The U.S. Soccer Federation has rejected the NASL‘s application to retain Division II status for 2018, leaving many questions about the circuit’s future and cementing the USL’s position as a robust Division II league.
Early this year, the NASL and USL were both granted provisional Division II status by the USSF, effectively allowing the NASL to maintain Division II status despite come into this year with just eight teams, four below the required 12. The circuit had lost several teams between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, with Minnesota moving up to MLS, while Ottawa and Tampa Bay shifted over to the USL, and Rayo OKC and Fort Lauderdale folding.
Though expansion clubs in California were in the works for 2018, the NASL has seen its lone expansion team for 2017–the San Francisco Deltas–struggle in the terms of attendance. Questions have reportedly been raised about that club’s future, and other teams are apparently considering their options for beyond 2017. Those options include a move to USL from NASL, a move apparently under consideration by more than one NASL club at this present time. Losing teams certainly will not help any NASL effort to regain Division II status. Adding strong NASL teams like Indy Eleven, North Carolina FC and New York Cosmos would be an bigger boost for the USL, which is looking at least 33 teams in 2017 and a slew more in 2018, with potential additions in El Paso, Wisconsin and Omaha.
The NASL has issued a statement on the decision:
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.
Should it end up dropping down to Division III status, the NASL could end up on the same level as two circuits that are currently in the works–the National Independent Soccer Association, which could begin play in 2018, and the USL third division circuit that is expected to launch in 2019. The move also may kill the notion of promotion and relegation envisioned by NISA founders: one vision of that circuit’s future included promotion and relegation between NISA and NASL.
Image of NASL action courtesy Indy Eleven.