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NASL facing grim future as rumored club exits, financial woes loom


Troubling times could lie ahead for the NASL, as reports of multiple teams possibly preparing for exits could leave the league contracting severely or ceasing to exist entirely.

The departure of Minnesota United to MLS has been locked in for some time. The NASL was set to replace the team this season by adding the San Francisco Deltas as the league’s first west coast competitors, but it appears that might not be enough with several other departures rumored to be gaining traction.

WRALSportsFan reported that the ownership group of the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, led by Paulo Cesso, had ceased their funding of the team, despite multiple loans from Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards. The NASL requested that its members financially support the Florida team to keep it afloat through the end of the season as the league arranges a sale. The league could also approve a loan to help pay its debts, but any potential owner would then have to take the loans on as well as the team. The financial troubles could place the team at risk of folding entirely.

Also amid an owner-related crisis is Rayo OKC. News 9 initially reported on the teams financial troubles over the summer. The situation is compounded by the relegation of parent club Rayo Vallecano’s relegation from La Liga, the fracturing of the local Oklahoma ownership group, and even one minority owner taking his turf and going home.

These financial crises build on earlier reports that the Ottawa Fury could depart from the NASL ahead of a potential move to the USL or upcoming Canadian Premier League. Sports Illustrated followed up with a report that stated the Tampa Bay Rowdies could follow the Fury out the door. The Rowdies have previously been considered a core believer in the NASL, as their ownership group, led by Bill Edwards, also owns a stake in the league.

These issues set the stage for five teams to potentially fold or leave the NASL, with only one joining in 2017. The league currently has 12 members and would be reduced to only eight if all five struggling teams depart.

The NASL is attempting to combat any losses with further expansion, with commissioner Bill Peterson stating the league is in discussions with potential expansion groups from several markets.

““We’ve never had more serious conversations happening than we do right now, in more cities than we do right now,” Peterson told Sports Illustrated. “We’ve probably been in a process with maybe 40 groups. These are all people that have the wherewithal to do it. You start down through the process, depending on the group, depending on the city, can take as little as three to four months or as long as 18 months to complete.”

“We’re talking to potential owners on the west coast—three different cities,” Peterson said. “Some are more advanced than others. All of them have a chance of getting admitted. We still have two conversations on the East Coast—they’re not in Florida—which if they make sense you would want to do it.”

Hard as it may be to believe, the news could get worse. The USSF is set to meet in New York City on Friday to consider both the NASL’s application for division one status and the USL’s application for division two status. It has previously been reported that the USSF is unlikely to allow multiple leagues within a division, which means that the bad news could not have come at a worse time for the NASL. The recent reports of struggles seemingly place a major dent in the NASL’s division one application and could even potentially leave the door open for the USL to usurp the troubled league as the sole division two organization.

If four or all five teams depart, the NASL will surely need to add further members to survive beyond next season. Attracting new ownership groups may prove difficult, as league-wide attendance is down by 18% from last year’s totals, and the current leader in attendance is Minnesota United, which is set to join MLS in 2017.

A shutdown of the league would leave the remaining teams scrambling to find new homes, potentially in the rapidly expanding USL or even within another newly founded independent league.

While the reports don’t necessarily spell a death knell for the NASL, it certainly leaves the current state of U.S. soccer in flux, with the young independent league in danger of winding up on the losing side.


  1. I think at this point we are just waiting for an ex-President ( or ex-Pres Candidate ) to open up a USSL team in NY. Maybe call them the New Jersey Generals.

  2. NASL fought the good fight but has clearly lost. USSF needs to stick a fork in them. As someone who went to original Cosmos games in the 70’s, I have never felt this iteration of the team and the NASL really fulfilled the grand promises it made, and was more of a cheap attempt at capturing past glory than anything else. For them or any of their fans to now by crying foul or antitrust or “good of the sport in this country” is ludicrous to me, when all they’ve ever wanted is to see MLS in the shoes they’re in now. I despise Garber and MLS’ ridiculous rules and structure, but somehow they’ve survived, grown, & made it work. There was a fight for soccer dominance I this country, and NASL has clearly lost. Take it like champs and move on proudly for the valiant effort. But let’s not pretend like NASL weren’t always the overwhelming minority vote in this soccer equation, and like failure wasn’t always the likely end result.

