NASL Takes Sanctioning Blow

Friday, January 21, 2011 | View Comments
-Jason Davis

The North American Soccer League's attempt to become the sole proprietors of second division soccer in the United States and Canada took a hard right into a telephone pole today. Brian Quarstad of Inside Minnesota Soccer is reporting that the NASL's application has been rejected by US Soccer, presumably due to the inability of several clubs to meet new standards imposed after last year's NASL-USL forced marriage.

Per Brian, among the league's options is playing as a second D3 league alongside the regionalized USL-PRO. The NASL can reapply for D2 status in the future.

This story has several potential ramifications, and prompts numerous questions. From an MLS perspective, most notable is the possible effect of the decision on Montreal in what was meant to be their final D2 year, and an opportunity to build momentum, before joining the top-flight next season. If the Impact don't have a league to play in (though they could be sanctioned by the CSA, which I presume would mean they could keep their players under contract [those willing to stay] and participate in the the Voyageur's Cup), how will that change their MLS Year 1 outlook?

Down amongst the teams with no immediate MLS future, the prospects of survival get more murky. Traffic, the Brazilian company that owns Miami FC, stepped in to provide financial support for several in-trouble NASL clubs. That they were required to do so surely played a part in the sanctioning problem, with US Soccer taking a dim view of the popsicle-stick construction of the league's funding. The new standards were put in place to ensure that D2 was made of a stable clubs with long futures; Traffic's widespread involvement indicated leaks at multiple points and proved that the NASL was wanting for the desired stability. The demise of AC St. Louis (which I failed to comment on here, but was another story broken by BQ) was indicative of how poorly things have gone in the lower divisions over the last few years, when Jeff Cooper, the man-who-would-be-king of St. Louis soccer, was finally forced to end his farce.

Remember that it was Cooper who was at the forefront of the movement when the TOA (Team Owners Association, their pre-NASL moniker) began to make noise about splitting from USL. The sad part is that the crash-and-burn act of Cooper might have irreparably damaged St. Louis as a soccer market on some level.

Which brings us to the question of whether or not we need a second division at all. Nothing remains constant long enough for the division to gain traction; US Soccer has attempted to address the problem with new standards, but those might only make it impossible for a second division to get sanctioned in the first place (because willing investors on that level are scarce); cities capable of supporting soccer are soured when owners get in over their heads and are forced to bail. Fans, as usual, are the ones left high and dry.

Without promotion and relegation, perhaps the labels are meaningless anyway. If the NASL simply self-relegated to D3 status because it can't meet the D2 requirements, would it matter? That was the path chosen by the USL after losing their biggest clubs to the NASL and MLS; with a regional model in place, perhaps it was prudent. It certainly doesn't seem that anyone without a very serious bankroll can sustain a club for very long before coming to a whimpering end.

Perhaps US Soccer, as evidenced by standards they've imposed for D2 sanctioning, has finally reached the point where they are questioning whether the damage done by the constant coming and going of clubs in second division soccer is doing serious harm to the game's long term viability in those markets. It's a question I've certainly asked myself while watching clubs dry up and blow away.

Today's news doesn't necessarily indicate the impending demise of any more D2 clubs, but it certainly doesn't improve prospects. 

Lower division professional soccer in the United States continues to deteriorate on the business front, despite the growth of the sport in other areas. This incongruity is maddening, but might have a very simple answer: America is still only capable of supporting soccer on a top-flight national level, and with carefully designed controls in place to ensure that league's viability.

*UPDATE 1/22* Back to add a link to Brian's followup report. Finances, as expected were the problem.

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