The National Premier Soccer League is the latest entity to help launch a professional league, bringing some of its most successful members together with a couple of NASL teams, and some brand new clubs.
“We support our members’ growth and expansion of their leagues,” said Motta. “This is another opportunity to develop players, coaches, administrators, and referees at the highest level of adult soccer. This is absolutely critical for player development, as it prepares players onto the next level and also for referee development, as this level of adult soccer is the best training ground for referees in this country.”
The founding members of the league are ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, FC Arizona, Miami FC, Miami United FC, Milwaukee Torrent, New York Cosmos, and Oakland Roots.
As our attention switches from international football back to the club game, a new article coming out of Michigan recalls where American soccer was when the American soccer world hit pause for the World Cup in June.
That’s when the United States Soccer Federation rejected billionaire businessman Rocco Commisso’s plea for a 10-year runway to bring the North American Soccer League to Division 1 league status by virtue of a $500 million investment proposal.
As if on cue, a John Niyo article in The Detroit News drags the so-called “closed system” back to the forefront, and his writing on National Premier Soccer League side Detroit City FC makes an interesting case.
DISCLAIMER: Before we go any further, it’s important to note I operate a club in the same league as Detroit City, and very much admire how they’ve built what they’ve built there. That said, my opinions may be buttressed by that fact but are not birthed by bias.
The would-be Cliffs Notes go something like this: Detroit City FC wants to move from the short-season, semi-pro National Premier Soccer League to a fully professional league with a longer season. The rub is that DCFC currently only has one path and it’s one neither they nor the lion’s share of their supporters would support at the given time.
That’s largely because the U.S. Soccer Federation has only sanctioned two options above the NPSL: The United Soccer League and Major League Soccer. If DCFC doesn’t want to play a part in either of those organizations, it has no other current option. And while Detroit City has continued to bring huge crowds to its restored Keyworth Stadium whether NPSL matches or friendlies against the likes of FC St. Pauli, Necaxa, or Venezia, its next step is currently stuck in a holding pattern despite the club’s achievements.
And — and this is where Commisso’s offer comes back into play — the USSF has no reason to sanction any league that doesn’t go by its current divisional guidelines, which demand a very wealthy owner and specific stadium requirements amongst other things. Infrastructure and fan support can be built, but asking these clubs to hand themselves over to someone with deeper pockets simply to meet a standard is a real 2×4 to the gut.
“What you’re doing is awesome, but imagine if instead of you owning all of your success, you found a wealthier person to help you meet our standards?”
Put plainly, there are 172 clubs in the NPSL and Premier Development League alone, few of whom are in markets with MLS teams. Even eliminating the PDL teams with close relationships to MLS and the USL (The USL owns the PDL), and there are still well over 100 teams in play. Sure, some of those may not have the ambition to grow higher, but they are also currently also shackled by having to compete against the former NASL teams who had no alternative outside of the USL once their Division 2 league shut down last winter.
So Niyo’s article asks a question many have posited in the realms of social media: Why not go outside the structure of FIFA?
Building a league outside the constraints of U.S. Soccer’s “Professional League Standards” could be one option for remaining NASL owners — New York, Miami and Jacksonville — and NPSL teams that are looking to grow pro. Detroit City FC was one of at least a half-dozen NPSL teams — clubs from Boston, Phoenix, Virginia Beach and Boca Raton, Fla. among them — poised to join the NASL with letters of intent last fall. But whatever path a new league pursues, it’ll require strength in numbers — at least 10 or 12 teams — and a geography that makes sense.
It’s a major risk, one that certainly is lined with the hopes that the influencers and money people behind the USSF might blink at significant competition.
But it still requires significant salesmanship: Getting top-notch players to commit to a league which severely hampers their international aspirations is a hard sell (The NASL had capped players from 27 countries heading into the 2016 season).
Are there enough of the renegade rich to self-sustain a league outside of the MLS-USL set-up, and even get to sanctioning? Probably, as evidenced by Commisso’s belief that he’d be able to go from multi-club ownership of a D-1 NASL to 10 owners within a decade.
So would that same group of risk takers be willing to do it outside of USSF sanctioning, without name players?
That’s where DCFC’s status as an outlier might really come into play. For everyone tooting the proverbial horn of MLS’ rapid and impressive evolution in quality — academies and foreign recruitment alike have made the league very entertaining — there’s no doubt that players with the name quality of Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or Carlos Vela still puts butts in seats.
