On Monday, the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League (NASL) officially suspended operations for the 2016 season, and likely beyond. The Silverbacks’ suspension continues a pattern of instability in the US and Canada’s second tier. For this coming season, the NASL will have dropped two teams, Atlanta and San Antonio ,while adding teams in Miami and Oklahoma City. Puerto Rico will join the league the following season, which begins in July 2016.
The Silverbacks, which the league assumed control in late 2014, faced an uncertain future after Major League Soccer (MLS) announced plans to place an expansion team in the market. Following this announcement, the Silverbacks’ owners backed out of managing the club, which dates its history to 1995, leaving the league’s other owners to pick up the pieces.
The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) has sat by while the three professional leagues in the US and Canada have engaged in predatory practices for their own survival. While some critics of the North American soccer market claim it is the most tightly controlled and regulated on the planet, the opposite is in fact true. With no vertical integration in the pyramid and divisional designations largely meaningless, the leagues have engaged in a war against each other. Today a detente in terms of marketing relationships exists between the first-division MLS and third-division United Soccer League (USL), but the two leagues once had a similar arrangement that broke down over a decade ago. That breakdown ushered in an era of animosity, with MLS raiding the USL of some of its marque clubs.
Following this period, several USL clubs split of and created the NASL in 2009. At the time, the USSF tilted toward the NASL, as thanks to the generous financial backing of since disgraced Brazilian marketing giant Traffic Sports, they were looking to invest more heavily in Division 2 soccer. A brief detente between all parties existed in 2010 during the US’s 2022 World Cup bid, and NASL was promoted by the USSF as an example of the growing game in the country. When the US World Cup bid was defeated under suspicious circumstances by Qatar in Dec. 2010, all gloves were off, and the leagues resumed feuding.
At the time new standards were put in place to force the USL, which had been a Division 2 league, to move down to Division 3, leaving the NASL as the sole Division 2. Yet for the next two years, the USL’s official league boilerplate language referred to it being “the strongest and most experienced league below Major League Soccer,” implying the USL was a second division when it was not. The USSF choose to do nothing about this false claim.