News

US Soccer Federation Rejects NASL’s Division II Application

by on 5 September 2017

The USSF has rejected the NASL’s efforts to maintain its second division status, according to multiple sources. The seven-year-old league will likely have to drop down to the third division along with the brand new USL D-3 and National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).

At the beginning of 2017, the USSF granted both the USL and NASL provisional rights to joint second division status. At the time, both leagues submitted elaborate plans for meeting all the criteria for D-2 status.

While it is not clear why the USSF has rejected the NASL’s application, the league has struggled to grow its geographic footprint amidst the constant churn of clubs moving to other leagues. In the last year Minnesota United FC (MLS), Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL), and Ottawa Fury (USL) decamped the NASL for other leagues. Meanwhile, Rayo OKC folded after just one season and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers folded as well.

Losing five clubs in a year almost took the league under, but after a chaotic winter, the remaining owners emerged with a much clearer vision and a “spirit of cooperation.” The San Francisco Deltas joined for the 2017 season and two other Californian clubs, California United FC and one in San Diego are slated for 2018. However, the Deltas are already struggling financially and reports from inside the club say that there is a real chance that the club could fold after one season.

An uncertain future

What this news means for the NASL or its clubs is still very unclear. When reached, NASL and club owners offered no comment.

A source informed FiftyFive.One that several clubs are either in talks or working through the logistics of decamping to the USL. North Carolina FC, sources say, is in advanced talks while Indy Eleven and the two new California clubs are at least exploring the possibility.

USSF made this decision early, a source tells FiftyFive.One, in part to help leagues come up with “creative” solutions for next season. In 2009, USSF forced the newly formed NASL and USL into a temporary merger as the two leagues sorted out their futures.

The uncertainty also surrounds the new era of division three that will begin next season. NISA is slated to launch next season in the third division, while USL will debut its new D3 league in 2019. If NASL were forced to drop down as well, a club like the New York Cosmos would be ostensibly playing on the same level as Chattanooga FC, currently of the NPSL.

Correction: the original article stated that USL D3 would launch in 2018.

Brian  Quarstad and Soc Takes‘ Nipun Chopra contributed to the reporting of this article.


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  • Joe Tant

    Are you able to be more specific than just “multiple sources” as you are the only one that is reporting this, and the usual talking heads that break news via twitter haven’t posted anything?

    • Wes

      Hi Joe, I understand the skepticism. It’s now been independently confirmed by a bunch of other journalists, but a story like this there’s no way to get any more specific about sources.

      • Lenny

        More like the story has been regurgitated mostly.

        Lost in this is that the USL also wasn’t granted sanctioning as D2 for 2018. How about a big story on this Wes and the many waivers USL has and the negatives about the USL that most don’t want to talk about? USL has had years since applying to address their stadium issues but most bloggers/media just brushes over it and drinks their kool aid about how easy it is to fix that issue(but hasn’t been able to for years).

        How about how the vote was by those who are centric of the leagues other than NASL?

        • Wes

          I and many others have been pretty critical of USL in the past. Also, to be clear, USSF has not made a decision on USL at this point, so there is simply no news there.

        • DemosthenesVW

          The USL was neither granted nor denied DII sanctioning at this point. My guess is that the USSF will hold that back as a bargaining chip — “Take all the NASL teams who want to come, or be prepared to go back to DIII.”

          • CockerSpaniel

            Perhaps, when and if MLS expands to something like 32 clubs, then break up the league into two sixteen-league divisions, with “MLS 2” becoming this country’s new Division 2 league?

          • DemosthenesVW

            Doubtful. First, MLS has said they’re not planning any expansion past 28 — they may be bluffing or might change their minds, but we have no evidence for those propositions.

            Second, the United States is so much bigger than European countries (in terms of both geography and population) that a sixteen-team first division would be far too small.

            Third, the USL will already be the second division. Why would MLS want to split their league in half to provide competition for a friendly league?

  • eltigreferoz

    A club “like the New York Cosmos” having to play a team from Chattanooga?! God forbid this 4-year-old team with a legendary team’s naming rights have to play some peasant team from Chattanooga! Ike Davis (were he dead) would roll in his grave if he new some fourth-division team from TN were desecrating the holy football grounds of MCU Park!

    • Wes

      The two teams wouldn’t actually play one another since they would be in different leagues. The comment was really about the vast difference in the levels between the two teams’ front offices, player budgets, and prominence.

