta and Christine Sinclair have my attention!!!

  1. Simon Provan
    commented on: January 28, 2011 at 9:37 a.m.
    Ray - get off the high horse. You apparently need to do some research. All the way up to the 1999-2000, the NPSL had 16 teams, and many in significant cities. To say indoor was strong to 1987 shows your absolute ignorance. I'm assuming, by your post, that that is when you were most likely born, or probably after. Do some research pal. Hell, the championship series in the year mention above between the Milwaukee Wave and Cleveland Crunch went to 5 games, with the 5th game garnering an attendance of 15,000+ at the Bradley Center. How do I know - because I was there and watched my brother help capture the title for Milwaukee. With having three older brothers play professionally for teams in Viginia Beach, Milwaukee, Rockford, Canton, and Cincinnati - I've been to a hell of a lot of minor league soccer games. I'm willing to bet a hell of a lot more than you pal. So like I said, get off your high horse jackass, stop making assumptions (because you really are making an ass out of yourself), and do some research of your own. Indoor soccer was still expanding at a decent pace. Even in the mid-90's it was drawing more people to games than the outdoor game was. I hate doing the name calling thing, but you really are a holier-than-thou, high-horsed riding twit.


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