Bill Peterson

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NASL shrinks to 8 teams, parts ways with president Peterson

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NEW YORK (AP) Bill Peterson is out as president of the troubled North American Soccer League, which is cutting from 12 teams to eight.

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The league Monday called the move a mutual decision. Peterson led the league since 2012, a year after the current NASL started play. Appointed interim commissioner was Rishi Sehgal, the NASL’s director of business development and legal affairs.

The NASL said it will play with four fewer teams this year. Its second-division status was extended provisionally Friday by the U.S. Soccer Federation. The 30-team United Soccer League also was given provisional second division status by the USSF, up from third tier from 2011-16.

[ MORE: NWSL’s WNY Flash moving to NC, to be renamed Courage ]

Aaron Davidson was the NASL board chairman and an NASL investor before he was indicted in 2015 as part of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into soccer corruption. He pleaded guilty last October to federal racketeering conspiracy and wire-fraud conspiracy charges and is awaiting sentencing.

The league said it cut ties with Davidson’s soccer management company in November.

The Cosmos, the defending champions, said they will discuss on Tuesday their ownership status and financial obligations to players. Seamus O’Brien has been the team’s chairman team since it resumed play in 2013.

SI report claims second-tier NASL faces uncertain future

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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.

[ MORE: Messi out 3 weeks ]

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.

Chatting with NASL commissioner Bill Peterson as league kicks off sixth season on Saturday

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The North American Soccer League begins its sixth season on Saturday with new teams, big-name imports and plenty of momentum.

The lone Division II league in the American Soccer Pyramid — USL Pro has applied for D-II status but is currently third — the NASL now boasts more than 55 players from 27 countries with appearances on the international stage, including Greece national team striker Georgios Samaras and Premier League veteran Niko Kranjcar of Croatia.

[ MORE: NASL announces San Francisco Deltas ]

With new teams starting play in Oklahoma City and Miami, and two more announced in Puerto Rico and San Francisco, PST caught up with NASL commissioner Bill Peterson to talk about what’s next in the league.

Rangers' Carlos Bocanegra challenges Celtic's Georgios Samaras during their Scottish Premier League 'Old Firm' derby soccer match
Samaras playing for Celtic in the Old Firm Derby. He will suit up for Rayo OKC this season in the NASL (Reuters)
You have three new teams starting play in 2016, and they’ve made some interesting roster moves. What’s your take on the new boys?
“What I’m most excited about is the approach on the field. Miami and Oklahoma City very quickly ramped up with their coaching and technical sides. They’ve gone after very high-caliber players. I believe that they are going to hit the ground and be pretty competitive. That’s a little bit different from what we saw with Ottawa and Jacksonville in their first years, I think because in general they were building their teams off the season they just watched instead of the changes that were made to existing teams rosters.

“Puerto Rico is not too far behind them. They’re on a little bit different calendar. They’ll have their own unique challenges in signing players and finding meaningful matches before they start. We expect them to be pretty competitive right out of the box.”

What’re the plans for expansion moving forward?
“The plan is to go to 20 teams and maintain the two seasons (The NASL plays Spring and Fall seasons with a break in between). It’ll look differently after we cross over 2016. We’re exploring some other things we may or may not be able to do it. With 20 we can keep the single table, get all the games in the weather window and keep an exciting competition.

“We’ll have announcements of at least one and maybe more teams over the next couple months. We just can’t talk about it because we’ve seen a million reasons for an ownership group to change their mind or to take longer than anyone expected. The real key is that everything is in place now. This is a much bigger league than a few years ago. There’s more at stake. We’re going to get to 20, and we’re going to continue to grow.”

A massive challenge for any nascent league is navigating the massiveness of our country and continent (The NASL has added San Francisco since PST spoke with Peterson). How does this affect your vision and business?
“It’s a very unique challenge and many times those who follow leagues in other parts of the world lose the fact that we’ve got some unique geographical challenges and they do keep you up at night. It takes longer to build a fan base when they can’t hop on us a bus and go see a team play a visiting site, or the media can’t afford to fly across the country to cover a team that’s playing a big match.

“Those are big obstacles and they aren’t going away. We have to continually overcome them, or at least reduce the impact on what we’re trying to do. In the early days it’s tougher than hopefully it will be later down the road. It’s hard enough to find the right ownership group in the right cities. It makes it even more difficult when you try to get a national footprint in a territory that’s so big.”

The New York Cosmos have beaten the Red Bulls in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup but last year was a tough year for the league in that important tournament. What’s your take on it?

New York Cosmos player Lucky Mkosana (R) greets teammate Spanish Raul Gonzalez (L) during a Cuba vs New York Cosmos friendly soccer match on June 2, 2015 at Pedro Marrero stadium in Havana. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
New York Cosmos player Lucky Mkosana (R) greets teammate Spanish Raul Gonzalez (YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
“It’s sort of organic how this comes about, but if you talk to our coaches and owners right now they’ll tell you that the Open Cup is a real priority for them. They understand the competition now, the history, they understand what it means to participate in that competition.

