NEWS › NASL Strides Forward: NASL' side ahead of MLS', once again!

NASL Strides Forward: NASL' side ahead of MLS', once again!

Jun 23, 2015; 3:52 PM 931
On Wednesday June 17, 11,940 fans packed into a stadium to watch an US Open Cup fixture featuring two evenly matched teams, both from the New York City area. The New York Cosmos (NASL) Vs. The New York City FC (MLS). One side, the Cosmos, featured one of the best Spanish forwards to ever live, Raul, debatably the most potent attacking threat in Europe in the past 15 years. The other side, several current Internationals, including a consistent pick for the starting eleven with the United States National team. These are the derbies American fans live for, and the near capacity crowd showed their enthusiastic support for the home team. The game itself lived up to its potential, a nail-biting, action-packed affair. The riveting soccer resulted in the home team NY Cosmos scoring a dramatic equalizer in the 90th minute, and eventually taking the spoils in penalties, sending their loyal fans into the raptures.

In their US Open Cup debut, the losing side, NYCFC, looked to be the quality MLS expansion club their billionaire owners promised to deliver to the New York market. That night, their opposition and host for this quality display of American soccer was the North American Soccer League staple, the New York Cosmos.

Now for a skeptic, this could be written off as an anomaly, or a one-time triumph for the underdog. That is simply not the case. Last Wednesday, the newly minted Charlotte Independence took down the New England Revolution in Foxboro. In fact, the same New York Cosmos club that knocked off NYCFC in the 2015 US Open Cup, thoroughly dominated the New York Red Bulls in the 2014 US Open Cup. That result was more resounding last year, with the Cosmos out-shooting the Red Bulls 21-3 en route to a 3-0 rout. Of course, these are just examples of quality soccer from NASL clubs. It cannot be argued the NASL plays second fiddle to MLS, but the level of play in the NASL is impressive given the difference in financial standing between the first and second tiers of US Soccer.

Which leads to the next interesting point. In the current year the USL, which is considered by most educated American soccer fans to be the third best domestic league, has forged a standing relationship with Major League Soccer. Several of the reserve teams, including New York Red Bulls-2 and LA Galaxy-2 are currently featuring in the USL.

Of course, a long-standing qualm fans of American soccer have had with the current structure of MLS is its lack of a relegation system. With the league expanding to 24 teams by 2020 (with new franchises in Atlanta, Miami, Minnesota, and a second LA team), it would appear, in soccer terms, the league is just about at its maximum potential size (no league in Europe or Latin America has more than 24 teams). Which, one would forecast, translates to a relegation system being the next logical step.

So considering several NASL clubs’ success in the past couple of years with a limited budget and less resources than its MLS counterpoints, why would MLS forge a relationship with the USL? NASL’s attendance more than doubles that of the USL, and has previously been poached for MLS expansion franchises (Montreal Impact and now Minnesota United). It is peculiar to develop a relationship with the third division of US soccer when teams from the second tier are clearly better run clubs on and off the pitch.

Of course, it can be argued with an influx of MLS funds, the USL could improve. But few would argue they will catch up to their immediate rival, the NASL. The NASL has made serious strides forward, and it can be expected they will continue to grow, as the league has only been up and running since 2011. Should they continue to grow, could it be possible the NASL will catch MLS in terms of finances and quality of play? Not necessarily. But it may force a situation similar to the NBA and ABA in the 1970’s. If the NASL continues to grow, it may become too good to ignore, and if that becomes the case, expect the relegation system to be the result. Should NASL clubs be given its shot to join the MLS via promotion, expect some of the better-run clubs to make an immediate impact. Should this be the case, the winner of this scenario is not only the NASL clubs who earned their chance, but also the American soccer fan who sees the best teams in the country compete day in day out with greater competition.