USL Expansion: Tampa Bay and Ottawa leave NASL

The erosion of the North American Soccer League is accelerating.

United Soccer League announced Tuesday that two NASL teams, Tampa Bay and Ottawa, are coming aboard for the 2017 season. USL membership will be 32 teams next season, if all 29 teams that played in 2016 return and, as planned, Reno, Nev. starts up as an expansion team.

Tampa Bay Rowdies, which originally started play in the old North American Soccer League in 1975, joined the current version in 2011. Ottawa has been an NASL member since 2014 and reached the league championship game last year.

“We are excited to join the United Soccer League in 2017,” said Tampa Bay chairman and CEO Bill Edwards, who bought a controlling interest in December, 2013. “I have said from the day I acquired controlling interest in this club that I wanted to make it one of the most successful teams in North America. The USL is a vibrant league, and this move is a necessary and positive step toward reaching the long-term goals and objectives of the club.”

The Fury is operated by Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which also owns teams in the Canadian Football League and Ontario Hockey League, one of three divisions of the Canadian Hockey League for players age 16-21. “The USL’s goal is to be the top second division league in the world and we are thrilled to be part of it,” said Fury FC president John Pugh. “Our growing and loyal fan base deserves and can expect a very high caliber of play and tremendous competition.”

Current plans call for both teams to join the USL Eastern Conference, which would thus consist of 16 teams for the 2017 season. Fifteen Western Conference teams competed this season, so the addition of Reno would provide balance. The schedule for each team will increase from 30 to 32 teams and the 2017 season is tentatively set to start March 24.

Minnesota United will leave the NASL next month to join MLS as a 2017 expansion team. The departures of Tampa Bay and Ottawa, which according to sources have been in motion since the USL meetings in San Jose three months ago, plus that of Minnesota United would reduce NASL membership to nine teams. The league is adding San Francisco Deltas as an expansion franchise next season.

Red Bulls II won the USL Cup championship game last Sunday, 5-1, against Swope Park Rangers, whose coach Mark Dos Santos is leaving to coach San Francisco in the NASL.

The USL announced total attendance for the 2016 season was 1,496,493, a 33 percent increase from 2015. Expansion team FC Cincinnati led the league in average attendance with a league record 17,296 and also set a single-game record of 24,376. League average ifor the regular season was 3,439 (based on published crowd figures).

As of Oct.16, Minnesota United (8,570) led the NASL in average attendance. Indy Eleven (8,362) was second, followed by Tampa Bay (5,820) and Ottawa (5,521). League average: 4,684.

The NASL fall season concludes this weekend with one of four playoff spots to be decided. Already in the playoffs, which start Nov. 5, are spring season champion Indy Eleven, fall season champion New York Cosmos, and overall qualifier Edmonton.


18 comments about "USL Expansion: Tampa Bay and Ottawa leave NASL".
  1. Bill Wilson, October 26, 2016 at 10:07 a.m.

    Bye Bye Not A Serious League. Who needs TB and Ottawa anyway. Cosmos A can play Cosmos B every week and then after 34 games a champion can be crowned.

  2. aaron dutch, October 26, 2016 at 11:40 a.m.

    NASL total attendance for only 11 teams was more then 60% of USL while USL had 3x the teams and if you take FC Cincinnati out then NASL was the same as USL. If our system was not so broken then we could really have pro/rel. NASL plays much better football then USL. If MLS & SUM didnt fund USL then it would have folded.

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, October 26, 2016 at 12:56 p.m.

    That counts 11 MLS reserve teams that don't draw flies. Those teams still have an important purpose in our developmental system, even if their games aren't well attended. In any event, looks like Ottawa and Tampa think the grass is greener in USL.

  4. don Lamb replied, October 26, 2016 at 1:52 p.m.

    The difference is that one league understands its role in the ecosystem and is happy there while the other league is fighting tooth and nail to be recognized as something that it is clearly not. The more teams that move from NASL to USL, the better. That is the path toward promotion/relegation and that is the path toward a nation-wide player development model that can compete with the best in the world. We basically have 50-some teams underneath the same umbrella. Once the infrastructure and player development models are set in place for these and another handful of teams (another 10-20 years), then promotion/relegation will be a viable possibility.

  5. don Lamb replied, October 26, 2016 at 4:44 p.m.

    If the financials change over the next decade or two, which they certainly will, the owners could easily see a risk/reward scenario that shows implementing promotion/relegation to make sense.

  6. Trevor Davis replied, October 27, 2016 at 2:58 a.m.

    aaron dutch, I don't think you have watched any NASL games if you think they play much better football than the USL. RBII would carve up every NASL team. NASL and USL teams pick amoung the same pool of players. And most NASL teams still play America dump and chase soccer.

