As USL Pro is moving forward with its realignment and scheduling, the NASL has taken some huge step backwards. On Wednesday, A.C. St. Louis announced it was ceasing operations, depriving the fledgling NASL of a critical metropolitan area. But even worse news came right before the weekend, as Inside Minnesota Soccer reported the USSF was unhappy with NASL’s progress so far and voted to remove the league’s provisional second division status.
First, let us mourn the loss of A.C. St. Louis, and use it as a warning to those start-up clubs with dreams of MLS. Owner Jeff Cooper had the dream of bringing an MLS club to the city and after being denied an expansion franchise in 2008 and 2009, he began A.C. St. Louis in order to eventually bring them up to MLS. Despite signing Steve Ralston and hiring Claude Anelka as head coach, the team finished only 11th overall in the USSF D2 and never resolved its financial difficulties. It is especially sad considering the city also lost its women’s pro team last year, and a metropolitan area which boasts six supporters groups will be without soccer.
More troubling is the future of the NASL in general. The NASL does have the option of appealing the USSF’s preliminary decisions to deny second division status at the USSF annual General Meeting in February, and it would seem like that is the league’s best option. Failure to be certified, period, would subject the league to FIFA penalties including preventing the players from playing for their country’s national team. If NASL addressed the USSF concerns somewhat, they could also receive third division status, but with USL Pro already certified and moving forward with their season this would be very unlikely. Most likely if the league cannot get its act in order it will fold, depriving eight cities of professional soccer.
It looks like the impetus for this action was the financial instability of the league that went beyond the A.C. St. Louis situation. According to the reports, the Carolina Railhawks have been facing serious financial trouble and have sought assistance from Traffic Sports USA, a sports management company that already controls three NASL clubs.
Regardless of the reason, this is a major setback for American soccer. I mentioned in my USL Pro post that American soccer needs a stable soccer pyramid to not only provide an avenue for talent development, but to grow the game in areas not covered by MLS. That stability was not there last season and it looks again to not be here this season. The USSF needs to determine right now if the NASL can be a stable league worthy of second division status and if not how they can immediately stabilize the soccer pyramid. Otherwise the development of American soccer will continue to stagnate.