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Miami FC makes surprise move to United Soccer League

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The United Soccer League scored an eyebrow raiser on Wednesday when it announced the addition of Miami FC.

Miami purchased the franchise rights of the disbanded Ottawa Fury, and joins the USL Championship for the 2020 season.

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Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva had been an outspoken proponent of promotion and relegation, reportedly offering a $4 billion TV deal to MLS to become an open system. He’s also one of the men who filed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to force U.S. Soccer to adopt the system.

USL president Jake Edwards has spoken about bringing pro/rel into the league, between the Championship and League One. Adding the club owned by Silva, a powerful voice, begs the idea that there are some big things in the oven.

With the move, Miami FC will have to compete with a Major League Soccer team down the street in Inter Miami. They’ll play in the FIU stadium named after Silva.

Here’s what Miami FC president Paul Dalglish said via a team release:

“The decision to join USL gives us two key things.  First, it gives us a stable platform to further expand our academy program and community work, meaning accessible, inclusive and fun family events that bring all of Miami’s soccer communities together.

“Second, it means we’ll be playing 17 home games at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, providing a fantastic experience for the army of loyal fans that have stood by us. We can’t wait to get started and begin the campaign to our add to our trophy haul.”

It’s a far cry from its roots in the NASL as a buccaneer of professional soccer, but provides stability for a team which has finished first in its last five campaigns spread across three leagues: the NASL, NPSL, and the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).

Some see pro/rel as an inevitability given FIFA’s rules and a MLS landscape which is now producing an uneven schedule and a number of markets which seek top-tier teams and have the money and audience to support higher tiers.

And at some point, it must be acknowledged that the USL has a number of markets blocked in their pathway to MLS and could emerge as a righteous competitor or fold into a gigantic tiered system. The addition of Miami in a year Major League Soccer is launching Inter Miami is unlikely to be welcomed by MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Meanwhile, Miami FC’s departure means U.S. soccer landscape will certainly turn an eye toward NISA. The nascent league features Atlanta SC, California United, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Los Angeles Force, Michigan Stars, Oakland Roots, San Diego 1904 FC, Stumptown Athletic, the New York Cosmos, and unnamed teams in Connecticut and Providence.

NISA announced that U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors formally approved Detroit City, Chattanooga, Oakland and Michigan on Wednesday. Detroit and Chattanooga are the two highest-profile grass roots clubs outside the USL and MLS, and widely viewed as bellwethers for independent clubs.

Hazard, Ba wish San Diego club luck ahead of NISA debut

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National Independent Soccer Association side San Diego 1904 FC debuted on Saturday, with some star-studded support.

The Southern California outfit is owned by a pair of Premier League veterans who are in-season with their current clubs and did not make the trek to LA for the first match.

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San Diego 1904 FC’s Twitter account displayed messages from owners Demba Ba (Istanbul Basaksehir) and Eden Hazard (Real Madrid) before the match.

NISA has suffered some fits and starts as it looks to establish itself in the North American soccer landscape, but 1904 FC has fire power and there are several well-backed, established clubs coming in Detroit City FC, Chattanooga FC, and Miami FC.

 

Q&A with newly-named NISA president Bob Watkins

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The National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) has announced its new president, and made him available for media interviews.

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ProSoccerTalk spoke with Bob Watkins, NISA’s commissioner and the founder of United States Rugby, about plans for the nascent league. He’s also one of the owners of San Diego’s 1904 FC, the club with connections to Demba Ba, Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye, and Moussa Sow.

Other reports have also announced that 1904 FC — formerly an applicant for the USL — will be a founding member of NISA.

ProSoccerTalk: What attracted you to the position?

Bob Watkins: “Excitement of the concept. I’ve been involved with the NASL a number of years ago with the club in San Diego. As that began to collapse if you will, it became apparent to me that a lot of the things that seemed to be not going well could’ve been avoided if it had been an activity looking at it from a future point of view, looking at where soccer in the United States was going, and what could be done to support that. When Peter Wilt and John approached me to look at this activity, I thought it was a different way of doing things. Not necessarily that they were better than anything else, but I liked the concept. It was a little bit more democratic. It was about playing soccer rather than trying to build an empire or change the world.”

Bob Watkins, @NISALeague

PST: When you say “democratic,” what do you mean?

