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NASL teams ruled out of U.S. Open Cup; sanctioned league struggling financially


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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.


  1. Developments like this point out the growing pains American soccer is still going through. MLS is still steadily (if unevenly) growing and in a weakened economy even a high growth sport like soccer is going to struggle on the lower levels. Minor leagues are going to continue to struggle, be realigned and reabsorbed and, and pop up all over for at least a generation to come before MLS will be healthy and stable enough to divide out into promotion/relegation.

  2. @Dennis: Bro–when I try to travel down to South Florida can I please crash at your Tampa area condo and can I have a tour of the USL Front Office?

    When are the USLPRO League Promo T-shirts gonna be ready and how do I get one?

    I don’t doubt that some of the USLPRO clubs are going to be really good and capable of beating NASL clubs but there are going to be some really sorry ones, too.

    Just sayin…

  3. They could if MLS was interested in doing so but they are absolutely not interested. Donnie G and company has been very clear about that.

  4. Traffic, while I respect them–they haven’t exactly established the Miami FC brand where it matters most–ya, know–South Florida???

  5. Cosign.

    I dont know how they think these teams will get more financially viable if they cant partake in these tournaments and possibly increase demand and awareness of the product on field

  6. That was true even back when Seattle was in A-League/USL too.

    I remember watching Landon sitting on the bench while Brian Ching ( while on the Sounders ) and Co. took it to his team. Then they decided to take it more seriously….He came in for the second half.

    The rest of MLS’s loss. 3 peat baby !!!

  7. I read somewhere that MLS reserves can and will be scheduling games against NASL & USL Pro teams. Especially those close in proximity like Crew reserves playing Dayton Dutch Lions or Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

  8. Many of those minor league teams are (in)directly subsidized by the major leagues with many of the player contracts being paid by the organizations, along with other coaching/technical support from roving instructors, coaches, and managers from the major league team.
    That these costs are being pushed off to someone else helps the minor league teams keep costs under control.

    D2/D3 soccer teams don’t have those advantages in their cases.

  9. I don’t really understand the idea of creating hurdles for and labeling the leagues.

    You need to do X and then we will still call you Div2 ( or Div 3 ) with no chance at becoming Div1.

    Why ? I am probably being niave, but I really don’t get it. There is no promotion, so just call NASL and USL different leagues.

  10. Same question as Brian (above): could MLS reserve teams form at least part of the D2 or D3 tier? Seems it would benefit both the leagues (stable membership, financial resources, etc.) and the clubs (regular competition, etc.)

  11. The NASL teams are not playing in the USOC for one reason, they and US Soccer are afraid the USL Pro teams or the PDL teams will knock them out and embarrass the “second division”. NASL may have more money in the ownership, but it will not translate into a better quality product on the field or more fans in attendance. Of course, it would not take much for Miami FC/Strikers FC to draw more than their average of four hundred people in the stadium at matches.

  12. They made those hurdles so difficult because they didn’t want last year’s situation, and they wanted to force their hands to compromise. NASL didn’t, and now they will be lucky to be on the field. USL was smart, and dropped to D3, hoping to become to de facto D2.

  13. I don’t think it was Gulati’s decision to rule them out of the Open Cup. He’s not in charge of organizing or scheduling the Open Cup.

  14. Well at least gulati abstained from voting on the sanctioning. I guess given his position on their involvement in the open cup he would have voted “no” for sanctioning

  15. U.S. soccer isn’t as developed as U.S. baseball. And minor league baseball teams are affiliated with MLB teams, as you know their job is to develop players for the big club. So if the NASL became a farm system with teams affiliated to MLS teams, then I think the baseball analogy would work.

    Also, considering the attendance problems some NASL teams are having and the tough USSF sanctioning requirements that Steve comments on below… from an ownership perspective it’s unattractive. Again, I hope NASL hangs in there. I would love to someday see D2 and D3 teams thriving across the U.S.

  16. What is the incentive for owning a Minor League baseball team? That’s the same argument yet there are tons of minor league teams everywhere. Soccer is starting to rev up in the US and soon D2 will be able to draw the same crowds as these minor league baseball teams do.

  17. It wont,it may stop after it gets to twenty for a couple years instead of the expand every year model we have now but I see somewhere around 24 teams in MLS.