  • Robert Kiernan

    Well this supports my feeling that the USSF is being lead around by MLS folks keen on seeing control of virtually all level of professional ball remaining in their hands… to say I’m not surprised to to state the obvious but it is the choice to allow the USL to thrive at the NASLs expense that I feel is an open secret now.

    • Tim jay

      Or maybe the NASL is just a joke of league…..Did you ever think of that? The NASL has 8 teams and only 1-2 of them draw anything worth talking about. Fold the league and hoepffuly the teams merge into USL 2 or 3. Maybe everyone has forgot about how fragile lower league soccer has been up until a few years ago.

      • MmattN

        Sadly yup. The NASL which was formed out of the mess of old USL has ended up being run like the mess of the old USL; franticly signing on new clubs with no serious consideration if said club could even survive.

        • Lenny

          USL has had more failed teams than NASL in actual fact.

          • MmattN

            This is true, cause the USL has been around a lot longer than the NASL. Doesn’t mean that the NASL has lately allowed for questionable franchises to join their league. Much like what the USL did back in the day.

          • DemosthenesVW

            True. It has also had many more expansion success stories. It has more than doubled its size since 2011, despite losing more clubs than the NASL, and will add at least five more over the next two years. It can afford to see a team or two fold/leave every offseason, because it’s more than replacing its losses.

            Over the last seven years, the NASL has added nine teams to its initial eight, but it has also lost nine (five folding, four leaving for other leagues). So it’s still treading water, with the same number of clubs it had at its start — four less than the number it needs.

            tl;dr: Your point is true, but irrelevant. The key is stability, and the USL is far more stable than the NASL in spite of its bigger losses.

      • Lenny

        No, actually NASL has drawn better in average attendance vs USL when you look at the league vs league numbers. Take out FC Cincinatti who is inflating USL numbers and USL avg drops even more.

        We don’t need independent NASL clubs joining the MLS’s minor league USL comprised mainly of affiliates and reserve teams.

        • DemosthenesVW

          Again, true, but irrelevant — because USL independent clubs (and that includes affiliates, despite your attempt to lump them in with reserve teams) are outdrawing NASL independent clubs on the average.

          You’ll likely say, again, that this is because of FC Cincinnat. But if you want to complain about them (and Sacramento Republic FC) boosting USL’s numbers, keep in mind that there are a lot of reserve teams dragging the average down. The bottom seven teams in USL attendance this season, and nine of the bottom eleven, are reserve teams.

          So if you get to throw out the top, I get to throw out the bottom. USL independent teams still win.

          • DemosthenesVW

            WARNING: LONG POST WITH NUMBERS TO BACK UP THE CLAIMS OF MY PREVIOUS POST.

            Here are the attendance numbers through the end of yesterday, 6 September 2017.

            Raw:
            NASL – 398653 fans / 91 games / 4381 avg. att.
            USL – 1624365 fans / 375 games / 4332 avg. att.

            So yes, you are right, Lenny. NASL is outdrawing USL by about 50 fans a game. Not a big difference, but it is a difference. Now, let’s test your contention that FC Cincinnati is a major factor. I will do two mods of USL numbers, the first removing just them, and the second removing both them and Sacramento.

            USL M1 – 1315618 fans / 360 games / 3654 avg. att.
            USL M2 – 1176790 fans / 348 games / 3382 avg. att.

            Yup, you’re right again. That’s a big difference. Now, though, let’s test my theory that when we remove the ten reserve teams*, leaving just the independents (which includes affiliates), USL outdraws NASL.

            USL M3 – 1444160 fans / 252 games / 5731 avg. att.

            As you can see, USL non-reserve teams are crushing NASL at the gate. Only one NASL team (Indy Eleven) has a higher average attendance than that number. Now, in addition to removing the reserve teams, let’s also remove FCC and SRFC — because I suspect most of the reserve teams will go D3 in 2019, and the two league leaders should both eventually pick up two of those expansion spots. I’ll also post the NASL numbers for direct comparison:

            NASL – 398653 fans / 91 games / 4381 avg. att.
            USL M4 – 996585 fans / 225 games / 4429 avg. att.

            Hmm. Drop the reserve teams, and it seems like USL is outdrawing NASL by about 50 fans a game *even if* you remove the two obviously MLS-bound squads. But just like with the raw numbers, that’s not a big difference. Seems like your “independent NASL clubs” would fit into the USL just fine.