    • I disagree, I think it is USSF’s job to help soccer, not “stick a fork in” it.
      Hopefully they will keep trying for the fans out there and for the players out there.

      I don’t think it is somehow that MLS survived, grown and made it work. They have been brilliant at keeping the league competitive, did their best to keep team salaries under the TV contracts which has always been just high enough to make money and as the fans grew, so did profits. As the profits grew they spent more and more fans came.

      I know that guys that wanted Pro/Rel hate Don Garber and jump any chance they can to rip him and the league. The fact is the league is extremely happy, the fans are extremely happy ( well except the Fire fans ) and we are very lucky to have MLS and The Don, without it there is a good chance that we are hoping our only league survives.

  3. We are getting pretty close to something like this, which looks very much like the model that the rest of the world uses:

    1st Division: MLS 1 – 20 teams
    2nd Division: MLS 2 – 20 teams
    3rd Division: USL 1 – 20 teams
    4th Division: USL 2 – 20 teams
    5th Division: NCAA – ACC/PAC 12
    6th Division: NCAA – Other power DI conferences
    8th-9th Division: NCAA – Other top college teams

    • The rest of the world uses a model that is merit-based. What you are suggesting isn’t — it’s still a closed pyramid that protects a privileged few and disenfranchises thousands of clubs from having an equal seat at the table. You are essentially advocating for a system that puts profits before development when the two could easily be aligned if the pyramid were truly open.

      • “Puts profits before development…” That is what the anti-MLS crowd cries about, but the fact is that profit is DIRECTLY tied to development. Which team is more likely to develop young players: the team in a relegation battle or the team who is safe from relegation.

        “Protects the privileged few…” How naive are you? The “privileged few” happen to be the biggest markets in the country. This is the US. We have hundreds of markets with varying levels of capability when it comes to supporting professional sports. This isn’t a European country where there are 5 big markets in one country and each of those markets can support four big teams. There is enough market size variability between NYC/LA and Portland/Columbus. We don’t need Sioux Falls playing in the first division.

        And finally, I sort of meant for these top four divisions to have pro-rel when I wrote it. Owners would buy in if the financial opportunity is there (even if there is some risk on the other side). I think that if the owners are shown that the entire system is in place (the NASL being gone would help this tremendously), they would be much more likely to buy in. However, this system must be rock solid, and we are a ways off from that. Going from Div 1 to 2 is not that big of a drop as long as the 2nd division has strong infrastructure and stability. If this risk is minimalized, the owners could be sold on the large potential growth that would guarantee that they would not have to take a loss on their initial investment even if their club did struggle. And on the flip side, they could look at European and NFL/NBA tv contracts as the pie in the sky vision for the possibilities that a complete pro-rel setup could create.

        However, we are probably need about 30-35 more stable franchises before we could really have this setup. I’d say 20 years is doable.

      • We are already close to that, and the culture and infrastructure is growing and changing at a very fast rate. Based on this fact and what is currently in place, it’s definitely not inconceivable to picture this sort of set up in 20 years.

    • I’m curious as to what you think of this development. Frankly, regardless of your feelings towards the NASL, if you care about the state of soccer in this country this would time for concern and you should hope that they are able to traverse through these tough times. The second part isn’t directed at you personally but to every soccer fan in the US.

      • I hardly think that anyone will miss NASL. The good teams/players/coaches will be absorbed by MLS and USL, so there is no loss of resources. It would only make the landscape that much clearer and stronger.

      • @don Lamb
        I’m sure the fans of those teams will miss the NASL, and theres no guarantee that they would all go to the USL much less if at they want to go. Besides a league folding makes soccer in this country look bad in general, imagine if the Championship went broke, there would be outrage all across Europe yet here you are being an arse with regards to people’s livelihoods. ALso your proposed pyramid does not the NPSL, which is currently the 4th tier in US soccer, yet in includes college soccer, which has nothing to do with US soccer and isn’t found anywhere else in the world. Just goes on to show how clueless you are about the current soccer landscape.

      • Aside from that, the free market should dictate what businesses survive and which thrive. I’m a pretty avid sports fan and love soccer, but I’m not watching low quality streams online for NASL matches. They simply were never on TV here in Chicago and I have the entire sports package.