Consider this: For all its growth, MLS’ top performing players remain almost overwhelmingly foreign-developed. Using an advanced rating site like WhoScored, the Top 20 finds only two players with any sort of U.S. or Canadian development in their lockers (and that’s being gracious with Kei Kamara, who came to U.S. for college at the age of 20).
You get to No. 23 before another U.S. developed player, Sean Davis, hits the list. It only gets to seven by No. 40 if you allow foreign-born players who largely grew their games in college soccer (including Mark-Anthony Kaye from TFC’s Academy and York University in Ontario).
Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of quality American and foreign talent which would benefit from more jobs.
As DCFC CEO Sean Mann says in The Detroit News piece: “It was frustrating: Why are there so many obstacles? We’re not zealots. We’re not crusaders to reform American soccer. We just want to play at a higher level. We want to naturally grow. And U.S. soccer doesn’t allow that.”
This nation is gigantic, and there are few fans out there who genuinely believe MLS will stop expanding any time soon. In fact, it’s a safe bet that the long play is to one day announce a knockoff of promotion and relegation within the confines of the Major League Soccer umbrella.
The question isn’t who’s right and who’s wrong. Let’s face it: the answers seem likely to fall along the lines of one’s political alliances. Those who fear the risks of the new and unusual will worry about short-circuiting the current path, while the other side will beg to give ideals and theories a chance at practice in the name of something better.
But something does have to change. Soon, more and more major success stories are going to be held short of their goals because of the current structure. Whether that’s Detroit City or Chattanooga seeking a next level and not finding it, or the Sacramento Republic not getting its shot at MLS, or a fan base and market like Columbus getting waylaid by a slimy contract and inaction from on high, they will keep coming into your news feed.
And if we keep making the mistake of letting these conversations regress to simple “pro-rel” banter, then we’re all going to lose. And it’s going to take a bunch of risk takers who put aside their egos to find common ground.
Here’s a quick way to put the American soccer landscape in perspective: Look at a map. As this sport continues to grow, and the country’s young players are coached and encouraged by generations of fans who were coached and encouraged by fans themselves, the markets for summer sporting entertainment will continue to explode in the United States (with only baseball to compete with them thanks to the given calendar implemented by the USSF).
Are there more than 26 markets fit to host a top-tier side? Yep. Are there more than the 60-plus when tossing in USL (but subtracting MLS reserve sides)? Yep.
And if Commisso’s offer tells us anything, anything at all, it’s that there are figures out there who love the game and have an appetite for something not currently satisfied by the current structure. So either MLS or the USSF is going to announce its plan for a much bigger league with more than a couple dozen markets, or someone is going to challenge from the outside (Of course, both could happen and that would be very intriguing).
Either way, let’s hope it happens before the next guys who want to take up Detroit City’s example decide they’d rather not rattle their skulls against an unnecessary ceiling.
What’s the solution given the current power and success of the USSF? Your takes are welcome.
Why? Well, for one, Commisso feels that progress is being made, so much so that he’s willing to characterize his outlook as “hopeful.”
“There’s been a lot of back-and-forth, they basically said they can’t get everything done by the 31st and they need more time and that’s the reason why we changed the deadline,” Commisso said.
U.S. Soccer told the NASL it could not meet prior to the June 13 vote regarding 2026 World Cup hosting. In extending his deadline to May 31, Commisso is asking for a few commitments from U.S. Soccer.
Commisso wants U.S. Soccer to commit to a board meeting with a “yes or no” vote no later than June 29, and wants U.S. Soccer to provide a list of prerequisite actions needed to have such a decision on his proposal at said meeting. And he wants a commitment from U.S. Soccer to stick to the timeline.
So what’s the impetus for Commisso’s hopeful nature?
“They’ve showed some good faith and I’m willing to move if they’re willing to do X, Y, and Z. It’s a moving thing and I’m being flexible to their asks and to see at what point and time they’re going to come up with something else.”
Commisso said his deadlines have not been about putting pressure on USSF, rather the many things he’d have to do to get the NASL back on the field by March 2019 for a season with a minimum of 10 teams, which would be sanctioned as D-2.
Additionally, the 10-year runway would include D-1 sanctioning in 2020 with a minimum of 14 teams, a minimum of 10,000-seat stadia, a minimum of three time zones represented, as well as a plan to introduce promotion and relegation in said top flight.
He’d also need multi-team ownership to start, but said that would be solved by independent ownership at the end of the 10-year runway, if not sooner, with all teams meeting the current Professional League Standards for D-1.
