The U.S. Soccer Board of Directors voted unanimously on Tuesday to not sanction either the USL or the NASL to operate a Division II professional league in 2010.
The decision was made on the recommendation of the Professional League Task Force, which determined that neither organization on its own was able to provide a viable and sustainable operation during the upcoming season. Both organizations were unable to meet U.S. Soccer’s requirement of a minimum of eight viable teams for 2010.
Despite the ruling, the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors has given both organizations seven days to try to work out an interim solution for the 2010 season.
“After carefully reviewing the findings from the Task Force it was clear there are still too many uncertainties for both organizations, which would be extremely difficult to resolve in a timely fashion that would allow them to prepare for the 2010 season,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “In the best interest of soccer in the United States, we decided to not sanction either league at this point. However, we did encourage both leagues to come together in the next week and attempt to develop another plan which would allow a single league to be approved on a provisional basis. We are committed to finding ways to improve the long-term viability of all leagues and teams and continue the growth of soccer in the United States.”
I see on Twitter that US Soccer is already taking an awful lot of heat for this, being accused of indecisiveness, secrecy and harshness to fans by rejecting both leagues.
But it’s hard to blame US Soccer for the mess America’s lower league rulers have essentially made for themselves over the past six months. However we apportion the blame — and for me, it all stems back to Nike’s ill-considered decision to sell USL to nu-rock in the first place — US Soccer was left between a rock and a hard place here (and was also left dealing with some pretty big egos who wanted everything resolved their way).
Consider the options they had when they received two separate applications for Divsion II leagues:
(1) Approve one or both leagues (US Soccer’s rules apparently allow two D-II leagues to operate). But according to US Soccer, neither league met the “minimum of eight viable teams”. US Soccer surely considered making an exception for one or both leagues, but they obviously concluded neither would have been “a viable and sustainable operation”. And I have to say at this point, they may well have been right: what kind of a league would a four or five team USL be? Could the NASL really scramble together a sustainable business by April starting practically from scratch? It’s clear that US Soccer was not convinced this was the case for either league. Making an exception risked making a mockery of the business of operating professional outdoor leagues in the United States under USSF sanction. And if US Soccer had sanctioned one and not the other, we’d have had a year of lawsuits ahead of us (do you think US Soccer wants to be sued?).
(2) Reject both leagues. US Soccer could have simply rejected both applications and been done with it; they would have been within their rights, given neither league met their stated requirements. Maybe then the NASL decides to try and play unsanctioned. Would this have met Gulati’s mentioned commitment “to improve the long-term viability of all leagues and teams and continue the growth of soccer in the United States.”? No, it would have created a huge mess reminiscent of the dark days of American soccer in the twentieth century.
(3) Reject both leagues, and attempt to force them together. This is essentially what US Soccer has now done (and has probably been pushing hard for behind the scenes for some time), by giving the two leagues “seven days to try to work out an interim solution for the 2010 season”. If that can be done, and if USL and the NASL really want to play sanctioned soccer in 2010 it could and should be, that gives everyone time to work out everything for 2011. It means leaders of both leagues will need to check their egos, but they now have a clear, unavoidable reason to do so thanks to the ultimatum from US Soccer.
The hostile reaction to US Soccer’s decision seems to stem from a complete lack of trust in the organization, because I’m unsure how a sensible observer could not see the third option as the best choice, and it is a decisive choice. If there was another alternate, better option, I’ve yet to hear it (comment away!).
We don’t have all the information on the USL and NASL from which US Soccer determined neither was a viable operation for 2010, and we will never have it, as it’s confidential — and rightly so. Do we have to trust US Soccer has made an informed, sensible decision here? I think from what we know of their options, I would say so.