by JAKE NUTTING
Shortly after the United States Soccer Federation mandated provisional sanctioning for the North American Soccer League and the United Soccer League at the Division II level, word began to seep out that the owners of the eight NASL clubs were interested in organizing a match between the league champions.
In an interview with EoS, Rishi Sehgal, the NASL’s interim commissioner, confirmed the interest from his league’s owners and said the NASL would discuss the matter with USL officials in an effort to make the game a reality.
“I think that is a really exciting concept,” Sehgal told EoS. “One thing we saw in the tumultuous off-season was tremendous interest in the marketplace from fans, partners and others supporting the idea of both the NASL and the USL going forward. That drama and interest was largely about things off the field. This game is on the field. So I think it would be amazing to take all of that drama and all of that interest and passion, put it back on the field and let the fans see what they want.”
Both leagues’ schedules are favorable to the NASL’s proposal. Both leagues will kick off their coming seasons the final weekend of March and will play their championship finals the second weekend in November.
“It seems to me there could be a really interesting opportunity for a game between the two champions the following week,” Sehgal said. “I think it’s something that could be interesting. There haven’t been official talks, to my knowledge. It’s something I’m sure we’ll keep thinking about and we’ll see if we can make it happen.”
Neither the NASL nor the USL has masked its animosity toward the other league. Bill Peterson, the former NASL commissioner, repeatedly referred to the USL as a reserve league because of the number of MLS reserve teams in the league, while the USL tried to ignore the NASL as it positioned itself for a move up from the third tier of the US soccer pyramid.
With a new lease on life, though, the NASL is open to mending fences with the USL after a humbling off-season that saw the league on the brink of collapse, only to emerge with eight teams, down from 12 last year.
“The divide [between the NASL and USL] is one that is largely business related, or it has been,” Sehgal said. “On the soccer side we continue to work together, continue to find ways to improve the quality of the game in North America. On the field we’re collaborative, we always have been. Off the field our approach is to try and grow together. We’re open to anything and everything. We’ll certainly make a more concerted effort to be more collaborative.”
The prospect of the NASL and the USL champions should excite soccer fans. Matches among teams from the two leagues in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup have been heated and entertaining.
“All the normal logistics would have to be worked out but I think we’ve got a lot people with experience of creating events and games,” Sehgal said. “That’s something that I think could definitely be positive for the fans. To have another high level game with another trophy on the line that creates drama on the field. We’ll talk to the USL about creating something like that.”