          • Lenny

            Interesting numbers but you should have factored in the 2 NASL teams that announce turnstile (San Francisco and Jacksonville) that would drive up the NASL avg even more if it followed the tickets distributed standard other sports leagues use like MLS and USL. If USL teams like Bethlehem Steele announced turnstile # their avg would drop a couple thousand per game.

            Too many variables to compare, straight league to league the best, NASL wins, and even NASL should be higher as 2 turnstile # clubs should announce like all other pro teams.

          • DemosthenesVW

            I can only “factor in” the numbers that are reported. I can’t make allowance for how numbers might be boosted if teams reported attendance differently than they do.

            My point was, and is, that there is more than one way to look at the numbers. If you prefer to look at the raw totals and feel superior because NASL’s number is bigger, that’s fine with me.

            My guess is that the whole debate we’re having will be moot by the end of the month. And if I’m right, next year, USL will be the clear winner in attendance —
            because there won’t be an NASL anymore.

          • Lenny

            No, NASL wins as league vs league they have a better average attendance.You can cherry pick all you want but it doesn’t change that fact.

          • DemosthenesVW

            We agree that NASL is outdrawing USL at the gate. All you have to do is look at the numbers to see that.

            But the numbers also say that USL’s independent clubs are drawing even with — indeed, slightly better than — USL’s clubs. It’s not cherry-picking to point that out.

  • Mano

    Why isn’t right answer here the obvious one: promotion/relegation between USL and NASL or DII and DIII? The gap between the DII and DIII teams are not very significant. So Pro/Rel should be easily to implement. Or at the very least, there aren’t the issues present in implemented Pro/Rel between DI and DII.

    • Badgerjohn

      Should be easy to implement. If the USL wanted to work with NASL. And vice versa. If the USSF forced a system on these entities, they likely would have bailed – along with many clubs.

    • Mike A.

      I don’t see Pro/Rel as an answer. This isn’t going to pump more money into the system, or bring any stability to the leagues. Soccer isn’t as strong in the US as the rest of the world and to think Pro/Rel is going to bring fans and stability isn’t realistic. Owners will spend money to make promotion and then not be able to pay their bills. This is taking place in today’s NASL and brought down the old NASL, as well as the Classic Cosmos.

    • Doug

      Oh my god, will you people shut up with this pro/rel crap? It’s not going to happen and even of it was a possibility, you need a strong D2 to accomplish this.

      The USL isn’t quite there yet but it’s well on its way. But you need big stadiums that meet MLS standards.

      • DemosthenesVW

        Agreed, Doug. I want pro/rel too, but you need several things we don’t have in this country to make it work, namely: (1) league stability, (2) much-improved infrastructure, (3) fan support for their clubs that won’t wither in case of relegation, and (4) a surplus of teams capable of playing in leagues higher than their current league.

        Oh, and (5) financial interests that align with, rather than against, pro/rel. (The MLS owners, for example, have no interest in allowing pro/rel. They stand to lose much of their investment if they get relegated, but they stand to gain little or nothing even if pro/rel is a wild success and they stay in MLS.)

        The first four things will happen eventually, but we’re years out from that point, and more likely decades out. At that point, we can have pro/rel in minor leagues. But pro/rel with MLS only ever happens if the owners decide they want to change their business model, and I can’t think of an incentive powerful enough to do that.

    • Kyle Eliason

      These are two rival leagues that aren’t overly fond of one another. I’m sure the USL would be happy to cannibalize the stronger NASL clubs.

  • Doug

    This is good news in my opinion. The NASL has been on shaky grounds, financially, for a long time.

    This gives the independent teams an opportunity to join a much more stable league in the USL.

    Edmonton will probably join the new CanPL and clubs like Indy Eleven, NCFC and the Cosmos can join a more stable league. Hopefully the USL will take them.

    • Lenny

      Attempting to kill off a league is not good news. Independent clubs moving to a AAA style developmental minor league of MLS to become affiliates and reserve teams is also not good news.

      Attempting to kill an exciting alternative to MLS-USL models in a pro-rel setup of NASL-NISA-NPSL is not good news.

      • DemosthenesVW

        Removing life support from a terminally ill patient is not the same thing as killing them off. It is allowing them to die.

        Independent clubs moving to a stable league where they can be assured of plenty of games against regional opponents, and league support in building a central office that can keep the club around long term, is absolutely good news. It will bring some much-needed stability to the futures of good clubs like Indy and NCFC.

        As for your proposed pro/rel system, it consists of: a top league that is (or rather, was) too small and unstable to support pro/rel; a middle league that is still on paper only; and a lower-level league that is basically amateur. There’s no system there…just a fantasy. And the excitement is the same kind you get if you jump off a cliff without a parachute, bungee cord, or safe landing spot.

