Two months ago, would anyone have bet on the former Carolina Railhawks landing an NWSL team before the men’s team got out of divisional limbo?
The news that the Western New York Flash will be moving to the Triangle (reported overnight by FourFourTwo, with follow-ups from local soccer-media veterans in Rochester and the Triangle) has shocked the women’s soccer world. Many of us are struggling for coherent responses. The NWSL has been stable through four seasons, adding two teams and moving/losing none. Now the defending champions, a holdover from previous WoSo leagues, have skipped town.
But it also puts some focus on the current turmoil in the lower divisions of men’s professional soccer, which has dragged on and on and on …
In fact, both ends of the Flash-to-Carolina move are still awaiting news on divisional sanctioning. The USL, which includes the Rochester Rhinos, seemed all but set to move up to the second division while the NASL, which includes NCFC (for now — they’re bidding for MLS expansion), was all but dead.
Thanks to the indomitable Peter Wilt, the NASL may no longer be dead. It also may no longer be the NASL, but something with six or seven or 20 teams may continue to occupy the second tier of the U.S. soccer’s pyramid next year.
Now that it’s January, it’s pretty clear whatever happens with D2 and D3 men’s soccer next year will be a stopgap. NASL 3.1 will need to follow through on those expansion plans if it wants to keep fending off the USL for D2 status, and I’m under no illusions that the USA will suddenly go to pro/rel in lower divisions, as much as I think the plans are getting more and more realistic.
And there are some legitimate issues that confuse things here — business models, league ownership groups, etc.
But the longer the divisional-sanctioning and NASL-Walking Dead sagas drag out, the absurd it looks.
Attendance isn’t the only measure of a soccer club’s health, but when you look at Kenn Tomasch’s diligently gathered attendance tables, it’s easy to spot the clubs that really ought to be playing each other at the D2 level:
- FC Cincinnati (USL)
- Sacramento Republic (USL)
- Indy Eleven (NASL)
- Louisville City (USL)
- San Antonio FC (USL)
- Tampa Bay Rowdies (leaving NASL for USL)
- Ottawa Fury FC (leaving NASL for USL)
- Miami FC (NASL, though wild spending may be an issue)
- North Carolina FC (NASL, formerly Carolina Railhawks)
- Oklahoma City Energy FC (USL)
- Saint Louis FC (USL)
Add the San Francisco Deltas, the NASL expansion team, and that’s 12. Then pick from a few more possibilities:
- Richmond Kickers (USL, two decades and counting, just made a facility deal to make roots even stronger but has had pragmatic approach counter to, say, the New York Cosmos)
- New York Cosmos (NASL, with an apparent white knight bidding to save the team and perhaps with it the entire league)
- Rochester Rhinos (USL, which once averaged more than 10,000 fans and now has its name on the stadium it has been sharing with the Flash)
- Charleston Battery (USL — like the Rhinos and Kickers, a staple of lower-division soccer with a good place to play)
That’s 12-16 teams. That’s a viable league out of the gate, and it should attract more teams.
So the message here should be clear:
Just get it done.
Whatever you have to do — give USL’s league owners a stake in D2 revenues, drop the twice-poisoned NASL name, keep the strangely alluring NASL name, pay lip service to promotion/relegation as the NASL has done for a few years … whatever.
Because if there’s one coherent lesson from U.S. soccer history, it’s this: Soccer Wars are not a good thing.
Someone needs to play peacemaker and dealmaker. The sooner, the better.