The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced major news on Friday night as they finally completed their sanctioning discussions. The USSF has decided to give both the United Soccer League (USL) and North American Soccer League (NASL) division two sanctioning for 2017.
USSF’s decision is reminiscent of the 2010 second division season when the NASL was just forming and USSF had not completed sanctioning. On that occasion the two leagues ran as separate conferences in one league with the NASL champion playing the USL champion, this will not be the case in 2017.
Early in 2016 USL had applied for division two status with USSF, something that was confirmed by USL commissioner Jake Edwards at the San Antonio FC home opener. Since then USL has been making its case to US Soccer for licensing.
The bulk of the USL argument seemed centered around the number of teams which has significantly grown since the NASL’s arrival in 2011. But much of that growth has come through requiring Major League Soccer teams to field their reserve sides in USL, something which USSF was not very keen on having in the second division.
“The USL is honored to receive provisional U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2 status, which provides further validation about our League’s financial sustainability, national footprint, ownership quality, stadium infrastructure and player development,” said Alec Papadakis, the USL Chief Executive Officer, in a press release. “Our teams have invested more than $100 million into stadium development in the last year to enhance the experience for the 1.5 million passionate fans that attended games in 2016, the 1,000-plus players and nearly 100 coaches that have positioned our League as a highly sophisticated competition model that cultivates strong regional rivalries.”
NASL was more reserved in their statement, released by a club owner “The NASL Board of Governors and I support U.S. Soccer’s decision to grant the league provisional Division II status,” said North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik, in the press release. “We’re excited about beginning play in April, and we look forward to the continued growth of our league and soccer in the U.S.”
Understandably USL is significantly more pleased with this announcement from USSF than NASL, as it represents a promotion for their entire league from the third to the second division. That said, for NASL, a league that has been losing teams at a rapid rate this winter, retaining division two status could be vital.
“After an exhaustive process working with both leagues, in the best interest of the sport the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors has decided to grant provisional Division II status to the NASL and USL,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, in a press release. “U.S. Soccer will create an internal working group that will work with each league to set a pathway to meet the full requirements for Division II and allow for the larger goal of creating a sustainable future. We look forward to another productive year for professional soccer in this country.”
Both leagues are sanctioned provisionally, however what those provisions are have not yet been announced. USSF says in their statement that they will “determine the additional requirements and a timetable for completion in the coming weeks.”