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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Should the USL Absorb the NASL?

For those of you who haven't heard, US Soccer has put the final dagger in the tier 2 existence of the North American Soccer League. It's not surprising as the NASL has been in trouble for a while. It doesn't have the mandated twelve teams and it is barely a national league. It has also caused problems by pushing for promotion/relegation and pointing out the very cozy relationship between the MLS and US Soccer in a world where everyone knows soccer is the most corrupt major sport in the world.

As well, the United Soccer League has been booming. I'm not sure what the entry requirements are for the USL, but it has about a million teams. Last year it announced an agreement with MLS to become its minor league and the second teams for the MLS are now playing in the USL. It was also elevated to the second tier this season and announced that next year it will have both a second tier and third tier league.

So let's look at the teams from the two leagues and see where they should end up next year.

First of all, should any team from the NASL or the USL go to the MLS? To put that question in perspective, let's talk about average attendance in the MLS. The MLS has about five tiers. Two teams have above 40,000 per game (Atlanta & Seattle). Two are in the 25,000+ range (Toronto & Orlando City). Nine fit in the 20,000+ range (Sporting KC by rounding up). Nine are in the 15,000+ range (Columbus by rounding up).

Only one team in either the USL or the NASL fits into the MLS mold by pure attendance numbers: FC Cincinnati out of the USL. If the MLS doesn't pull it in soon its management is failing it. It's already eclipsing its northern neighbor (The Crew). However, were the MLS management to show some real cunning it would also grab some of the teams in the same area such as Lou City (USL) and the Indianapolis Eleven (NASL)  to continue and develop rivalries that could actually get people interested in more than just their local team (a massive problem the MLS is having). However, that would take a level of smarts beyond what the MLS has shown itself capable of.  They may pick up FC Cincinnati reluctantly, but they'd rather dangle possibilities out to far separated teams who don't have any natural local rivals (except in NY where they've now got two in what looks like it might be an attempt to kill the Cosmos).

Who should the USL take into its tier 2 league? Let's assume that the USL only puts 15 teams in its tier 2 league and that any team the USL were to pick up for tier 2 has to have the numbers to be in that 15. The USL should really be panting at the prospect of picking up the top four NASL teams and adding them to its tier 2 league: The Indianapolis Eleven average 8,000+ per game which would put them above all but three USL clubs. Miami FC averages 5,800+, putting it above all but six of the USL teams. The Cosmos are averaging 4,800+, above all but nine of the USL clubs, and they carry the Cosmos name and logo which are prizes unto themselves. North Carolina averages 4,200+, above all but eleven in the USL, and it's the only team in its area so it has a lot of room to grow. They would and should be prizes that the USL picks up from the ashes of the NASL.

Who should the USL take into its tier 3 league from the NASL? Hopefully, everybody else. Definitely FC Edmonton and Puerto Rico FC. Jacksonville may need to be looked at first as I have a vague understanding that they've had some problems. San Fran would probably do well enough if there are enough tier 3 teams out West.

In the end, the USL would be strengthened if it could absorb the NASL whole, but there seems to be an undertone in discussions I see of this indicating it is not willing to do so. I don't know why except for some sort of lingering acrimony for a competing league. I hope this is wrong and the USL shows the kind of business acumen it has in the past and pulls as many of these teams in as it can in order to strengthen and grow this sport.

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