By: Chris Olszewski
The structure of the United States soccer pyramid is in flux. But don’t worry about MLS. After 20 years, they have successfully entrenched themselves at its top. For MLS to fall from its lofty perch would take an incredible turn of events. But for divisions two and three (the North American Soccer League and United Soccer League respectively), that is anything but true. In fact, we’re seeing that very turn of events right before our eyes.
The troubles began not in the United States, but in Spain. Last year, La Liga side Rayo Vallecano created a colony club on Oklahoma City playing in NASL. The next season in Spain, Rayo were relegated to Liga Adelante, the Spanish second division. The relegation diminished Rayo’s revenue and put the colony club’s future in question.
On September 22, a report surfaced claiming that the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, another NASL club, were in dire financial straits. The next day Paris Saint-Germain surfaced as a potential buyer. Earlier this week, PSG in fact bid for the team, but was rebuked because the team would move down a division to USL. The Strikers’ hubris may be their end, though; the NASL has begun hemorrhaging teams…to USL.
Fellow NASL teams Ottawa Fury and Tampa Bay Rowdies have already moved to USL, and the Carolina Railhawks and Jacksonville Armada are thought to be joining them. If the Carolina and Jacksonville rumors are true, the North American Soccer League will have lost a quarter of their teams to a nominally lower league in a matter of months when coupled with the promotion of Minnesota United to MLS next season.
However, that’s never really been the case. Since the Division 2 split in 2010, the USL has consistently been the more stable of the two leagues. In fact, the success of Minnesota United comes as an anomaly; they are one of only two teams to rise from NASL to MLS. The other NASL to rise to MLS is the Montreal Impact. Every other pre-existing franchise has come from USL. That likely has something to do with the existence of MLS reserve sides in USL. Whereas NASL fought against MLS in its attempts to become the Division One league in the US, USL has readily accepted MLS as a part of American soccer and worked with them to stabilize the pyramid.
The very real possibility of NASL’s failure opens up the opportunity for one of USL’s main goals: Division 2 certification. With 31 teams slated to play in the 2017 season, USL has a greater case than ever to be given that classification. The NASL’s failure also has the potential to leave its remaining eight teams out in the cold. Of course, this leaves out the Canadian teams, who will have the Canadian Premier League to run to in a few years. But for NASL’s American teams, this is a precarious situation. Some, like the New York Cosmos, are too proud to mingle with the USL. Others, like the San Francisco Deltas, are just getting started. But for the teams in the middle like the Indy Eleven, the next year or two will be a time of reckoning, and the future of American soccer may very well be at stake.
(Featured Image: jpellgen, Flickr)