NASL Appeal of USSF Demotion Denied

NASLAn appeal seeking a preliminary injunction preventing U.S. Soccer Federation’s demotion of the NASL from Division II status has been denied, further placing the circuit’s future in play.

NASL had sued USSF over the demotion from Division II after the league failed to meet specific criteria (less than 12 teams, smaller stadiums, etc.) and playing at Division II on a provisional basis in 2017. NASL owners sued and asked for an immediate injunction. That failed, and NASL appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; that appeal failed today, although the original lawsuit will proceed. This was basically an early referendum on the merits of the case; if the courts thought the NASL had a likely chance of winning the lawsuit, a preliminary injunction likely would have been issued. But that was not the case, per ESPN:

The suit also alleges that with the help of the standards, the USSF, MLS, the second-tier United Soccer League, and Soccer United Marketing (the marketing arm of MLS) have engaged in a conspiracy to drive the NASL out of business, by illegally stripping it of its Division 2 status so that the USL will be the only Division 2 league while MLS will maintain its status as the only Division 1 league in the U.S….

“We evaluate NASL’s motion under the heightened standard applicable to mandatory preliminary injunctions,” the latest ruling read. “NASL has not demonstrated a clear likelihood of success on the merits of its antitrust claim against USSF under 15 U.S.C. §1. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the order of the District Court denying NASL’s motion for a preliminary injunction, and we REMAND the matter for further proceedings on the merits of NASL’s claims.”

NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal told ESPN: “We’re studying the decision with our lawyers, and we don’t have further comment.”

New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso says he will pursue the lawsuit, but the NASL numbers are dwindling. FC Edmonton and San Francisco Deltas folded after the end of the season, and Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC bolted for USL. Two California teams are slated to join NASL, but that’s contingent on the league surviving, and the Jacksonville Armada are playing in a semipro league. NASL says it will play an international schedule beginning at the end of the summer — if enough teams survive.

Image courtesy Miami FC.

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