by JAKE NUTTING and DAVE MARTINEZ
Despite consistent proclamations from NASL executives about the league’s ultimate ambition of reaching top flight status in American soccer, the oft-cantankerous relationship between both the NASL and MLS has simmered down in recent months.
“I think everyone is doing their own thing now. We all know each other and are respectful of each other. We want everyone to be successful,” NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson told EOS in an interview last week. “This is a big territory between the U.S. and Canada. The sport doesn’t get where it needs to get without all of us being really, really successful, and there is plenty of room for us all to be successful without taking away from another.
“The best thing for us is for MLS to be successful.”
However, the NASL’s relationship with USL is another matter altogether.
USL President Jake Edwards has publicly and proactively declared the league’s desire to achieve second division status for 2017, with his latest salvo coming as recently as three months ago. The league currently occupies the third tier of professional soccer in America, and has expanded to a whopping 29 teams from coast to coast.
That growth, as planned, has given Edwards key ammunition to pursue that goal.
Peterson, however, expresses concerns over such a promotion.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Peterson warns.
As the NASL boss explains, the missions for USL and NASL as division two leagues are quite different — and the USL model, from a competitive standpoint, may not be the best representative for the American second tier.
“To me, there are championship leagues, reserve leagues, and amateur leagues. You are one of the three. You are either playing for trophies, playing to develop players, or playing for the love of the game,” Peterson explains. “We are a championship league. We play for trophies. [USL] have developed a league where they are, in my opinion, a reserve league, and that is where they are having success — and rightfully so. I think it is great for the game, great for MLS, great for the players to get a chance to be in a development system, but it is completely a different model from what we do.”
“At some point, the Federation needs to realize what they have assembled is a reserve league,” he continues. “The majority of the teams are reserve teams for MLS. I think it is a wonderful model for MLS, but let’s stop kidding ourselves about what it is. It’s a reserve league.
Peterson added, however, that “[U.S. Soccer] can do what they want.”
At the moment, there’s no telling how these issues will shake out or what the U.S. Soccer landscape will even look like in two years time. There are no provisions in the current USSF guidelines to prohibit co-division status in either the top flight or the second division, making a bounce up or down the U.S. Soccer pyramid a realistic possibility for all involved.
However, the only certainty in American professional soccer today is that everyone at every level is looking to move up — and while that ambition certainly drives NASL, Peterson is clear to state that goal begins with improving his league first.
“For us, it is about focusing on what we do,” he said. “There isn’t anything they do that should affect anything we are doing. We are separate companies. We have more of a league model I think and we are focusing on what we are doing.”