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More Or Less Liveblogging The USSF Conference Call On NASL Sanctioning

The US Soccer Federation and North American Soccer League are holding a joint teleconference at 3pm ET to discuss USSF’s provisional sanctioning of the NASL as a Division II league for 2011. Follow the proceedings here.

Keep in mind I’ll be listening, writing and (probably) snarking all at the same time, so I may not be as “real time” as someone tweeting. But it should be worth it.

(Hold music. I’m told our moderator this afternoon will be Neil Buethe. Good luck, Neil. We’re all counting on you.)

Waiting for #USSFConferenceCallIsLateBecause to start trending on Twitter.

Here we go….(this will all be paraphrased, I’m sure USSF will have a transcript eventually).

Gulati: Thanks for joining us on short notice. We were pleased to admit the NASL on a provisional basis. It’s a difficult environment on many levels, but we’re excited that Aaron and his colleagues have put together a group of investors, so congratulations to them.

Davidson: We’re very happy and excited, this has been a very cooperative journey with the Federation. Very grateful, looking forward to working with them so we have a second division not only for 2011 but for years to come.

Richard Alder, San Antonio Express-News: Looking ahead to 2012, how important with Montreal leaving that San Antonio be in place with 2012?

Gulati (I think): We have no reason to believe that won’t be the case. We fully anticipate they’ll be part of the NASL in 2012.

Brian Quarstad, Inside Minnesota Soccer: On restrictions – or requirements that have been placed that must be met within a year on single team, single ownership. Is Minnesota subject to that?

Gulati: We haven’t put a provision on that. We will sit down and work with them on that, no timetable for that.

Quarstad: Would Minnesota be subject to that, though?

Gulati: We would like to see individual investment groups for all eight teams or however many they have.

Ridge Mahoney, Soccer America: Can you give us your perspective, Aaron, in light of Sunil’s comments, what will you do to maintain competitive integrity going forward?

Davidson: We’ve been very clear all along that it was out of necessity that Traffic had to invest in additional teams to make this all work. We are very cognizant that the sport is the most important thing. In the markets that we’ve actually stepped into – Atlanta and Carolina – they have local operator/investors that are absolutely independent from Traffic. Those teams and Minnesota will retain integrity.

Mahoney: Will this be the year they’ll have to hit standards in attendance and things to prove viability?

Gulati: It’s not for the Federation to say that attendance should be A, B or C or that sponsorship or player costs should be X, Y or Z. If it’s stable, then there will be increased interest. That’s what’s happened in MLS and what Aaron and NASL leadership are hoping will happen with the NASL.

Davidson: No one is under the impression that all of our teams are going to be profitable right away. We want to show we’re headed in the right direction.

Fred Dryer: What are your primary first year goals?

Davidson: The job didn’t start today, most of our teams have been playing for a while. This year is all about focusing on the nuts and bolts and make sure the teams are happy with the direction we’re going so we can build a plan going forward. To run a league where our teams make it through this year and have a stable platform to grow in their markets.

Simon Evans: Last year the Federation got quite involved in the temporary structure. This year, are you stepping back and letting them run themselves? And, Aaron, what will you do differently? Do you have deals with television, sponsors, or is it going to be pretty similar to 2010?

Gulati: This is a more natural situation. Last year was a temporary intervention by the Federation. Neither side last year met the standards, and we would administer the league and admit clubs. So we ran that directly. It’s not something we wanted to do long-term. I’m glad we were able to step back. This year, USL and the NASL will run their own leagues and have relationships with the Federation.

Davidson: Number one priority is to stop the churn rate and to maintain eight teams on a year-to-year basis so you can keep track of teams and a platform for them to grow. We’ve had so much churn at the second-division level that has created a huge difficulty of following the game at the second-division level. The owners own and govern the league and are buying into the NASL brand and you’ll see us promoting it a lot more proudly. The fans will be able to follow their teams and the league.

Neil Morris, Independent Weekly: Are the five US-based NASL team eligible for the US Open Cup?

Gulati: No, because it’s simply too late to include them. The timing doesn’t work. There is no place in the structure, they’re not going to be included.

John Boschini, Soccer By Ives: How important is a second division to MLS and the National Team?

