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U.S. Soccer approves Division II status to both USL and NASL for 2017


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.


  1. just curious, what is wrong with soccer having something like the mlb major league/minor league arrangement. seems to work fine for mlb. why wouldn’t it work for soccer?

    • no reply. well, this is my thinking, and please correct me if I’m wrong. this may round terrible, but (full disclosure) if we might be perfectly honest, don’t minor league teams, generally, have:
      – “minor league” facilities
      – and “minor league” owner/investors with not-very-deep pockets, and
      -“minor league” front office staff who maybe know what they’re doing and maybe they don’t; and
      – “minor league” coaches and
      – “minor league” announcers and
      – “minor league” players
      I’m not trying to be mean. I’M JUST SAYIN’. they don’t call it “minor league” for nothin’.

  2. Without promotion/relegation what is the point of division status? It makes no sense. We should just have 3 leagues period. All viable and serving their respective markets.

    MLS is pursuing a major/minor league model similar to baseball. They will never accept pro/rel for economic reasons, so this whole thing is a bit of a joke.

  3. So it sounds like it’s a foregone conclusin that,
    1. The Strikers are dead.
    2. OKC is dead.
    3. The Armada is on life support with no owner.

    • 4. Edmonton is leaving for CSL next year.
      5. Carolina has said they have MLS aspirations.

      This is clearly a one-year option to give everything some time to settle and reorganize for the long term. Likely that the smaller USL clubs that can’t meet DII status next year will move to USL2/DIII. So, we will still see NASL fold, but the teams within the league will have every opprtunity to remain DII.

      The only thing that could save NASL is if they are able to add several teams with stable situations/ownership groups, but that is unlikely given the shaky ground NASL is on currently and the recent (and distant) history of NASL teams folding at a fast rate.

      • I’m thinking the same thing about smaller USL sides forming a DIII league (USL2). This is very bizarre. But a good problem to have. I knew NCFC is focused on MLS. Did not know about the Edmonton to the CSL situation. The NASL saying Atlanta, SD, and Orange Co. will join this fall sounds like wishful thinking on their part. Besides going head to head with Atlanta United sounds like another suicidal move by the NASL. Will be an interesting 2017.

      • The Edmonton Owner owns shares in NASL, so they’re not going anywhere until he can recoup his investment. The Fury are more likely to jump to the CPL when it becomes operational in 2018 or 2019.

      • Something like this was predictable given the success of the partnership between MLS and USL and of MLS overall. That, and the flailing of NASL — both financially and legally — mean that the only alignment that makes sense is the way it’s heading now.

  4. This is a complicated situation. First and foremost, the failing of a very visible league with clubs going is very bad optics for league both from the the domestic media market and the international credibility. It promotes the idea of instability and limited size of the US market. Don’t believe me? The Chinese league is of fairly equal visibility/recognition in Europe (not quality). What would you think if you start hearing about teams folding there and even an entire tier folding? And you have no monetary or political investment. As such, this a is decent compromise.

    Second, I had no issue with NASL trying to build a competitive league which would eventually lead to compromise with the MLS franchise model with obtuse rules (I certainly don’t think either model is correct). Some here complained about, but all leagues in the US have done it: Baseball several competing leagues failed, but minor (American) rose to compete with the National League; Hockey had competing leagues. In the last 40/45 years, AFL success eventually forced a merger with NFL in the late 60’s and ABA forced a merger with the NBA in the 70’s. I think US soccer market is growing and can support more than MLS, but successful NASL ownership groups or teams keep jumping for MLS and other teams in the USL that might have future in a competing are biding their time with the hopes of being grace the right to buy by Herr Garber.

    We will see how every shakes out in the long and short term. It should be interesting.

  5. I think Gulati is hoping for a reunion of sorts. Now that USL has D2 status, NASL clubs can just be absorbed into that league. No one folds, stable economy, and modding FIFA for pro/rel in this region is made a little easier. I say this is a potential win, but I’ll reserve final conclusions until a year or two has gone by with all of these clubs still alive…


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