NASL’s Bill Peterson on Player Development, CCL Aspirations, Expansion and More


NASL Beat Writer

On the eve of the league’s fifth season, and his third at the helm, NASL Commissioner Peterson spoke to the media on a wide variety of topics.

Peterson was candid in answers and the questions primarily dealt with expansion, the new ESPN3 broadcast deal, player development and the league’s relationship — and place — in the American soccer landscape in comparison to MLS.

On Expansion and Growth

Peterson hit all the familiar notes when it came to the topic of expansion. He stressed that the league isn’t worried about sticking to any timeline but they are encouraged by the enthusiasm from prospective ownership groups.

“Expansion is a complicated process and there are a lot of things we’re looking for before we grant an ownership group and city entry into this league,” said Peterson. “I can tell you this, we’ve never had more interest from more ownership groups that are qualified. We’re working with each one of them diligently to explore what their real interest is, what he city they’re interested in has to offer not only to the owners but to the league itself as well.”

The league must expand to the West Coast in the near future based on USSF sanctioning standards, but beyond that, Peterson mentioned ongoing discussions with groups in the Midwest and a desire to commit to exploring Canadian expansion more vigorously in 2015.

“We have a few conversations that are close to the finish line. I have no doubt that we’ll have more teams playing next year than we do this year and when those are ready we’ll make the announcements. But we’re going to avoid having any timelines that we can’t control,” said Peterson”

With the recent announcement that Minnesota United will be leaving the league for MLS in a few seasons Peterson and the NASL Board of Governors may be more cautious about prospective ownership group’ ultimate ambitions. He remarked that if a prospective group mentioned a desire to join MLS eventually that would give the league “pause” and require deeper probing, but would not result in an outright expansion disqualification.

On Player Development

NASL scored two major coups this week when Haji Wright of the LA Galaxy Academy and Keith Cardona of the New York Red Bulls Academy chose to sign with the New York Cosmos and Indy Eleven respectively.

Peterson believes that the signings are strong endorsements of the NASL model when it comes to player development.

“For a young player like Haji and others they can come into this league and know that they have just entered the global soccer economy and that they’re in control of their destiny,” said Peterson. “They’re going to come in and they’re going to play at a high level. They’re going to have an opportunity to improve their market value and then through either a sale or transfer or going back out on the free agent market they’re going to be able to test themselves and get to the highest level possible.”

The league has taken a hands off approach in terms of player development, electing instead to let the teams search for their own best model. Peterson envisions each team possibly running their own academies two years from now and also an expanded relationship with the amateur league NPSL where both Minnesota and New York will operate reserve teams in 2015.

“I think the NPSL has given them a great opportunity to start to put some of the pieces together. They’re some limitations there with the length of their season obviously but we’ve had conversations with NPSL trying to explore ways to strengthen that relationship from a player development standpoint. We haven’t settled on anything yet but it’s a part of the maturation of our clubs, to find ways develop players,” said Peterson.

On ESPN Deal and Future Broadcast Deals

Peterson was bullish on the league’s recently announced deal with ESPN to stream all matches in 73 countries outside of the US Canada. Cosmos’ broadcasts staying exclusive with One World Sports isn’t a big concern for the league and was expected, considering the connection between the network and Cosmos ownership.

Peterson values the relationship with One World Sports highly and believes it could lead to more programming by the Fall season.

“We’ve got a lot of interest right now in our broadcasting access. Some of that interest comes from One World Sports. We’re actually in discussion with them to provide some additional broadcasting of the league beginning this Fall and some highlight shows beginning this Fall. If we get those done, they’ll be an important partner of ours,” said Peterson.

Apart from the increased online exposure from ESPN3, the league is also increasing the availability of broadcasts on a local television. Nine of the eleven teams in the league have local broadcast deals and five of those teams will also be broadcasting away matches back in their home markets.

So far New York, Minnesota, and Jacksonville are the only teams who have announced that they will be broadcasting away matches.

On MLS, US Soccer, and CONCACAF Aspirations

Peterson was clear in his stance that MLS and the NASL are two entirely different models, but played down his league’s concern that MLS was choking them out after nabbing Minnesota United.

