Loss of D2 Status Puts NASL, Cosmos in Jeopardy

IMAGE, STEVE HAMLIN PHOTOGRAPHY

nasl logoThe North American Soccer League and the New York Cosmos have been thrown back into uncertain waters according to a report from Fifty Five One that says the United States Soccer Federation has rejected the league’s application to keep its second division sanctioning.

At the start of the year, the USSF granted the NASL and the United Soccer League provisional D2 status on the condition that each league would have a year to work toward meeting the full requirements.

The NASL has taken positive strides since the tumultuous off-season that saw the league lose Rayo OKC and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to financial mismanagement, as well as the exits of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Ottawa Fury and Minnesota United to other leagues.

In the past few months, the NASL has announced expansion into San Diego and Orange County, Calif. The San Francisco Deltas, however, may be in doubt for next year in light of serious financial questions already facing the first-year team. Puerto Rico FC has also been struggling and FC Edmonton is expected to join the fledgling Canadian Premier League. In addition, the NASL has yet to name a full-time commissioner to cement the league’s leadership for the long term. Rishi Sehgal has held the post on an interim basis since Bill Peterson‘s dismissal.

It is possible the NASL may regroup and submit another application, although this early and definitive action from the USSF may suggest it has no interest in multiple leagues continuing to operate at the D2 level. As Fifty Five One’s report points out, North Carolina FC, Indy Eleven and even the NASL’s recent expansion groups are contemplating a jump to the USL.

A decision from the USSF now does offer more time for all teams and leagues to plan for next year. With the potential launch of the National Independent Soccer Association and the USL’s D3 league in the third tier, NASL teams that do not find a home in the USL could have other options if the NASL ceases operation.

As for where this development might leave the Cosmos, owner Rocco Commisso‘s previous comments suggest he has no interest in operating the team in the third division. In his first comments to media after rescuing the Cosmos in the off-season, Commisso bluntly stated his purchase of the team was contingent on it and the NASL remaining in the second division.

“I wasn’t coming in if it wasn’t D2, and without me I don’t know it could have survived,” Commisso said in January. “The USSF had to make the decision whether they want to see the Cosmos and the other eight teams fail. Ruin the livelihoods of the players, the staff, the coaches, the executives and so on and so on — not to say anything of the fans that all like this game. So they had a tough decision. I held firm, frankly. My condition was unwaveable and they needed to weigh that. As a result USSF made the right decision in giving the D2 status and a chance to survive and excel over the next 12 months and hopefully go forward.”

That rhetoric painted a clear picture of his feelings on seeing the Cosmos in the third division at the time. Now that he has invested his money and more than half the year rebuilding the Cosmos, it’s unclear if he still maintains that position.

The NASL released the following statement on Tuesday in response to the decision: “Since taking the pitch in 2011, the NASL has been working diligently to advance the growth of soccer by creating an entrepreneurial league where dynamic clubs bring the excitement of professional soccer to fans across North America. Despite the progress made by the NASL, U.S. Soccer has taken a decision to refrain from sanctioning the league as Division 2 for the 2018 season. The NASL is disappointed with the decision and does not believe that the federation acted in the best interest of the sport. U.S. Soccer’s decision negatively affects many stakeholders in soccer: fans, players, coaches, referees, business partners, and the NASL club owners who have invested tens of millions of dollars promoting the sport. The decision also jeopardizes the thousands of jobs created by the NASL and its member clubs.

“While the last several days have seen some unfortunate results for U.S. Soccer, both on and off the pitch, the NASL remains committed to growing the game and is exploring multiple options as it continues planning for the future. The NASL knows that its fans will continue to show undying support for their clubs, and the league looks forward to the home stretch of the 2017 season and beyond. The beautiful game is bigger than any decision, result, person, league, division or federation. The NASL will continue its work to ensure that brighter days are ahead for soccer in the U.S.”