Gulati: It can be very important on both counts. If we want to see American soccer grow and having additional outlets for fans, may be very different cities than MLS or at a different level. Having both the NASL and USL playing is a big plus, it covers a bigger area. I don’t think it’s directly the feeder system for the National Team, but it’s more opportunities. There are American players playing on those teams.

(I should note here that this call hasn’t been particularly enlightening, except for the Open Cup thing.)

Jeremiah from SB Nation: In the past we’ve had pseudo financial promotion of teams going from the second division into MLS and I’m wondering if that’s something USSF prefers? For Aaron, how sustainable is that going forward?

Gulati: I think the model is just completely different than a European or South American model where teams can just come in and work their way up. None of the four teams came into the USL with the primary goal of moving up to MLS, it certainly worked out that way. I think it’s helpful to have staff and administration in place to already be established in the market is a plus. I think in all four cases, the fact local ownership has been there can only be a positive. But that’s going to be a different model from many other teams that have joined or will join MLS? In theory it can be repeated, but it’s not a coincidence nor was it planned that those four teams for any number of years. But in a whole bunch of other places it wouldn’t be practical. The international teams are in a unique situation yet again.

Buethe: Thank you all for joining the call today.

That’s it, boys and girls. Well, that was particularly non-noteworthy, except for the part about the Open Cup, so the very few of you who care about the USOC will go off and have your conspiracy theories about it. For me, I am not sure I buy the explanation that February 14 was “too late” to include the NASL teams in the Open Cup format for 2011 when last year the Open Cup format wasn’t released until May 5. Maybe the NASL just didn’t want to deal with it? I don’t know. But this year’s Open Cup just got a whole lot less interesting.

As for the rest, everybody said all the right (and expected) things. The NASL wants to be stable, they’re effusive in their praise for the Federation and the Federation wants a stable second division. Nothing you didn’t know before last week. Nothing about what they looked at, what the concerns were that forced the removal of sanctioning in the first place.

Thanks for joining us. Take care of your waiters and waitresses.

27 Responses to More Or Less Liveblogging The USSF Conference Call On NASL Sanctioning

  1. Blah. Blah. My take: USSF wanted to avoid a lawsuit so they are going to give NASL enough rope for NASL to hang itself.

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  2. […] » Blog Archive » More Or Less Liveblogging The USSF Conference Call On NASL Sanctioning kenn.com/the_blog/?p=3904 – view page – cached The US Soccer Federation and North American Soccer League are holding a joint teleconference at 3pm ET to discuss USSF’s provisional sanctioning of the NASL as a Division II league for 2011. Follow the proceedings here. Tags […]

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  3. I propose an alternate theory about the NASL American based teams being exluded from the US Open Cup. I believe that MLS and the USSF don’t want the first division teams potentially being embarrassed by teams from a “provisional” league. While it seems that you may not care too much about the USOC, it is a big deal for fans of the lower division clubs and offers great bragging rights for the teams and their players. Moreover, it is the golden ticket to CONCACAF and regional international exposure. Puerto Rico and Montreal have put themselves on the map through that tournament. It is the key for US NASL franchises to get broad exposure and increased revenues. That is what was denied them through this exclusion. Very sad indeed.

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  4. Given that MLS teams win 70% of the time against D2 teams, provisional or not, that’s a fairly far out-there theory.

    Why not do it before now?

    What evidence is there to suggest that MLS teams even WOULD be embarrassed by losing to NASL teams? Given that one – Puerto Rico – already ousted the Supporters Shield winners – Los Angeles – from the CONCACAF Champions League and given that D2 teams have beaten MLS teams before without anyone wringing their hands, I think your theory is the least supported one I’ve heard so far.

    And, no, the CONCACAF Champions League, which draws very little attention, is not “the key for US NASL franchises to get broad exposure and increased revenues.” They have to take care of their own houses first.

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  5. I propose this for USOC: Two berths for NASL. One for Tampa (St Pete) and One for all the Traffic-owned teams (they can sort out which qualifies).

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  6. But, seriously, folks….I can’t wait to see the USOC format if it was too set in stone to accommodate these five professional teams.

    At this point, what are they to do? Have 12 PDL teams and 4 USASA teams play in the first round, giving us 8 winners to play….the 11 USL Pro teams?

    I’ll be curious to see it.

