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“Hopeful” Commisso extends deadline for $500m NASL restoration

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New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso tells ProSoccerTalk that he has extended his deadline in regards to his $500 million investment offer to fund a resurgent North American Soccer League.

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.”

Commisso, USSF at impasse over $500m meeting

Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Walter Kaitz
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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.

The Cosmos owner promised $250 million of his own money as well as fundraising of an additional $250 million from other investors.

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.”

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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.”

NASL reaching out to CONCACAF nations for support with USSF

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Earlier this week, New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso made waves when he offered to invest $250 million of his money and to raise another $250 million in outside investment in order to fund a new or revived American soccer league, provided the United States Soccer Federation agrees to significant changes in several arenas, including how it operates with Major League Soccer, Soccer United Marketing, and promotion and relegation.

[ MORE: Mourinho rips forwards ]

The Cosmos are the flagship club of the North American Soccer League, who remains on the offensive as it seeks to return to the playing field by 2019. ProSoccerTalk has obtained a letter from the NASL to a Caribbean Football Association, asking the CONCACAF nation to contact U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro and encourage him to meet with the North American Soccer League and discuss Commisso’s offer.

A source confirmed to PST that similar letters were sent to all of the CONCACAF member nations by NASL commissioner Rishi Sehgal, detailing the accomplishments of their players in the NASL and contributions to the growth of the national team program. CC’d on the letters are CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, CONCACAF secretary general Philippe Moggio, and Commisso.

CONCACAF declined to comment on the story.

The second-tier outfit is locked in legal proceedings with the United States Soccer Federation and MLS over the NASL’s loss of Division 2 sanctioning. It would be interesting to see how U.S. Soccer playing ball with Commisso’s 10-year, $500 million plan would affect the businessman and his league’s lawsuits.

NASL launches new suit against U.S. Soccer board

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The North American Soccer League continues to decry corruption from the United States Soccer Federation, putting more pressure on the federation’s establishment ahead of a massive presidential election next week.

The NASL announced a lawsuit against the USSF board members on Tuesday in a blazing 69-page document, accusing the board of a “breach of the directors’ fiduciary duties to the USSF’s members.” It flies in similar circles as Hope Solo’s brazen weekend complaint.

The lawsuit also demands that U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, MLS commissioner Don Garber, and “any additional Defendants identified during fact discovery” cannot be reimbursed by the USSF for damages or defense costs.

Saying the directors “have abused their positions as governors and stewards” for the development of soccer in the U.S. by protecting the interests of Major League Soccer, the United Soccer League, and Soccer United Marketing.

The league also asserts that the USSF board has consistently interfered with the NASL’s business practices, allowing the USL to operate as a D-II league under a plan to one day reach a D-II standard while refusing the same to NASL.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson’s cheeky Bremen goal ]

It also claims that the vote on divisional sanctioning had a “preordained” result and hurriedly organized by Gulati without proper information for the board members and without all members at the meeting.

The suit tears into the much-maligned MLS-SUM relationship.

“Notably, the Board has allowed SUM to use the USSF’s most valuable assets — rights in the FIFA World Cup and U.S. national teams’ television broadcasts and ticket sales — to enrich and empower MLS to the competitive disadvantage of rival leagues, as well as depriving other USSF member groups of potential funding.”

All but one board member, John Paul Motta, was named in the suit: Gulati, Garber, presidential candidate Carlos Cordeiro, and USMNT legend Carlos Bocanegra are the names most know, while Stephen Malik, John Collins, Donna Shalala, Valerie Ackerman, Daniel Flynn, Lisa Carnoy, Richard Moeller, Jesse Harrell, Timothy Turney, Christopher Ahrens, and Angela Hucles are less familiar.

Exhale.

The league, which had stood as U.S. Soccer’s lone second-tier organization for some time, has been battling the USSF since the federation took away its Division II status.

What’s wild about the entire ordeal is that the public’s interest has certainly paid extra attention to the NASL’s concerns since Bruce Arena and the USMNT bombed out of World Cup qualifying. The federation has little momentum — but plenty of influence and money — to fight back, and relatively small stories like complaints about the bizarre and unorthodox MLS transfer system have become big anchors for those seeking change in the federation (In this vein, we imagine Gulati and the federation might be agreeing with Geoff Cameron’s vibes right about now).

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.