We end 2016 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Soccer Stadium Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #2: The debate over the futures of the NASL and USL.
As it stands, one of soccer’s biggest stories in 2016 could continue to shape headlines in early 2017. Despite talk of settling the issue before the new year, the futures of the shrinking NASL and the growing USL remain in the balance, and a complicated fallout could ensue once the U.S. Soccer Federation makes its decision.
The situation is a convergence of two developments that came to something of a collision earlier this year. The USL was continuing to expand and, with more teams signing partnerships with MLS clubs, was eyeing second-division status. Meanwhile, the NASL—the league holding second-division status—was losing Minnesota to the MLS, and was facing ownership issues with multiple teams, including the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Rayo OKC.
Already facing a scenario in which it could lose multiple teams, the NASL was handed a blow in October, when the Ottawa Fury FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies followed through on their long-rumored shifts to the USL. Weeks later, it was revealed that the New York Cosmos were dealing with financial difficulties and could go dark rather than return to the league next season.
With that, the U.S. Soccer Federation had a decision to make in early December. The organization had to decide if it was worth preserving the current division structures in some form, granting the USL a move up and allowing the NASL to go dark or relegate to a lower division, or a combination of scenarios.
While reports indicated that a decision could be made in the first week of December, the U.S. Soccer Federation opted to postpone its verdict, stating that it could come to a solution in 7-10 days. That windows passed without a decision, and it has since been indicated that discussions about the two leagues could take place through this year.
It is no doubt a complex situation. Perhaps, the U.S. Soccer Federation sees a benefit to preserving the NASL and the current division tier, particularly if the league can follow through on reported expansion proposals in Southern California.
For now, the leagues and numerous teams are in the balance, and the U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision—when it comes—could reshape the second and third divisions for some time.
Image of Cosmos Midfielder Danny Szetela courtesy New York Cosmos.
Previously in our Top Ten Stories of 2016 List:
#3: FC Cincinnati