Thursday saw confirmation of possibly the worst-kept secret in US Soccer. The news that the National Premier Soccer League will start an elite national division on top of the existing NPSL in 2020. Leading into that, after the conclusion of the 2019 NPSL regular season and playoffs, the teams at the forefront of this movement will play a ‘Founder’s Cup’ as a way of ushering in the new era in the fall of 2019.
Miami-Dade County will play a big role in all this as the two currently existing professional clubs will both move into this NPSL top flight. Current NPSL champions Miami FC and local rivals Miami United will be joined by an interesting mix of clubs. Former NASL foes New York Cosmos are on board alongside non-league behemoths Detroit City and Chattanooga FC. Milwaukee Torrent complete the picture in the east with FC Arizona joining up with Californian clubs ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC and Oakland Roots in the west. These eleven will play in the Founder’s Cup with more clubs possibly being added to the first season of NPSL+.
It’s a bold move but one that had been brewing for a while. While the trials and tribulations of Miami FC and the Cosmos are well documented it’s also a no brainer for Detroit and ‘Nooga. For different reasons both teams don’t fit the bill for leagues conforming to the USSF’s Professional League standards. Detroit are a very well run club but they do not possess the wealthy investor/owner that PLS-compliant teams need. For Chattanooga it’s about their market. Currently to play in a D2 PLS-compliant league you must be in a metro area of over one million people. Chattanooga is roughly half that size. All this making sense? If you fancy a quick recap on the PLS they can be found here.
Miami FC 2 – NPSL Champions 2018. Photo courtesy National Premier Soccer League.
So this new league for independent clubs is a great option for some around the country. For the two local teams the possibility of joining a forward thinking league with like-minded teams where the bias is more towards developing sustainable clubs rather than buying in to the MLS and USL’s franchise model was too good to pass up.
Miami FC were moving along quite nicely in the NASL before the USSF pulled the plug. A return to Riccardo Silva Stadium at FIU in 2020 should see them pick up exactly where they left off and the challenge will be to use this opportunity to build on the ~5000 strong backbone of support into something a bit bigger. It’s not been an easy ride for the staff, fans and players but there must now be some sense of vindication of the tough decisions. By resisting the urge to sign up with the bland mediocrity of the USL, a dead-end league, in 2019 they now get to be a part of something with far more potential.
Across town, Miami United were initially part of the beginnings of NISA. Now you’ll probably want to know what NISA is! The National Independent Soccer Association is a league attempting to get sanctioned with the USSF as a DIII league. It’s full of teams in smaller markets. Right now you don’t need to know too much about it as it looks like both Miami teams have passed on it.
Miami United beat Miami FC 2 in the US Open Cup 2018. Photo courtesy Miami FC.
United have just completed their sixth season in the NPSL. Quite the achievement in a part of the world where clubs have been opening and closing left, right and center. They have some money behind them and anyone who really knows their Miami soccer will know Roberto Sacca. The CEO is a likable and ambitious character and now he will have the chance to move the club forward. Again the challenge for Miami United is to build the support that they can grow the club on top of. If they stay in Hialeah’s Ted Hendricks Stadium it creates a nice north/south divide between FC and United. If they can start getting 1500-3000 fans to games on a consistent basis that is a serviceable support to start working with.
Miami FC’s Riccardo Silva has always had the belief that Miami can sustain plural professional teams and 2020 will be an exciting time to be a soccer fan in Miami. No doubt the MLS franchise Inter Miami CF is sure to draw large crowds from all across South Florida. Having two lower league professional teams representing Dade County alongside it means that the whole of the 305 might finally start taking the sport seriously.
The NPSL Pro journey might have it’s ups and downs but ultimately it should ensure the futures of Miami FC and Miami United in the medium term and their destiny is in their own hands. Especially for Miami FC fans the relief of being able to think about the years to come after living season-by-season since the club was founded will be huge. On top of this, all this pro soccer gives the local soccer fan the chance to enjoy the sport at all levels and there will be so many more opportunities for local players. 2020 can’t come soon enough.