The times are changing for Canadian and U.S. Soccer.
Those who have just started watching soccer over the past few years probably would be shocked to know that there wasn’t always a stable North American soccer pyramid. For many years teams and leagues would fold as if it was no big deal, like it was just a part of the business. Ask any soccer supporter from the 1980s or 1990s and chances are they can list the number of American/Canadian sides that they supported on two hands.
For a kid growing up in the Washington D.C. area in the middle 1990s there was only one game in town: indoor soccer. Before D.C. United made RFK Stadium home the only team that fans could get behind were either the Baltimore Spirit or the Washington Warthogs. Indoor soccer was the only game in the DMV, aside from college soccer, so the pickings were slim.
Despite it not exactly being the best soccer in the world it was fun to watch professional soccer matches. For a kid who had aspirations to be the top goalkeeper in the world it was refreshing to see players earn a living playing soccer. Plus, it was fun. It was fun to watch teams from D.C. and Baltimore, places that I have visited to and seen and knew about.
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Then both teams were gone. As someone who grew up watching baseball, basketball, and American football the idea that a team could up and fold was a foreign concept. I didn’t know anything profit margins or salaries or revenue. I was 9. All I cared about was the next match that I could attend.
On the surface it is easy to say that they had what is coming to them. This is a league that got into bed with Traffic Sports and Rayo Vallecano and that openly picked battles with Major League Soccer. It is a league that has now seen three of their former title winners leave the league in under a year (NSC Minnesota Stars/Minnesota United, San Antonio Scorpions- FC San Antonio, and Tampa Bay Rowdies). It would be rather easy to say that NASL got what was coming to them and that now they are the facing the music.
But once one gets beyond the petty battles between rival ideologies in North American soccer there has to be a certain level of empathy for the position that some supporters are in right now. Of the ten teams still currently in the NASL one team’s supporters will need to look for another side to follow (Rayo OKC) while another two are in serious jeopardy of being in a similar situation (Cosmos and Ft. Lauderdale Strikers). The situation isn’t exactly picturesque for the other seven sides: either they will play in a shortened NASL season, move to USL, take a season off to ‘regroup’, or even pack it in.
Make no mistake about it: the NASL is not off on an island. What happens with the NASL has a direct impact upon not just the teams in their league, but also Canadian and American soccer as well. Jobs are lost in the front office, players are given one less chance to show what they can do, and the game’s footprint is that much smaller. The NASL might not be as popular as an English Premier League game on a Saturday morning but it still certainly carries weight in how this game is operated here in North America. An uncertain future for the NASL means an uncertain future for the CSA and US Soccer.
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That uncertainty should be very disheartening to all soccer supporters. Anyone who has seen their favorite team fold, have to move leagues for financial reasons, or enter limbo knows how disheartening it can be to have little control over the future. It is a process that all of us know far too well and is sadly still a reality in this day and age.
In the end even if the NASL folds many of these sides will find a new home. A few bad apples aside the league has found success in markets like Carolina, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami, and Puerto Rico and would be attractive expansion sides for the MLS, USL, or the NPSL. But that uncertainty of what the future may hold may be too much for supporters who have to weigh the importance of purchasing season tickets.
If the NASL ends before the 2017 season it will mark the end of an interesting time in Canadian and U.S. Soccer. But it will also bring up old wounds for supporters who have seen their fair share of teams come and go.