I spent so much time over the last several months laughing at the National Independent Soccer Association I never stopped to think that maybe the joke was on me.
NISA? What does that stand for … the No Information Soccer Association? Or maybe it means Not Inspiring Supporters Attention.
See, for the longest time NISA’s marketing plan seemed to consist of doing no marketing at all.
Well, I take that back. Once a territory was named they put it on a pretty postcard and placed it on their website.
We’ve known a while, for example, that Charlotte would be represented in NISA. What we had trouble finding out was anything else about the club.
However, suddenly I find myself cramming on all things NISA, just in case a pop quiz comes up.
Quick … where is California United Strikers FC located?
Where and what is Stumptown Athletic?
Haven’t I seen the Philadelphia Fury somewhere before?
Not long ago I was all geared up for the National Premier Soccer League’s Founders Cup, which was to be a gateway tournament for the circuit’s pro initiative via the United States Adult Soccer Association. Clubs like the New York Cosmos, Chattanooga FC and Detroit City FC would carry the NPSL banner, and I’d follow.
That being the case, I could chuckle at NISA’s expense.
But lower division soccer is a sports tornado, and sometimes it’s hard to tell what’ll turn to debris and what’ll be left standing. Now that the sky has cleared somewhat, we can survey the damage.
The Founders Cup floundered due to player insurance issues, and several clubs like Miami FC (two-time defending NPSL champion) pulled out. Thus, it was downgraded to the Members Cup, and currently serves as a one-off tournament.
NPSL Pro – or whatever it might’ve been called – is NPSL No. My main hope in the aftermath is that the NPSL (in its traditional form) continues to be a viable circuit for adult amateur soccer.
But the other league – the one I was making fun of? Yep, it survived the storm.
Chattanooga FC and Detroit City FC jumping to NISA is a done deal as of Thursday, and it was a logical next step in light of all that’s happened. Both clubs wanted to go pro, the NPSL’s pay-for-play initiative never materialized, and the United Soccer League’s League One is on the opposite end of their philosophical spectrum.
In other words, if they wanted to compete in a league in which their players got a check, NISA was really the only box they could check. They’ll officially begin play in the spring of 2020.
Oakland Roots SC was also announced as a new NISA member, but gets a head start by being part of the inaugural fall campaign.
(As for my beloved Cosmos’ future, it’s once again up in the air. At this point I wonder if they might wind up like the Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, wandering from town to town playing local clubs).
“Bringing Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC and Oakland Roots SC all in to NISA at the same time is very exciting,” NISA Commissioner John Prutch said via a news release. “These clubs truly represent their communities and are proof the open system for soccer is the best way forward. Each has built their support the correct way and that support will sustain them and NISA for years to come. Congratulations to each of them (owners, staff, players, and supporters) for taking that step to play professional soccer.”
CFC and DCFC are two of the strongest voices in independent American soccer, and I’m glad they get to be loud and proud together. Oakland has also seemingly done everything right to get up and running, and brings its own indie vibe to the game.
So with the most recent clubs joining the party, I can only hope NISA’s landing is better than its leap.
When it was first announced back in the summer of 2017, I was genuinely excited about the possibilities. Fans could have an ownership stake, by its fourth season there’d be a promotion/relegation system (likely in concert with the North American Soccer League), and it would be more in line with international football – right down to a fall season.
But the NISA that begins play in a few weeks has changed dramatically from the league that was on the drawing board two summers ago.
Not long after the announced launch, co-founder and general counsel Jack Cummins died unexpectedly following a brief illness. Co-founder Peter Wilt later left the league to oversee the Forward Madison franchise in USL League One.
And with the NASL dormant – and on life support pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation – a major pro/rel path is blocked.
But apart from that, NISA did itself no favors in terms of introducing itself to American soccer supporters.
For a time it existed as little more than a website featuring the aforementioned postcards. Getting information about coaches, players and venues was like going on a poorly planned scavenger hunt – you didn’t even know what you were looking for.
And with exhibition matches slated for August 31 and clubs still holding tryouts, it all seems like a rush job.
Here’s the thing, though … I bought a piece of Chattanooga FC because I believe in their mission. And that mission – like the purpose of Detroit and Oakland and, hopefully, the vast majority of other NISA members – is to be community-first, community driven organizations.
They want their footprint to be more than a cleat mark, and
NISA offers that chance. With the promise of an open system, maybe the way Chattanooga, Detroit and Oakland promote themselves will inspire the umbrella organization to up their public relations games as well.
The fall lineup, billed as “NISA Showcase,” features Atlanta SC, California Strikers FC, Los Angeles Force, Miami FC, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Diego 1904 FC, and Stumptown Athletic.
Aside from Chattanooga and Detroit, clubs in Baton Rouge, Norwich, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island are expected to start competition in the spring of 2020.
Oh, and as for my homework, I found out that California Strikers FC is located in Irvine; Stumptown Athletic pays homage to Matthews, North Carolina, which was once known as Stumptown; and the Philadelphia Fury’s roots go back to the original North American Soccer League.
Obviously, I have no idea whether NISA will flourish or flop – no one does. But I have to give it a chance.
It’s here, and it’s no longer a laughing matter.