U.S. Soccer Decides to Deny Sanctioning the NASL as Division 2 for the 2018 Season
What will be the fate of the North American Soccer League (NASL)? Let’s look at how the professional pyramid of American soccer is shifting.
As American soccer flourishes and more fans flock to seats and watch the beautiful game than ever before — and, as record attendance numbers are being announced, U.S. Soccer decides to hold fast to the criteria of what it takes to be a professional soccer league in the USA and declares that the NASL will be denied second-tier status.
For soccer fans not sure what this means — you are part of the vast, growing group of soccer lovers unsure of how this will impact the game.
The core problem? The NASL does not have enough teams to make it a professional league — according to the guidelines set by U.S. Soccer.
To simplify — the NASL is the league just under the MLS. The NASL has been playing professional soccer in the “Division 2” since 2011. The NASL has 8 teams this year, down from 12 in its 2016 fall season — four very important teams short of the required 12 for maintaining D2 status.
While announcements of new NASL teams in San Diego and Orange County created some excitement, there seemingly is not enough stamina for this league to hold on to its sanctioning.
In January, U.S. Soccer allowed the United Soccer League (USL) to become a league competing in “Division 2” — at that time, both the USL and the NASL were warned that they had to meet specific standards and guidelines to continue to compete in the professional ranks. While there is no rule against having multiple leagues in the same tier — promoting the USL did raise eyebrows in the soccer world and remind people of the struggles of AFL and NFL.
When U.S. Soccer raised the USL from the third tier to the second, the league was granted provisional Division 2 status — sort of time to grow into the role.
The USL became closely aligned with the MLS and is fairing fine so far – booming in fact. The USL has expanded to 30 teams this season and more expansion teams are planned for next year.
The NASL is obviously not pleased – here is a link to their full statement but suffice it to say that they do not “believe that the federation acted in the best interest of the sport….”
“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,” stated the NASL in a response.
Will criticizing the performance of the U.S. Men’s National Team, which has been seen as struggling — emerging with a 1-1 tie against Honduras and 0-2 loss to Costa Rica — may not help politically calm any waves between the NASL and the sanctioning body, it is clear that there is a growing spotlight on this unrest.
The financial impact of lowering the NASL into the third tier could have disastrous effects on the lives of many in this league.
More than just jeopardizing thousands of jobs in the NASL, being kicked out of the pro league weakens the sport itself. If soccer is really flourishing in the USA, why is the sustainability of the NASL in question? Is USL’s connection to the MLS the difference?
Using the USL as a farm system — an unofficial, one-way promotion system without the relegation could be the difference. 10 MLS clubs have embraced this idea and field a reserve team in USL. And, then the USL has the pipeline of the USL PDL ….
Is sustainability the question or is there more to it?
The alignment — or lack thereof — under U.S. Soccer seems to be the question. Gone are the cowboy days of soccer leagues in the USA. Enter the new world order — alignment is key and logical sustainability.
How is it possible to have a strong, professional league generating enough fans and revenue with only 8 teams in a country as big as ours?
According to the NASL, it believes their “fans will continue to show undying support for their clubs” — but only time will tell what the future holds.