Dear Mr. President:
Having had their moments of shock, anger and venting on message boards and blogs, soccer fans who are certain the new North American Soccer League is the way forward are now taking their message directly to the head man at US Soccer, Sunil Gulati. In response to USSF’s revoking of sanctioning for the NASL for the 2011 season, they’ve sent Gulati a letter, which you can read in its entirety here or with my snarky comments after the jump.
Dear President Gulati,
As supporters of North American Soccer League (NASL) clubs, we would like to voice our concern regarding the recent decision by your Federation to rescind the provisional Division 2 status of the NASL. We are personally appalled by the decision of the Federation to deny second division sanctioning to the NASL. Many fans were positively encouraged by the interest the USSF paid to second division soccer this season, and were pleased by the new standards put in place to ensure stability and continuity at the second division level. We thank the USSF for the interest and leadership you have provided during 2010 to stabilize and maintain second division.
First sentence was strong, but then it went a bit off the rails. “Personally appalled” is only the first instance of overreacting and making this about themselves rather than the game. This paragraph finished strongly, though. This letter had a chance after the first graf.
Should our community be deprived of high level, but affordable entertainment in the form of NASL soccer for 2011, fans will be starved of access to the beautiful game.
Let’s see…Edmonton hasn’t had D2 soccer for more than a series of exhibitions since 2004. Atlanta’s D2 team last played in 2008. If there’s one team in all of this that doesn’t really need a league this year, it’s Montreal – they could play exhibitions against AC Milan or Manchester United or whoever else wants to make a US tour this summer, plus Rochester, and be just fine before heading to MLS in 2012. How is their starvation going to be any different than in the last several years, exactly? How are the handfuls of people who attended matches at Lockhart Stadium going to find their lives different if Miami FC doesn’t play this year, exactly?
And if there’s one thing you can’t say about the American soccer fan, it’s that he or she is ever “starved of access to the beautiful game.” We’ve got more access to soccer – at high levels – than ever before in this country. But not getting to see Division II-level soccer – for one year, probably – is going to kill you?
Without professional soccer in our community, many fans may simply move on to other sports and an opportunity to continue the upward trajectory of interest in soccer here at home will be lost.
Serious question: how many soccer fans do you know who move on to other sports? And, again, let’s go back to Atlanta and Edmonton, who haven’t had teams in years. Did their fans “simply move on to other sports?” Many soccer fans are already fans of other sports in addition to soccer (unless they’re doing the I’m-too-cool-for-American-football routine). And our country went 12 years without a major league – yet soccer is more popular than ever on these shores.
For our youth soccer community, it is imperative that the NASL play at the second division level this season.
Won’t someone please think of the kids?
What? “Imperative?” Can you imagine the percentage of youth soccer players in this country that don’t live anywhere near one of the 21 professional soccer teams in the continental US? Wasn’t it imperative that we have a Division I league in the 90′s? How’d we come through that, okay? Kids playing soccer, they still played soccer, right? Some of them even became professional players, oddly enough.
The USSF is striving to improve soccer in the United States and improve our national team. But if we deny young fans in five key American soccer markets local heroes to emulate and a club to support, we potentially lose a generation of kids who can help make the United States the best we can be in World Soccer.
Like all the ones we lost between 1985 and 1996, right?
Look, we all know the stories of Tab Ramos and John Harkes growing up aspiring to be New York Cosmos, but Landon Donovan didn’t have time to emulate his local heroes because he was too busy freaking playing soccer. Which is what “kids who can help make the United States the best we can be in World Soccer” are going to be doing, not trying to get Caleb Norkus’ autograph.
The partner federations and communities in Canada and Puerto Rico would also be severely affected.
Well, I’m not really concerned about Canada and Puerto Rico, sorry. The Canadians have had years and years to get their house in order. If they have to continue to do that without FC Edmonton, so be it. Canada’s a big country – I think they’ll survive.
The loss of our league will also have an inevitable ripple effect that will hurt not only the US National Team program and supporter’s base, but also development of soccer throughout the CONCACAF region.
Wow. That’s big. “Inevitable,” you say? How is the National Team program going to be hurt by the loss of a league in which no national team-level players actually play, again? And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the “supporter’s base” for the national team is quite a bit larger than that of the fan base in individual communities and they’re not as interconnected as you seem to think.
The NASL serves as a competitive league where many nations throughout the region have players developing their talent.
It should be noted at this point that the NASL, as an independent league, hasn’t exactly played an actual game yet.
Having better players throughout our region will no doubt be beneficial to the development of US Soccer, providing stronger competition to challenge and grow the US Nation Team.
Or the National team, even. So…when was the last time you saw the US National Team play against a team in World Cup qualifying that had a reasonable number of players who ply their trade in the American second division?
When our teams played in USL, we were never able to keep track of our opponents or the composition of the league.
Good luck if you’re looking for AC St. Louis this year, then. And potentially Carolina.