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  7. It is a very cynical view of the importance of the CONCACAF Champions League. Easy to do from the sidelines. However, the reality for the teams is different. Each team gets $37,000 per game that they play. That’s not bad money for a Div. 2 team for one game. Additionally, the Islanders only sellouts of their 13,000+ seat stadium, (besides the 2008 USL1 SemiFinal) have all come from CONCACAF games. Montreal sold 50,000 tickets to their last home game in the Champions league. That may be chump change for MLS, but it goes along way in Division 2. That speaks nothing of jersey sales, advertising revenue, and concessions. Those things all add up for teams whose operating costs often run around only $1 million per season. River Plate has established a franchise in Puerto Rico in the PRSL with the explicit aim of making it to the CONCACAF Champions League and building their brand in the region through it. Don Garber has made many concessions for MLS teams who advance in the tournament because he sees it as a way for MLS to get regional respect.
    While it is admitedly a long time since a Divison 2 team has won (1999), it is not out of the realm of possibility. Precisely because, as you mentioned, the Islanders knocked out the LA Galaxy. In professional soccer, you never know what’s going to happen- that’s why they play the games. The fact is that there is always a Division 2 team or two who make it to the quarter or semi finals and as recently as 2008 the Battery (then Divison 2) made it to the finals.
    The reason why they never did it before, as you asked, is because the USSF and MLS were never angered by the existence of a Division 2 League before.

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  8. And they’re not angered now.

    Seriously, a lot of these things seem to come back to the notion that “They’re scared! See? THAT’S why they want to keep us down!”

    No, that’s ridiculous. Completely ridiculous.

    The NASL – as currently constituted – is four former USL teams, one resurrected former USL team, one true expansion team and two teams that have been around for one year each and have gone a combined 18-24-18 in two years of actual league play. So they weren’t scared of these people before, but they’re scared of them NOW?

    As for the Champions League, yeah, blah blah blah blah. All I know is you look around the region and see teams getting 200 people paying to see a game and you have to wonder, “Well, it’s nice that Puerto Rico gets some change out of the deal, but, really, is that why the tournament should exist?” Because one day you might get past Pachuca on penalties and get to play ManU in a tournament in Dubai or Japan or wherever the hell they decide to play it that year and nobody will care if you did or didn’t within 48 hours after the game is actually played? Really?

    Like I said, the NASL has to get its own house in order first and prove they can “stop the churn,” as they put it, before they can start making regional respect a priority.

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  9. I propose an alternate theory to El Padre’s alternate theory – you’re freaking insane. Or stupid. They’re not excluding them because they are scared. They’re excluding them because it’s a two-bit, half-assed operation which barely got its ducks in a row in time to even have a season and they deserve to be taken to the woodshed in some way, shape or form.

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  10. i’m just going to sit back and laugh, how everybody feels threatened by NASL.

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  11. Doesn’t matter how two-bit or half assed you view the NASL operation as being. Fact is the U.S. based teams should be allowed to play. This is the U.S. Open Cup, where any organized pub team is allowed to enter and go for glory, much less (provisionally) sanctioned Division Two operations. We are halfway through the month of February and as Kenn has pointed out, the “timing” excuse just doesn’t hold much water.

    Maybe we’ll find out what the real story is here, but in the meantime this sucks for those of us who were really looking forward to the tournament.

    One upside is those teams won’t have to add the expenditure of traveling for 2 or 3 games (or paying for hosting rights) to their already tough financial situations.

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  12. We’re all laughing, too.

    But we’re laughing AT you, not WITH you.

    Perhaps nobody else is seeing what you’re seeing. So, please enlighten us and answer this question:

    What has the NASL done – actually done, not just said it was going to do – that would make it a legitimate threat to anybody?

    Have they ever actually played a game as a league?

    Have any of their teams, outside of Montreal, shown that they’re organizationally a force to be reckoned with?

    Do they have a television contract?

    Are they making inroads with stealing or siphoning off potential sponsors or markets?

    Again, four former USL teams (one of which is going to MLS next year), one revived former USL team, one true expansion team and two teams that have played a year each and can’t draw 4,000 people a game.

    This is threatening?

    Doesn’t matter what we say – some people will just cover their ears with their hands and say “la la la la la I am not listening to you” or move the goalposts like WSW does constantly.

