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Gothamite

The Sad, Sorry State of Second Division Soccer in the US

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usl_nasl_ussf.jpg.1984e4552ed162f33daa3bc8124d8c60.jpg

 

We've touched on this in the domestic soccer thread, but I think this is now big enough that it deserves its own thread.

 

Last year, the US Soccer Federation sanctioned two leagues as Division 2 - the NASL, which had been the only D2 league, and the USL, which had previously been D3.   The NASL almost folded at this point, and was only spared when Rocco Commisso saved the Cosmos from going under at quite literally the last minute.  That gave the NASL a stay of execution, but only a temporary one.

 

Last month, the owner of the NASL's Miami FC partnered with the owner of the semi-pro Kingston Stockade FC, filing a claim with the Court of Arbitration for Sports in an attempt to force the USSF to institute promotion and relegation in US Soccer.

 

Two days later, it came out that the USSF had rejected the NASL's application to retain D2 beyond this year.

 

Now the NASL, led by the Cosmos, has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the USSF in a desperate attempt to keep its D2 status.

 

At its heart, the lawsuit is intended to challenge the USSF's minimum requirements for a second-division league, including the number of teams in the league, the geographic distribution of teams (how many time zones are covered), market size of the cities represented, each stadium capacity, and the minimum financial requirements for team owners.  Now, the irony is that the NASL helped USSF write those guidelines back in 2010 in a deliberate attempt to shut out the USL, but has never been able to meet them. 

 

The biggest problem is that they've fallen short on the number of clubs; according to the standards.  By year six they were supposed to have twelve clubs.  This is their seventh season but only have eight, and one of them is threatening to fold if more people don't start showing up.

 

This is a huge mess, and threatens to derail a growing sport.  There's some pretty good summaries of the issues from people in the know here and here.  Thoughts?

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I will add that I personally have been supportive of the Cosmos.  Even though they aren't my club they almost were.  I wanted them to survive, not just out of sentiment but also because they could push NYCFC to work harder, fight for every block in the city.   

 

But after this?  I'm pretty much done with them.  This is the last throw of the dice from a deservedly-dying league, and one that could do real damage to the sport in our country. 

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Any chance the USL would extend a life preserver to those remaining NASL teams that aren't in the arena league-tier of ownership practices?

 

IIRC past league challenges under the Sherman Act were predicated on actual markets getting shut out from the professional sport that had a viable demand for said sport.  If NASL teams are going belly up, it kind of argues against the "viable demand" point.

 

I also think Pro-Rel is not a realistic demand when many of the MLS' SSS were built with some public assistance, but that opinion may not be shared by all.

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It's so pathetic and it reeks of kicking over the checkerboard when you realize you're going to lose.

 

The public has had a fair chance to become NASL fans or not. They chose not. That's not on USSF or MLS or anyone else. People watched enough Cosmos at Hofstra matches to realize it was never going to happen.

 

USL is still an option. Maybe try that.

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Pro-rel just won't happen. 

 

Can you imagine, for example, if it was implemented for next year and Miami FC went up and the Loons went down?

2 years after debuting in MLS after years of building a soccer culture in Minneapolis and spending tons of money to build a stadium and to get an expansion franchise....just to be sent back down? It's just not happening. 

 

As for the NASL, I agree with @Gothamite. It's a mess. We could talk all day as to what the factors are, the simple fact is they are hanging on for dear life again. They barely got sanctioned last year and now they are asking the rules for sanctioning be changed in order to remain a D2 league? Enough already. Good effort but it's time to let the clubs that want to remain in business go to the USL and close down the NASL.

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1 hour ago, rams80 said:

Any chance the USL would extend a life preserver to those remaining NASL teams that aren't in the arena league-tier of ownership practices?

 

Very good chance.

 

Last year, when the NASL almost folded, we heard that the USL was willing to take everyone except the Cosmos and Puerto Rico FC.  PRFC because of travel issues, and the Cosmos because their owner was a scumbag.  Well, the Cosmos have a new owner, but he turned out to be a scumbag as well.  I'd also add the San Francisco Deltas to that list, since they seem viable.  But we'll see.

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Pro/rel would be sheer idiocy for American soccer. MLS teams need to be able to build a fanbase that will stick around, which will never happen if newer teams get (predictably) demoted within their first few seasons. American fans aren't going to get into a yo-yo club in a growing sport that's still trying to get its footing in this country. 

