NASL Dismisses Commissioner Bill Peterson, Announces New League Vision

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After a rather tumultuous 2016 season that almost killed the league, the NASL has parted ways with its commissioner of four years, Bill Peterson. No permanent replacement has been named yet, but Rishi Sehgal, the league’s Director of Business Development and Legal Affairs, will take over in the interim. The league report indicates that the decision was mutual.

NASL Dismisses Commissioner Bill Peterson

The announcement also comes with a shift in their overall vision as a league. Gone are the aspirations of usurping MLS for division one status and here is a more conservative and measured approach to growth as a lower tier league. The league laid out it’s broad list of priorities in their report.

The new NASL will have three priorities going forward. It will continue its responsibility to work collaboratively with soccer stakeholders across North America to help grow the game. Second, the league will take a more prudent approach to expansion with a more rigorous vetting process by creating an Expansion Committee. Lastly, there will be a focus on long-term growth and as such, the NASL has begun implementing financial sustainability measures to grow the league. To achieve these priorities, the NASL will be investing in the leadership, skills, and capabilities required to maximize its potential.

The NASL had long been criticized for it’s choices of expansion cities that directly competed with both the other professional leagues in the United States. Their direct challenges to MLS and the USL often ended in failure, as evidenced by the demise of Rayo OKC and the Atlanta Silverbacks. Hopefully their more “prudent approach to expansion” will include focussing on markets without professional soccer instead of trying to but into established cities that struggle to support one team, let alone a second one.

This could also indicate that they are going to become less of a free spending enterprise. Their willingness to lavishly spend money on players almost killed off their marquee franchise, the New York Cosmos. The “financial sustainability measures” could eventually lead to a salary cap and/or transfer budget restrictions. This goes against the original philosophy of the league, but it could be necessary for the long term health of the league.

Peterson’s Legacy

Bill Peterson was hired as commissioner of the North American Soccer League before the 2012 season, their second after breaking off from what is now the USL. With his appointment came calls for directly challenging MLS for division one status in the United States. He took over an eight team league that had just lost Montreal Impact to MLS and would soon see Puerto Rico Islanders go under.

The league never grew much past that eight team mark during Peterson’s tenure. Yes, he added teams in San Antonio, New York, Indianapolis, Tampa, and other places. In total, Peterson oversaw the addition of nine different cities to the league, including San Francisco, who will begin play this year. The trouble is, he could never hold onto them. While those nine came in, a total of ¬†eight have since left the league through various means.

The most damning of those club departures was the loss of Ottawa Fury and Tampa Bay Rowdies to the USL. Those two, who were doing alright for themselves, saw a brighter future for themselves with the NASL’s arch rival league.

One thing Peterson will never be accused of lacking was ambition. Despite constantly needing waivers to maintain division two status, he always had his eye on the top of the pyramid. Even in his final days, with the league’s infastructure collapsing around him, he maintained that the ultimate goal of the NASL was to achieve division one status along with MLS. That mentality ultimately cost him his job after it almost killed the league off, but he cannot be faulted too much for always wanting to climb up the American soccer ladder.

The Next Step for the NASL

Peterson¬†leaves behind a league that is struggling to get to 2017, but has a realization of where it should go in the future. Looking towards markets that do not yet have professional soccer should be their expansion plan. San Diego would be an excellent start, however they should look to move on from the rumors of Orange County (which will have three pro teams in 2018), Atlanta, and even Peter Wilt’s Chicago project. They should be looking to places like Detroit, Cleveland, Chattanooga, and other strong NPSL markets to draw new teams from.

The league is in a position where it can grow as long as it does so smartly. The Expansion Committee that the league mentioned forming will need to take a good, hard look at any cities that want to join in.

Maintaining second division status, while appearing important on the outside, should not be the main concern of the league. The tiers of the American soccer pyramid are mostly meaningless anyway and U.S. Soccer seems content to kick the can down the road on establishing a firm hierarchy for their professional league system. The NASL should focus more on keeping their league stable while modestly expanding into vacant pro soccer markets.

For now, the focus will be on the upcoming 2017 season. The NASL will take the field this spring with eight teams. FC Edmonton, Indy Eleven, Jacksonville Armada FC, Miami FC, New York Cosmos, North Carolina FC, Puerto Rico FC, and San Francisco Deltas will make up the field for at least the first half of the season. Expansion sides in San Diego, Orange County, Atlanta, and other cities could join for fall 2017 or spring 2018.