    Again, who’s threatened and why? The NASL isn’t at a point where they can threaten anybody. They’ve got ONE EMPLOYEE. They haven’t gotten through a season yet. They haven’t shown they can do any of the things they’ve said they are going to do.

    But fanboys are always chasing something ephemeral, there’s always something out there in the mist that will prove they’re right…until they’re proven wrong, when they’ll focus on something else.

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  13. Speedcake: “One upside is those teams won’t have to add the expenditure of traveling for 2 or 3 games (or paying for hosting rights) to their already tough financial situations.”

    And you may have hit on it, right there.

    Just yesterday afternoon, I heard several conspiracy theories:

    1. The “Slap On The Wrist” Theory: That USSF just wanted to punish the NASL for dragging us all into this kerfuffle. There MAY be something to this, but you’d still have to show me what real punitive effect this will have. I’ve been told there’s an element of spite in all of this, but then why would Gulati basically go out of his way (by abstaining on the vote and then not bringing it to the AGM for a ratification) to make sure the provisional sanctioning happened? I’d put the chances of this theory at about 25%.

    2. The “We’re Afraid Of Them” Theory: Fanboys’ favorite, apparently. Because, despite winning 70 percent of games against D2 teams in the Open Cup since 1996, they couldn’t possibly risk losing to teams that, at this moment, don’t actually have players (for the most part). This also has an element of The Man keeping the NASL down because of what they might do. Again, let them get a ball first and actually play. Chances of this theory being true? Probably 1%.

    3. The “We’d Just As Soon Not Deal With It, Either” Theory: That, with everything else it has to get in order in the next 12 months, dealing with the Open Cup and its related hassles and expenses would just be one more thing getting in the way and the NASL would be just fine not having to go through it. Probably the most likely, though not a certainty. But at least a 50% chance of being right.

    4. The “They’re Telling the Truth” Theory: That there really ISN’T a place for them at this late date. Given that the US Open Cup format has been announced on May 5 and April 30 the last two years, I can’t for the life of me imagine how this could be true. Unless they announce the format next week. Chance of being right: 0.1%.

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  14. 70% looks really bad. For the past two FA Cups, Premier League teams have won 83% (17-4 so far in the current tourney and 22-4 last year). In the current Copa del Rey, La Liga teams won 81%. I have neither the time nor inclination to research more Cups or more years, but my guess is 70% is not very good.

    I’m not saying this bumps Kenn’s probability estimate for “We’re Afraid of Them” higher than 1%. 1% is probably generous. The Islanders outclassing an almost full strength Galaxy last year in the CCC Champions League was fun to watch, but does not mean either US Soccer or MLS has an interest in blackballing NASL from the Open Cup.

    I enjoy the egalitarianism of the Open Cup. I mean, to have professional, often millionaire, highly trained players AND monopolistic, always millionaire, highly self-interested owners strip away the pomp and absurdity of professional sport and just go out and play soccer against “pub” players on a lumpy field with only a 70% chance of success – is really neat. It is unusual in American sport and, to me, is a competition worth watching. And not having NASL participate is unfortunate, though I’m sure the competition will be just fine.

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  15. Chuck, that’s 70% without really trying.

    And, for the record, I think the NASL teams SHOULD be in the Open Cup, regardless of who beats whom how often, because it’s best for the game.

    March Madness wouldn’t be March Madness without upsets.

    This notion that MLS is better served by keeping the second division marginalized isn’t going to make sense to me until someone can explain to me exactly what threat they represent. Are they going to take markets away from MLS? Are they going to take players away from MLS? Are they going to take sponsorship dollars away from MLS? Are they going to take TV revenue away from MLS? So then where’s the threat? Where, exactly, is the threat?

    Bottom line: You have to prove you can run a league before you can prove you’re any threat. Fanboys just want something to believe in. The notion that the NASL will be anything other than “more of the same” assumes facts not in evidence. At this moment, they’re EXACTLY what we’ve had for the last decade. No better, no worse.

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  16. For the record, MLS teams are 71-30-14 vs. Division II teams all-time in the Open Cup (.678) and have advanced 81 of the 115 times (70%).

    Last year MLS teams were 5-0-0 against USSFD2 teams. The last time an MLS team lost to a D2 team in the Cup was June 30, 2009 when Rochester beat Columbus in penalties after a 1-1 draw. That same night, Charleston beat Chivas USA 3-1 and Wilmington beat the Chicago Fire 1-0.