  7. R2 Dad replied, October 27, 2016 at 12:44 p.m.

    Don, USL is an MLS mini-me and would prevent any chance of pro-rel in the US. Only NASL, with their different business model, has a chance to migrate towards that. As I see it, as long as MLS keeps growing, pulling away successful NASL teams, while also lobbying for USL Division 2 status, NASL will appear "unstable" and USL relatively more stable. But way fewer people are attending USL matches. That, however, won't stop Garber/Gulati from their power play. If Gulati was responsible, he wouldn't allow this USL/NASL division 2 question to come up until 10 years after MLS caps the number of teams in the league. Once MLS is "stable", the rest of the soccer universe will fall into orbit. But Garber/Gulati don't want that--they want MLS/USL to squash NASL to guarantee their monopoly. A vibrant NASL challenges that, and would eventually win due to their open model (like the rest of the world).

  8. don Lamb replied, October 27, 2016 at 11:37 p.m.

    This concern about a "monopoly" is just silly. We should want what is best for the development in this country, period. NASL is not that. I sincerely believe that MLS is not worried about crushing NASL in a competitive sense because I don't think they take NASL all that seriously. I bet MLS would have no issue with NASL surviving so long as they get all of the markets that they consider valuable. And why wouldn't they operate like this? But, back to the point: What makes you think a sports league needs a foil? NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL all run unopposed. Do you consider them "monopolies," too? Whether or not you think it's possible, MLS wants to be a top league, and if you think they are going to let the stupid wished of the NASL stand in the way of accomplishing that... And before you start talking about the NASL having a better chance to become a top league, then tell me how the NASL is going to stand up the best in the world when they can't even come close to MLS in it's current state. The NASL does virtually nothing to develop players, and there is no way that their budgets could sustain any sort of high priced roster. MLS is chugging away, right on schedule. The trajectory easily points MLS to being a top league (with kickass lower divisions) in another 10-20 years. It'd be a shame is something as bush league as the NASL upset this. Fortunately, it has not.

  9. R2 Dad replied, October 28, 2016 at 11:51 p.m.

    Don, go read up on the NFL vs AFL, NBA vs CBA; I'm sure Garber has. If what you say is true, why would Garber/Gulati/MLS care if USL is div 2 or div 3?

  10. don Lamb replied, October 29, 2016 at 12:05 a.m.

    You are on to something with those league mergers as examples. In both cases it made sense for the leagues to combine, which is contrary to the case of MLS and NASL. If NASL were able to maintain itself and put together a few years of stability, we would be having a different conversation. Unfortunately...

  11. aaron dutch, October 26, 2016 at 9:45 p.m.

    NASL has a pro-latino marketing plan and MLS doesn't have a pro-latino mind set in its marketing, brand, players, product anything. There should be a MLS/Liga MX cup between border rivals across all the southern boarder. There are not any good options to development for the game beyond where we are. The TV viewership is 2x in Spanish vs english and that is the deeper truth of the gap in the US soccer landscape

  12. Trevor Davis replied, October 27, 2016 at 3 a.m.

    The NASL doesn't ANY marketing plan. What are you talking about? Again, you seem clueless about everything.

  13. Trevor Davis, October 27, 2016 at 3:01 a.m.


  14. aaron dutch, October 27, 2016 at 11:10 a.m.

    thats a professional positive response, NASL have attendance of almost a million last year so they have done something right. If you subtract out FC Cinci USL & NASL fan engagement is about the same while USL has 3-4x more teams. So NASL isn't a failure they are on the wrong side of the USSF/MLS/SUM debate. If there was a real leadership NASL would have been a great second division to MLS with a great opportunity to have Mexico leagues, cups, fans, etc.. that is the largest miss in the region.

  15. don Lamb replied, October 27, 2016 at 12:04 p.m.

    Yeah, and a lot of those nearly 1 million fans are going to be watching their team in USL now instead of NASL. NASL is a joke, and they got what they have been asking for.

  16. aaron dutch, October 27, 2016 at 12:09 p.m.

    How many of the USL teams could beat an NASL team? is the competition any better, no the quality is lower so we kill off NASL and we get USL as a worse second division and thats a win for US soccer? We always miss the bigger picture. It seems like the real goal is for MLS/SUM to control domestic soccer and keep it at top 20-30 in the world at best and if you took all the DP's out maybe not even top 40 while we spend $billions a year on soccer in the US and spin our wheels every 10 years.

  17. don Lamb replied, October 27, 2016 at 2:29 p.m.

    a. USL went 7-0 against NASL in the Open Cup a couple of years ago. b. If all of the NASL teams go to USL, how is NASL a higher quality of play. c. USL includes MLS B teams -- it's much better in terms of player development.

  18. Fire Paul Gardner Now, October 28, 2016 at 8:28 p.m.

    If this clown league didn't attempt to prove it was a "major league" by trying to compete with MLS everywhere, maybe they'd be better off.

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