Much of the case centered around the application of the Pro League Standards -- the PLSs -- U.S. Soccer has promulgated and used to sanction pro leagues at the Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 levels.
In the case of the NASL, the issue at hand was that it did not and had not met two of the five requirements for a Division 2 league: the minimum number of teams (12) and number of time zones in which teams exited (3).
At each turn, the NASL struggled to prove its case.
-- U.S. Soccer had no authority over pro soccer? Judge Brodie ruled the NASL did not offer sufficient evidence and indeed accepted the fact that as a practical matter it could not operate outside of FIFA and U.S. Soccer.
-- U.S. Soccer's sanctioning standards weren't pro-competitive? (Since the NASL is suing on antitrust grounds, U.S. Soccer has to essentially prove that the standards promote competition.) Judge Brodie ruled U.S. Soccer had plausible reasons for the standards, including the two the NASL failed to meet: more teams encouraged stability and teams spread out over more time zones created a national footprint.
In a key passage, U.S. Soccer used and Judge Brodie cited part of a 2011 statement of former NASL CEO Aaron Davidson -- now awaiting sentencing in the same Brooklyn Federal courthouse in the Traffic criminal enterprise -- to argue that financial viability requirements were needed in light of the long history of failures of American pro soccer leagues:
“[W]e also take it seriously and understand that the federation is exercising its role as the governing body of the sport in North America. They are demanding that we live up to those standards. Part of the reason they’re being so strict is because of the instability of where we come from. 106 teams have played in division two or three since 1996 and of those 84 folded. Fans don’t want to follow a team who’s in a league with those sorts of stats and that much turnover."
-- U.S. Soccer conspired against the NASL in its application of the sanctioning process? Judge Brodie acknowledged that U.S. Soccer and MLS had conflicts of interest because of their aligned business interests through SUM -- conflicts she said were inherent in membership associations like U.S. Soccer -- but she ruled that the NASL failed to offer evidence there was any undue influence in the sanctioning process and the changing of the sanctioning standards.
She noted the NASL had taken part in the review and comment process -- indeed was able to prevent the passage of more
restrictive standards in 2015 -- and the board had enough "safeguards" -- its conflict of interest policies, the fiduciary duties of board members to their constituents -- to prevent directors
from being swayed by an business interests tied to MLS and SUM alone.
If the NASL goes forward with its case for a permanent injunction, it will try to use the discovery process to prove that there was indeed a concerted action to favor MLS over it.