NASL in limbo again after D2 sanctioning decision

The future of the North American Soccer League's eight teams -- plus two teams set to join in 2018 -- was in limbo after U.S. Soccer's board of directors refrained from sanctioning the league as Division 2 for the 2018 season.

The decision at Friday's board meeting in New Jersey came after U.S. Soccer granted the NASL (and USL) provisional Division 2 status for 2017. The NASL had previously been granted waivers for Division 2 sanctioning. The USL gained provisional Division 2 sanctioning for the first time in 2017.

In a strongly worded statement -- see below -- the NASL said it was "disappointed" with the decision that "negatively affects many stakeholders in soccer" and "jeopardizes the thousands of jobs created by the NASL and its member clubs."
In a jibe at U.S. Soccer, it noted "the last several days have seen some unfortunate results for U.S. Soccer," in apparent reference to the USA's 2-0 loss to Costa Rica in World Cup 2018 qualifying.

NASL 2017. U.S. Soccer's requirements for Division 2 call for 12 teams. The NASL finished the 2016 season with 12 teams but has played the 2017 season with eight teams. Minnesota United moved to MLS, Ottawa and Tampa Bay joined the USL, and Rayo OKC and Fort Lauderdale did not return.

The NASL was granted a reprieve to operate with eight only teams after the New York Cosmos found a new owner -- Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso -- at the last minute and the league agreed to operate the Jacksonville Armada until a new owner, Robert Palmer, was found, which happened this summer.

But after the spring season --  the NASL plays a split season -- the one expansion team -- the San Francisco Deltas -- was last in the NASL in attendance. Brian Andres Helmick warned that they wouldn't survive unless attendance increased.

NASL 2018 and beyond. In its statement, the NASL said it remained committed to growing soccer, but it is unclear how many teams will stick around.

Teams such as North Carolina FC and Indy Eleven would seem strong fits for the USL, while a new Canadian league is an option for FC Edmonton. California United FC (Orange County) and an unnamed team in San Diego were the two new teams the NASL announced for 2018.

NASL owners could attack U.S. Soccer's divisional sanctioning in court, but such legal maneuvering would come up against the reality of sustaining their current operations. The old NASL fought the NFL in court -- seeking to challenge the latter's cross-ownership ban. By the time the case wound its way through the appellate courts and the NASL prevailed, the league had folded.

Headed to CAS. The NASL's Miami FC and amateur Kingston Stockade FC of the NPSL are taking U.S. Soccer, Concacaf and FIFA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, filing a claim to require promotion and relegation be adopted across all U.S. divisions.

The case came a little more than a week after international media company MP & Silva (whose founding partner is Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva) offered $4 billion for MLS's global media rights on the condition that MLS institute a system of promotion and relegation. With a binding television contract that prohibits it from negotiating with others, MLS did not consider the offer.

Uneven expansion history. The NASL was founded in 2011 following a breakaway by owners who differed with USL league ownership, but only two of its original eight teams remain -- FC Edmonton and North Carolina FC. It added the San Antonio Scorpions in 2012, the Cosmos in 2013 and Indy Eleven in 2014 but has been unable to grow the league to a point that its expansion successes outnumbered its losses.

Turning points. Traffic USA kept the NASL propped up in its early years, and that proved problematic when the soccer marketing firm turned to be at the heart of the bribery scandal that resulted in the Federal indictments of dozens of soccer and sports marketing officials. As new money flowed into pro soccer below MLS, that stain of the NASL's involvement with Traffic USA was devastating.

While the NASL started out ahead of the USL -- its top league initially known as USL PRO -- that advantage was lost as new USL clubs drew big crowds in cities like Sacramento, Cincinnati and Louisville. An alliance with MLS allowed the USL to add a dozen teams with significant ties to MLS teams, either teams MLS teams owned and operated or provided players and coaching staff.

NASL statement:

"Since taking the pitch in 2011, the NASL has been working diligently to advance the growth of soccer by creating an entrepreneurial league where dynamic clubs bring the excitement of professional soccer to fans across North America. Despite the progress made by the NASL, U.S. Soccer has taken a decision to refrain from sanctioning the league as Division 2 for the 2018 season. The NASL is disappointed with the decision and does not believe that the federation acted in the best interest of the sport. U.S. Soccer's decision negatively affects many stakeholders in soccer: fans, players, coaches, referees, business partners, and the NASL club owners who have invested tens of millions of dollars promoting the sport. The decision also jeopardizes the thousands of jobs created by the NASL and its member clubs.
"While the last several days have seen some unfortunate results for U.S. Soccer, both on and off the pitch, the NASL remains committed to growing the game and is exploring multiple options as it continues planning for the future. The NASL knows that its fans will continue to show undying support for their clubs, and the league looks forward to the home stretch of the 2017 season and beyond. The beautiful game is bigger than any decision, result, person, league, division or federation. The NASL will continue its work to ensure that brighter days are ahead for soccer in the U.S."