  • Jeff Wolter

    This is bad for US soccer no way around that.
    The current US soccer league structure is out of line with what FIFA has mandated according to player contract rules.
    MLS is a third party owner of player contracts. It’s currently allowed with a special clause written in for leagues with CBA. But the FIFA rules also state that the exception will not be granted again after 2020.

    This is retaliation for the law suit taken to the Court of Arbitration over promotion and regulation in the US soccer league structure.
    MLS owners are retaliating using the USSF as their tool.
    Shameful display of single entity owner that hold too much power over the whole sport in America.
    Stupid!
    Of course the NASL would have problems keeping the right number of teams and ownership groups as the D1 league robs them of all their teams.
    It’s a transition time that will stabilize once MLS decides how many teams will make up their D1. It was predictable and USSF knew this would happen in the short term.
    USL has been a trouble maker in the league structure for decades now. Just another example of how poor the leadership in American soccer really is.
    All protection for the small group of owners that won’t even take the same risks as the rest of the world’s leagues do each season.
    Dispictable actions by the small group of owners in charge of everything.

    • DemosthenesVW

      Allowing an unstable league, which is a destabilizing influence on the pyramid, to die…that’s good, not bad, for US soccer.

      If it is retaliation, NASL could have avoided it by meeting Division 2 standards during the seven years given to them.

      During the NASL’s existence, it has had seventeen clubs play at least part of one season. Of those, precisely two went to MLS — Montreal left after 2011, and Minnesota United left last year. That’s hardly MLS robbing it of all its teams.

    • Gazza_55

      @Jeff

      1. MLS is NOT the 3rd Party but the First Party so those player contracts are legal under FIFA rules.

      2. The decision to deny NASL D2 for 2018 was made (and told to NASL clubs) PRIOR to the Silva lawsuit to CAS. So ….. no USSF retaliation.

      • Jeff Wolter

        You might want to read the FIFA player contract rules.
        1. You have a club selling
        2. You have a club buying
        Any one else is a 3rd party according to the current FIFA Player Contract Rules.
        At the moment when MLS sells a player the selling club only gets a % of that sale. The league keeps a big chunk of the money. How much more of a third party can that be?
        It’s not even clear how much a team gets when it has to sell their MLS player.

        The allowance for leagues that use a Collective Bargining Agrement (CBA) makes them currently allowed. But the most recent players rules also say that allowance made before May 2015 will not be renewed again… even if a new CBA is not agreed upon the special clause for CBA ends one year after its current termination date.
        So once the current MLSPU CBA expires the third party in the contracts needs to also end.
        The TMS will be the policing mechanism. Not all association players are subgect to the TMS but the ones that are sold to another league association will be. All those transaction are currently required to list any thrid party

        MLSPU CBA Feb 1, 2015 -Jan 31, 2020 also states that MLS will have to abide to new all FIFA player contract rules.
        FIFA new Player Contract Rules were made on May of 2015.

  • Jeff Wolter

    In the end this will hurt all US based pro soccer players.
    The MLSPU will have less power at the 2020 CBA and the MLS owners will keep the pay for their own players historically low for an even longer time.
    SOB!
    Poor “decision”…
    if it can even be called a decision.
    This was clearly a power play by the MLS owners.

    Fan will lose in the long run almost more than all US based pro players will.
    We won’t see a full team of 11 quality players anytime soon on our D1 fields.
    Our top D1 league will continue to be a league with three good players on the field and a bunch of very low paid college players filling in the other 8 spots on the field.
    Stupid!
    Stupid!!
    Stupid!!!

    • DemosthenesVW

      “In the end this will hurt all US based pro soccer players.” Because they won’t be free to take jobs in an unstable league?

      “Currently in MLS if one or two key players are injured the whole team falls apart.” Which is true for most teams in most top leagues around the world, and is hardly a mark of anything nefarious.

      “We won’t see a full team of 11 quality players anytime soon on our D1 fields.” Yeah. Most countries don’t. We’re not England, you know.

      “As fans we should be asking our D1 league to grow up and act like a real D1 league.” They are. They have found and instituted a structure that allows them to make a profit, and solidifies their position at the top of the pyramid. That it is a different structure from the one the Premier League has is immaterial.

      “The clubs should compete against one another…” They do. The front offices, on the other hand, are interested in continuing to solidify soccer as a sport in the US. No one in the MLS is benefited if their competitors keep going out of business. (See also: NASL.)

