Commentary / USL - Bethlehem Steel FC

A Machiavellian response to USL’s complaining owners

Photo from Wikipedia Media Commons. Niccolò Machiavelli wrote The Prince in 1513.

James Poling of NewsOK.com has floated the idea that the independent owners in USL are dissatisfied with the business performances of the wholly-owned MLS affiliates with whom they share league membership.

Poor attendance and minimal investment are the issues mentioned. The clear implication is that the so-called MLS2 sides are not worthy of Division 2 status, and they harm USL’s attempts to remove “provisional” from the league’s division 2 classification.

Think before you leak

Consider an option for the wholly-owned MLS affiliates, if USL were to drop them.

There is a second provisional division 2 soccer league in North America certified by U. S. Soccer – the North American Soccer League. The NASL is desperate for new members to meet and exceed the number of teams required for the league’s division 2 certification.

If USL expels its MLS2 player development sides, those sides could move to the NASL.

Anyone who watched FC Cincinnati’s recent 1-0 U. S. Open Cup victory against NASL side Miami FC saw that those two teams were evenly matched as Cincy’s defensive bunker contained Miami’s central channel attack although Miami played the more attractive soccer. The game might have reminded some of Greece’s victory over Portugal in the famous UEFA Euro tournament final 13 years ago, although Cincy did have more than one shot.

NASL would provide the MLS’s player development sides with on-pitch competition every bit good enough to replace the independent sides of the USL, and good on-pitch competition is the sine qua non of player development.

One threat deserves its counter

An eleven-side defection from USL would reduce its anticipated 34 sides – Nashville SC, Fresno FC, Las Vegas & D.C. United 2 would be the new four – to 23 in 2018, and would raise NASL’s numbers from the expected 10 – San Diego and an NASL Orange County would be the new two – to 21. A 23 to 21 numeric balance between USL and NASL would destroy USL’s most obvious claim that it should enjoy sole possession of the division two classification, its greater size.

At one fell swoop, NASL’s worst problem qualifying for D2 status would be solved, and every new MLS2 side would already have in place plans to upgrade to meet USSF’s division two qualification criteria because they have already prepared them for USL qualification purposes. From NASL’s point of view, it would simply be like a Xerox copier ad on TV back in the ‘70s, a miracle.

Escalation begets counter-escalation

MLS should announce an exploratory committee as USL deserves a little of its own medicine. So the United Soccer League independent franchise owners should have been more careful of that for which they wished.

11 Comments

  1. Couldn’t the MLS2 sides just move to USL’s new division 3 side, and furthemore isn’t that basically what that new spin-off is for?

    • Adam Schorr says:

      That eliminates the point of having the player development sides, which is getting reps against competition just a little below what they’ll see at the next level.

      • But all of the existing MLS2 sides were formed while USL was a D3 league (they only gained D2 this year), although of course one could argue that the difference in play between NASL and USL was negligible. This new D3 league seems like a good landing spot for those teams and a decent compromise to appease the USL independents’ owners, unless the MLS teams want to heavily invest in their 2 side and try to improve facilities, attendance, etc.

    • No the commissioner of USL had stated from the beginning that D3 was not for the MLS sides but for new small markets.

    • I’ve heard him say that, but they have to go somewhere. As frustrating as those sides may be, if they go to NASL, or start their own league, that only creates more competition for USL. There should be roster rules and guidelines established for those teams, or just accept them into the 3rd division which likely won’t draw high attendances anyway. I mean, wouldn’t Bethlehem – who is in a playoff spot btw – be in the 3rd division anyway? That’s a small market compared to a Cincy, Nashville or even Sacramento or Phoenix.

  2. MLS would never partner with NASL. Too much history there.

    • I agree but would put it the other way ’round: NASL would never partner with MLS. They’d rather disappear into oblivion.

    • I know the older adversarial management is gone from NASL.
      .
      Whether that would make any difference to MLS is an excellent question.

      • Agreed, but with the Silva lawsuit against USSF and Peter Wilt hanging around pushing a pro/rel agenda (and starting a competing D3 league), I can’t imagine that the MLS powers are too thrilled with who is still involved with that league.

  3. You obviously have not been paying attention; there is no way that MLS would EVER let any reserve team join NASL, and an even lower chance that NASL would choose to accept reserve teams into the league. The more likely situation would be for the more ambitious USL teams to join an NASL that is growing and linking up with NISA and the NPSL to form an actual pyramid.

  4. Louis Smaldino says:

    Isn’t USL creating a D3 league in 2018 or 2019,they can just step them down into the new league. I do not believe the MLS owners would defect to NASL they have been supporting USL by a small measure and want USL to have a viable lower division. I say you put the lower teir MLS sides in USL3 and everything should be great.

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