 

MLS requires a significant investment from team owners, stable ownership groups, and stadium plans before admitting an expansion club. Pro/rel would open the gates to all these Mickey Mouse ownership groups down in the NASL. And absolutely no potential team owner in their right mind would make a large upfront investment in a team that may be relegated.

 

The other thing that pro-rel supporters tend to forget is that it exacerbates disparity between teams in the top tier. There's always going to be a large number of yo-yo clubs that can't keep or retain top talent, and don't have as much money as top clubs, since they're at constant risk of relegation. 

 

As @mr.negative15 said, let the good ownership groups in the NASL jump ship to the USL, and then shut the league down. They're only doing harm to the sport, at this point.

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Yeah.  

 

This is their flagship franchise, after all.  On a lovely Sunday evening in New York City.

 

NotGood.thumb.jpg.e944c0515e031d8a2dbb294819e54497.jpg

 

They're claiming an attendance of 4,229 for this match.   But considering Steeplechase Park holds 7,000, I think we can pretty easily see how inflated that is.

 

 

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5 hours ago, kroywen said:

The other thing that pro-rel supporters tend to forget is that it exacerbates disparity between teams in the top tier. There's always going to be a large number of yo-yo clubs that can't keep or retain top talent, and don't have as much money as top clubs, since they're at constant risk of relegation. 

This is actually a really good point. In MLS, every single team can build toward the goal of winning a championship (and hell, for comparison’s sake, let’s say the Supporters’ Shield). In how many other top-flight soccer leagues is that true?

 

I’m of the opinion that promotion and relegation could have worked for the United States if it was (a) instituted from the start and (b) soccer in the U.S. was on half-solid footing when the division 1 initiative was launched. Japan’s J-League can survive promotion and relegation in part because it was always there, but also because there was enough of an existing soccer infrastructure that time didn’t have to be spent building up (in essence) two full leagues from nothing.

 

If pro/rel is ever going to happen in MLS, it’s going to be in a situation where the league has “permanent” members that can’t be relegated, plus a handful of teams eligible to cycle between the first and second divisions. The league has no incentive to relegate its own teams, and it would be a disservice to the taxpayers that have (wrongly) funded MLS stadia to suddenly see their team in USL.

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5 minutes ago, crashcarson15 said:

This is actually a really good point. In MLS, every single team can build toward the goal of winning a championship (and hell, for comparison’s sake, let’s say the Supporters’ Shield). In how many other top-flight soccer leagues is that true?

 

Honestly, that's why I prefer a closed league to pro/rel. Not saying I'd want soccer leagues across the globe to ditch pro/rel, but I do think that the North American system generally helps increase parity. Other typical American measures to increase parity - revenue sharing, amateur/entry drafts, player development systems - generally wouldn't be possible in a pro/rel system either. I'm glad the MLS doesn't have pro/rel - it leads to a far more interesting and level competition (which is absolutely vital for growing the league).

 

(Not to mention that stadium infrastructure isn't half as good as in leagues with pro/rel.)

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9 hours ago, Gothamite said:

Well, the Cosmos have a new owner, but he turned out to be a scumbag as well.

 

I haven't paid much attention to Cosmos 2.1.  What kind of scumbag?

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13 hours ago, Mockba said:

I haven't paid much attention to Cosmos 2.1.  What kind of scumbag?

 

He drove away the Borough Boys and their podcast This Is Cosmos Country when they started asking some questions about how the club is run. 

 

http://www.empireofsoccer.com/cosmos-country-drops-coverage-of-team-61362/

 

Keep in mind, this was the Cosmos' oldest and biggest supporters group. A group founded in 2007, to advocate for an MLS club in NYC. A group that stuck with the Cosmos through thick and thin, who spurned the MLS club they once wanted in order to keep supporting a lower-division club. A group that raised money for Cosmos employees when their paychecks from the former owner bounced.

 

They bled green as much as anyone, and Rocco treated them so poorly they decided to just walk away.  And now the supporters section of MCU Park gets a couple dozen people every match.  

