The North American Soccer League (NASL) has spent much of the last year trying to claim some degree of authenticity in its approach to the world’s game. In contrast to the franchise model of Major League Soccer (MLS), which features a majority of new clubs using names that resemble that of older European ones, the NASL has been willing to embrace American soccer history and free market principles.
However, the NASL’s announcement of a new team in Oklahoma City to be affiliated with Rayo Vallecano immediately brought back memories of Crystal Palace Baltimore, a club which — affiliated with the league in 2010 during the season where they shared US Soccer’s second division with USL — folded after one season thanks in large measure to financial troubles with both the parent club and local owners. The club never competed in NASL as an independent league.
Now that La Liga side Rayo Vallecano has announced an agreement to launch a NASL team in Oklahoma City, the best comparisons I can make are to compare the team to (1) Chivas USA, a failed MLS team, (2) Ajax Orlando, which folded after three seasons in the USL’s Premier Development League, and perhaps even the (3) Manchester City-managed New York City FC. It is a departure from the philosophy the NASL has held since 2011, which has been to add new clubs that appeared either connected to the original NASL or were built around strong local connections. Oklahoma City is currently home to a very successful USL team, the OKC Energy, which has largely cornered the local market for pro soccer.
NASL has attempted to chart its own course, and many who support the league have mocked the rival-MLS for “Euro-posing” and adding Sporting, Real, FC, SC or United to virtually every team the league has added since 2005. As the second-tier league which publicly aspires to challenge MLS, the established market leader for division one recognition, the NASL has focused largely on building a strong brand in local markets previously lacking professional soccer.
But earlier this year, when the NASL announced a new franchise in Miami, which is within the same TV market as an existing NASL club, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the league began going in a different direction. The cities that have been linked with new NASL teams in the last six months either have existing pro teams or are huge markets, such as San Francisco.