NASL, USL Futures in Play

New York Cosmos

With meetings taking place this week between NASL owners and USL representatives, we could see a unified Second Division U.S. soccer league in 2017 and beyond, as more NASL teams are reportedly looking at a shift to USL.

There’s no doubt USL has some significant momentum, with markets like Cincinnati and Louisville leading to serious growth at the box office. With the addition of Reno, Tampa Bay and Ottawa for the 2017 season and Nashville for 2018, that growth should continue.

On the flip side, NASL is struggling. The league was already slated to lose Minnesota United to MLS, and losing Tampa Bay and Ottawa to USL didn’t help. With several other franchises struggling, there are reports that other more stable NASL teams want to make the shift.

This all came out at the NASL Board of Directors meeting in Atlanta this week, where NASL owners and management were reportedly joined by U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, USL Chief Executive Officer Alec Papadakis and president Jake Edwards. Now, there are some good reasons for USL and NASL officials to be meeting with U.S. Soccer officials, especially with USL applying to move up to the Second Division of U.S. Soccer (potentially replacing NASL in the process) in a move that could be announced next week, but given the timing and the issues faced by NASL teams, it doesn’t take a genius to deduce that some sort of absorption of NASL teams into USL wasn’t being discussed. Creating one large league certainly does introduce some operating efficiencies (no one will enjoy traveling for those San Francisco/Puerto Rico matches in 2017).

Still, if NASL lives on, what will the league look like? It could be down to seven teams, including the expansion San Francisco Deltas. (That’s one less team than the eight U.S. Soccer wants to see in a First Division league). The Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Rayo OKC have gone dark. No Rayo OKC reps were at the NASL meetings, and the team has released all its players under multiyear contract. Given the drama that happened at the end of the Rayo OKC season, where a minority owner removed part of the team’s synthetic turf as a protest as to how the team was being run, the decision to fold up shop is not surprising. Creditor Bill Edwards, who owns the Tampa Bay Rowdies, is suing to seize the assets of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, but given Edwards’ animosity toward NASL – he’s threatening to sue NASL for false representation of its finances due to the league relationship with Traffic Sports – it’s hard to see the Strikers coming back in 2017.

And then there’s the New York Cosmos, as team is currently in stasis until a decision on USL’s Second Division status is made, as players are being paid but front-office workers reportedly been furloughed. It’s no secret the Cosmos owners see MLS as their ultimate destiny and has counted on NASL on the launching pad to that status. But USL could end up being the better path to MLS – which is why the team is on hold for now, though the franchise is reportedly for sale or open to outside investment.

Image of Cosmos Midfielder Danny Szetela courtesy New York Cosmos.

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