Thirteen months ago – before I weaned myself from big box American soccer and made a pledge to “shop local” – I became enamored with the fledgling National Independent Soccer Association.
I’ll always give NISA credit for planting the promotion/relegation seed in my head, as well as making me realize the long-term success of soccer in the United States starts at the grassroots level.
Frankly, those were things I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about before.
According to NISA’s original website:
Promotion and relegation is not complete if it does not include a first division. NISA’s vision for pro/rel is not limited to lower division leagues, but we recognize that pro/rel needs to start somewhere. It will likely take 3 to 4 years to fully populate NISA with 24 teams. At that point NISA can begin promoting teams to a second division league. Once that second division league is fully populated, it can begin relegating teams to NISA. There may be a few years that require NISA to bring on expansion teams to replace promoted teams until the second division is fully populated. Pro/Rel with a fourth division league will not happen until a fourth division league plays a full schedule. Connecting to an existing (MLS) or new first division league with pro/rel is something that requires a bit of faith and vision right now, but we believe NISA’s creation is an important piece of that vision.
Loved the sentiment, dug the plan.
NISA was being proactive in a soccer culture that – more and more – was being shaped by a handful of people representing and working with Soccer United Marketing (SUM) to corner the professional market in the U.S. I’m not a pro/rel crusader in the sense that I’m going to start screaming at you if you don’t think it’s the most important issue facing humanity, but I believe it’s the best path forward.
However, much has changed since the new league introduced itself.
Last weekend, Chris Kivlehan of Midfield Press reported that the United States Soccer Federation had granted NISA provisional Division III sanctioning, greenlighting an inaugural season that begins this coming August.
Currently only Atlanta, Charlotte, Philadelphia and a Connecticut-based entry are officially on board, but it’s expected to launch with at least eight clubs.
So this is all good news, right?
I mean, NISA is now more than just a logo. Plus, playing a fall schedule puts it line with much of international soccer, which I think is a positive step.
I’m not sure what the league’s long game is anymore. Apparently, it doesn’t include pro/rel, which was its “raison d’être” at the outset. Any reference to that has been scrubbed from its website, and has been replaced by this:
We will provide the American soccer community with a dynamic and different approach to the game, where everything is settled on the field.
We will build an affordable pathway that will bring professional clubs to communities throughout the land.
We will create opportunities for local participation while blazing a trail for young players to achieve their highest potential.
We will do it all for the love of the game.
It breaks from the USSF by eliminating entry fees, but now seems less likely to rock the boat. That tends to happen when you want to work and play with the USSF.
Beyond that, though, I’m curious about its impact.
In terms of Division III, fans of “traditional” American professional soccer will have the USL League One to fill their needs this spring; it debuts next month with 10 franchises.
Those of us who want to see a soccer infrastructure built outside the USSF have the Founders Cup to look forward to in the fall; the National Premier Soccer League’s pro venture will answer to the United States Adult Soccer Association, not the USSF. Following its tournament-style intro, it will move to a full spring to fall schedule in 2020.
It made a splash with Chattanooga FC’s public ownership initiative (in the interest of full disclosure, I bought in), and the inclusion of clubs such as the New York Cosmos, Miami FC and Detroit City FC give it some added punch.
While the NPSL has already won me over with its amateur clubs in Asheville and Greenville, my prime professional rooting interest will be with whatever the Founders Cup eventually morphs into.
And frankly, NISA didn’t exactly generate a “wow factor” by rolling out franchises in the form of city postcards with a bit of the markets’ soccer history.
Nothing wrong with that, but if a league wants me to buy into it, it needs to tell me what’s coming, not what’s already been.
Still, I certainly hope it succeeds. While there are certain things I want to see in American soccer’s future, what I want to see immediately are players get more opportunities – and supporters get more options in what they choose to support.
Meanwhile, I’m gonna play the role of “tycoon” with Chattanooga FC, continue my decades-long love affair with the Cosmos, and keep wearing my ACSC and Greenville FC tee shirts.
I’m not sure where those clubs will ultimately lead me – or the sport – but I’m fully committed to the ride.