The North American Soccer League has had some terrific moments in growth, but is the U.S. Soccer’s second tier set-up on its way out?
That’s a bold question, but one legitimately raised by Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus on Wednesday night.
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An over-simplified primer: Major League Soccer is the United States’ only top-flight league, and the NASL is the only operation currently allowed second-tier status. The USL is in the third tier and has applied for second tier status; It also enjoys a healthy relationship with MLS, where it fields several reserve or “2” sides.
According to Straus’ report, two NASL sides — Ottawa and Tampa Bay — are planning on leaving the league for the USL and two more face troublesome financial burdens that make the 2017 season an unknown.
That would give the league between 9-11 teams for 2017, compared with 32 for USL if the league does indeed snare Ottawa and Tampa.
NASL commissioner Bill Peterson, however, says existence is not a worry. From SI.com:
“We had three new teams start this year. I don’t know if we’ll have new teams [beyond San Francisco] start next year, and the clock’s ticking. But we’ll have ownership groups added to the league. I’m very confident of that. And it could be three or four,” Peterson said. “I think our league, I hope it’s beyond the point of anybody doubting if it’s going to be in existence. I think the model’s demonstrated that it can be successful if you work hard at it, passionate and in the right cities.”
There’s no soccer territory more daunting to govern than the United States, given the vast travel distances in building a league and rivalries. Here’s hoping the NASL ship stays on course.