Losing anything isn’t nice. Losing a soccer match can hurt. Losing your keys is annoying. But there’s nothing like losing your sanity as you follow a legal battle between the league your soccer team plays in and the nation’s soccer federation. A battle that leaves a team without a league, players without jobs and supporters with a lot of summertime weekends free.
Wait what? The best pro soccer team? No I do not lie. In North America history is written by the playoff winners but Miami FC had the best regular season record across the pro divisions, the MLS, USL and NASL (RIP?) in 2017. Thirty-two games and 69 points (2.156 points per game) with 21 wins. Toronto got the same total playing 34 games (2.029 points per game) and only won 20 times. Real Monarchs topped the USL standings with 67 points from 32 games (2.094 PPG) with 20 wins.
So on the pitch it was all good. But since the USSF’s decision to strip the NASL of division 2 sanctioning six months ago the league has suffered a catastrophic contraction. We all know what happened. Playoff winners SF Deltas took the Soccer Bowl and disappeared. The Eddies have frozen themselves in time in the great white north waiting for a Canadian championship to come along. Indy and NCFC jumped early to the USL to give their fading MLS hopes a better shot.
Neither Riccardo Silva’s Miami FC nor the New York Cosmos of Rocco Commisso could really credibly pursue their respective court cases while also plying their trade in a league which is in the pocket of the triumvirate of MLS, SUM and the USSF. Indeed there is a strong belief that the Cosmos will never be welcome in the USL.
While Ricky and Rocco’s efforts to force a conversation on how club soccer works in North America works is the right thing to do, gambles have been taken that have not paid off. And now we are the martyrs for the cause. The ins and outs of the court cases, the viability and the future of the NASL and how soccer operates here, the analysis has been done to death.
But once again it’s two groups getting shafted while all this happens. Players and supporters.
All sorts of characters are circling American soccer. Businessmen, investors, journalists, asset strippers and all kind of agenda-pushers. All kinds of people out for their pound of soccerball. The two groups who are the lifeblood of the sport are the players and the fans. All the way from the pro level down to the grassroots. These are the two pillars of the sport. No players, no fans, no soccer. It’s that simple. And we keep being pushed to the bottom of the list.
The starkest warning is just a few miles up the road in Fort Lauderdale. The Strikers were killed by suits in boardrooms while the leagues and the USSF stood by and did nothing. And we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results? It’s madness.
People will cry at great length about what happens to the investment of MLS owners if, say, pro-rel comes in. But no one is making a sound about what happens to the investments of the fans and players under that top level. The time and effort and money the supporters put in. The commitment of the players, how they are not respected for everything they have put into the game in this part of the World. Often playing for peanuts with almost no future guarantees. Traveling great distances to play a game of soccer but ultimately spending all that time away from their families. It’s not fair on the players. The USA should be able to support a great number of pro soccer players making a good living.
Ultimately, the USSF is to blame for all this. Years of maintaining a fractured pyramid mean lower league soccer clubs keep opening and closing like nightclubs on South Beach. The USSF has created this environment and needs to take the lead in fixing it.
Miami FC fans will enjoy our cameo in the NPSL. But it’s a professional peg in an amateur hole. It shouldn’t have come to this. We need an environment where clubs can see a long term future at ANY level.
The buck stops in one place. The USSF. Work with the leagues and clubs to sort club soccer out. NOW.