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Report: NASL losing Division II status

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What this means for Atlanta and US soccer at large

Soccer: NASL Final-Indy Eleven at New York Cosmos Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota-based soccer news website FiftyFive.One is reported on Tuesday. that the U.S. Soccer Federation has rejected the North American Soccer League’s application to maintain its Division II status in 2018. FiftyFive.One is crediting unnamed sources with the news. The decision has since been confirmed by the NASL.

The USSF and NASL have had a rocky relationship, with the latter accusing the former of antitrust violations intended to protect MLS’ unique Division I status. Most recently, of course, FC Miami owner Riccardo Silva has begun proceedings in the Court of Arbitration for Sport to force USSF to establish promotion and relegation in the US.

Some might see this rejection as retaliation for the CAS case, but it seems likely that the decision is based on the merits of the application. USSF has clear minimum standards for Division I and Division II status. The NASL does not currently meet those, in three important ways.

First, a league and, to a lesser extent, its teams, must demonstrate financial stability. The NASL has repeatedly failed to do that, coming close to folding at least once. Second, by its sixth season (which was in fact 2017) a Division II league must have no less than 12 teams. For 2017, the NASL had only 8. For 2018, two teams are scheduled to join the league, California United FC in Fullerton, CA, and an as yet unnamed San Diego club. That would bring the league up to ten teams; however, it has been reported that the San Francisco Deltas are 90% likely to fold after the 2017 season. Third, a Division II league must have teams in the Eastern, Central and Pacific time zones by its sixth season. The NASL currently has no teams in Central time zone, nor are there any potential expansion teams in the Central time zone.

This situation puts the NASL in stark contrast with its competitor, the USL, which appears much more stable, has 30 teams across all of the US and two Canadian provinces, and has strong expansion plans.

What this means for the NASL is unclear. There seem to be four possible outcomes: dropping down to Division III status, folding entirely, taking legal action against USSF, or merging with the USL. The last option may well end up being the de facto result. Apparently several NASL clubs are at various stages of jumping ship, most notably North Carolina FC, as well as Indy Eleven and the two planned expansion clubs.

This may also have an impact on the Atlanta soccer scene. Earlier this year we reported on the possibility of two new area teams to be based in DeKalb County, one mens’ team and one womens’ team, potentially in the NASL and NWSL respectively. An announcement was scheduled for the men’s team, but was later cancelled. No concrete explanation was given, and no further information has been released.

More importantly, this will have implications for the growth of soccer in the US as a whole. That too remains uncertain. While the decline of an established league at first sight appears to be a negative, this may ultimately prove a positive. If the more financially stable NASL teams join the USL, that will only strengthen that league and provide those teams with much greater competition. Ironically, it may also bolster the chance of adopting pro/rel in the US. Our own debate on that heady issue covers some of the issues, but this may remove some of the barriers: Division II will be simplified, and the USL already has a close relationship with MLS.

Doubtless more information will emerge over the coming days. In the meantime, feel free to let us know your thoughts on the matter.