  • Jeff Wolter

    Don’t forget that Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Montreal, Minnesota and to some extent Atlanta were all in on the original talks about starting up the NASL. They all did not like the methods of the USL/A-League D2 league and they demanded a change.

    This clear path for USL is a highjack of the sports sole.
    Disagree you can but it’s actually true.
    The NASL teams were all finding their own players, building a scouting network, they were all marketing their own teams, they were all creating their one ticket sales departments.
    It was not a socialists league with central control and shared profits. It is real clubs competing against one another. It’s was a league run the way the rest of the world runs their own leagues.

    The best of the current MLS teams all came from D2 first.
    That’s where their core supporters first grew their own roots. In their local community’s not just in one office in New York.

    • DemosthenesVW

      “Don’t forget that Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Montreal, Minnesota and to some extent Atlanta were all in on the original talks about starting up the NASL.” Three of those six teams were never in the NASL, so I don’t know why you bring this up. And since Atlanta was a founding member, I’m glad they were in on talks “to some extent.”

      “This clear path for USL to become the only D2 league is a highjack of the sports very sole.” This has nothing to do with shoes. It has to do with the stability of soccer.

      Yeah, the NASL was letting everyone do their own thing. The result? After seven years of play, you have no more teams than you started with. Three of your founding members don’t even exist anymore. Three of them decided that they’d be better off in other leagues. And the remaining two look likely to follow those three out the door, one to the USL and one to a Canadian “Premier League” that doesn’t even exist yet, and will probably have fewer teams than NASL to start. That’s a real testament to your (lack of) desirability.

      “It’s was a league run the way the rest of the world runs their own leagues.” The rest of the world has had decades for soccer to become a big and stable enterprise there. We built 20 years ago, from the ground up. In a few decades, I hope we’re stable enough to pursue a less centralized system…but we ain’t there yet, Jeff.

      “The best of the current MLS teams all came from D2 first.” And with two exceptions, that league would be…some form of USL.

      “USL is not the answer to D2 because it’s just a puppet league for MLS and it’s also just about not spending any money.” I like my Energy just fine. They’re nobody’s puppet team. And they have proven to be about spending money smartly and effectively, rather than throwing it all over the place. A good thing too, because if they did that, we might not have pro soccer in OKC, after Rayo had their spectacular one-and-done flameout.

  • Jeff Wolter

    Also, if you read other reports, this may not be a final decision yet.
    The owner of the Cosmos says they are still talking. He hope to be able to be able to change their minds.
    It may be more of a signal that the USSF would like to see new leadership in change of the NASL.
    Maybe it’s time for the Brazilians to back away from the league.

    • DemosthenesVW

      “The fact is the fans of towns where NASL should be allowed to watch a high level team in their own community.”

      Should be “allowed”? Somebody has to create and maintain that team first. Having a hometown soccer team is not a right.

      “Thst type of compitition between leagues is not needed at this time.”

      For an obvious fan of NASL to say this is beyond ridiculous. You guys WANTED to be competition for MLS. You begged for it. You railed against their “monopoly,” sputtered about them “rigging the system” against you, and tried to position yourselves as a direct competitor. And you failed. You even submitted an application for D1 sanctioning, and complained about the standards being changed…when your league didn’t even met the standards of its own level! But NOW that you’re worried you’re on the way out, competition is unnecessary all of a sudden. Uh-huh.

      “The teams and leagues should be coordinated to work for the best of US Soccer as a whole.”

      What the…so, the NASL model is better, because teams were all “operat[ing] their own clubs as they saw fit to do,” but those same independent teams should be “coordinated to work for the best interests” yadda yadda yadda? You can’t have it both ways! Either there’s a central guiding hand, or there are a bunch of independent clubs defining things from the bottom up. Not both.

      “NASL has a role to fill at this time in American soccer league development and as long as their are current owners willing and able to show another way to create a soccer club and league structure it should stay at D2 level.”

      You want to stay at a D2 level? Meet D2 standards. Which you have never done, not even for one year. C’mon, man, you’ve never even fielded twelve teams for a full season, and that’s the most basic requirement for a D2 league past year six!

      “Compitition is what made America great not single entity bullshit socialism.”

      I thought competition between leagues was unnecessary at this time, and everyone needed to be coordinated to work for the best of soccer as a whole (kind of like they were part of, I don’t know, a single entity or something). Isn’t that what you just said? I mean, can you even keep your babbling coherent within one post?