    I also agree that US Soccer needs a stable Div 2 AND Div 3 as well. This will help facilitate the grown of US Soccer. Promising young guns can get a little first team time and then be sent to D2 for more when healthy players return and all that good stuff.

  18. I’m not saying I’m not concerned about the future of the NASL, but do you realize that one of the only reasons why were even talking about sanctioning issues is because the USSF’s standards for D2 soccer have gotten borderline insane to meet? Each NASL team has been asked to put up a $750,000 line of credit, which is WAY more than any of the USL teams have to commit to. We’d be talking about the same thing in the USL if the standards weren’t drastically different from D2 to D3.

    NASL has made an incredible financial commitment towards distinguishing themselves as the consensus D2 league, so I’d say let’s support the movement moving forward rather than declaring failure right off the bat. The NASL could really develop into something great if correct administrative decisions are made and the markets really get behind each team in the league

  19. I can accept the argument from blag above that the talent pool is deep enough to have a D2, from a player point-of-view I think that’s true. I was talking about the business side of things.

    If the demand for pro soccer across the US is as good as you say, then why is the USL and NASL in so much trouble? And IF the MLS does cap at 20 teams, what incentive would ownership groups have at the D2 level? That’s basically what I was getting too.

    I wasn’t proclaiming anything. I hope the NASL hangs in and grows. Just putting the idea out there for discussion.

  20. Kind of an unrelated idea: But once MLS gets a little more financially set, and the whole lower division soccer mess gets sorted out, would it be possible for these MLS reserve teams to play in the D2 or D3 level? I know they do this in Germany and other league around the world.

  21. Not really. Unless you consider being a D3 league to be “dead”. And frankly I don’t think there were be too much of a difference (quality of play wise, or quality of the players) between the NASL and USL Pro. The USL decided not to purse D2 status because of their teams don’t meet a lot of the D2 requirements (3 time zones, 75% of teams bust be US teams, population requirements, etc.)

  22. At this stage I think I’d rather see Sn Jose vs Pancyprian Freedoms in the Open Cup anyway. The second tier needs to get its act together.

  23. If the US Open Cup is open to all sanctioned teams in the US, why are the NASL teams not eligible? Don’t let the league politics interfere with the Open Cup! What a joke. These teams deserve to at least try to qualify for the cup. One man cannot who plays and who does not play. Is this the Gulati Cup?

  24. No it wouldn’t youth and developmental squads do not cover all of the Div II players. There are more players around than there are spots in those areas, and those areas also do not necessarily fulfill the entirety the role the Div II takes care of. MLS and US soccer need Div II more than we realize.

  25. USL and NASL obsolete? You serious? MLS reserve squads gonna replace multiple tiers of competitive lower division soccer, eh? Those youth academies gonna satisfy the demand for pro soccer across the U.S. in cities that currently don’t, and some that never will, have MLS are they?

    You, sir, don’t know what you are talking about.

  26. If MLS is going to cap its franchise total at 20 teams and with MLS teams now having development squads, U-23’s, and youth academies it seems that NASL and USL might be obsolete in the near future anyway.

  27. First off, there is only one Division 2 league, the NASL. USL Pro is now D3. They decided not to try and meet the USSF requirements for D2.

    The unfortunate thing about these teams not being in the Open Cup is the potential of them hosting an MLS team. This has historically been a big gate draw for the D2 teams.

  28. Dosen’t it seem odd that the NASL was provisionally sanctioned in the late fall only to lose that sanctioning for what three weeks? And in that 3 week span the US open cup made it’s entire schedule!

  29. Part of the problem is that you have some owners running teams who have NO experience running a franchise. Trust me, I have inside information on this one. They make poor marketing decisions, or in some cases NO marketing decisions at all. It’s like they just expect people to come. They also unbelievably neglect no-brainer ideas that would put butts in seats.

    And yes, I do think this hurts the U.S. Open Cup. Part of the interest in the U.S. Open Cup in years past has been Div II teams pulling upsets and making runs. It’s what makes England’s FA Cup interesting (see Stevenage vs Newcastle this season). Without NASL teams, you lose that.

    Traffic Sports has gotten very involved with NASL. Some people may not like them, but at the end of the day, they know how to market and manage soccer clubs. Hopefully NASL can get things turned around in the next year.


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