 

I mean, this is just embarrassing:

 

IMG_6776.thumb.JPG.a191a030b46bc24e9e0e3a2399b1d58a.JPG

 

Granted, it's rarely that bad.  But even at its best it's not great.

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Has any once-beloved sports brand ever been so thoroughly destroyed as the Cosmos? It was really hard to screw that up and then they did. Mercilessly.

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Well, every owner has over-estimated the value of the brand.   I'm not sure it was ever that beloved, given what we've seen since 2013. 

 

But still, moving to Brooklyn should have been a triumph.  Sure, it's a baseball diamond. But it's on the subway, and tickets are cheap.  But watch the videos of any of their matches - they're getting around 2,000 people per, no matter how inflated the official counts are. 

 

And now Rocco is leading this quixotic quest against the USSF.  Not good.  

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1 hour ago, Gothamite said:

I mean, this is just embarrassing:

 

IMG_6776.thumb.JPG.a191a030b46bc24e9e0e3a2399b1d58a.JPG

 

Granted, it's rarely that bad.  But even at its best it's not great.

 

That "send in the clowns" ad is way too appropriate for the situation.

 

In terms of the Cosmos' brand equity, I think there were two issues:

  • The main target demographic of most American soccer teams - upwardly-mobile Millennials and Gen-Xers - have absolutely no memory of the Cosmos's heyday. (Maybe some older Gen Xers do, but that's about it.) We've heard halcyon stories of 50,000+ fans watching Pele play at Yankee Stadium, but the Cosmos were never a part of our lives, or our childhoods. The brand had value as a historical artifact of an interesting period in New York and American soccer, but I don't think it resonated with younger people on a nostalgic level.
  • A valuable brand name isn't enough to counteract the fact that it's not top-level soccer.  The Cosmos were always going to be eclipsed by an MLS team in NYC proper, and even in the absence of NYCFC, a minor league soccer team was never gong to draw 20,000 fans a game in New York City. In a city used to having the best of everything, the NASL isn't going to draw enough interest to get those kinds of crowds.

The runaway success stories of minor league soccer are in mid-sized cities with a fairly young population when the fanbase is seeking an MLS expansion team. Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, Montreal, Orlando, now Cincinnati, Sacramento, and (arguably) Indianapolis... NYC never fit that profile at all. It works best when you have a hungry, organic fanbase trying to prove themselves to the MLS. 

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At this point, the NASL is doing their best impression of the Black Knight from Monty Python. 

 

FC Edmonton is probably going to jump ship to the CanPL when that gets going, from what I've read. 

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Yeah the NASL has been nothing but a huge headache for US Soccer. I know Garber and MLS have not so secretly been pushing for the death of the league for some time now (no matter what public statements may be). I've talked with Goth about this a few times over PMs, but they've done several things that have royally pissed off both Major League Soccer and the Federation, and they only seem to be getting dumber. MLS, for one, isn't at all scared of them from a competitive standpoint, because they're a joke, but they're pretty wary from a "They could do something dumb and :censored: it all up for the rest of us" standpoint. It's not worth saving a league like that at this point. 

 

Although, I will say this. I'm not too sure just how many of those NASL scragglers the USL is really going to welcome to their league with open arms. They're already on schedule to have 35(!) teams by 2019, and what market in the NASL is really worth salvaging/isn't a complete and total dumpster fire? I'd say Indy is pretty much the ONLY one that really fits. MAYBE North Carolina, but still, why? The rest of the league either infringes on the territory of other existing USL teams (Cal Utd), is a complete disaster (Cosmos, from the sounds of it, SF Deltas), or both

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38 minutes ago, Bucfan56 said:

Although, I will say this. I'm not too sure just how many of those NASL scragglers the USL is really going to welcome to their league with open arms. They're already on schedule to have 35(!) teams by 2019, and what market in the NASL is really worth salvaging/isn't a complete and total dumpster fire? I'd say Indy is pretty much the ONLY one that really fits. MAYBE North Carolina, but still, why? The rest of the league either infringes on the territory of other existing USL teams (Cal Utd), is a complete disaster (Cosmos, from the sounds of it, SF Deltas), or both

 

Indy Eleven is probably the only one really worth saving. FC Edmonton has had a recent uptick in attendance this year, but they literally cannot break even in their current stadium, even with selling out every game (link). 

 

The rest of the league will hold zero value to the USL.

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