Monday, January 9, 2017

Two x Division 2

Two days ago, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) made the decision to not get sued by a lower division soccer league and announced that both the North American Soccer League (NASL) and the United Soccer League (USL) would be designated as provisional Division 2 leagues. Like most writers, I had intended to provide my thoughts on this decision yesterday, but a migraine delayed this post. As a result, I'm probably not going to say anything that you haven't read or heard from others, but I still want to write down what I think this decision means.

In the near term, as Greg Rakestraw stated on Soccer Saturday, it means that "the business of soccer can get back to the business of soccer." Players can be signed in earnest, schedules can be created, and fans can rest assured that they are going to have soccer to watch come April. More specifically for Indy Eleven fans, it means that we'll likely get word this week of what players are returning from last year's Championship match squad. Again, per Soccer Saturday, John Koluder indicated that it will be around 10 - 12 players returning. With a season ending roster of 23 (22 with the retirement of Janicki), that's quite a few players who won't be initially returning. Some of those players could find their way back onto the roster, but some of your favorite Indy Eleven players may have found what they are hope are greener pastures. Coach Hankinson has already told us that Mares, Franco, Ring, Keller, and Lacroix were all free agents and that the team hoped to retain all of them, but that some of them have received other offers from teams. "Interesting offers." "Interesting offers" are usually hard to turn down unless a competing "more interesting offer" is provided. Given that it sounds like the league, and by extension, the other owners of the teams may be the temporary owners of the Jacksonville Armada, Mr. Ozdemir isn't likely to get into a bidding war for players this year.

In the interim term, by the end of the year, we will need to have this same conversation. The USSF awarded both the NASL and the USL "provisional" Division 2 status. By its very definition, provisional is something that is "arranged or existing for the present, possibly to be changed later." There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the USSF does not WANT two leagues holding Division 2 status. While it may not seem like it, this was a way to protect soccer in the United States. The more successful soccer organizations there are in the country, the better for all. So the USSF gave both leagues another year to figure out how to move forward.

Which leads me to the long term. Who the hell knows how this is going to play out? Other than to say that there will be a Division 1 league (MLS), a Division 2 league, a Division 3 league, and a Division 4 league(s), I don't have the slightest idea how things will fall. Given that USL has a third of their teams that don't meet Division 2 status and are not independently run from their MLS affiliates (i.e. reserve teams), one would anticipate that they are going to be a major part of whatever decision is made. The reserve teams are likely the main thing that prevented the USL from achieving Division 2 on its own, without the provisional label. Though a league full of reserve teams where their main goal is not about wins or losses, but rather player development, isn't likely to achieve its own Division 3 status. So do any of the independent USL teams move over to NASL? Is there a merger between two leagues that already separated once before?

My guess, and that's all that I can go on because I don't have any #Sources, is that the NASL finds a few more new teams to keep them at Division 2 status, the USL drastically retracts due to their plethora of reserve teams that get (maybe at least temporarily) relegated down to Division 3, and the remaining independent USL teams join the NASL teams to form some new conglomerate. Whether it retains the NASL name or the USL name will be semantics at that point, but there will be some aspect of both when they join. Hopefully that happens more towards October or November of this year, rather than in January of next year. Given how this year has gone, I'm not overly optimistic, but as Peter Wilt stated on Soccer Saturday (this week's was highly informative as usual), maybe this whole fiasco will solidify a direction by both leagues.

This month of guessing is also not going to do any favors for the Indy Eleven's attempt to get state assistance in funding a new stadium. The legislative session is now underway and it would be hard to believe that the legislators aren't aware by now of what's going on with the team's league. Regardless of all of this mess, even legitimate MLS hopefuls, and I no longer consider Indy to be one of those locations, are gaining no traction in public-funded stadiums. We're just not in an economic environment that is conducive to that type of funding mechanism. Indy was going to be a tough nut to crack this year during the best of times, but being in a provisional league during the legislative year is as good a death knell as anything. The best case is that the legislature provides a similar offer as last year and the team and IUPUI has evaluated all possibilities to use that $20M in money to upgrade Carroll Stadium to make it a much more friendly soccer-specific stadium. Or that Ozdemir finds a way to fund it on his own...

The good news is that Indy still has a team and a league in which they will play. I would like to think that they would be the favorites going into the year to make it back to the Championship game. However, with so many teams in flux this off-season, who knows what the rosters of the NASL teams are going to look like come April? Rayo released their roster, the Cosmos released their roster, and both of those teams had players that will definitely find new teams. Teams like Miami and Puerto Rico. Teams like the Indy Eleven. Which is why this week's roster announcements (assuming they come this week) aren't going to include all 22 players from last year's Championship run team. Again, I don't have any #Sources, but don't be surprised if you see a few players from those teams wearing the checkers this year.

Two Division 2 leagues isn't ideal, but at least we still have soccer in Indy. For that I'm grateful. When people ask "who's your club?," I only have one response. Indy Eleven. I don't have a stake in any MLS teams. No stake in Liga MX. No stake in La Liga. No stake in the English Premier League. I started writing for the Indy Eleven three years ago and luckily, thanks to the decision of the USSF on Friday night, I get to continue doing so this year.

1 comment:

Jeff C. said...

Your anticipated/proposed resolution is entirely too sensible to actually happen.