NASL Commissioner addresses state of league, possible multi-club exodus

Bill Peterson talking NASL

by JAKE NUTTING

The North American Soccer League has a heck of race on its hands, with six teams battling for the fourth and final spot in this year’s postseason.

Normally, that scenario would be driving headlines heading into the postseason. But rightfully, all anyone wants to talk about are the rampant reports that the league is set to lose several teams for 2017.

EoS spoke to NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson at Thursday’s Fall Season trophy presentation for the New York Cosmos.  Peterson described the situation as an “unfortunate distraction,” but put the drama into context by adding that the ownership flux is all part of the territory.

“Anytime you’re starting a league up from scratch, which is basically what we did, and you’re trying to grow that league and you have aspirations to be better, get bigger and add teams, things are going to pop up that weren’t in the plan and are out of your control,” said Peterson. “There’s human beings involved, things change and you have to deal with them.”

Something that has “popped up” for the NASL is a recent report from that the league is preparing for a nine-team season in 2017. Reporter Neil Morris reveals Rayo OKC will elect to cease operations for at least next year, and that both Ottawa Fury FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies will jump ship for the United Soccer League. Add on to those losses the exit of Minnesota United to MLS and you have quite the exodus.

Peterson did not comment on Morris’ report and all the recent speculation about exiting teams. He instead made it clear that whichever owners do stick around, they are fully committed to the path the league is currently charting for itself.

“Probably what I’m most proud of right now is that we’ve got a strong group of owners who are very committed to this, understand the issues, are not dwelling on them,” he said. “Let’s figure out how we’re going forward, bigger, better, stronger. Learn from what’s happening and keep going. Make decisions based on the long term, not the short term.

“It just is what it is,” he continued. “Every league that I’m aware of that started in this country, in any sport, has gone through some growing pains. We’re no different.”

The league’s core group of owners came together for what was dubbed as a “league summit” last month. Despite previously purporting to have a lengthy and vigorous expansion process, the NASL still required the meeting to get the relatively new group of owners moving in the same direction — an objective Peterson believes was thoroughly achieved.

“If you look at the original group of owners, there’s only one left — Tom Fath in Edmonton,” said Peterson. “We had five new ownership groups come in over the last 18 months. So you’re trying to get them on board. They weren’t part of the original league, they look at things a little bit differently.

“So this was a chance to get everybody in the room and talk about where we want to go in the future, how we’re going to get there, what can we do to get better, what do we continue to do that we are doing well already.

“It was very positive,” he concluded. “It was a reaffirmation that, ‘hey, what we’re on to here is very good.’ So how do we continue to make it better?”