Puerto Rico Islanders Make Switch Official, Join North American Soccer League
The North American Soccer League (NASL) announced this afternoon the addition of the Puerto Rico Islanders to its list of eleven D2 teams. Baltimore, Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, Montreal, Rochester, St. Louis, Tampa, Vancouver, and expansion team Edmonton had previously decided to affiliate with the organization.
The NASL is a group of team owners who were unhappy with the United Soccer Leagues (USL) and tried to attain sanction of D2 Soccer in the US last year. The attempt was unsuccessful but USL lost the bulk of their D2 teams in the process as well as sanctioning rights. The USSF has been running the league this year giving both the USL and the NASL a year to organize themselves better.
Recently US Soccer set very high standards of ownership in D2 because of the high fail rate associated with the league. The new standards mean that 3 teams, AC St. Louis, Crystal Palace Baltimore, and the NSC Minnesota Stars, all most likely will need new ownership or a major investor to keep the teams active in the D2 league. AC St. Louis is the only one of the three that currently has a serious investor looking to take over the team.
The NASL will be losing Vancouver to MLS next season. Rochester Rhinos’ owner Rob Clark has recently gone on record saying he was considering his options for next season and while he did switch from the USL to the NASL last year, is contemplating a switch back again this off season but says that decision will not be made until after the season.
Puerto Rico cannot make one of the financial requirements of the new tougher USSF standards. It has no one 35% owner with a net worth of $20 million. The Caribbean team is banking on the USSF allowing a waiver for the 2011 season while they look for new investors. Insiders close to the situation believe that US Soccer will make an exception for the successful Puerto Rican team. The Islanders have been involved with D2 soccer since 2004 and have gained great stature in the CONCACAF region with its Champions League play and good league performances in D2.
If AC St. Louis is able to restructure under possible new ownership, and if the USSF allows the Islander’s waiver, the NASL would be one shy of the 8 teams required by FIFA to run a league. However, exceptions are often made allowing teams to operate for a year with a lesser amount if there are plans for future expansion of the league.
Puerto Rico’s switch to the NASL had been rumored for several weeks. Then, in an interview with Selby Wellman on August 31, the Cary News quoted the RailHawks owner as saying the Islanders had made the switch to NASL. But the next day a Puerto Rican newspaper reported that Islanders board had not yet made that official but were interested in many of the organization’s ideas.
The Islanders’ move to the NASL ends a 7-year relationship with the USL and comes on the heels of the organization’s announcement yesterday that they are reorganizing their leagues formerly called USL-1 (D2) and USL-2 (D3) into one league called the USL Pro League. The new league will actually be a continuation of their division 3 USL-2 league with improvements made giving owners more power to make decisions and hoping to expand into multiple regional leagues.
With Portland moving to MLS next year and Puerto Rico switching allegiances to NASL, it leaves the USL with the Austin Aztex as the lone D2 team associated with the organization.
NASL Press Release
NASL to Submit Application for USSF Sanctioning as the Second Division
The North American Soccer League (“NASL”) is proud to announce the addition of the Puerto Rico Islanders. The Puerto Rico Islanders currently compete in USSF Division 2 and have qualified for the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League for three consecutive seasons.
“We are honored and proud to welcome Puerto Rico to the NASL. The Puerto Rico Islanders, who are the preeminent Caribbean team and whose remarkable accomplishments in league and international play, have elevated second division soccer in the United States,” said NASL CEO, Aaron Davidson. “The Islanders have been at the forefront of the remarkable growth the sport has experienced on the island of Puerto Rico and their addition to the NASL makes our league stronger.”
“It is the perfect time for the Puerto Rico Islanders to continue moving forward to next and better levels in professional soccer. NASL and its members are on the right track and our organization and soccer development in Puerto Rico deserves no less. We are confident that NASL will be excellent for Second Division Soccer in the United States. Through NASL soccer in Puerto Rico will experience the continuous growth that it has achieved thus far. This is yet another step in the right direction as we have done since the inception of our organization,” expressed the Puerto Rico Islanders President, Andres Guillemard-Noble.
He also added: “That the future is promising more than ever and we will continue to showcase to the soccer world that Puerto Rico does it better.”
As the only professional club in Puerto Rico currently aligned with a North American professional league, the Islanders on-field success has led to incredible growth for the sport on the island. The Puerto Rico Islanders have developed one of the Caribbean’s best soccer traditions and history of achievement dating back to the inception of the club in 2004.
In the 2008-2009 CONCACAF Champions League, the Puerto Rico Islanders reached the semifinals falling on penalty kicks to Mexican giants Cruz Azul. In 2009-10, the Islanders eliminated Toronto FC of MLS in the Preliminary Round. In the current 2010-2011 edition of the competition, the Islanders defeated MLS leaders LA Galaxy in the Preliminary Round and are currently tied for the lead in Group D with Mexican club Toluca. Earlier this season, the Puerto Rico Islanders won the 2010 CFU Club Championship after placing second in 2009.
The NASL is committed to developing the highest level professional soccer league below MLS in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. The NASL will be submitting its application to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) to officially become the only second division professional soccer league in the United States.