“Last year was a wake-up call. There was a little bit of mentality with some clubs that they maybe didn’t put the effort into it, rested some players and guess what? They lost. That was not a good feeling that day and all of them remember that. There have been discussions between ownerships and technical staff that it’s important to win Open Cup matches. You’ll see an all-out effort from our clubs this year because it’s just so fun to play. Those are cool opportunities for our players and our fans. It’s a great competition.”

It does seem like the league has grown in reputation fairly quickly. Obviously, the Cosmos help this, but why do you think its leapt in rep?
“We have an advantage in the fact that this is the NASL and it had this incredible history here in the late 60s and 70s. There are still people I meet every week whose father took them to an NASL match. Having those clubs come back has stirred up interest in those who were there the first time around. It’s disappointing that they’ve been left behind.

“We try to keep it as pure as possible. The players and the game on the field is the first priority in everything we do. The fans are second, and everything we do, any decisions we make throughout this league, it has to have a positive effect on those two groups or we don’t do it because it’s a waste of time and money. Our clubs have done a great job of promoting themselves.”

NASL Fast Facts

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Teams in Spring 2016 season: Jacksonville Armada, Carolina Railhawks, FC Edmonton, Indy Eleven, Minnesota United FC, Ottawa Fury, New York Cosmos, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Rayo OKC, Miami FC

Coming in Fall 2016: Puerto Rico FC (owned by Carmelo Anthony)

Coming in 2017: San Francisco Deltas

Players you know:
Wilson Palacios and Dane Richards (Miami FC)
Samaras, Kosuke Kimura, Robbie Findley (Rayo OKC)
Juan Arango, Yasmani Duk, Kranjcar (NY Cosmos)
Jon Busch and Lovel Palmer (Indy Eleven)
Marcel de Jong and Julian de Guzman (Ottawa Fury)
Jeb Brovsky and Bernardo Anor (Minnesota United)
Darwin Espinal, Eric Avila and Freddy Adu (Tampa Bay)
Kleberson and Aurelio Saco Vertiz (Fort Lauderdale)
Nik Ledgerwood and Sainey Nyassi (FC Edmonton)

NASL hits the West Coast: San Francisco Deltas announced as 13th club

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The North American Soccer League’s expansion continued Thursday with the announcement of the league’s first West Coast club since its 2009 inception.

Set to begin play in 2017, San Francisco Deltas will be run by CEO Brian Andres Helmick and give the NASL its 13th team. The league’s press release said investors hail from both Silicon Valley and Brazil.

[ MORE: Kaka recruiting Iker Casillas to MLS ]

Commissioner Bill Peterson has stated the league’s goal is to expand to 20 teams, and the NASL added Rayo OKC, Puerto Rico FC and Miami FC in recent months.

From NASL.com:

Given the collective background of the investment group, as well as the club’s tech-savvy fan base, the Deltas plan to use technology as a tool to better reach and interact with their supporters.

Kezar Stadium, where the Deltas will play beginning in 2017, was the home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers from 1946-1970. Soccer has been played at Kezar Stadium before, with the legendary Pele once taking the field at the venue. The stadium capacity will be approximately 10,000 when the Deltas take the field for the 2017 NASL Spring Season.

The league’s other teams are Jacksonville Armada, Carolina Railhawks, FC Edmonton, Indy Eleven, Minnesota United FC, Ottawa Fury, New York Cosmos, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

The geographic implications are significant as the league attempts to bridge from the Midwest to the East Coast while not crushing a budget with travel. Surely more teams are coming West of the Mississippi.

The NASL kicks off the Spring portion of its 2016 schedule on Saturday. We’ll have an exclusive interview with Peterson later this evening.

NASL commissioner continues to tout promotion/relegation in BBC feature

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North America is a pretty darn big continent, but NASL commissioner Bill Peterson isn’t afraid of promotion and relegation.

In a feature promoting the continent’s second-tier on the BBC’s web site, Peterson continued his support of pro/rel in America, giving reasons why it could work in the United States and Canada (and Puerto Rico, where Carmelo Anthony recently announced plans to launch a club).

[ MORE: NASL news ]

Peterson has been honking the pro/rel horn dating back at least as far as 2013, and continues to do so.

From the BBC News:

“We would be all for promotion and relegation, and this is something I want to talk to the USSF about,” says Mr Peterson. “Every amateur team needs to have the dream of going up the football pyramid.”

Another challenge is establishing a competitive structure across such a large geographical area.

“That is why we have gone for four teams in Florida, which has a population bigger than some countries,” says Mr Peterson, “we will do something similar on the West Coast, and then look to fill in [in between].”

Features like this have different aims — Peterson is looking for a title sponsor for NASL — but it’s clear he thinks the desire for pro/rel is real. He also will likely enjoy prodding Major League Soccer as the NASL continues to grow.