By Scott Adamson
The first incarnation of the North American Soccer League folded in 1984.
Thirty-three years later, its second division namesake might just join it in the sports graveyard.
On Saturday, a federal judge denied the NASL an injunction against the United States Soccer Federation that would have allowed the NASL to regain its Division II status, a move that would’ve put it one rung below Major League Soccer and on par with the United Soccer League as a second-tier circuit.
“We are very disappointed with the Court’s decision in denying our motion for a preliminary injunction,” the league said in a statement released on Saturday afternoon. “We remain steadfast in our pursuit of antitrust claims against the U.S. Soccer Federation and are confident that justice will ultimately be served. In light of the extreme harm this decision poses to the NASL and our teams, players, coaches and fans, we will immediately begin reviewing all of our legal options including the process for appealing today’s ruling.”
In September the USSF rejected the NASL’s Division II application, forcing the league to play at Division III if it chose to remain sanctioned by the American soccer governing body.
Seeking relief through the courts, its best hope rested with Judge Margo Brodie, who ruled on Saturday that while the NASL may well suffer “irreparable harm” by being denied D2 status, it did not demonstrate “a clear showing of entitlement to relief.”
The circuit, which features franchises in major markets such as New York (a club that retains the iconic Cosmos nickname), San Francisco, Indianapolis and Miami, has had something of an adversarial relationship with MLS, and NASL officials suggested that league as well as the USSF and USL had conspired against it by changing the Professional League Standards that determine the U.S. soccer hierarchy.
The PLS requires at least 12 franchises across three time zones; the NASL currently has eight franchises, but one – North Carolina FC, is moving to the USL next season and another, the San Francisco Deltas, are in danger of folding.
The USSF released the following statement after the ruling was announced:
“U.S. Soccer’s responsibility is to ensure the long-term stability and sustainability of all professional leagues operating in the United States, as well as the teams that compete within those leagues. After providing numerous opportunities over the years for the NASL to meet the Professional League Standards, or at least provide a pathway to meet those standards, the elected and independent members of the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors ultimately made a decision not to sanction the NASL as a Division 2 league. The decision was made in the best interest of soccer in the United States, and today’s decision confirms it was the correct decision. U.S. Soccer is committed to finding ways to improve the long-term viability of all leagues and teams and, by doing so, continue building upon the growth of soccer in the United States. U.S. Soccer is committed to working with NASL as it considers its future.”
NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal issued a statement on Sunday following the appeal filed by the NASL to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The statement reads:
“Following the disappointing ruling issued by the U.S. District Court yesterday, the NASL filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. We remain confident in the merits of our case and that our request for a preliminary injunction is supported by the law. For that reason, we’re hopeful that the Second Circuit will deliver a ruling that allows the NASL to play at the Division 2 level in 2018 and enables us to continue growing and developing the sport. We have asked for our appeal to be expedited to eliminate the uncertainty facing all of our clubs, players, coaches, fans, and other stakeholders.”