        I have no emotional or visceral feelings towards NASL’s downfall, but I would have preferred to see some type of relationship with MLS or a unification of all our professional leagues. Mainly because I’m a huge fan of seeing promotion/relegation within this country and that may have aided the process.

      • @CU

        a. There are not many fans that go to NASL games, so that is immaterial. The solid clubs would continue to exist and would be much better off in a more stable environment where they can focus on producing players instead of worrying about whether or not they are going to have a league to play in next year.

        b. NASL folding would not be bad for soccer in the US. Having the NASL continue to run in the laughable fashion that is has been is what is bad for soccer in the US. How can people take the sport seriously in those markets when they see how Mickey Mouse it is. Especially when those Mickey Mouse owners and administrators are making delusional statements about being world class??? laughable

        c. Other countries have lower divisions that are made up of youngish amateurs. The players in these leagues are mostly about the same age as college students here and many of them have no shot to ever be professionals, but some late bloomers or diamonds in the rough do develop there. If the NCAA goes through with proposed changes to length of season and some other minor things, it would be very much in line with these types of lower regional divisions in other countries.

        d. Did you just compare the NASL to the Championship? And you question MY knowledge of the “current soccer landscape”????? wow

      • @Old School The free market is speaking loud and clear — MLS is thriving while the NASL is reeling. The most likely scenario with everything that NASL has been doing — think the lawsuit and their ridiculous vocal bravado — is that they are looking to be bought out by MLS. They are probably hoping that if they are a big enough nuisance and make themselves seem as determined and confident as possible that maybe MLS will pay big bucks to have them go away. The likelihood of that is very small though since these tactics are providing absolutely no leverage.

        Any sort of potential working relationship between MLS and NASL went out the door when NASL started pumping it’s chest. The best avenue toward pro-rel includes NASL folding and the stronger groups joining the pyramid that is actually stable and working together. The NASL is on Bein Sports, so you could watch the games.

      • The NASL is on Bein Sports, so you could watch the games.

        BeIn Sports is on the Spanish package in my area/cable provider, so, no I can’t.

        Unfortunately, I’m not ordering an entire package that is entirely in Spanish for a single channel that is affiliated with sports when I already pay for the largest sports package.

      • @don Lamb
        The NASL is the recognized second division by US soccer, while the championship is the recognized second division by the FA hence the comparison, it had nothing to do with level of play that was all on you.
        With regards to the lower leagues fielding amateur clubs with young players: that is true, but those clubs have the ability to move up the latter if they are successful and may become a professional club down the line. College teams are not part of the soccer pyramid, they can’t move up or down the latter. US soccer has no control over them since the NCAA is their governing body and thus should not be included in the discussion.
        And your comment about the open market is laughable. You can’t have an open market in a market that is controlled by a monopoly, with high barriers of entry, and who can pick and choose who they want to join. In a truly competitive market, the price is set by the consumer(the fans) not by the producer(MLS), and the consumer has multiple choices to choose from not just one. MLS does the opposite, they get to choose the price (expansion fees) as well as who gets the product, and if you don’t like the quality then too bad, good luck finding another alternative in the market.

      • The fact that they are both recognized as second divisions means nothing. NASL is 6 years old! In those 6 years, it has shown that is is dysfunctional and unsustainable. All the while sticking their thumb out at everyone else an trying to be difficult. I said nothing about comparing the level of play between NASL and Championship, but pretending they have anything in common (even if they are both 2nd divisions) is just plain stupid.

        In terms of the pyramid, player movement is more important than team movement. Sure, NCAA teams cannot move out of the collegiate ranks, but the players can. Why do we care so much about teams moving? We should be more worried about player development. Pro-rel is not vital to players development, and the argument that teams in a closed system don’t have incentive to develop players is false.

        Your talk about MLS being a monopoly is loser talk. You think that MLS is not in a competitive marketplace? It has dominated the NASL, which has been in direct competition. It is struggling to become more relevant than European and other foreign leagues. It is battling with the other major leagues in the US. “The price is set by the consumer…” That is mostly false. If it were true, I would not be paying as much as I am for cable… But anyway, under your terms, let’s take a closer look and use the New York market as an example. The fans have the choice between three teams. How are they doing? Is that not the marketplace talking? How is it a monopoly if there are two companies operating these organizations?

