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Is Rayo OKC the first dent in an NASL implosion?

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Can they maintain their recent progress?

Soccer: Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

In January, the North American Soccer League pulled the plug on the Atlanta Silverbacks. The name went to live on in the National Premier Soccer League, but the professional club with roots back to the Atlanta Ruckus in 1995 was no more. At the time, the NASL looked strong with three new teams joining for 2016 and the remaining owners did not want to pay to operate the Silverbacks.

Now, one of those new clubs is in disarray and the league will need to scramble to improve its overall situation.

Last week, word came out in Oklahoma City that head coach Alen Marcina had left the club. The Oklahoman’s Chris Brannick also reported that the operating management group Sold Out Strategies had also left the organization. Marcina told Brannick:

“Recent changes in administration have resulted in vast differences of opinion which could not be reconciled.”

A number of front office staff have also left the organization.

Rumors about potential financial issues have been in the air around the club for a while now. They started when Rayo Vallecano, the majority owner of the club, was relegated from the top flight in Spain.

It is unclear whether the league can step into this situation yet. It is unknown if Rayo OKC ownership have violated any league rules.

Former NASL Director of Communications and Public Relations Kartik Krishnaiyer told Dirty South Soccer that the situation was not entirely unexpected:

“It's not a total surprise, but the thing I expected was a bailout of the foreign owners before Brad Lund's management company backed out. For me, Lund has been dedicated to this project for over three years and now has been burnt badly twice. I feel terrible for him, as should all fans of the sport in this country. Once again, I sense bringing in owners with little in the way of ties to a local area is a dangerous thing. We saw the California Victory, a similar project in USL many years ago flop after a single season with an almost identical problem to Rayo OKC in the middle of the season.”

The California Victory situation in 2008 in the USL, along with a general dissatisfaction of how the league was trending, caused clubs to leave the league and eventually form the new NASL. Krishnaiyer said:

“Initially NASL was needed because USL had done such a poor job governing the lower divisions of pro soccer. NASL has elevated the level of lower division soccer in North America, in fact highly-professionalizing the management and operations of most clubs and the league. USL's recent uptick in its own structure owes itself largely to competition from NASL. Without NASL's presence, USL never would have reformed itself. NASL's vision changed at some point to being a competitive D1 league with MLS.”

When asked about what led to that change in vision, Krishnaiyer said:

“The entrance of the Cosmos and the interest of foreign owners who want a way into the American market without the cost of buying an MLS franchise and all the rules that come with single-entity. One can question the wisdom of going in that direction but that's the way NASL has chosen to proceed and as someone who wants to see the league succeed long-term I've accepted that direction.”

The Rayo OKC situation is on the back of issues in Fort Lauderdale with the Strikers. Their managing director Luis Cuccatti confirmed to Pedro Heizer of the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel that Strikers’ players have faced delays getting paid and some have had bounced checks. One of their standout players, the 22-year-old Brazilian midfielder PC, was recently transferred to their rivals Tampa Bay.

The league has had some bad news on the expansion front as well. News broke today that the group exploring a NASL expansion team in Nashville has abandoned the effort to focus on a MLS bid instead. Joey Garrison wrote in the Tennessean:

Hagerty had previously been in preliminary talks with the North American Soccer League, which operates one league below MLS, about a possible team in Nashville. Those discussions have stopped as Hagerty puts his weight fully behind an MLS team.

The planned August 19 announcement by Minnesota United has been reported to be that they will be joining MLS next year. There are also rumors out there that NASL clubs have explored jumping to the USL. When asked about this possibility, Krishnaiyer said:

“I think the majority of owners prefer the NASL model and the way of doing business. But unfortunately lower-division soccer is so tumultuous owners would not be fairly protecting their investments, clubs or fans if they did not open a line of communication to USL. I believe some USL teams might be doing the same with NASL. It's the fluid nature of the lower division world, where leagues resemble college sports conferences more than international football league or domestic pro sports leagues.“

The NASL is reportedly hosting a regularly scheduled Board of Governors’ meeting in Atlanta this week. The agenda will likely focus on how to keep these issues from threatening the league’s progress.