By Paul Nicholson
November 10 – This weekend the North American Soccer League (NASL), the second tier of US professional football, completes its 2016 season with the Championship Final between New York Cosmos and Indy Eleven at the Belson Stadium at St John’s University in Queens, New York.
Cosmos, one of the world’s most iconic club brands, are playing for their third NASL title in four years.
The NASL is undergoing a process of change. With commissioner Bill Peterson insistent that the league “continues to improve and become more competitive year on year”, it is nevertheless losing two clubs – Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Ottawa Fury – to the USL next season and so far has only announced the addition of San Francisco to its ranks.
But Peterson appears unfazed, saying: “We have a dedicated group of owners who want to build a stronger league and will focus on that.”
“Movement (of teams) is a product of how the game is structured. Any club owner can choose the league he wants his team to play in and file admission forms to join that league. It is not something we like to see, teams going to other leagues. But it is going to take three strong leagues (MSL, NASL and USL) to grow the game and be part of the fabric,” said Peterson.
Peterson said that you can expect more co-operation between the leagues in the future. A series of meetings in recent months, including with the US Soccer Federation, appear to have been positive in terms of planning what the professional game will look like in the US in the future.
One of the issues for the NASL has been the ownership position and relationship with Traffic Sports – the marketing agency at the centre of the bribery and corruption scandals that have rocked north and south American football with more than 42 federation and sports marketing executives indicted in the US.
Peterson said to expect an announcement at the end of the month. “We have resolved almost all the relationships there,” he said. Asked to confirm that Traffic still held a stake in the NASL he replied “not exactly”.
Looking to the future composition of the league, Peterson said that they were in discussion with six ownership groups about joining the NASL. “We are confident of getting a number or all of these groups in this league,” said Peterson. “A few if not all will be playing in 2018.”
“We will add teams in a smart manner. We are talking to strong ownership groups in great cities,” he said, though stopped short of naming individual groups or cities.
“We are talking to teams throughout the country, on the west coast, in the mid-west and have more opportunities on the east coast. We are balancing our footprint and we want to give our friends in San Francisco some local competition.”
At this point Peterson says he is not sure how many teams the NASL will have next season. “We will make that decision at the end of the month,” he said.
For this weekend the focus is on the Championship Final, though even the venue for the final has been fraught with difficulties over scheduling issues, essentially meaning that Cosmos, who have the hosting honour, having to play the final at St John’s University.
Peterson says the decision to allow the smaller than usual venue was taken when taking into balance all the commercial and fanbase issues. “We are allowing Cosmos fans to have their game on their territory. We have kept it in New York City. Cosmos have played in the Open Cup there. We’ll fill the place up,” said Peterson.
The final will be aired live on CBS and if previous match-ups this season between the two teams are an indicator of events to come, then expect goals and a feisty challenge to Cosmos dominance from Indy Eleven.
The NASL splits its season into two halves. Cosmos won the Fall season championship, while Indy Eleven won the Spring season. Cosmos will start the final as favourites, on home territory, but Indy Eleven striker Eamon Zayed is unfazed.
“People make a bit of a deal about home and away advantage, but it is about who shows up on the day,” he said.
For the NASL it is also about who will show up for the 2017 season.
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