        And you imply that fans who don’t like the quality of MLS are just out of luck. That is not true. If they are happier with the quality of the NASL, then they would show support for that league. They clearly are not. If they were happier with the quality of EPL, Bundesliga, Liga MX, they would show support for that, as they do.

      • @don Lamb
        It is clear to me that you don’t understand the argument that I am trying to make with regards to the NASL and the Championship. When i compare them I’m not doing it with regards to level of play or time of existence or relative stability. I’m merely comparing them as the 2nd tier of soccer in their respective countries. Nothing else. In this sense all I’m trying to do is make you see how sad it is that this is happening in our country. In any other footballing nation people will be up in arms and those in charge would be ousted yet here people are actively rooting for these clubs to die off, and that tells you the state of soccer in this nation.

        It is also clear to me that you don’t understand how economics work either. MLS is in not in the same market as the NFL or NBA because they provide different products, mainly soccer. So in that sense they are not in a competitive market in the US because they have control over “top level” soccer. You’re right about them competing with foreign leagues tho, and you can see how far behind they are and how small of a share they have in the global market. Your cable analogy is also off point as you do in fact have a say in the price you want to pay. You can do this by simply switching companies or cutting your cable entirely. Now if where you live there is only one cable provider and you can’t change, well now you know how it feels to live in a monopoly, and how much harm it does to the consumer (i.e MLS). This also serves as an answer to your NYC example. Why would people show up to support a team that has been classified as lower level and has no chance to ever earn the right to get rid of that label. Of course fans flocked to NYCFC and the NYRB, they’re in the “top” division of soccer and thus are able to produce a better product. It’s like asking why Londoners support Arsenal or Chelsea instead of Charlton Athletic or any of the countless of soccer clubs in London, the only difference being that two of them rose to the top based on their merits while the other two simply bought their way to the top. I’ll let you figure out which is which.

        And hey if you have any complaints about my economic examples or my application of them, you can take them up with Gulati, as he was the one that taught me them.

      • “In any other footballing nation people will be up in arms and those in charge would be ousted yet here people are actively rooting for these clubs to die off.” If you read closely, you will see that nobody is rooting for these clubs to die off. They are rooting for exactly what you mentioned. Peterson and the bunch of clowns that are running the NASL need to go. These teams would be much better off in a stable environment. It’s not sad to see NASL disappeat; what’s sad is seeing it operate like it does. THAT is what does harm to the game in this country.

        This is not a huge part of the argument, but soccer is definitely competing with other sports in this country for fans and relevance.

        And here is where you really lose me: “if where you live there is only one cable provider and you can’t change, well now you know how it feels to live in a monopoly, and how much harm it does to the consumer (i.e MLS).” MLS is “harming the consumer???” wow!!! Try living in a time before MLS existed. Holy cow. Talk about an asinine comment. MLS has done wonders for the game in this country and to think back on how it has progressed and what it has given to fans of the game in this country is amazing. And you so it harms the consumer. I just can’t take you seriously.

        Many London clubs are supported well, not just Arsenal and Chelsea. Even those in the lower divisions. The difference is that they know there role, unlike NASL which has been run into the ground by the boneheads who are more interested in picking fights with MLS than they are with actually stabilizing their product.

    • Having supported a team in the old NASL, the APSL, the USL. I was all for the NASL surviving.
      Unfortunately, I never thought it would. When they got on TV, I got optimistic, but now not at all. Reminds me of ’82,’83 all over again.

      I never agreed with USSF assigning them a division, there is no Pro/Rel, nor was there ever going to be unless NASL started it. So they should be first div. I do think it would have been a bit of a joke to have a team in CCL, but whatever there are bigger injustices out there. I don’t think that caused the demise If any fans had shown up, they would have “moved up”. None really did.

      In the end, MLS is crushing it. Will continue to do so and the future of US Soccer has never been brighter in the 40+ years I have been involved.

