by JAKE NUTTING and DAVE MARTINEZ
The NASL is set to expand its ranks by three this year with the additions of Miami FC, Rayo OKC, and Puerto Rico FC. On the surface, that type of rapid expansion from 11 teams might indicate the league is well on its way to reach its hopeful goal of 18 teams by 2020.
The NASL, though, is not immune from the turbulent nature of American soccer and has had to deal with the disappointment of losing the San Antonio Scorpions and Atlanta Silverbacks this offseason.
“None of this was ever going to be easy and none of it will always go your way — and none of it is a surprise,” NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson tells EOS.
Peterson is frank about the recent setbacks, saying “We knew about San Antonio’s intention for a long time and we were struggling finding ownership in Atlanta. It is unfortunate maybe and you wish it didn’t happen, but frustration? No. It is part of the business today and part of developing a league — finding the right cities and supporters groups to make it go.”
Peterson and NASL owners may have been aware of Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman’s ultimate desire to sell the stadium and the team, though the commissioner admits it only became a reality to the league in December after local San Antonio officials held a surprise press conference to announce that Spurs Sports Entertainment had a deal in place to purchase Toyota Field and bring a USL team to the city.
“It’s unfortunate for the fans. The league is not affected,” insists Peterson. “It’s the nature of the game here today. No promotion, relegation. You are either in or you are out. There is no middle ground, there is no up or down. It is what it is.
“Things like that will happen for, I don’t know, maybe forever, until things settle in.”
The NASL boss did confirm to EOS that an effort was made to package the Scorpions brand name and relocate to Las Vegas, but the move failed to gain approval from the league’s Board of Governors. “All the pieces weren’t in place,” he said.
As far as offering a postmortem on the Silverbacks situation, Peterson believes the NASL’s owners came to the conclusion that it was time to push back from the table after two years of searching for the perfect group and accept the situation before they committed to another year of keeping the club on life support.
“It just reached a point where we weren’t going to get an ownership group we would be satisfied with, that we believed could really raise the organization up — and it really needs lifting up.”
Some cried foul after the NASL announced it was pulling the plug on the Silverbacks, particularly in light of the rapidly approaching arrival of MLS expansion side Atlanta United entering the local fray.
While Peterson doesn’t deny that the arrival of the MLS club was a factor for some prospective investors, he’s steadfast in the league’s mantra that competition is still a positive element to any market.
“I am sure there are some people that maybe don’t understand the culture of soccer or don’t appreciate what we believe anyway — that in some markets, multiple teams help everybody,” he explains. “There are people that don’t see it that way and will say ‘I don’t want to come in here and have two teams in the same market,’ for sure. There were people that looked at that as a factor.
“But you can’t be a hypocrite either,” he continued. “We believe you develop a club around a supporters group, around a community. Like we said many times, it doesn’t matter to us if there is another team there. If we believe it is the right place, right time, with the support we need, we are going to go there.”
The NASL is so bullish on that theory of improvement through competition that they are not ruling a move back into the Atlanta market. The Silverbacks name may be dead in the NASL, but the market is still in play for the league according to the commissioner.
“Next week we are meeting with a group that is still very interested [in Atlanta], but they weren’t going to hit our deadline to get scheduled.
“We haven’t given up on Atlanta by any means,” Peterson said. “If the right ownership group comes back with the right plan, we would love to go back there.”