Soccer Minnows is a website and community for fans of lower league and smaller soccer clubs. It is with this worldview that we ask: what the heck U.S. Soccer Federation?
Late Friday, the federation that oversees the U.S. soccer system announced that the North American Soccer League (NASL) and the United Soccer League (USL) would both be awarded provisional Division-II status. This decision had been long delayed as the NASL began to struggle through financial difficulties both self-inflicted and otherwise. As some teams left the league to join USL and others like the Cosmos nearly folded under the weight of debt, it looked like NASL could not field enough teams to actually hold a season.
Meanwhile, USL continued stratospheric growth across the country. This was ideal for U.S. Soccer as USL had a great geographic diversity and partnership with MLS. However, the then-third division league faced two major obstacles to moving up a division and replacing NASL. The first was the large number of MLS 2 teams. The second was the fact that if NASL folded, the league would only accept the most financially desirable clubs. As such, U.S. Soccer decided finally not to make a decision, make both leagues second division, and see where the two leagues go from here.
There are much better people who have written so much more about the inner workings of the NASL/USL debate, and I’d encourage you to click on these links and follow them on Twitter. My focus here is why we are at this point.
Honestly, whether a team is second or third division in the U.S. isn’t a big deal. Unless the U.S. pyramid introduces promotion/relegation, a club can clearly jump to MLS if they flash enough cash. U.S. Soccer also throws around enough waivers that a team can skirt a rule to move to another league if they want.
The situation is more indicative of the massive failure of the U.S. Soccer Federation to properly grow the sport in this country. We have a system now where MLS can blackmail a city like St. Louis, Detroit, or Cincinnati to build a bigger stadium and pay massive fees instead of organically growing a great supporter base. A healthy and responsible federation would look at a city like Detroit and see a wonderful fanbase for a smaller club that contributes literally to the city both by supporting a great team but by giving back to the community. They wouldn’t allow MLS to go in and support non-resident businessmen promise MLS soccer and a fancy stadium in the city.
If the U.S. Soccer Federation wanted to grow soccer in this country, it would grow it in the entire country and not just where MLS wants to grow. In other countries where soccer is successful, the top flight is the focus but there is a healthy system of professional, semi-professional, and amateur clubs. No system is perfect; England for example had Portsmouth/Pompey.
But where is the U.S. Soccer initiative to have a team in every city that wants one and can support one? Why can’t there be a process where Loudoun County (VA) can have a lower-level professional team, for example? Instead, U.S. Soccer stands by and allows NASL and MLS to fight over the Atlanta and Miami markets, wasting valuable money and energy that could be spent building the game in all parts of Georgia and Florida.
For too long, U.S. Soccer has been too busy chasing the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. They’ve made grand proclamations about programs to have the U.S. men win the World Cup by 20XX and MLS being a top soccer league in the world. Instead, the Federation needs to take a holistic view of the sport in the country. Their goal should be to have as many people as possible in this country have a professional or semi-professional soccer team in driving distance of their house. USSF needs to actually be a neutral party between all levels of U.S. soccer and have a goal of propping up soccer in this country from the ground up, not the top down.