Commisso Outlines NASL’s Case Against USSF


nasl logoInsight into the North American Soccer League‘s antitrust case against the United States Soccer Federation has come to light thanks to a declaration in a court filing from New York Cosmos majority owner Rocco Commisso. Commisso, who also serves the chairman of the NASL’s Board of Governors, is alleging the federation intended to sabotage the league by denying its sanctioning application earlier this month.

“After being denied Division I sanctioning by the USSF, the NASL applied for re-sanctioning as a Division II league for the 2017 season,” Commisso said in the filing. “Upon information and belief, the USSF seized on this opportunity and began to apply its ability to waive or not waive various portions of its Professional League Standards in a discriminatory manner, in what is now transparently a scheme to eventually replace the NASL in Division II with USL.”

Commisso asserts that the NASL requested two waivers from the USSF when it submitted its application for Division 2 sanctioning in 2018. Specifically, the NASL sought waivers for the D2 requirements that state leagues must have 12 teams and be represented in the tEastern, Central and Pacific time zones.

According to Commisso, the NASL informed the USSF that it had eight teams confirmed for 2018. Expansion groups in San Diego and Orange County, Calif., were already announced by the NASL, meaning two current teams are in doubt for next year. Commisso did not identify which teams may be in question, but the San Francisco Deltas have made their financial struggles public and FC Edmonton has been linked to the new Canadian Premier League. In addition, both North Carolina FC and Indy Eleven have applied to Major League Soccer for entry as expansion teams.

To make up for any potential losses to its ranks, the NASL submitted a plan to the USSF to eventually meet the time zone and league-size requirements. Commisso claims an ownership group in New Orleans signed a letter of intent to bring an NASL team to the city, and that the league was in talks with groups in Detroit and Atlanta about entering in 2018. Later in the claim Commisso also notes that the NASL has letters of intent from six different expansion groups, though those all hinge on remaining a D2 league.

The federation was not sold on the NASL’s proposal

As stated by Commisso, “The USSF based its decision on its assertion that the ‘NASL was not able to provide the Board with assurances it would have greater than eight teams for the 2018 season, a team in the Central time zone, or any plan as to how it would come into full compliance with the Federation’s professional league standards.’ ”

Commisso alleges the United Soccer League was granted additional time to resolve “perhaps as many as 20 waivers” before the USSF makes a final decision on its sanctioning for next year. Many of the waivers required by the USL are believed to involve stadium capacity and licensing for coaches. The USSF may consider the NASL’s rapid expansion plan a tougher hill to climb given the league’s recent failure with Rayo OKC and the woes in San Francisco. A lack of transparency from the USSF has left the door open to questions about the entire sanctioning process, he said.

Still, Commisso believes the USSF’s demonstrated a double standard and its actions are part of a deliberate plan to fracture NASL owners and shut down the league.

“In my view, by making its decision withholding continued Division II sanctioning from the NASL while giving the USL an additional period during which to achieve that status, the USSF intended to pressure NASL teams to abandon the league and join the USL, with the hope and expectation that the number of teams choosing that route would be sufficient to cause the NASL to cease being a viable league, thereby eliminating it as a competitor or potential competitor to the MLS.”

The first and most immediate hurdle for the NASL is its request for a preliminary injunction to maintain D2 status while the lawsuit proceeds. Commisso hoped to have a decision on the injunction by mid-October, but the USSF has pushed back, asking for more time to mount a response to the complaint.

If the preliminary injunction is not granted, the NASL and the Cosmos likely would be facing the prospect of ceasing operations. In his declaration, Commisso again restated his lack of interest in operating the Cosmos as a D3 team.

“I have invested millions of dollars in the Cosmos on the premise that the NASL would at least retain its Division II status,” he said. “Should the NASL lose its current Division II status as a result of the USSF’s decision, the Cosmos, and I believe the other NASL clubs, will no longer be able to achieve the ticket sales, sponsorships and other revenues needed to enable our league to be successful in accordance with our competitive plans.”