But let’s look at the “never able to keep track” argument for a second. Tampa Bay never played in USL, so they’re out. Edmonton never played in USL, so they’re out. Montreal and Minnesota had both been around long enough to see more makeup changes than a Miss America contestant, but that’s our country. Carolina’s been in the league since 2007. From the time Miami entered the USL First Division in 2006 to 2009, there were 12, 12, 11 and 11 teams in the league. Exactly 16 teams total played in those seasons – half of them played all four and three more played in three. Austin, California, Cleveland, Toronto and Virginia Beach were all one-hit wonders, but, God, that’s too many changes to keep track of.
It’s also worth nothing that many of these people are the promotion and relegation zealots who would have every league’s roster of teams change a bit every year. But not too much! Can’t keep track!
The NASL has been forthright and aggressive in its local marketing while pledging a needed stability at the second division level.
Show me some example of this “aggressive local marketing,” if you would, please. And the key word in the second sentence is “pledging.” We all know the second division level needs stability – you won’t get any argument on that from anyone who’s been following this whole saga. But there’s a big difference between pledging it and delivering it.
The NASL’s ability to attract the type of investors the USSF wants involved in the sport based on the new second division standards also has local fans excited about the future of both our teams and the league we compete in. We feel ownership and a connection to our league, the NASL that we never felt for USL.
Again, the NASL has been in operation since November of 2009. That’s not quite 15 months. That thing you’re feeling? That’s endorphins. The NASL is the new hot chick, that’s why you’re feeling that.
The teams of the NASL have already invested much time and resources to establish this second division league.
And some of them actually haven’t been taken over by Traffic! Yet!
This is the foundation for creating a stable second division in this country, as opposed to a league that benefits from the constant expansion and contraction of teams.
If you think the NASL has actually hit on a formula to stop the constant expansion and contraction of teams at the second division level, I’d have to call you optimistic at best and delusional at worst. Where, exactly, is the proof of this? That they’re going to be different from USL? That they won’t be subject to the same market conditions, twists and turns? Because you say they won’t?
We believe that it is time for the USSF to work for what is best for the future and stability of U.S. Soccer. The mission should be to further the game’s roots in our communities by supporting soccer at all levels.
No argument there. I think the debate is about how best to go about that.
We hope you recognize the vital role second division soccer plays across North American and Puerto Rico. We ask that you reverse this shortsighted and damaging decision.
That’s the way, get mean when you want someone to give you something.
Displacing fans and hurting the development of soccer in the United States should not be what the USSF is all about. Your role as a governing body is to promote the sport and grow the game. Working with the NASL to establish a long needed, stable second division is the type of positive development this sport sorely needs.
I’m all in favor of working with whomever wants to help soccer in this country. But don’t you think US Soccer would be justified in saying, “Okay, meet us halfway on this – hire your second employee? We told you back last August what you’d have to do to have a league and you haven’t done it.”
“But you didn’t make MLS adhere to standards back in 1996,” many of them say. So that means we can’t have standards now? The situation’s not messed-up enough that someone shouldn’t step in and try to restore some order?
Look, I’m totally with you that USL was a mess. I used to work in the league, I have friends there, but from the late 1990s on, they made a ton of mistakes that helped bring us to the point we’ve reached today. From letting used car salesmen own teams (the alternative? no team – isn’t that part of your platform here?) to continuing to do business the way they’d always done it despite a changing game and changing expectations, USL made almost every mistake you can make.
As a result, they angered a group of owners who broke away and formed their own league (even though – ironically enough – one of the leaders of that charge, Selby Wellman in Carolina, cashed in his chips recently). If that forced USL to re-examine itself (it was taken over by new owners about the same time), that’s a good thing, yes?
Since the split and sale to NuRock, USL has hired a director of communications, director of creative services, senior director of PDL, national technical director, media relations manager, communications coordinator, director of interactive production, technical advisor, operations manager, player registrar, director of corporate sponsorships and senior director of youth leagues. The NASL has hired a blogger.
USL has decided it’s out of the second division business for now – and that’s a good thing. Sometimes you have to tear the whole thing down and build from the ground up, like American soccer did after the demise of the original NASL. Their third-division league – USL PRO – has a core group of long-standing teams and some expansion teams that, quite frankly, aren’t likely to see 2013. But that’s American soccer. And I can guarantee you that this NASL hasn’t hit on the magic elixir that’s going to keep that from happening.
I’ve said all along the most reasonable thing for USSF to do would have been to grant the NASL provisional sanctioning for 2011 with a clear set of expectations and goals to achieve full sanctioning in 2012 (there is precedent for this – USSF gave the USISL’s Select League provisional Division II status in 1996 with an eye towards full status in 1997, but the merger with the APSL made that a moot point). If six months isn’t enough time to reach the requirements set out for the second division – requirements that, let us not forget, the owners of the teams you support claimed to be on board with and welcomed, then fine. You have until 2012 to prove to us all that you can actually pull this off.
If the NASL gets its house in order and proves it can administer a viable second-division league in 2012, I’m all in favor of it. American soccer absolutely needs strength, viability and stability at all levels of the game.
But I have yet to see anything that makes me think they can do it.