The North American Soccer League (NASL), the second-tier of American soccer, last season began a controversial split season format that saw the side that had the best overall points total (Carolina RailHawks) fail to reach the post-season while a team that played only half the season (New York Cosmos) were crowned as Champions of the league.
For 2014, the league will continue using a split season, with the Spring campaign totaling only nine games per team while the Fall will total 18 matches for each side. The inconsistencies have maddened supporters enough that they have taken action.
NASL supporters groups announced last week that they would be banding together to award a championship trophy to the team with the most overall points at the end of each year. The Supporters Cup, will be named officially by supporters and will be funded by a collective effort of each of the league’s supporters groups. Each supporters group in the league has pledged to raise $500 or more towards the purchase of a trophy. Also under consideration is the idea of retroactively awarding the trophy to clubs who previously captured the points title.
The idea is roughly similar to the Supporters Shield in Major League Soccer (MLS). In the early days of MLS, the team with the best regular season record/points total received no special recognition. But unlike MLS, NASL does not have playoffs so the awarding of a trophy based on points is even more critical. As the 2013 NASL season proved, the top overall teams could very easily miss the one game Soccer Bowl match whose participation is determined by standing in each individual tournament.
Last season, the top two teams in overall points, Carolina and Tampa Bay, did not qualify for the postseason. Supporters have launched their own Twitter account @SupportersCup and are taking donations towards the trophies and suggestions about the name and scope of the award.
The controversial split-season NASL format may actually get a boost from this new supporters driven award as one of the critiques of the format was the lack of recognition for the top overall team. While a great number of vocal supporters throughout the league have expressed displeasure about the format publicly, the league has doubled down, and thus the necessity for this trophy arose. With an award in place for the top overall side, it might actually be easier for the NASL to continue with the split-season.