The U.S. Soccer board of directors voted to give USL and NASL provisional division II status for the 2017 season, it was announced Friday night. The decision gives each league one year to make a convincing case for becoming the permanent second tier in the American soccer pyramid.
“After an exhaustive process working with both leagues, in the best interest of the sport the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors has decided to grant provisional Division II status to the NASL and USL,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said in a press release. “U.S. Soccer will create an internal working group that will work with each league to set a pathway to meet the full requirements for Division II and allow for the larger goal of creating a sustainable future. We look forward to another productive year for professional soccer in this country.”
U.S. Soccer Grants Provisional Division II Status to Both USL and NASL
The governing body for the sport in the U.S. stated that neither league met the full requirements for D2 status at this time. It pledged to work with both leagues to help them work towards being in full compliance. There will also be additional criteria each league will have to meet in order to gain their desired sanctioning.
Respite for NASL
The development has to come as welcome news for the troubled NASL. The league has undergone a great deal of turmoil since the conclusion of the 2016 season. This included the flagship brand New York Cosmos coming close to folding as well as the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury jumping ship to USL.
Despite the defections and the uncertainty surrounding the Cosmos, the NASL is determined to continue operations albeit as a leaner enterprise. The league will play the 2017 season with eight teams.
Speaking for the league, North Carolina FC CEO Steve Malik was satisfied with U.S. Soccer’s decision.
“The NASL Board of Governors and I support the USSF’s decision to grant the league provisional Division 2 status,” Malik stated. “We’re excited about the eight teams beginning play in April, and we look forward to the continued growth of our league and soccer in the U.S.”
USL Hopes to Keep Rising
Meanwhile, USL continues to expand. The league will be at 30 teams in 2017 with the addition of the Rowdies and Fury as well as expansion team Reno 1868 FC. Four teams, FC Cincinnati, Sacramento Republic FC, Louisville City FC, and San Antonio FC, averaged over 5,000 fans per game during the year.
Despite not getting outright D2 status, there has to be renewed optimism among USL circles given the move from their previous D3 designation. And CEO Alec Papadakis is confident that his growing league will be able to meet the requirements going forward.
“We would like to thank U.S. Soccer for taking the time to work through this process and provide us with provisional sanctioning for Division II in 2017,” Papadakis said. “We welcome the opportunity to work closely with U.S. Soccer to meet all the Division II standards in the near future and continue to be part of the impressive growth of the sport in the United States.”