NASL Eyes Future Expansion
By Daniel Casey
The North American Soccer League (NASL), the second tier of US soccer, will welcome the re-branded New York Cosmos to the league come August 3rd as the team joins for the 2013 Clausura. This is the first sign of the league pursing a confident expansion plan. In 2014, three more teams will enter the league (Ottawa Fury, Virginia Cavalry FC, and Indy Eleven) raising the total to 11. On Thursday, July 25th the league’s Board of Governors will hear expansion proposals from ownership groups in Oklahoma City and Jacksonville, FL to join in the 2015 season. If approved, this will put league well on track toward its goal of 18 by 2018.
The NASL Class of ’14 are looking solid in their development, the major concern tend to revolve around staying on schedule. The Ottawa Fury is focused on completing the renovation of their home stadium which is on track. Also concerned with their stadium are Virginia Cavalry who have only seen ground broken on their shared field (the stadium will be a baseball park shared with the minor league Loudon Hounds). The field is on track for completion in Spring but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on given Virginia as been resistant to put out a timetable. Virginia is also a bit behind the curve of the other 2014 expansion teams having yet to announce a head coach; Ottawa has announced Marc Dos Santos and Indy Eleven has announced Juergen Sommer as their head coach. And while Virginia may be stalling a bit, Indianapolis are surging. A head coach, a high profile international friendly (Chelsea vs. Inter Milan) to give a boost to the already substantial season ticket sales, and the first round of player tryouts already in the books put Indy Eleven in the driver’s seat among the expansion sides.
Further expansion looks promising as well. Currently playing in the USL-PDL (United Soccer Leagues-Premier Development League), the 4th tier of US soccer, Oklahoma City FC is looking to buy its way up. The ownership is ambitious, recently announcing plans for a riverfront soccer-specific stadium what would seat between 9,000-14,000 people. A downtown stadium is the dream of every pro soccer organization in America so to hear that a multi-purpose facility is being shepherded by an ownership group that has a strong municipal presence.
However there are obstacles in Oklahoma City’s entry into the NASL. The USL and NASL have traded law suits over the Oklahoma City market. A day after the announcement that OKC FC was going to pursue movement up to NASL for 2015, the USL announced a new pro franchise to be located here for the 2014 season. The courts will have to decide who can do what and where, but most likely the decision will come down that both leagues can go about their business and the best team will come out on top. There has been a good deal of bickering between the NASL, considered the second tier of US soccer, and the USL-Pro, considered the third tier. It seems that much of the antagonism is being generated by the USL itself, a league that has already made it a point to bully its way into NASL ‘territory.’ Given how large the US is and how many markets are currently clamoring for professional soccer, the squabbling between the two is a disservice to the fans.
Another ownership group that is looking to provide the best service for its potential fans is the Sunshine Soccer Group out of Jacksonville, FL. Sunshine has helped to bring in and promote high profile international friendlies to their city, most recently Liga MX sides Cruz Azul vs. Tigres UANL. Jacksonville is already the home of Jacksonville United FC, part of the NPSL which shares the 4th tier of US soccer with the PDL. That team has a deep and active youth soccer program and would probably serve as an excellent buttress for a fully pro team (both leagues of the 4th tier are amateur/semipro summer leagues). A NASL team in Jacksonville would add to the league’s southeastern imprint, already there are teams in Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta, and North Carolina. Strengthening regional rivalries and reducing the travel costs for all the teams, the additions of Oklahoma City and Jacksonville would also open up to US soccer markets that are starved for professional sports. Going into the 2013 Apertura it looks as though the NASL is poised to continue to grow and carve a sure niche in the US soccer landscape.