A couple of important D2 stories hit the internet this week. First was Mike Blake’s story in the Cary News. Blake interviewed the Carolina RailHawks’ majority owner Selby Wellmanwho let the cat out of the bag that Puerto Rico has switched alliances from the United Soccer Leagues (USL) to the North American Soccer League (NASL).
However, an article out of Puerto Rico disputes that information. It states that Isaac “Sao” Nieves, Vice-President of Operations for the Islander, said Wellmans’s assertion is “premature” and that the decision is “not official.” He acknowledged a meeting with the NASL saying that the organization “have some good ideas.” But he explained that the Islanders board of directors have not finalized their decision.
In an August 9th meeting, US Soccer laid down tough new standards for anyone who wants to sanction the league and the owners who want to participate. The NASL and its teams seem to be struggling to find enough ownership groups to qualify for sanctioning. USSF has asked for 8 teams minimum which is also a FIFA standard. Among other new standards is a requirement that the sanctioning league have teams in 2 separate time zones the first year of operation. New rules also require a 35% majority owner of each team who has a net worth of $20 million. A performance bond of $750 thousand must be paid 90 days in advance of the season by each club. Bids for sanctioning must be submitted by September 15.
On the surface it looks to be an advantage for the NASL to become partners with the Puerto Rico Islanders who have been in the league since 2004 and have had great regional success in the CONCACAF Champions League. A closer look reveals the Islanders do not meet the USSF Standards. The Islanders have a soccer specific stadium and claim they can produce the bond, but admit they do not have any one owner worth the $20 million. The team is owned by at least 8 different partners.
Another problem with the Islanders is they are looked upon as a non-US team. Puerto Rico has its own soccer federation. Part of the new standards states 75% of the teams in the league need to be from the US. The successful Montreal Impact will be in D2 one more year before moving to MLS in 2012. FC Edmonton is also part of the NASL partnership (as is Montreal) but Edmonton, who have played a exhibition season this year in preparation for their addition into the D2 league next year, might be in doubt. Especially if the USSF makes an exception and allows Puerto Rico a waiver to play in 2010. If the NASL could come up with 6 teams next year, that would mean only two could be from outside the US. While Edmonton can make the requirements, it might be prudent of USSF to waive Puerto Rico this season and allow Edmonton to come into the league in 2012 when Montreal leaves. This would also give the Islanders a year to find stronger investors.
With Puerto Rico’s allegiance switch there are now 11 teams associated with the organization. Carolina, Baltimore, Miami, Montreal, Minnesota, Puerto Rico, Rochester, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Vancouver and expansion franchise FC Edmonton. However, Vancouver heads to MLS in 2010. AC St. Louis and Crystal Palace Baltimore have had financial problems and neither can currently pass the financial standards set by USSF. The NSC Minnesota Stars have not had financial problems but they are not able to pass the standards either and are looking for an investor in order to keep the team running next year.
In the interview Wellman admits the NASL does not have enough teams that make the USSF grade. “There are six of us who meet all of the standards, so we’re two short,” Wellman said. “The candidates [who do not meet all of the standards] would be St. Louis, Baltimore, Puerto Rico and Minnesota, who are not in the core six.”
That leaves only Carolina, Miami, Montreal, Rochester, Tampa Bay, and FC Edmonton.
And it gets worse. The Austin Aztex have stated they will not affiliate with the NASL for now and the Rochester Rhinos have recently gone on record saying they are weighing their options for next season.
The NASL had been courting the Austin Aztex owner Phil Rawlins. Before the USSF meeting on August 9th, Wellman and Rawlins met. The NASL hoped Wellman could convince the Austin owner to join the NASL. Rawlins remained unswayed and has not showed his hand to either the USL or the NASL. Many believe the USL will not even make a bid for the league and Rawlins admitted yesterday in an article written by Nick Barbaro of the Austin Chronicle that he has no confidence in the NASL.
“Austin Aztex are not an NASL-affiliated club and as such will not be participating in their proposal,” said Rawlins. “The NASL bid fails to meet several of the criteria laid down as ‘mandatory’ for sanctioning by the USSF.”
Some sources have shared their belief that the USSF will sanction the league again next year. However, US Soccer President Sunil Gulati specifically said they would not sanction the league for more than one year in an address last January. Those same sources have stated they believe US Soccer will not allow D2 soccer to go dark in a year where they are bidding for a World Cup.
Another source told IMS they also believe the USSF will sanction the league because it has not been as much work to administer the league as originally thought. In fact the USSF estimated the cost of running the league at $50 thousand per team at the start of the year. With the season nearly complete, US Soccer has now cut that estimate in half.
The USL will be holding a meeting on September 8th in Tampa, Florida. According to a USL spokesperson, “the meeting will gather team owners and executives from the USL professional division and will cover a wide range of topics for 2011 and beyond.”
All current USL-2 owners (the league will be renamed USL Pro-Championship Division for next season) have been invited to the meeting. USL have only 6 teams in their 3rd division league this season but have stated they plan to expand with new teams and a possible conference on the West Coast.
Rochester Rhino’s owner Rob Clark has confirmed he will be attending the USL meetings but emphasized that he is only in the exploratory stage for the Rhinos. “We have made no decisions for 2011,” said Clark. “I’m going to absorb all of the alternatives for the Rhinos should we choose not to participate in D2 next year. If the USL D3 league and its owners have their house in order and more importantly make decisions that “make sense” consistently, then I will have a very hard decision to make this off season.”
Rawlins also plans on attending the USL meeting even though the Aztex organization still have no plans to play anything but D2 soccer in 2011. Djorn Buchholz, CEO of the Aztex, has stated previously to IMS that Austin’s plan is to compete in D2 soccer next season.