Professional Soccer has often been a spottingly available product across North America, and MLS, as a Premier Division, cannot fill the gaps by itself. This is where USL has often filled in, in the past, although USL has often been perceived as small market, for good reason in many cases. The reformed NASL aims to change that.
The North American Soccer League 2.0 (Special Edition, Director’s Cut, etc) has stepped up where USL had failed previously. While many of the teams in the NASL remain small market teams, there has been some significant progress made, specifically with regards to the new clubs entering the league (St. Louis, Atlanta, Tampa and a jumped up Baltimore).
Major League Soccer and USL had previously failed to succeed, or even enter, in certain major markets in the United States and Canada. In all of the cases of folded teams, we have numerous examples in the wasteland which is the southeastern United States, and of course, “Western Canada” (read as Alberta). In the case of non-starters, we have St. Louis, among others. But regardless of case, the reason for failure has largely been due to poor business plans.
It seems that NASL seeks to learn from the mistakes made by both the MLS and the USL.
Evidence can be found with the new club in Edmonton, known at this point as FC Edmonton (a name which I hope they keep, it has a nice, crisp feel to it).
Where the Drillers have failed before, FC Edmonton seeks to succeed. It seems the ownership and management understand the need for a successful team in what could be considered a barren wasteland for the beautiful game. They certainly have shown an understanding for the Prairie psyche, and are establishing a youth academy in order to reach out to talented youngsters across the three provinces. What is most promising is what seems to be the commitment to winning, and the acquisition of pedigreed coaching in Dutch-Canadian Manager Dwight Lodeweges.
Other smart moves taken by NASL can be found with AC St. Louis.
It has already been documented on this website that AC St. Louis has acquired Steve Ralston from the Revolution, in both a player and coaching role, but one cannot emphasize the importance of such an acquisition. The talented player will undoubtedly be important in what could be a rocky start for the expansion side. Even more important though, is his role as a coach as well as a player. It is little secret that once players get over the hump of 30 years of age, their abilities start to decline quite quickly. Ralston is well over that hump and will be making the transition from player to coach, and potentially manager one day.
Essentially, NASL (AC St. Louis in particular) is making an investment for the future in this acquisition, and sending a clear message that they’re serious about sticking around.
We can also talk about the Florida market and the attempt by NASL to lock it up with teams in Tampa and Miami. One should note that MLS has left this place a soccer wasteland.
Essentially, NASL has filled the gap of pro soccer in mid-major markets in North America. This will allow for more professional opportunities for youth across the continent and allow for longer term development. Why is it able to succeed where USL has failed? Simple branding. The North American Soccer League is a brand which remains one of the strongest in North American football and it will play an important part in filling a major gap in the availability of association football in North America.
In my next piece, I will discuss the importance of capping MLS at 20 teams and which markets should fill the final positions.