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Posted by on Jan 11, 2012 in MLS, NASL, Recent, USL PRO | 0 comments

Building the Pyramid – Part 2, The Story So Far

Welcome to the second installment in our new series Building the Pyramid – American Soccer

The Story So Far

American soccer had a grand birth and less than spectacular death with the original NASL. Umbro invested heavily in the USL, eventually becoming majority shareholder. Umbro was subsequently purchased by Nike. Nike decided that its business model did not include the owning and running of a soccer league. Nike sold the USL to NuRock Soccer Holdings in 2009.

Prior to the sale, several team,s unhappy with the administration of the league by then president Francisco Marcos, decided to form a league of their own. This group initially called the Team Owners Association (TOA) later acquired the rights to the NASL name and became the new NASL.

The crux of the disagreement between USL and the NASL was that the TOA wanted a league that was owned and administered by the teams, much like most other major sports leagues. The current NASL is administered by a board of governors, which has heavy team owner representation. The USL, in contrast, operated (and still operates) as a franchise system whereas teams pay a franchise fee but the administration of the league, is the responsibility of the league owners, currently NuRock. This leaves teams to administer themselves but in a league that has no real vested interest in seeing any single franchise succeed. If teams fold, and approximately 75% of them do, the league is not affected because they collected their franchise fee at the beginning of each season.

The proposed split immediately got chippy. USL named 3 teams in a suit claiming breech of contract, AC St Louis, Crystal Palace Baltimore, and Rochester Rhinos. The TOA made several press releases condemning the USL and its management. The suit was quickly dropped as part of a deal with the USSF, but the fact that only one remains a team and currently plays in USL-Pro speaks to both the validity of the suit, and the precariousness of finances in lower division soccer.

The original TOA proposed league consisted of: AC St Louis, Atlanta Silverbacks, FC Miami, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Carolina Railhawks, FC Edmonton, Minnesota Thunder, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps.

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) stepped in to broker an amicable(sic) split and to ensure a 2010 season could be played. The compromise was dubbed USSF Division 2, a USSF administered league with two Conferences:

USL Conference
Portland Timbers
Austin Aztex
NSC Minnesota Stars
Puerto Rico Islanders
Rochester Rhinos
FC Tampa Bay

NASL Conference
Carolina Railhawks
Montreal Impact
Crystal Palace Baltimore
Miami FC
AC St Louis
Vancouver Whitecaps

The league was won by the Puerto Rico Islanders. Interestingly enough only two of the above teams remained with the USL: Rochester, and Austin, who moved and became Orlando City. Three teams moved to MLS, Vancouver, Portland and Montreal. The remainder either folded (AC St Louis and Crystal Palace Baltimore) or went to the NASL.

The Present Situation

Both leagues went their almost merry way and the USSF granted D2 sanctioning to the NASL. This came at a price, along with the sanctioning, the USSF approved new financial regulations for D2 and a few potential teams could or would not meet them. The USSF Division 2 regulations also call for:

II. Division II Men’s Outdoor League:

Composition; Play

i. League must have a minimum of eight teams to apply. By year three, the league must have a minimum of 10 teams. By year six, the league must have a minimum of 12 teams.
ii. U.S.-based teams must participate in all representative CONCACAF competitions for which they are eligible.
Markets; Stadia; and Fields
i. In the first year, U.S.-based teams must be located in at least two different time zones in the continental United States. By year six, U.S.-based teams must be located in at least three different time zones.
ii. At least 75 percent of the league’s teams must play in metropolitan markets of at least 750,000 persons.
iii. League stadiums must have a minimum seating capacity of 5,000.
iv. Not later than 120 days prior to the start of each season, each team shall have a lease for one full season with its home stadium.

The Inaugural NASL season kicked of with 8 teams:

Montreal Impact
Carolina Railhawks
Puerto Rico Islanders

NSC Minnesota Stars
FC Miami
FC Tampa Bay
Edmonton FC
Atlanta Silverbacks

The Carolina Railhawks were the regular season champions and the NSC Minnesota Stars won the Inaugural Soccer Bowl. The Impact are joining MLS in 2012 and are being replaced by the San Antonio Scorpions.
The 2012 NASL Season will feature:

Carolina Railhawks
FC Edmonton
Puerto Rico Islanders
Atlanta Silverbacks
Ft Lauderdale Strikers (FC Miami)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (FC Tampa Bay)
San Antonio Scorpions
NSC Minnesota Stars

 The NASL has been conditionally approved to play the 2012 season with those teams in place. Whether or not the league can add teams beyond Ottowa in 2013 is uncertain. More importantly, if that will affect their division 2 status is anyone’s guess. The answers get even less clear when you examine the Who, which we will do in the next installment.

So now that you know the What of the story, in the next installment we will take a look at the infinitely more complicated Who.