By Paul Nicholson
January 9 – The perilous but tenacious state of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and the upstart and growing status of the United Soccer League (USL) have both been recognised by US Soccer (USSF) which has granted one-year provisional Division II status to both leagues for the 2017 season.
Neither leagues meet the criteria set by US Soccer for Division II status but the decision was described by U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati as “in the best interests of the sport”.
“U.S. Soccer will create an internal working group that will work with each league to set a pathway to meet the full requirements for Division II and allow for the larger goal of creating a sustainable future. We look forward to another productive year for professional soccer in this country,” said Gulati.
The USL which has seen a rapid growth to 30 teams for the upcoming season fails to meet USSF criteria on various criteria lile field dimensions and coaching licenses for about a third of its teams. The NASL’s issue is that it doesn’t have the 12 teams specified to be a league, and bumps up against major issues with ownership, stadium and other requirements.
At one point it looked as thought the NASL was not going to survive as a league at all – which would have made the USSF decision a lot easier allowing it to go straight to granting the USL Division II status.
The NASL lost two teams – The Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Ottawa Fury – to the USL, while Minnesota are taking the step up to the MLS. That left eight teams of which two looked doubtful for a 2017 kick-off. The Jacksonville Armada looking as though its ownership was about to pull the plug on the team, and the iconic New York Cosmos were uncommitted having sacked all playing staff as well as cutting back operations.
In a statement released at the same time as the decision on Division 2 status, NY Cosmos chief operating officer Erik Stover said: “The New York Cosmos can confirm full participation in the 2017 North American Soccer League season. The affirmation of Division II status for the NASL allows us to move forward with confidence. We have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time including signing players and rebuilding our roster. That work begins in earnest now. We will have more information about the club and our year ahead in the coming days.”
The upgrade to Division II status is a big boost for the USL and its teams who were previously seen as the third tier of US Soccer. The upgrade has been an objective of the USL since it submitted its application to the USSF in early 2016. Since 2014 the USL has more than doubled in size. As well as Tampa Bay and Ottawa Fury switching to the USL for the upcoming season, Reno 1868 FC will also make its league debut, Nashville SC will begin play in 2018 and the league says that further expansion can be expected.
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