NASL: Decision day arrives for ailing Division 2 league

Players and staff of clubs in the six-year-old North American Soccer League should learn their fate on Tuesday. The triggering event? U.S. Soccer's board of directors will decide the divisional status of the NASL (which needs a waiver to keep it in Division 2 for 2017) and the USL (which is seeking Division 2 sanctioning).

UPDATE: U.S. Soccer issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon: "After continuing discussions with NASL and USL, the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors postponed the decision on sanctioning/re-certification of leagues for Division 2 and Division 3. We expect to have further discussions in the next 7-10 days as we focus on the resolution of this important matter."

The NASL finished the 2016 season with 12 teams. It has approved the San Francisco Delta as an expansion team for 2017, but three existing teams have already departed. Minnesota United was approved as an MLS expansion team for 2017 and Tampa Bay and Ottawa jumped ship to the USL.

Of the six remaining clubs that were in the league in 2015, five suffered huge drops in attendance of 14 percent, 25 percent, 29 percent, 56 percent and 70 percent. Several clubs are reported to have stopped paying players or the rent on their housing as cost-cutting measures have been introduced while the league's future is being determined.

Several NASL clubs might follow Tampa Bay and Ottawa to the USL if the NASL folds. A key negotiating point: the terms of admission to the USL, specifically payment of expansion fees.

U.S. Soccer's latest efforts to sort out the structure of pro soccer below MLS comes just six years after it had to step in and operate a Division 2 league while teams from the old USL First Division decided to go their separate ways. Out of the USSF D2 Pro League was formed the more ambitious NASL and more cautious USL PRO (current USL).

Only three of the NASL's eight teams remain in the league from its first season: Carolina, FC Edmonton and Ft. Lauderdale, which is being sued by Tampa Bay for moneys advanced that helped keep the Strikers afloat during the 2016 season. Of the 12 USL teams that began play in 2011, six are still in the league: Charleston, Harrisburg, Orange County, Pittsburgh, Richmond and Rochester. And of those nine surviving teams, almost all have changed owners, including two NASL teams owned by Traffic, the marketing firm at the heart of the FIFA scandals that rocked international soccer.

Minnesota United FC.
Joined: 2013.
Owner: Bill McGuire
Previous teams: NSC Minnesota Stars (2010-11), Minnesota Stars FC (2012).
Before that: Minnesota Thunder (USISL/A-League/USL D1, 1994-2009).
2016 Att.: 8,573 (-2%).
Future: 2017 MLS expansion team.

Indy Eleven
Joined: 2014
Owner: Ersal Ozdemir.
2016 Att.:
8,396 (-14%).
Future: Indy Eleven, first in NASL attendance in 2014 and 2015 and second in 2016, has not been mentioned among the teams interested in joining the USL. "Indy Eleven continues to plan for the 2017 season in conjunction with other committed clubs and owners that are working hard on a path forward for the NASL,” a team official told IndyStar.

Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Joined: 2011.
Owner: Bill Edwards.
Previous teams:
FC Tampa Bay (2010).
Before that: Tampa Bay Mutiny (MLS, 1996-2001), Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL, 1975-84, ASL/APSL, 1988-93).
2016 Att.: 5,878 (+4%).
Future: 2017 USL.

Ottawa Fury.
Joined: 2014.
Owner: Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group.
Before that: Ottawa Intrepid (CSL, 1987), Ottawa Pioneers (CSL, 1988-90).
2016 Att.: 5,482 (+6%).
Future: 2017 USL.

Miami FC.
Joined: 2016.
Owner: Riccardo Silva and Paolo Maldini.
2016 Att.: 5,427.
Before that: Miami Toros (NASL, 1972-76), Miami Sharks (ASL, 1988-89), Miami Freedom (APSL, 1990-92), Miami FC (A-League/USL D1/USSF D2 Pro, 2006-10).
Future: Silva, founder of soccer media giant MP & Silva, has shown no interest in joining the USL. MP & Silva recently funded a study on promotion-relegation.

Carolina RailHawks.
Joined: 2007.
Owner:
Steve Malik.
2016 Att.:
5,058 (+12%).
Before that:
Raleigh Flyers (USISL/A-League, 1993-98), Raleigh Capital Express (A-League, 1999-2000).
Future:
The RailHawks have called a press conference for Tuesday to announce their name change to North Carolina FC and plans to seek an MLS franchise as well as a women's team in the NWSL. They have not announced their short-term plans but they are considered a leading contender to join the USL.

Puerto Rico FC.
Joined: 2016.
Owner:
Carmelo Anthony.
2016 Att.:
3,801.
Before that:
Puerto Rico Islanders (A-League/USL D1/USSF D2 Pro/NASL, 2004-12), Puerto Rico United (USL, 2011), River Plate Puerto Rico (USL, 2011), Sevilla FC Puerto Rico
(USL, 2011).
Future:
There has been little from Puerto Rico FC about its future plans.

New York Cosmos.
Joined: 2013.
Owner:
New York Cosmos LLC (chairman: Seamus O'Brien).
2016 Att.:
3,775 (-25%)
Before that:
New York Cosmos (NASL: 1971-84), Long Island Rough Riders (USISL/A-League/USL D2, 1992-2006).
Future:
Big Apple Soccer reported that the Cosmos, winners of the NASL title in three of their four seasons (2013, 2015 and 2016), was ceasing operations. Empire of Soccer reported that team staff and front office were on their second week of furloughs. If the Cosmos don't find a buyer, it will mark a sad end to one of the great names in American soccer.