    And yet, despite the “embarrassment” of those losses, MLS has somehow managed to add teams and stadiums and sponsors. So, yeah, it only stings for a minute.

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  17. The US Open Cup is open to any drunken sunday league team, as long as that team is USASA or USCS sanctioned, or in some other way affiliated with USSF. So even a rec-league team has to belong to an official league that is recognized by the governing body.

    NASL had months to prepare to meet the standards, but instead of doing real work, Davidson just created a lot of press. NASL kind of brought this upon themselves. I do feel sorry for fans of the 5 teams that don’t get to play this year, but you should have put more pressure on your clubs to shit or get off the pot.

    The Cup really isn’t important either. It’s a handful of games. If you’re lucky you get one game at home to a weakened MLS side. I guess maybe you were counting on the gate receipts from that one game to make up for the 1,200 season average attendance.

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  18. Well, there’s that.

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  19. 3,800 average :D We aren’t ALL Miami FC.

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  20. A little late to the party, but this is an awesome graphic.

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  21. Yes, Kenn – 70% without really trying. But nobody is accusing the top flight team in any country of trying too hard in these cup competitions.

    I get your point about NASL not being a real threat to MLS, but I have a few ideas to add that.

    1) Herod slaughtered thousands of babies. Machiavelli advised princes to kill not only their enemies by their enemies’ families so no one had a claim to the throne. Sometimes the guy on top will fight any perceived threat (often harming himself in the process). Fortunately for MLS, if it does see NASL as a threat, it probably does not need to do anything – NASL appears perfectly capable of hanging itself.

    2) Whatever MLS’s vision of the future, I do not see how it benefits from continued chaos at Div. II. Even if your vision of American soccer is an MLS with 32 teams in 8 conferences (or something similar) in which Div. II is unnecessary and would compete directly with MLS for mid-sized markets, Div. II is, in the short term, very valuable as an incubator league.

    But the incubator league era is officially over. MLS helped kill it. So many branches have been pruned the tree is dead. What Div. II maidens are waiting on their MLS white knight now? If MLS wants an incubator league to help it build interest in markets and grow beyond 20 teams, it will have to play a hand in cultivating a new one.

    If the MLS does not intend to expend beyond 20, you have to think it benefits by having Div. II in the markets it does not intend to penetrate and would not be hurt by having a competing organization run that.

    Anyhow, from what I know about franchisors, MLS won’t be able to stop at 20. It will try to find a product that can make money in smaller markets and not leave this up to a competitor. Even then, Shun Tsu said it is better to take a country intact than shatter and destroy it.

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  22. I would think the very nature of the importance of the game and Cup competitions in other countries makes comparisons between the US attitude and anybody else’s to be dicey propositions. Manchester United’s “not trying hard” in the FA Cup is still very different from the Los Angeles Galaxy’s “not trying hard.”

    Too often people try to compare what happens here (or what they think should happen here) with what happens there as if it’s an apples-to-apples comparison and completely ignore the vastly different environments. Yes, it’s still 11 guys vs. 11 other guys and the ball is round, but the underlying stuff is so very different.

    Biblical references aside, I simply think the last legitimate external threat to MLS went away when League One America did. MLS was more likely to kill itself than to be injured by any bunch of used car salesmen owning D2 teams for much of its existence, until recently. I simply don’t believe they can have the hubris they display in other areas and honestly think there’s a group out there that could be a real threat to them at the D2 level. What are they going to do? Steal their markets? MLS is already entrenched – and, most importantly, has control of the best venues in which to play in those markets (something that insulates the NFL and MLB quite nicely from potential challengers). I seriously don’t worry about it and I don’t believe they do, either.

    I agree – and I think most everyone agrees – that continued chaos at the DII (and DIII) level isn’t good for anybody.

    And an ever-expanding MLS has a constrictor plate on it that KFC or Taco Bell do not have: there is a finite limit on the resources that make up the league and make it competitive. There simply aren’t enough players of good quality – if you presume the league is going to remain about 60% American, or more – to stock 30 or 32 teams adequately. Like I always say, “Dan Gargan is already in the league. How much worse than that do you want it to get?” And I would add Steven Lenhart to that.

