Empire XI: Decentralized Philosophy Backfiring for NASL



The North American Soccer League is not a league but an association. The NASL prides itself on its decentralized philosophy, and while that approach landed the league’s most well-known club in the New York Cosmos, it is resulting in the likely departure of its best club in Minnesota United.

The NASL gives its clubs the most independence out of the three professional soccer leagues in the United States, but the problem with letting clubs develop and realize their own visions comes when the central office needs to develop and realize its own vision as well.

Minnesota United’s likely departure from the NASL to MLS does, as our own Jake Nutting suggests, show the potential for success for a decentralized association of clubs in North America. The problem for the league is that it cannot celebrate Minnesota United’s success without admitting that success in the NASL means joining MLS. Not only would that present the idea of inferiority to prospective owners, it would also be incongruent with the visions of some of its clubs.

The New York Cosmos joined the NASL because they felt a decentralized league would both allow them to preserve their myth and allow them to let that myth convert itself into a fact again. The Cosmos were able to keep their original logo, trademark and history and all of the proceeds generated by the marketing of the return of Pele, Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto’s team. Without a salary cap, the Cosmos are also able to spend as much as they can on attempting to once again become the biggest club in North America.

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are the only other NASL team talking about becoming a globally recognized club. Their new Brazilian ownership consortium has uprooted the club’s successful foundation on the field and aims to use their connections to the homeland to establish a network for players to come either temporarily or permanently. They also told The Guardian that they intend to attract a following first in Brazil and then enlist former Striker Gerd Muller to help them gain a foothold in Germany.

Indy Eleven are content with securing a foothold in the Great Lakes first. There is plenty of reason to hope that they can grow into a leading club in that region given an average attendance of more than 10,000 spectators last season. The club’s ceiling might be determined by how the Indiana State Legislature decides on the stadium funding proposal championed by Club President Peter Wilt. If the Eleven have to play at Carroll Stadium for twenty years, as stipulated under a proposed killer amendment to the original proposal, there is no way the club can afford to attempt to gain a global foothold like the Cosmos and Strikers are attempting to gain.

The San Antonio Scorpions are making their MLS intentions well-known and they have support from the FMF, whose national team is marketed by Soccer United Marketing. If current owner Gordon Hartman can attract additional investors to help pay for an expansion to Toyota Field and other expenses that come with a move to MLS, they will have a strong bid to present for an expansion team. Considering the pre-existing soccer-specific-stadium, the backing from the FMF as well as the proximity to Mexico, the case for San Antonio looks strong to say the least.

This is a set of similar, yet separate clubs with particular visions they are trying to achieve. The Canadian teams may wind up being part of a separate Canadian top flight that’s backed by the NASL but reports indicate that’s not happening for at least another four years. The other two teams in the NASL’s Floridian trio have realistic owners who are focused on establishing a modest presence in their respective markets before potentially opting to challenge their MLS neighbors in Orlando — and soon, Atlanta — where the Silverbacks are currently owned by the league after the club’s potential new owners failed to attract more investors.

The Carolina RailHawks are now the only team owned by Traffic Sports and have already added four new players this month. They aim to increase their team’s budget to revitalize a trend in increasing attendance that had stagnated in 2014. Given the fact that Traffic Sports USA President Aaron Davidson is also Chairman of the NASL’s Board of Directors, the RailHawks are the best indicator of what could become the NASL’s vision for itself.

The fact that the NASL needs to operate a club to show potential investors the most realistic example of how a club in its league would exist presents the great flaw with a decentralized approach to sports administration. The league has made minimal attempts to secure any sort of national television deal or receive league sponsorships, choosing to let its clubs secure those contracts for themselves. Couple that with the approach that each club possessing a vote when deciding league matters and it becomes clear that the league has no power.

Empire XI

1. What’s most disappointing about the South Ward’s attempt to protest the firing of former New York Red Bulls Head Coach Mike Petke is not the ultimate ineffectiveness of the protest, but that it was so fragmented. The three Supporter Groups were able to unite when protesting the Red Bulls’ passive approach to the U.S. Open Cup in 2011 by remaining silent throughout the first half of their next game. The fact that the three groups could not unite for a far more valued cause shows how divided the South Ward is at the moment.

2. The one key improvement between the Red Bulls of last year and early this year is that this squad can keep possession and harness control of a game much better than last year’s team. In the Red Bulls’ five playoff games in 2014, they averaged 359 completed passes. In two games in 2015, they averaged 438.

3. Defensively, the Red Bulls’ structure is forcing opponents to go route one to create chances due to high pressure, or go wide and make crosses into the area because of the clogged midfield. As a result, Davy Arnaud and Benny Feilhaber are the only central midfielders with a key pass against the Red Bulls so far this season and they only tallied one key pass each.

4. New York City FC’s five points in three games is as solid a start as one would hope for the club. However, they need to get deeper as a squad if they want to make the playoffs. Shay Facey, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Kwando Poku all need to become reliable players to start and come off the bench for NYCFC as the season continues. With Facey getting sent off in his debut and Poku being an unused sub in all three matches so far, there is room for improvement in that regard.

5. NYCFC host a winless Sporting Kansas City next weekend. Given how Kansas City ended last year, a winless month of March would raise serious concerns about how far Head Coach Peter Vermes’ side have fallen off since the middle of last season. For NYCFC, a second home win would keep the positive Yankee Stadium momentum and publicity going as novelty begins to wear off.