“There’s no league that has started that didn’t have teams come and go and move. It’s great to try and not allow that to happen but at the end of the day it’s going to happen and it’s just part of where we are in our development as a country with professional soccer and where we are as a league with NASL,” said Peterson. “That’s why we’re spending so much time on the expansion process. That is trying to identify ownership groups that are committed to what we’re doing. If somebody changes there mind along the way then wish them well and off they go and we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”

During the conference call Peterson brought up two areas where the league is at odds with the US Soccer Federation — the first being the cap on international cap on rosters.

“We’re not sure that it accomplishes what they’re hoping it accomplishes. Their position is that it gives American players more opportunity to play but we feel that competition is what really forces the bar to be raised,” said Peterson.

The argument for a CCL spot is another point of contention that he has mentioned before and one that he admits they have not pushed US Soccer too hard on yet.

“We’ve made that very clear to CONCACAF and we think now, and it’s not something we’ve been pushing too hard with US Soccer, but now as a league with how we’re performing on the field should lead to that decision being made,” said Peterson. “We’ll continue to engage US Soccer and we look forward to the opportunity to get that done in the near future. It’s an important conversation. Our guys, our coaches, our players they relish competition.”

Other Intriguing Notes

On the league owned Atlanta Silverbacks:

  • “The sort of 1A priority is to find local ownership that can put their arms around the club and help them grow it and help develop it. 1B would ownership from maybe outside Atlanta who would maybe keep the club in Atlanta and continue to play there,” said Peterson. “And then option C if we’re not successful would be to probably sell and relocate that team. There’s interest in that but that’s not our first priority. So we’ll stay committed there but something will need to happen this year.”

On the Cosmos high profile friendly in Cuba and the league’s commitment to that region:

  • “We’re very happy to involved with the Cosmos going to Cuba this summer. As soon as President Obama changed the rules we engaged with the Cuban Federation,” said Peterson. “We’re obviously dedicated and focused on being good partners in that region of the world. And to be able to start some dialogue with them we think is important for the future of soccer in that area. We’re looking forward to a much deeper relationship beyond just playing games.”

On the possibility of NASL players unionizing:

  • “They control their own destiny. They know our clubs will look out for their best interests as it relates to other opportunities in this country or other countries. So the concept doesn’t seem to fit in. But by all means if there was an approach we would have a conversation with them and look to do what’s best for the players and the league itself,” said Peterson. “I don’t see it happening. Our owners are treating our players very well. They’re slowly increasing the amount of money they’re paying those players each year. our roster numbers are going up, but going up at a steady rate. I think a fair rate based on the revenues we’re generating.”

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  • Stone cold Steve Austin 3:16

    So we got the MLS –>USL connection going on, now it’s going to be NASL –> NPSL.
    All I gotta say, I smell a soccer civil war in the next 5 years.
    If NASL gets their head out of the bush and expands right, and starts recruiting fresh young soccer products and make a strong connection with NPSL, then we really got ourselves a soccer civil war.
    MLS is D1
    NASL is suppose to be D2
    USL is suppose to be D3
    NPSL I’m guessing D4.
    Someway somehow gulati needs to get this American soccer pyramid straight, if not just ask klins and he will do something :)
    If MLS has 26 teams, then USL will have 26 affiliate teams plus the non affiliate. That’s impossible,NASL needs to act like a D2 and USL like the farm league. This is only getting worse and crazier, we need Obama.

  • Kevin

    I don’t understand your point though? NASL should act like a D2 league, why? Aren’t they trying to compete with MLS?
    I think the article was a good one.

  • Anonymous

    This is all very exciting, especially for young players.

  • Hydrahamster

    Let there be war… A SOCCER WAR! That’s the only wat the USSF will do their jobs. A lower division league will not have any meaning unless a challenge MLS for the number one division spot. When MLS said they will never do promotion and relegation, the other division must fight. The MLS do not run the USSF nor if promotion and relegation should happen. That’s the USSF job. I’m all for the NASL and NPSL team up. The NPSL have enough teams to slip into three or four more divisions. The MLS, USL team up is only for MLS’s gain. I hope the MLS and NPSL win in the end. It’s also interesting what will happen with the American Soccer League trying to become 3rd division after just starting last year.

    • Hydrahamster

      I hope the NASL and NPSL win.

      Sorry, I messed up when I said, “I hope the MLS and NPSL win.”

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