North American Soccer League: Dead in the Water?

The olden days.

The olden days.

So says one of the best reporters on lower league American soccer, Jeff DiVeronica. The North American Soccer League breakaway from USL may have a nice historic touch going for it, but the reality for it is likely to be tougher than we might think.

DiVeronica goes through each of the proposed markets, concluding in ALL-CAPS and bold in case you don’t pick up on his theme that “PICK THROUGH THAT LIKE YOU WILL TURKEY THURSDAY. BONE ENDS UP PRETTY BARE.”

His breakdown is as follows:

1. Montreal: Likely in MLS by 2011 and Quebec City takes its spot in NASL. Why would Quebec fans support a feeder team when it can watch the real thing, the Impact, at Stade Saputo in MLS?

2. Vancouver: Headed to MLS in 2011. Same “fan” deal as Montreal if it decides to put its top youth team in the NASL. Would fans want to watch a team of boys play against men? I’ve seen a franchise bite off more than it can chew in Rochester, and seen it deteriorate because of it.

3. Miami: No magic dust will make fans come to matches in South Beach no matter the league. Haven’t failed teams in MLS/USL proven that enough?

4. Carolina: Unless the owners have Bill Gates money, at some point they pull the plug. RailHawks averaged 2,700 last year with a dynamite team. Attendance has decreased in each of their 3 years.

5. Minnesota: Can it free itself from debt to have a team ready for 2010? Has it even officially announced it’s a TOA wannabe?

6. St. Louis: Has an aggressive owner, Jeff Cooper, who wants to be involved but if this market is so good … why hasn’t it had a team for so long? And doesn’t it want to move up to MLS, too?

7. Atlanta: See No. 3, Miami (plus, it was dormant in 2009).

8. Tampa: See No. 3 Miami as a failed Florida market and it’s a start-up team so expectation is probably where it should be (low).

9. Crystal Palace: USL-2 team trying to move up in Baltimore, where fans support D.C. United and not minor-league soccer.

Pretty hard to argue with some of that, though you could also paint a brighter picture and point out that having organisations of the proven quality of Montreal, Vancouver and St Louis (WPS) there to get the league going is a big bonus, even if they all have MLS in their sights (though St. Louis is considerably further away from that than Montreal).

Brian Quarstad at the outstanding Inside Minnesota Soccer provides further trenchant analysis of the league’s prospects, noting the USSF met on Saturday about the new league and USL situation with no statement made supporting either as a Division 2 league for 2010. The timeline for USSF approval in order to begin play by April is awfully tight at this point, despite the NASL’s grandiose ambitions. The USL is, of course, also in a total mess with so few teams remaining.

Quarstad breaks down all of the potential scenarios once US Soccer makes a decision, and none of them are as easy as sticking a new logo on the league and the USSF calling it Division 2, summing up that:

The bottom line is the possibilities are endless and so are the opportunities for lawsuits and counter lawsuits. Someone needs to get hold of this situation and steer it in a direction of resolution.  TOA could be seen as an explosion of possibilities, but on the other hand, this whole thing could implode and be tied up for years in court with no good 2nd division league in the US or Canada.  This would look ugly to FIFA when making a decision about a US bid for the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. In my opinion, Sunil Gulati has to be concerned.

I’m sure Gulati is already concerned and the headache pills are popping all over US Soccer headquarters. Fans of all teams and interested observers remain in the dark awaiting some sign on where this is all headed, but my gut feeling is it’s going to be a mess that’ll take at least until 2011 to sort out.

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