The NASL Situation
A quick recap – The eight team North American Soccer League (NASL) is currently sanctioned at the second tier of American soccer by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). However, there it competes against the thirty team United Soccer League (USL). The USL also has an affiliation agreement with Major League Soccer (MLS). Every MLS team, save Minnesota, has an affiliated team in the USL.
There is not sanctioned third division in American Soccer, but the USL plans to launch a USL Division Three league in 2019. Essentially, in America the NASL have quickly become the odd league out. To survive the NASL has to expand, affiliate, and convince the USSF that they are worthy of continued sanctioning. A tall order considering that the USSF has been accused of being biased towards MLS.
The NASL announced today that Orange County will join the league beginning in 2018. The announcement is an important one for the league. Adding Orange County adds one more team to a small league and adds some geographical balance.
— NASL (@naslofficial) May 10, 2017
In the current league structure there are five eastern teams (New York, North Carolina, Jacksonville, Miami, and Puerto Rico), one central team (Indianapolis), and two western teams (Edmonton and San Francisco). Orange County’s addition helps the balance, but still leaves the western side of the league undermanned. Therefore fans should expect further expansion in the middle and western parts of the United States and Canada.
Such a strategy will be a disappointment to some east coast markets ripe for a soccer team, but becoming a national brand is necessary if the NASL is to survive. Spreading the NASL brand to the central and western regions of the countries increases brand awareness and promotes a national, rather than regional, mentality.
Interim Commissioner Rishi Sehgal spoke to the matter of affiliation as a way to grow to league at a recent Jacksonville press conference, saying:
“We have explored various affiliations, both at the league level and at the team level [in reference to the Jacksonville Armada], and we have, in some places seen it work at the team level. Its not there yet. There’s no magic scenario that has unveiled itself, but I think that will continue to evolve. It is a focus going forward, that [affiliation] connects us to the global game, it is a global game. It is different, obviously, than our other sports here. There are top level leagues in every country in the world. It is something that is an area of focus for us. “
The NASL is not affiliated with MLS or the USL. In the past the NASL has even attempted to compete with each league, and has usually ended up on the losing end.
Landing affiliation with a significant foreign league could very well be the difference between life and death for the league.
While there may be no “magic scenario” there is plenty for foreign teams and leagues to be interested in. There are several NASL teams that compete with MLS equivalent budgets, staff, and facilities. The league quickly adapts players to the rigors of professional football, including travel. Lastly, the quality of football is impressive.
The survival of the NASL will not be determined in the next calendar year, but over the next few years. Adding an Orange County franchise is a step toward survival. Fans and teams alike are eagerly awaiting the next step.