The NASL’s fight agaisnt their loss of Division 2 sanctioning comes to a head in Brooklyn as a federal judge will hear their case against U.S. Soccer.
The often counter-cultural minor league filed for injunctive relief against the U.S. Soccer Federation’s September decision to deny their second division sanctioning application. They allege that MLS and Soccer United Marketing, along with the USSF, are conspiring to keep competing leagues like the NASL from growing. In the near-term, they are asking for a preliminary injunction to delay the federation’s sanctioning decision.
It’s the latest battle in the two competing visions for the structure of American professional soccer. The open and independent philosophy of the NASL and its allies need a successful injunction in order to continue their war against the closed single entity system of MLS, SUM, and the USL.
The results of the hearing will affect for more than just one rebellious minor soccer league, however. The effects will be felt throughout the soccer landscape as MLS, the USL, the soon to debut NISA, and even the handful of amateur leagues throughout the nation. It will also have an impact on the upcoming U.S. Soccer presidential election, the first contested battle for the federation’s top post since before Sunil Gulati was elected in 2006.
Here’s a look at what’s at stake for each entity at today’s hearing.
Nothing less than the very existence of the league hangs in the balance of today’s hearing. A demotion to the third tier would likely spell the end of the New York Cosmos, the league’s signature franchise, who were bought by Rocco Commisso on the condition they remain a second tier outfit. If he pulls his support, the league loses it’s biggest and most historic member.
Things only snowball from there. The more successful clubs are already considering jumping to the USL. North Carolina FC has long been linked to a move to the other minor professional league. Indy Eleven’s supporters clamored for a league switch during their season finale on Sunday. The NASL losing its prized second tier status will only hasten the departure of these clubs.
The decision from today will also impact clubs that aren’t in the league yet. The NASL reportedly received letters of intent to join them in 2018 from six amatuer teams in the NPSL. Boca Raton FC, Boston City FC, Detroit City FC, FC Arizona, Hartford City FC, and Virginia Beach City FC are all reportedly ready to join the fold. Another club, New Orleans Jesters, are shooting for a 2019 start date. The loss of D2 sanctioning could delay or destroy these clubs’ professional hopes.
The NISA is the proposed third division league led by Peter Wilt. He has eight markets signed on for a season that is expected to debut either next summer or in the spring of 2019. The demise of the NASL from a lack of a preliminary injunction could accelerate Wilt’s timeline.
If the NASL does collapse, any franchises that wish to stay in business without joining the USL will have a soft landing spot in the NISA. Which also means the new league will want to jump its start date up to this coming spring to avoid a long layoff for those NASL outfits.
It’s no coincidence that the NISA has not attempted to gain any sort of sanctioning from the USSF, yet. They are awaiting the ruling from today’s hearing before figuring out when they are going to start and if they need to ramp up their timeline or not.
There isn’t all that much at stake for MLS in today’s proceedings, but that isn’t to say they won’t be affected at all. It’s mostly about image for them at this point, as much of the NASL’s case revolves around MLS and SUM tying to actively harm, if not destroy, the league.
The most prominent evidence comes from a story that MLS and SUM attempted to buy the New York Cosmos with the full intent of shutting the club down to eliminate them as competitors.
The USL, naturally, would look forward to having the second tier all to itself in the injunction doesn’t come. They shared that spotlight with the NASL last year after both league received provisional second division status, which was a promotion for the formerly third division USL. They are at no risk of dropping back down to that vacant third tier, as league president Jake Edwards ensures full compliance with D-2 standards for 2018.