13 comments about "NASL in limbo again after D2 sanctioning decision".
  1. Mark Buckley, September 6, 2017 at 9:15 a.m.

    Look NASL, just join USL and try to get them to boot all the MLS-owned teams to the 3rd Div. (I am a DC United supported so I can't watch Red Bull II games, it just doesn't seem right)

  2. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 6, 2017 at 1:38 p.m.

    A better question is why DC doesn't have a reserve team in USL? All MLS teams should because it's an essential part of the development path from academy to first team.

  3. don Lamb replied, September 6, 2017 at 3:40 p.m.

    DC have a partnership with Richmond Kickers. This is a short term solution, and your point stands, but they do have a place in USL for their players to develop. Finally having the new stadium should allow the DC franchise to focus on building out the other areas of the club that are lacking, so let's hope for some serious growth there over the next couple of years.

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 6, 2017 at 3:50 p.m.

    That's true Don although a dedicated reserve team is still a better solution. Every MLS team should have one. I'm looking forward to the new stadium. Hope to see RBNY play DC there next year.

  5. R2 Dad replied, September 6, 2017 at 5:41 p.m.

    USL is soccer purgatory. Yes there might be a couple of decent teams in there but for the most part the majority of those USL players are going nowhere. The players know it--the fans know it. Without pro/rel, no ownership groups/teams/coaches/players will be able to rise above. We're a country of bandwagoneers full of people that want to support an underdog team, but it's impossible to support a underdog league. The MLS monopoly has won, and they're never going to give that back. Ever. Garber will be ruling with an iron fist on his deathbed, and everyone seems to be OK with that.

  6. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 7, 2017 at 9:55 a.m.

    I'm ok with the way things are at the moment. The people running NASL didn't have much to add to the soccer landscape. In 1996 I don't think anyone would have believed that in 2017 we'd have a league as successful as MLS is - 22 teams and growing, most in beautiful soccer specific stadia, $90m a year in TV revenue (MLS had to pay networks to show games in the early days), higher per game attendance than the NBA and NHL. A growing academy structure. It's easy to take all of that for granted but we shouldn't. MLS isn't perfect but it's a lot better than any other soccer league we've ever had. By a lot too.

  7. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 7, 2017 at 12:16 p.m.

    What does Trump have to do with this?

  8. don Lamb replied, September 7, 2017 at 11:10 p.m.

    R2 and T [Kumar] - If USL is "soccer purgatory," then NASL is soccer hell. However, how can you call a league where some huge prospects have or played or currently play. I think the biggest thing to consider here is that USL is developing rapidly and will look much different in 2-3 years when its structure will be much closer to what it is supposed to look like. Grasping the vision of where this is heading requires some foresight, which unfortunately seems to be fully consumed by your pessimism and appetite for framing everything in US Soccer as evil and failing.

  9. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 8, 2017 at 3:22 p.m.

    Welcome back Kumar.

  10. don Lamb replied, September 8, 2017 at 7:42 p.m.

    Annnnnnnnd, we'll see ya.

  11. Gus Keri, September 6, 2017 at 9:37 a.m.

    The problem with the NASL and the NY cosmos is that they think they are Gods. The success they had in the 70s doesn't grant them a status of "godfathers" of the sport in the USA. Their stubbornness led to their demise in the 80s. The cosmos foolishness prevented them from joining MLS from the beginning. The league thinks they are better than USL and they fought MLS for Division one status and now they want pro/rel status and they can't even survive in the current format. what NASL and NY cosmos need right now is some common sense to understand that their time has come and gone and what US soccer, MLS and USL are doing make a lot of sense. They either join the crowds with humility or go into oblivion.

  12. Fire Paul Gardner Now, September 6, 2017 at 1:37 p.m.

    Joke league on the way out. The game in this country will be just fine without NASL. Maybe it'll reboot again? Thrice in a lifetime?!

  13. Craig Cummings, September 7, 2017 at 9:55 p.m.

    RIP NASL. Sorry for NY COSMOS. The 1st US team to go global. So sad. I remember going to Cal Surf vs Cosmos game in 1981 and getting autographs from Pele Beckenbauer and other greats of the cosmos. In front of there bus. All great guys, # 1 GIorgio from ROMA. Class act.

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