In response to reports of its potential unraveling, the six-year-old North American Soccer League issued a statement on Thursday night that its owners remain "undaunted in the challenge to reach their
long-term goals." The statement came hours after the troubled Ft. Lauderdale Strikers' managing director confirmed they had sought financial support from the league and a day after the league was hit
by a barrage of negative press.
The NASL statement does not directly any of the issues: "The North American Soccer League (NASL) and its member owners are passionate about
the growth of soccer in North America, and their actions and level of investment the past several years prove that commitment. In recent weeks, the league has been working through an important period
in its evolution.
"The league's dedicated owners remain undaunted in the challenge to reach their long-term goals, and are in the midst of a series of meetings and
discussions to ensure that the 2017 season lays the groundwork for an exciting future.
"The Board remains as committed as ever to its strategy and looks forward to
adding a number of new partners who share their vision for building a world-class league. The NASL also looks forward to working closely with U.S. Soccer and other professional leagues to grow and
develop the game at all levels in North America."
The most serious situation concerns the Strikers, who have averaged just 1,452 fans a game in 2016 and recently moved from Lockhart
Stadium, the home of the Strikers in the old NASL days of George Best
, Gerd Mueller
and Teofilo Cubillas
, to Central Broward Regional Stadium, the cricket facility where MLS has
held its winter combine for many years.
Brazilian owners, led by Paulo Cesso
, bought the Strikers from Traffic -- that Traffic -- in 2014, fired Austrian head coach Gunther
, who took the Strikers the 2014 Soccer Bowl, and popular president Tom Mulroy
and installed Luis Cuccatti
as managing director.
In July, FiftyFive.One reported
that paychecks to players have been delayed and some have bounced, which
Cuccatti blamed on banking delays in the transfer of funds from Brazil. But on Wednesday, Raleigh's WRALSportsFan quoted sources as saying
that the NASL and its clubs might have to keep the Strikers afloat as their
owners had ceased their funding obligations.
In a series of tweets the Strikers attributed to Cuccatti
on Thursday night, he said, "There's a
difference between dropping all economic responsibility and asking for a loan." In the short term, he said the Strikers were announcing free-agent signings "and they are playing out of pure love for
our team" and the club was "adjusting" its business plan and focus. He added, "We are 100 percent playing next year in this league under this ownership."
In a statement to the Sun Sentinel,
the Strikers said they
are in the process of "recycling our club’s ownership. This is a natural process in this business."
Also on Wednesday, SI.com reported
that the Ottawa Fury and the Tampa Bay Rowdies wanted to move to the
rival USL. In addition, Minnesota United FC will join MLS in 2017, and the future of expansion Rayo OKC was uncertain.
The Oklahoma City club was backed by Spanish club Rayo Vallecano,
which was relegated from La Liga in June. Massive staff layoffs followed at Rayo OKC along with the departure of head coach Alen Marcina
. The situation in Oklahoma City got so bad that minority
owner Sean Jones
removed pallets of artificial turf he said he personally paid for and had installed at Yukon High School’s Miller Field.
Club turmoil is nothing new for the
NASL. Following the 2015 season, the NASL folded the Atlanta Silverbacks, and San Antonio Scorpions dropped out after their owner sold Toyota Field to the firm that operates the NBA's San Antonio
Spurs and a new USL team resurfaced in San Antonio.
Earlier in the year, Traffic, which played a key role in getting the league off the ground in 2011, made international headlines when
Federal authorities charged that it was at the center of a massive corruption scheme involving international soccer. Traffic owner Jose Hawilla
agreed to forfeit over $151 million, and Traffic
sold the Carolina RailHawks, the sole remaining club in which it had an ownership interest, to Steve Malik
The NASL's current situation will be addressed at a Board of Governors
meeting next week.