Traffic Sports USA and its president Aaron Davidson saw themselves as ultimate competitors to Major League Soccer (MLS) and MLS’ marketing arm Soccer United Marketing (SUM). Following the revelation of alleged misconduct by both Traffic Sports and Davidson this past week as part of a the bombshell DOJ investigation into FIFA and by extension every aspect of the sport, the motivations for the purported wrongdoing became clear.
As someone who worked at the North American Soccer League (NASL) for three and a half years including the period where some of the alleged misconduct began, the chain of events that make up a large part of the federal case against Davidson and Traffic Sports makes perfect sense.
When the NASL was formed due to the discontent of several owners in USL’s First Division (at the time the only sanctioned Division 2 league in the US or Canada), Traffic Sports USA took the lead in forming the Team Owners Association (TOA). The TOA challenged USL’s leadership and eventually attempted to form another Division 2 league. In late 2009, the TOA announced the formation of the NASL and with the two leagues sparing with one another, the US Soccer Federation (USSF) governed a joint league with both USL and NASL teams in 2010.
During 2010, NASL’s leadership dropped hints about future expansion to big markets and potentially challenging MLS down the road. The critiques of MLS were valid in the eyes of a minority but still a large number of American soccer fans – single entity, salary caps, allocations, drafts, etc were all creations of American sport and did not jive with the European or South American game so many fans had either grown up with or had acquired as a taste during the boom in soccer’s popularity that coincided with the 2010 World Cup.
In those days, I would hear from fans that spoke to Davidson outside games that the Chairman of the NASL Board of Governors would talk aggressively about Traffic Sports’ ability to bring high level international games to the US, build NASL into a competitor for MLS by attracting big-name sponsors and blue chip owners as well as the ability to compete with SUM for the biggest soccer properties. Davidson, even from time to time, would mention that the USSF rules had no provision preventing a second league for applying for D1 status.