Jacksonville Armada
Joined: 2015.
Owner:
Mark Frisch.
2016 Att.:
3,499 (-56%)
Before that:
Jacksonville Tea Men (NASL/ASL/USL, 1980-84).
Future:
Four Four Two reported that the Armada, whose average attendance dropped from 7,927 a game in its first season to 3,499 in 2016, cut back its permanent staff and planned on moving to a high school stadium in 2017.

Rayo OKC
Joined: 2016.
Owner:
Rayo Vallecano.
2016 Att.:
3,242.
Before that:
Oklahoma City Slickers (ASL/USL, 1982-84).
Future:
The Oklahoman reported that Rayo OKC's Spanish owners were not in attendance at the annual NASL board of governors meetings last week in Atlanta and released all players from contracts. Rayo OKC has been in flux since local management firm Sold Out Strategies pulled out of the club's day-to-day operations in August and one of its minority owners pulled pallets of artificial turf from its stadium.

FC Edmonton
Joined: 2011.
Owner:
Tom and Dave Fath.
2016 Att.:
2,060 (-29%).
Before that:
Edmonton Drillers (NASL, 1979-82), Edmonton Brickmen (CSL, 1987-90), FC Edmonton (A-League, 2004).
Future:
On Friday, FC Edmonton handed head coach Colin Miller a contract extension, suggesting it was business as usual. Miller told the Edmonton Journal he was happy to be back for a fifth season as "there is a bit of stability in the club now moving forward." Where that is remains to be seen. A new Canadian pro league is in the works for 2018.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Joined: 2011.
Owner:
Paulo Cesso.
2016 Att.:
1,343 (-70%).
Miami FC (USL D1/USSF D2 Pro/NASL, 2006-11).
Before that:
Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL, 1977-83, ASL/APSL/USISL/A-League, 1988-1997), Fort Lauderdale Sun (USL, 1984), Miami Fusion (MLS, 1998-2001).
Future:
The Strikers were beset by financial problems in 2016 and Rowdies owner Bill Edwards sued the Strikers' owners in state court in November (Marketing Solutions Publications vs. Miami FC LLC) for $305,844, the balance owed for money that was used to help the Strikers meet payroll. The Sun Sentinel reported that the Strikers' owners would like to remain in the NASL.
Source: Attendance figures (h/t: kenn.com)

8 comments about "NASL: Decision day arrives for ailing Division 2 league".
  1. Gus Keri, December 6, 2016 at 8:24 a.m.

    It's a sad story for the Cosmos. If they agreed to MLS conditions to join the league in the first few years of existence, they would've been in much better shape than the one they are in right now. But the cockiness and the greed of the Cosmos's name right holders did the Cosmos a huge disservice.

  2. Chuck Redding replied, December 6, 2016 at 10:16 p.m.

    agreed

  3. Glenn Maddock, December 6, 2016 at 9:23 a.m.

    This league has always been a puzzle. I did not understand the dip in attendance since they have a good product on the field. Trying to compete with MLS was idiotic. I hope Red Bull's adopt the Cosmos brand if they fold. While I hope these clubs can survive in USL if NASL folds, I think USL needs to have 2 levels with Promo/releg. That would be more interesting for a D2 league

  4. Chuck Redding replied, December 6, 2016 at 10:31 p.m.

    "adopt the cosmos brand" really...Outside of a few hangers on the brand has been dead for a long time!!! We're talking about Red Bull.

  5. Bill Wilson, December 6, 2016 at 10 a.m.

    Glenn, your promotion/relegation suggestion is one of the few out there that are grounded in any sense of reality. Not sure how many current USL teams would want to be second division though, especially because of the minimum investments, stadium capacities, etc. now required to enter or remain part of USL. Since USL runs PDL, however, the framework to create a true third tier is already in place. Though PDL is currently an amateur league, stepping up and becoming the Division 3 certainly seems viable in the long run once Bill Peterson goes into retirement and takes the Not A Serious League with him.

  6. Ray Shines replied, January 1, 2017 at 11:26 a.m.

    No, the PDL is an amateur league and most of its teams would not be able to become fully professional.

    People have to get over this idea of the PDL or the NPSL somehow backfilling a void left by USL moving up and/or NASL folding. They're amateurs. Amateurs, amateurs, amateurs. And their organizations do not have the wherewithal to meet D3 standards. Stop it.

  7. Dean Mitchell, December 7, 2016 at 12:31 a.m.

    Just sad to see this. It reminds me of the dark ages (1984-1996) where every year was a different league and there was more in-fighting than cooperation.

    Relegation within USL D2 and D3 might be very interesting. Hopefully the better/independent teams can form a D2 League and the D3 can be for all of the MLS Reserves and all of the non D2 compliant markets.

    I sure appreciate MLS bringing stability and taking the sport past the survival mode (D1 at least).

  8. Normand Conquest, December 7, 2016 at 10:08 a.m.

    I am sad to see the end of the NASL. For me there was a nostalgic feel for the teams I grew up with ... Strikers, Rowdies, Cosmos ... I hope the Indy 11 survives.

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