6. The MLS transfer window does not close until May 12, so if Frank Lampard does decide to leave Manchester City early, he can play immediately for NYCFC. Manchester City only have eight games left in their season and only need to preserve their seven-point lead over Liverpool to secure a Champions League berth. Considering the lessened workload, relative safety and squad size at Manchester City, as well as the fact that NYCFC survived the Lampard fiasco in January, it would be a good move for all sides to let Lampard come to MLS early.

7. Odd juxtaposition for the Portland Timbers: they are now 0—3—8 in the month of March over the last three seasons (h/t Matthew Doyle), but draws against Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy are never a bad thing. A win against the Vancouver Whitecaps would not only give them the early advantage in the Cascadia Cup but also give the Timbers six points in four games against playoff teams from last season.

8. Unquestionably, the game of the coming week is between the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas. That game will not be available on national television as most of the TV schedule was predetermined with flex-scheduling only coming into play in the penultimate weekend of the season. If flex-scheduling ultimately leads to a ratings boost while also ensuring that fans still show up for the rescheduled match, then expect to see more of it in the coming seasons with the ultimate goal being that games like Seattle versus Dallas get flexed to showcase the league’s best.

9. The San Jose Earthquakes opened Avaya Stadium with a win against the Chicago Fire who are failing to inspire much hope this season. The Earthquakes could use better midfield play going forward given how tough the Western Conference will be in 2015. If they can maximize the home field advantage that comes with a new stadium, they might have a shot at a playoff berth.

10. One bit of commentary from Alexi Lalas during last night’s match stated that Harry Shipp might be too good for the Fire. Most people would agree with the sentiment, but it begs the question – what do the Fire do then? Shipp’s talent and potential is obvious and the Fire’s lack of talent and potential is also obvious. Would the Fire and Shipp each be best served by a trade? The Fire would get a good return on talent for a first team player still on his rookie contract while Shipp would be able to grow with better talent around him.

11. Marcelo Claure may not have a full understanding of Communism given his comments to Howler Magazine, but it was funny to see Lalas ask MLS Commissioner Don Garber if the league was Communist in its business approach. Particularly fascinating about this is that while Americans are quick to dismiss an economic system with high central governance and regulation as Communist or Socialist, they are being particularly favorable to that system being used in sport.

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  • Tim F.

    NASL “II” has played a role in enhancing soccer in the US and for that the league should be commended.

  • JD

    The south ward was fragmented because the fan base is fragmented. Not all supporters think RBO is a big deal or the right thing to do. In fact, seeing to protests in the stands made the RBO group look tiny and ineffective.

  • Herb Tarlek

    Decent article, but it probably could’ve been written without using the word “Myth”

    Seemed designed to provoke responses

    • Smith

      Christian wrote this piece to protect the myth that his parents did not waste money on his education.

      • Billy

        Why do you think it’s okay to make an insulting comment like that? If you have an issue with something he said, then state it. Instead, you post a comment like that.

        • Smith

          Oh, come on. Lighten up.

          Nonetheless, I will rephrase it for your benefit as follows:

          Christian has shown a strong anti-NASL point of view in the past., This colors every piece he writes about the league. In addition, he tends to write run-on sentences which make me question how much he paid attention in freshman English class.

          For example, I present the following sentence:

          “The other two teams in the NASL’s Floridian trio have realistic owners who are focused on establishing a modest presence in their respective markets before potentially opting to challenge their MLS neighbors in Orlando — and soon, Atlanta — where the Silverbacks are currently owned by the league after the club’s potential new owners failed to attract more investors.”

          Is that better?

  • Anonymous

    Read the Wall Street Journal applauding US Soccer, NASL & USL. Didn’t care for this editorial.

    No where in the “XI” was the huge eye-popping amount of empty seats for a home opener with great weather and against a bitter rival. Let’s see what they draw on a Wed nite in April v Colorado.

    Ali Curtis will announce 21,000 again, but they’ll be lucky to get over 12,000

    • slowleftarm

      It was still several times what Hempstead Cosmos will average this season for their minor league games.

      • Slowcleftarm

        I hate the hemstead Cosmos and I hate the NASL and I hate NYCFC and I hate the Red Bulls front office but mostly I really really really hate myself.

  • Tomas

    You were incorrect in this statement” a trend in increasing attendance that had stagnated in 2014″.
    NASL attendance in fact increased again for 2014 by close to 1000 per game, breaking the record for D2 attendance in fact. There was no stagnation only upward improvement again.

    • Smith

      That’s because Christian doesn’t research anything he writes.

  • LLLLakes

    Minnesota United had no choice but to seek an MLS expansion spot. If they hadn’t, MLS would have given it to the Minneosta Vikings, which would have killed MNUFC.

  • Hydrahamster

    Research before making an article. I get that you hate the NASL because they are against the MLS, but that doesn’t mean you should make a stupid article with the lack of info. I can get on MLS if I wanted to. The single entity, stupid free agency deal, the over paid 30+ year old foreigners, the underpaid hard working American players, how long it took them to startva homegrown system, the horrible state of the youth development, the plan to add more NFL club owners own a SOCCER team, how USSF president owning a MLS team and how the MLS have a say in if promotion and relegation should happen instead of the USSF.

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