Recent Up’s and Down’s of the NASL

Over the last few seasons the North American Soccer League has experienced a number of up’s and down’s. They’ve had news that has left fans of the league jumping for joy and then news that has left them scratching their heads in contemplation. While every professional sports league has its share of high and low moments, it appears that recently the NASL has had more than its fair share. Let’s take a look back at some of the up’s and down’s experienced by the league over the past few seasons.

First, the Up’s.

NASL Announces Media Deal With ESPN3

In March of 2015 the NASL reached an agreement to broadcast nearly all of their matches on ESPN3, ESPN’s streaming service. The broadcast deal was the first of it’s kind for the fledgling soccer league. The deal delivers nearly 120 league matches to homes in the United States as well as 75 other countries. According to a NASL press release, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Carolina RailHawks, Indy Eleven, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Atlanta Silverbacks, San Antonio Scorpions, Minnesota United FC, and Jacksonville Armada FC will feature “15 regular season home matches live on ESPN3 in the U.S., ESPN Play in Latin America,  and ESPN Player in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.”

NASL Expands into Miami

More than once MLS had encroached on potential NASL markets, even poaching one of its teams. The tables were turned on May 20th when the NASL announced an expansion team, Miami FC. MLS awarded a team in the city back in 2014 to soccer superstar David Beckham that is contingent upon his ability to build a soccer specific stadium, so far he has had no luck. NASL managed to beat MLS to the market by reaching an agreement with club owners led by the media entrepreneur Riccardo Silva and Italian soccer legend Paolo Maldini. The team is set to begin league play in 2016.

NASL Expands into Puerto Rico

Not even quite a month after announcing the Miami expansion team the NASL announced that they would be expanding into Puerto Rico. During a Thursday news conference New York Nicks forward Carmelo Anthony announced that his new club, Puerto Rico FC, would be joining the NASL and begin league play in 2016. The team would be the leagues 13th team and the second expansion team in as many months to have celebrity ownership. The team also announced that it will play its home matches at the recently renovated Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium.

NASL Announces Television Partnership With One World Sports

On Monday July 6 the NASL announced a multi-year partnership with One World Sports. This deal provides that One World Sports, which is available in over 30 million homes nationally, will air one game per week live on NASL Wednesday Night Soccer on ONE World Sports. The partnership also includes the creation of a weekly highlight show, NASL This Week which airs at 6:00 p.m ET on Tuesdays. This deal marked the first national television for NASL, which is in its fifth year of play. Until now all NASL games were broadcast online or on local stations that have direct partnerships with NASL teams.

New York Cosmos Play Cuban National Team

On June 2nd, 2015 the NASL side New York Cosmos made history when they became the first U.S. club team to play on the island since 1978, when the NASL side Chicago Sting played a match there. The New York Cosmos, escorted by the Brazilian superstar who once dawned their green kits, Pele, dominated the Cuban national team in a 4-1 victory. The Cosmos were the first U.S. based team to play in Cuba since President Obama announced that America would be normalizing relations with the country located just 90 miles off the tip of Florida. The game was broadcast live on One World Sports, ESPN2, and ESPN Deportes.

And now the down’s.

NASL Fails Expansion Attempts in Oklahoma and Virginia

While we know now that the NASL’s 12th and 13th team will be Miami FC and Puerto Rico FC respectfully, once upon a time the 12th and 13th teams were going to be the Virginia Calvary and Oklahoma City FC. When the league announced Virginia and Oklahoma as locations for future expansion teams the teams were originally announced to begin league play in 2015. That of course never happened.

For Oklahoma City FC it was issues in ownership threw a wrench in the team’s plans. One of the partners in the team, Tim McLaughlin, bought a 50% share in the rival franchise, the Oklahoma City Energy. McLaughlin subsequently withdrew from the potential NASL expansion team in 2014.  The withdraw forced the would be expansion team into a state of flux. McLaughlin’s withdraw had a positive impact on the rival USL club, Oklahoma City Energy, who quickly seized the rights to Taft Stadium (the lease rights to Taft Stadium are controlled by Tim McLaughlin).

Virginia Calvary FC ran into an array of problems, the least of which not being constant stadium construction issues and ownership reorganizations. The once would-be-franchise team saw the ownership group originally awarded expansion rights back in 2012 leave the area. The different ownership groups that did come and go were never able to make any headway in securing a stadium and were told they could not begin play until they did. There is currently no specific ownership group and there does not appear to be one ready to step out of the shadows.

On August 10 Empire of Soccer reported that both of these expansion efforts had officially been ended.

The NASL Loses Minnesota United FC to MLS

In late March it was announced that the NASL would be losing its biggest, Minnesota United FC, to Major League Soccer. The partnership was made official at Target Field, where it was announced that Minnesota United FC would join the league in 2018. MLS had been eyeing the nation’s 15th largest media market for some time. United beat out the Minnesota Vikings for the right to bring Major League Soccer to the Twin Cities. The NASL team’s commitment to playing soccer in a outdoors, downtown, soccer specific stadium was the reason for their selection.

Announcement Canada is Forming Its Own League

It had long been rumored, following the difficulties of Virginia and Oklahoma City, that the NASL had plans to expand further into Canada. There had been reports that league commissioner Bill Peterson had already been in talks with the Canadian Football Association about further NASL expansion into Canada. There had even been talk that the league was considering the formation of a Canadian conference, but a recent report from Duane Rollins seems to all but put an end to that. It appears that in short order Canada will have a soccer league of it’s very own. While this is good news for the development of the game in Canada, it puts a damper on further expansion by the league into the country to our north.

Aaron Davidson and Traffic Sports Busted in FIFA Scandal

Aaron Davidson was the chairman of the NASL and president of Traffic Sports USA Inc, which owned the NASL’s Carolina RailHawks. Both Davidson and Traffic Sports were indicted by the Department of Justice as part of the FIFA bust. Although much of the media attention was focused on the FIFA fallout, Davidson and Traffic Sports were major targets of the joint FBI/IRS investigation. Davidson currently faces 12 charges. (One count of racketeering conspiracy, one count of obstruction of justice, four counts of money laundering, and six counts of wire fraud.) The sad truth is that it is in large part the illegal activities of Davidson and Traffic Sports that have allowed the league to grow and find new investors. The league, should they not be able to find another large financial backer and marketing and broadcasting specialist, could be in serious trouble in the near future.

 

The last few years have certainly been interesting for the North American Soccer League. There have been mountains high and valleys low. While this has meant these past few seasons have been an emotional roller coaster for fans, it has been one thrilling ride. Fans of the league should keep their eyes peeled as the one thing we know for sure about this league is this; we never know what is coming next.

 


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