    That is, unless you’re going to go out and just buy players from all over, and that’s not an efficient use of resources.

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  23. You’ve got the whole thing wrong. The MLS doesn’t worry that they will take over their markets where they are entrenched. Don Graber has consitently said that expansion stops at 20 for a time. He’s also said that they really want it to be New York. He added that the MLS can’t be a true national league without any teams in the SouthEast or SouthWest. Look where the NASL is. What the MLS don’t want is for the NASL teams to get entrenched. They want those markets open when they, the MLS, decide to once again go through a period of expansion. If you have stable entrenched Division II teams with 5-10 years of history in those markets, the MLS won’t be able to enter those markets without taking into account the teams already present there. If there are enough of them thriving, they have quite a bargaining chip. Think merging like the AFL & NFL, WHA & NHL, or ABA & NBA. That would take place without $40 million franchise fees. Something that the MLS and for some strange reason the USSF don’t want (oh maybe it is the incestuous relationship between MLS & USSF).
    MLSSoccer.com just posted a story about the importance of the USOC to the Seattle Sounders (http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/smorgasborg-us-open-cup-already-has-savior-seattle)- a $100,000 top prize & $50,000 2nd place would go a long way for an NASL team. They also spoke of how important the CONCACAF Champions League is to Real Salt Lake- a tournament to which the NASL teams only have access via the the USOC.
    You don’t get it- second division players, coaches and owners live on hope. That’s what it is all about. They hope to make it to the “big leagues”- even if just for a day. You are looking at this as elitist side liners. You don’t know any of these guys. Hope keeps them going, hope pushes them through the indignities that sometimes come with Division 2, Hope is what the USSF took away- even if for just one year. Remember, for some of these players, coaches, or owners, that is the whole length of their professional career. It may seem small to you, but for them and we die hard fans of those teams it can make or break a year and give stories for a lifetime.
    By the way, let’s keep the discourse civil. @Brian, you may not agree with me, but that doesn’t make me insane. It probably means that I know a few more players, coaches, owners and commissioners of Division 2 than you do. I get the distinct impression that the opinions expressed by the most vitriolic of the posters here, including the administrator, come from those who prefer watching ESPN and Fox showing foreign leagues to the home grown product and sit on the couch watching games on TV rather than sitting in the stadium no matter the weather to cheer on the local team. There is no other way one can be so flippant and dismissive.

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  24. I doubt MLS is worried about NASL becoming “entrenched” in the Southeast. If anything, they’d probably PREFER for the NASL teams to become entrenched in the Southeast. If Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa, and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale were successful teams, they’d make nice expansion candidates to cover the Southeast in an expansion from 20 to 24 teams in the future.

    USL was as entrenched in the Pacific Northwest as they could be. MLS wasn’t hurt by that, in fact they’ve benefited from it in adding one great franchise and potentially two more terrific franchises. If Tampa or Miami were successful on the USL Timbers or even USL Sounders level, MLS would be delighted.

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  25. So, wait….if a team gets entrenched at the DII level, MLS won’t be able to get that market?

    Like, Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Montreal, right?

    Again, let them get a ball first. The oldest NASL team (after Montreal) is, who, Puerto Rico? Yes, MLS is shaking in its boots at the prospects of the Islanders getting entrenched so they’ll have to take them into account when they go after the all-important Puerto Rico market.

    And if we don’t “get it,” El Padre, your “distinct impression” about me, in particular, is completely wrong. I do NOT prefer watching ESPN and Fox showing foreign leagues to the home grown product. And I CAN’T go to games here because I don’t HAVE a fucking team here because I live in Arizona.

    And something ELSE you obviously don’t know about me is that I have worked at the Division II level – did so for years. I have more of a knowledge of that level than a lot of people.

    And I do know that not everybody longs to “make it to the big leagues” in this country, at least if we’re talking about MLS. Not everybody who plays soccer in this country – or owns a team or is a team administrator – believes that MLS is the be-all, end-all.

    So, please, if you’re going to stay anonymous, don’t try to tell me I don’t “get it” when it comes to the dynamic between MLS and DII. Just don’t. Stop it. Just stop it.

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  26. Wow. I’ll give you the last word now. Goodbye.

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  27. Hope so. Wow.

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