We end 2017 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 trials and tribulations of the North American Soccer League (NASL).
NASL was formed with a rather lofty goal: to someday become a second Division I league in the USSF soccer pyramid. By the time 2017 ended, the league was hanging on by a thread, with several franchise defections, a demotion to Division III status, and a pending lawsuit that may deliver relief too late to make a difference.
The year began with NASL at eight teams, below the U.S. Soccer Federation standards for a Division II league but operating on a waiver. The NASL had already suffered a setback when the United Soccer League (USL) was raised to Division II status, giving the United States two Division II leagues for 2017. And NASL owners had been warned that a demotion to Division III status was likely unless more quality franchises were added to the mix.
Instead, North Carolina FC bolted for the USL at the end of the season, the San Francisco Deltas folded and FC Edmonton shut down operations for 2018, bringing the league tally to five teams. In September, the USSF announced that the NASL would not retain its Division II status for the 2018 season, ruling the league had not made sufficient progress to reach Division II criteria: 12 teams across three time zones, with minimum standards for stadium sizes, market sizes and owner net worth. The league later countered by filing an antitrust lawsuit against the USSF, alleging that the federation violated federal antitrust laws through its structure that denied Division II status. And to prevent the demotion from kicking in for 2018, the league sought a temporary injunction. The league lost that battle, and it’s the temporary injunction that’s currently under appeal.
The NASL game plan was to add more teams, including new Orange County and San Diego franchises, for 2018 and then boost league numbers with a plan to elevate NPSL teams. That’s the plan: whether the league has enough gas in the tank to make it through what should be an extremely challenging season remains to be seen, especially if any other teams defect. In the lawsuit challenging demotion, NASL lawyers argue any shift to Division III status would surely be a death blow to the circuit. And with the decision on the appeal due any day, we’ll find out if they are right.
Image courtesy NASL.
Previously in our Top Ten Stories of 2017 List:
#3: Miami MLS Makes Progress, But Still Not Final
#4: MLS Expansion
#5: Columbus Crew SC Explores Austin Move
#6: USL Expansion
#7: SoccerCity on Hold
#8: Louisville City FC Pitches a New Stadium
#9: Banc of California Stadium
#10: Phoenix Rising FC Explodes on Pro Soccer Scene