  4. The failure of NASL has been inevitable since they chose to compete with the other US soccer leagues instead of finding a way to work together. In terms of what’s best for growing soccer in the US, this will ultimately be beneficial because hopefully whatever replaces NASL will become another development league that supports MLS. The simplest answer is to fold the existing NASL teams into the USL, and then we could have a real robust 2nd division. I completely agree with the above post regarding the USSF, they may have an opportunity now to reorganize things so that there is cohesion and cooperation between all divisions, and that is what would be best for US soccer. USSF, you are on the clock.

    • MLS is not without blame, they have monopolized the top level and have left the other leagues with little alternatives as to how to move forward, both financially and sporting wise. I do agree that now is the chance for the USSF to reorganize the soccer pyramid and get more control over the leagues. It speaks volumes of the job they’ve done so far that their D2 is in dire need, as this would be cause for panic in any other country.

      • Don’t disagree, and I’m not an MLS Kool-Aid drinker. Consider me neutral regarding the different pro soccer leagues, what I care about is advancing all soccer in the USA. To that end, it has been clear for a couple of years that MLS has won the battle for top division. The demise of NASL, while unfortunate, can potentially speed the process of uniting the top 2 or 3 divisions, which is absolutely critical for developing young American talent and giving them somewhere to get real game time.

        Incorporating college soccer is tricky since the NCAA rules demand players remain amateur, have limits on training, season length, etc. College soccer needs a place in the pyramid but NCAA rules are in the way.

      • First of all MLS is running a business. I know this because I just paid a franchise $1000.

        Second, give me a break. Seattle, Portland, Vancouver were ALL in the free market pre-cursors to the NASL. Did MLS cause their demise? No, they were fine, but they were WAAAAY better off in MLS. Not even a debate.

        All this grand conspiracy garbage is quickly debunked, when you realize that the Sounders said NO to MLS. The owner at the time didn’t like the structure ( I have seen other stories saying the Sounders didn’t get enough interest from fans )

        The top market. Nothing. Nada. Sat for years. Me and 5k other fans a game in a stadium that held 67k, 10-15k if an MLS team came for the US Open Cup. Was MLS to blame? That seems ridiculous. MLS wasn’t even talked about in Seattle. At all.

  5. Simply put… NASL should fold… MLS should absorb the stronger teams (Cosoms, Indy 11)… The USL should go to D3 status… MLS should split within itself – with a simple MLS1 / MLS2 – one taking D1 status and the other D2. This is a little short sighted, yes I know, but it’s the best way to have multiple, financially viable, leagues in this country. But nothing of this nature will occur because A – it makes no sense… and B – the single entity structure of the MONEY MONEY MONEY / SECURITY SECURITY SECURITY – MLS will never allow it.

    • The Cosmos to MLS? Come on, they are drawing no one to the games, maybe they go more from TV than I think, otherwise, they are probably the team on the most borrowed time. So now they are just going to pay $200 million for a 3rd team in NY.

      One, why would MLS do that? dumb.
      Two, why would the Cosmos do that? dumb.

    • This is a big country, there is plenty of room for NASL, and I hope plenty of room for a Div 3 professional league at some point (I still consider USL and NASL both as Div 2).

      • I had been rooting NASL to survive, but just recently I have started to disagree with your sentiment. The NASL is so Mickey Mouse that it is absolutely not good for the game in this country. It’s quite literally a bush league and the people running it are idiots. All of this would be fine if they were not muddying the waters and confusing the landscape of professional soccer in the US. MLS and USL have shown that they have a real plan in place that is moving rapidly. NASL has shown a lot of the opposite, and it’s not all harmless either. The argument that NASL should exist because its open and free is ludicrous and incredibly naive.

      • I agree with SilverRey. Not going to survive, but I would like it too.

        Mickey Mouse? I just don’t agree with that term, bunch of guys trying their hardest to help US Soccer, they should be praised, not demeaned.

      • Let’s be real. These guys have little interest in “helping American soccer.” They wanted to pioneer a successful new league and reap the rewards that that would bring. They would have done a thousand things differently if it was all about helping the game in this country.

    • Soccer is easily top 3 in popularity in the US. MLS, NASL or USL do not represent the totality of soccer fans in this country, if you need proof all you need to look at is the number of people who watched the Manchester Derby even though it was played at 7 am ET and 4 am PT.