“I’m asking for the 10 years, let’s be clear,” Commisso said. “If you read our original letters, we’ve always asked for the ability of multi-ownership. We put out a chart that goes back all the way to 1996 that shows the transition from 1996 to 2011, that during those periods there were certain owners with multi-teams. In 2003, three guys owned the entire league, so that’s what I’m asking for.”
Commisso said that, like the MLS build-up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there would be safeguards in place to maintain sporting integrity, and that his full 2019 roster of clubs would be finalized by Sept. 20, with the NASL’s league ops fully restored by New Year’s Eve. There’s also an ask of commitment from USSF to address governance issues by February 2019.
The $250 million he’s investing is joined by $50 million each from Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva and Jacksonville Armada owner Robert Palmer, plus help from “leading Wall Street banks.”
The NASL has already identified 12 potential clubs, 11 of which are in metropolitan areas with populations above one million. The investment would go to building modular soccer-specific stadia in some markets, and his league would put an emphasis on youth development and domestic players.
“I’m hopeful that the leadership of U.S. Soccer sees in the largest investment ever proposed by a single individual for the benefit of American soccer getting this through as quickly as possible.”
New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso tells ProSoccerTalk that he pulled out of a Wednesday meeting with U.S. Soccer regarding his nine-figure offer to fund an American soccer league due to the federation’s unwillingness to send what the NASL deemed the proper decision-makers.
Commisso and several North American Soccer League owners were set to meet with U.S. Soccer in Chicago, but changed their plans when the federation’s delegation was limited to CEO Dan Flynn and legal counsel.
He says the NASL has since proposed a meeting under New York State not-for-profit law which would have the league meet with USSF board members who do not have direct ties to MLS, USL, or SUM.
A spokesman for U.S. Soccer tells ProSoccerTalk that it has responded to Commisso’s latest letter regarding the meeting, and remains open to meeting in the future, noting that it initially proposed the dates and location for a meeting.
And Commisso says the federation’s latest communication says a meeting cannot happen with any board members, as they may be tainted by being subjects of NASL lawsuits. Commisso points out that he’s suing Flynn and Cordeiro as well.
Commisso — who has rallied against conflicts of interest between the USSF, Major League Soccer, and Soccer United Marketing — says he wanted to work out a deal with the federation and its board members, but his conditions were not met and the USSF’s conditions were a non-starter.
On the NASL side, Commisso did not wish to share what he deems “proprietary information” with board members, noting that several members of the USSF’s board of directors were his competitors due to ties with MLS and the USL. In the NASL’s view, meetings like this have led to almost instant competitive reactions from direct competitors to torpedo their plans and trigger competitive imbalance from what Commisso calls “monopoly galore.”
U.S. Soccer says it’s protecting his information. He’s not so sure.
“The latest from my end,” Commisso said. “We’re gonna make it public one of these days. It’s not true that they are protecting my information. According to my email, they say they have to bring it up to the board. Garber may not vote on it, but they are gonna talk about it. We asked for a special committee of non-conflicted board members, and they won’t give it.”
He essentially views the federation’s request to get his plan for the league and investment as a fact-finding mission. With Carlos Cordeiro unavailable due to campaigning for the hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup, the two sides would not be able to leave the meeting with a plan that would not require further, higher approval. His priority is the bid, a critical moment for his new administration.
The federation wants a plan before a meeting. The league doesn’t believe the plan won’t be shared with its competitors, but requires USSF sanctioning for one because Commisso wants to continue to recruit players of national team caliber and playing in a non-FIFA recognized “Division Zero” league would prohibit that.
And time is on the USSF’s side, not the NASL. While Commisso and other owners have the money to restart their teams at any time, other markets necessary to the league’s reclamation need time.
Commisso says U.S. Soccer told him that a meeting was not necessary for the NASL to apply for division sanctioning before an August deadline for any league.
Commisso’s main requests were a 10-year “runway” to meeting Professional League Standards, and the ability to own multiple teams. He’s also a proponent of promotion and relegation, rules against leagues “poaching” teams, and several measures of transparency and open bidding.
He admits he was stung that after investing millions of dollars to keep the NASL alive, the USSF removed its second division status “five and a half months after my first game,” while the rival USL got more time to fulfill Professional League Standards.
He also rejects the close relationship between MLS and the USL.
“It’s monopoly galore,” he said. “The USL is largely farm teams for MLS. B Teams.”
So what happens if U.S. Soccer doesn’t meet the conditions for a meeting?
“I can’t disclose that,” Commisso said. “But there’s a second part. The law suits continue, and no one gets me to shut my mouth. I will do all I can to represent all the shareholders in United States Soccer.”