U.S. Soccer had three options on Friday night as its Board of Directors met to vote on which league to sanction as American soccer’s Division II. The USSF could grant the booming USL D-II status while rejecting NASL’s application, which would have almost surely meant the death of the NASL. The USSF could have also left things as is, leaving NASL as a shaky standalone D-II while denying the USL’s strong case to move up from Division III.
Ultimately, U.S. Soccer decided the third option was best, which means granting provisional Division II status to both the NASL and USL for 2017.
The temporary fix wasn’t exactly what either league was looking for, but it’s a suitable compromise that will give both leagues an opportunity to strengthen their positions as D-II leagues before 2018, when U.S. Soccer will once again be faced with the same decision it just resolved.
“After an exhaustive process working with both leagues, in the best interest of the sport the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors has decided to grant provisional Division II status to the NASL and USL,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said in a statement released by the federation. “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.”
The decision is a lifesaver for the NASL, which was in danger of completely collapsing if it had been dropped to D-III. Maintaining D-II status was reportedly one of the stipulations necessary to allow the sale of the New York Cosmos to go through. The survival of the Cosmos, coupled with the NASL’s taking over of the Jacksonville Armada while it finds the club a new owner, would allow the league to operate with eight teams in 2017, with potential expansion taking the league back up to 12 teams in 2018.
“The NASL Board of Governors and I support the USSF’s decision to grant the league provisional Division 2 status,” said Steve Malik, owner of North Carolina FC (the club formerly known as the Carolina Railhawks). “We’re excited about the eight teams beginning play in April, and we look forward to the continued growth of our league and soccer in the U.S.”
According to an ESPN report, the NASL will expand to 11 teams by the Fall season, with teams set to play in Atlanta, San Diego and Orange County, California.
U.S. Soccer’s decision to grant Division II status to USL serves as the latest milestone for the fast-growing league, which enjoyed impressive success in 2016, and is set to expand to 30 teams in 2017.
“We would like to thank U.S. Soccer for taking the time to work through this process and provide us with provisional sanctioning for Division II in 2017,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer. “We welcome the opportunity to work closely with U.S. Soccer to meet all the Division II standards in the near future and continue to be part of the impressive growth of the sport in the United States.”
What does the Division II status mean for teams in both leagues? It means a stronger position from which to operate from a business standpoint, and a more attractive position to offer prospective investors, as well as a more respected position to hold from a global perspective (and an easier position to sell potential players from abroad) than Division III.
What remains unclear is just what U.S. Soccer will do next year, and if the federation is committed to only having one Division II league by next year, or if we could see the USL and NASL continue to battle as dueling D-II leagues for the foreseeable future.