  6. I posted this on the story about the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers:

    I’m usually annoyed by the NASL coverage because (1) it’s usually revolving around Cosmos and (2) NASL acts like they live in a parallel universe where MLS does not exist and is not the undisputed top division in the U.S. Having said that, I don’t like to hear that any the American leagues are struggling financially and may need to fold up.

    Although I’m not a die hard promo/releg fan, I do think that, long term, having NASL sap some of the dollar money from MLS in some markets is not ideal. Although I’ll never dismiss healthy competition. Perhaps MLS is getting sharper in its focus because NASL is hanging around and, in some instances like Miami, even attempting to take on MLS head-to-head.

    I’m intrigued as to why NASL is struggling so mightily but USL seems to but growing by leaps and bounds.

  7. this is a bummer for sure but that quote from Peterson on expansion is insane. the business model is FAILING and he thinks the answer is rapid expansion? fix the internal issues then expand. The NASL accepted awful ownership groups that were high risk and it is coming back to haunt them. why would fans trust these “40” others are any better?

    the NASL should have accepted D2 status and focused on that in order to build a solid foundation. it did not and instead it tried to push its way to D1. they bullied their way to D2 prompting USL to consider taking legal action against them to, “protect its interests and those of the USL-1 teams from any breach of contract,” and because the NASL, “made several misleading statements in a variety of press releases to taint the reputation of USL and its long history of developing the sport of soccer.”

    this is not to say MLS is blameless, but as a whole, the NASL made bad decisions and didn’t make any friends doing it. i hope a solution is found because it would be bad for USSF to lose a league. but i think it’s safe to say USL looks like they should be D2 at this point.

  8. Even though supports Cosmos and follows NASL, I think the structure that is now doesn’t help developing US football. In my view leagues shouldn’t be competing, but finidng their place in the Pyramid. How to that is that USSSF takes stronger part in the running of the leagues like federations over the world do, then they could set the pyramid without people working against it. Of course I want Cosmos to be the best team in the US, but the way football is administratet right The league in a nation should always be administrated by the federation because they can have two toughts at the same time, developing the league and developing the sport in the nation. Now the leagues focuses most on league development influxing it with foreig has beens or third rated players. They say they focus on player developmet, but it is at best half-hearted. Even if i would love to see Cosmos being the best team in the country, the way football is administrated now is not the way forward.

    Even if the MLS is developing it is not ideal to have a league that excludes teams that wants to make huge investments, like f.ex Miami FC and Cosmos. But the NASL model isn’t working beacuse it’s trying to be a top division and that makes teams that can’t invest to much spend to much. MLS should be opened for clubs like Cosmos and MIami FC, that will make NASL settle as a division two and reduce overspending, or maybe they fold and then USL who seems quite well run take over as a settled second division.

    • Lemme see if I got this right?

      You want the teams of an open structure which has failed completely in the past, is failing in the present and seems to be doomed in the future, to be let into MLS, where the structure is 100% closed off and not free market. Why? It is clearly not what you want, in any way shape or form.

      One reason, MLS made tons of money. That is the only reason. So now MLS has to support a free market system. This is getting laughable.

      I am all for NASL thriving. I hope it crushes, I am still living the old NASL days, so much fun.
      It isn’t going to.

  9. I don’t really have any strong pro- or anti-NASL feelings, but I have the sense that NASL and MLS do not get along as opposed to USL, which seems like it is becoming a development league for MLS. I think our soccer pyramid would be better off if we had MLS (Tier 1), USL (Tier 2), and then maybe USL2 (Tier 3). I could see a scenario where there might be Pro/Rel between USL and USL2, whereas that would be virtually impossible with the three different organizations we have today.

    If there is a collapse, I hope most of the teams can land in USL rather than folding. These teams completely dying would be the worst outcome.

    • NASL has always seemed unsustainable though, they want a cap-less league but have no market share to afford that. MLS took the top spot, USL partnered with MLS and has been increasing and really should be 2nd already. I think it was only a matter of time til this happened. Hopefully we’d see a more organized USL absorb any NASL teams that want to remain and then continue expanding into more local markets. Eventually maybe we get a USL 2nd and 3rd, hell maybe you see pro/rel tested in a multiple division USL. NASL has always seemed like more of a marketing attempt at money making than a beneficial soccer league IMO. But probably that perception or misperception is why they are struggling to survive.


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