BW: “The league is owned by the owners. All the teams who come into the league subscribe to the league. We don’t have any high financial barriers. It’s relatively modest if you’re looking at MLS or USL, and to me that makes a lot of sense so that groups who want to participate can do it, and there are no geographic boundaries or franchise areas.”

PST: How can your experience growing U.S. Rugby help with a new American soccer league?

BW: “When I looked at this from years ago, and began to think about how do I help develop a club in San Diego, I took the veneer of the sport of rugby on, and took the veneer of the sport of soccer off, and compared them both. Rugby is in its infancy in comparison to what soccer is, and there’s a lot of embedded activity in soccer that is just becoming part of the system in rugby. But if you flip the base to the top, and then build your system based on the enthusiasm, participation, and passion for it, that’s where you’re going to win hearts and minds. We’re here to promote the game, not to promote individual fiefdoms or organizations. What rugby has not had, which is in the process of doing, is building a youth development program.”

PST: You mentioned your time with NASL. Are you concerned with the U.S. Soccer Federation’s support of a new league?

BW: “I look at U.S. Soccer as I look at U.S. Rugby or any other national governing body. They’re there, they command the respect and ability to promote the national presence of the game. We have to build a system that supports that process. If change comes as a result of the way we’re doing things, so be it. We’re not there to change the rules of U.S. Soccer. We’re there to play the game at the base level and make it enjoyable and pleasant.”

PST: Being owner-owned should help, but how do you make sure you follow a good path in terms of expanding/growing the league?

BW: “What one has to look at, is there are certain standards that U.S. Soccer has for professional teams to participate, so we don’t want to drop down in terms of teams like NASL. At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re not ahead of our skis in terms of our ability to manage the growth. One of the challenges that we’re going to have is that a number of teams will be coming into a professional level which is different than the amateur level. We need to support the clubs with as much on-boarding as possible. It’s like taking an amateur player and making them a professional … to compete in the marketplace. Each that comes into the league has to hit the same standards as everybody else has so we can help them promote them, and grow them.

PST: What’s next?

BW: “Timing wise we’re looking at the Fall of 2019 coinciding with the FIFA schedule. Until then we’re building a relationship with each of the clubs, with U.S. Soccer, and fan bases around the country.”

Report: NISA to join USL D-III in applying for USSF sanctioning

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The National Independent Soccer Association will join the USL D-III in applying for Division III sanction from United States Soccer Federation sanctioning by the Sept. 1 deadline for Fall 2019 play, according to Soc Takes.

The nascent league has been quiet since founder Peter Wilt left his post in order to run the new USL D-III side in Madison, Wisconsin.

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The report says there will be as many 10 clubs, and that the league will utilize the European soccer calendar.

Where will the teams be, Soc Takes has some clues:

Soc Takes was previously provided a list of eight cities with their identities embargoed. Three of those cities were in California, while the other five were spread across the country. NISA may have “As many as 10” teams in their application. The source remains confident of a submitting a successful application.

Soccer in America is going to be a complicated follow soon, as NISA is one of at least three groups attempting to compete against the very strong MLS-USL-USL3-PDL alliance. Get your proverbial popcorn ready.

NISA seeks new leadership as Wilt leaves to start USL D3 club

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Peter Wilt is leaving his gig as founding hero of upstart pro/rel league NISA to bring a USL D3 side to Wisconsin.

[ MORE: PST’s PL Best XI ]

Big Top Events announced the hiring of Wilt on Thursday, and the executive is leading a drive to name the club for Madison Pro Soccer.

NISA, the North American Soccer League who widely advocated promotion and relegation but has hit some bumps along the way, now seeks a new leader. The organization announced a committee of club owners will lead a search.

“I wish the NISA teams and new leadership well,” Wilt said. “I am proud of the strong vision we developed and now others will need to carry it forward. I am hopeful that my stepping away will allow the disparate open system groups to unify around a shared vision.”

Wilt, who has launched five professional soccer teams in the closed system is returning to his roots the United Soccer Leagues. He will lead Madison Pro Soccer as Managing Director of Big Top Events’ soccer division. Previously, Wilt served as President, General Manager and part owner of the USISL (now USL) Minnesota Thunder. He has also launched USL’s Indy Eleven, NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars and MLS’ Chicago Fire.

NISA announced eight markets in August but has yet to announce a start date. It’s an intriguing idea, but — for better or worse — could undertake some monumental changes without Wilt in the driver’s seat.

As for Madison, Wilt knows what he’s doing when it comes to starting a club, so this is a solid get for the city.