Photo by ISIphotos.com
By JOHN BOSCHINI
After a tumultuous offseason rife with doubt over the future of one of American soccer's lower-tier leagues, the NASL lived to fight another day as the U.S. Soccer Federation gave the league provisional sanctioning over the weekend.
Although the eight NASL teams have a league in which to play, the offseason issues mean none of the five American-based squads — the Tampa Bay Rowdies, NSC Minnesota Stars, Atlanta Silverbacks, Miami FC and the Carolina Railhawks — are going to be eligible for this year's U.S. Open Cup.
"It's simply too late to incorporate them into the process," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati told reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon. "The timing doesn't work for the five U.S. based teams, and they will not be playing this year."
With no cup competition to worry about, NASL CEO Aaron Davidson will turn his attention toward making the NASL financially viable and trying to extend the league's sanctioning past 2011. The dissolution of the Carolina Railhawks ownership meant the league had to take a serious financial gamble to prop up the club. Neither Gulati nor Davidson would discuss the specifics of the NASL's provisional sanctioning but Gulati said it wasn't about meeting specific deadlines.
"I think what you're aiming for is a sensible business opportunity and financial viability," Gulati said. "That's not up to the federation to say attendance has to by X, Y or Z, or that sponsorship has to be A, B and C. If the league is stable and the business plan makes sense, then there will be increased interest from people to make an investment in a team."
Davidson admitted that 2011 will be a difficult year with the league having to get the fundamentals of running a league locked down before thinking about growth.
"No one is under the presumption that all of our teams are going to break even overnight," Davidson said. "We have to work towards that but we anticipate bright spots along the way to show us we are heading the right direction."
With only eight teams taking part in the NASL this season, Gulati said he was still confident that the San Antonio Scorpions would debut in 2012 after the Montreal Impact leaves to join the MLS.
"We have no reason to believe that won't be the case," Gulati said.
Despite the fact that four or the last five MLS expansion teams have from the the second division, Gulati also said that a team in the second division other than the Impact would be a long way away from becoming an MLS side in the future.
"The model is just completely different from Europe or South America where teams come in and work their way up through play on the field," Gulati said. "It's helpful to have a staff and administration and to be established in the market is a plus. In theory, it can be repeated, but it's not a coincidence, nor was it planned, that those four teams became MLS clubs. In a whole bunch of other places it wouldn't be practical."
What do you think about the NASL teams not being included in the U.S. Open Cup field? What do you make of what Gulati and Davidson had to say? Do you see the league being sanctioned beyond 2011?
Share your thoughts below.