U.S. Soccer chief Sunil Gulati takes part in talks between NASL and USL
The NASL's Board of Governors completed two days of crisis meetings on Wednesday, but there appeared to be no resolution as to the league's immediate future.
The NASL has been hemorrhaging teams since the conclusion of its 2016 campaign. Minnesota United has long been slated to join MLS next season. Both the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Ottawa Fury have announced they have moved to the USL, while the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers and Rayo OKC are reported to be in financial trouble.
The Oklahoman reported that Rayo OKC were not represented at the meetings and had released their players. The fate of the New York Cosmos -- who some reports indicate are going to cease operations, though that was denied by a club source -- is still to be determined.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati tweeted on Wednesday that he had met with representatives from both the NASL and the USL. According to multiple sources, joining Gulati in meetings were NASL commissioner Bill Peterson, USL CEO Alec Papadakis, USL president Jake Edwards, and USL chairman Robert Hoskins. The group began meeting late Tuesday night, and resumed their discussions Wednesday morning.
It wasn't clear if the discussions were about a proposed merger, how each league would be classified by the USSF, or if it was merely a fence-mending exercise after Peterson called the USL a "reserve league" earlier this year, something that stuck in the craw of USL executives.
One source said the USL had presented a plan whereby some, though not all, of the NASL teams would be absorbed by the USL.
Another source indicated that Peterson is confident he'll have the minimum number of teams -- believed to be eight -- needed to continue next season. If Rayo OKC and Ft. Lauderdale go under, reaching that number would require the Cosmos to continue to operate or a USL side move to the NASL.
What is clear is that Gulati will be at the center of whatever agreement is reached.
"When Sunil is involved, he has a way of getting people to come together," said one source who attended the NASL meetings. "He holds the leverage with regards to sanctioning.
"Generally, when Sunil does this, neither party is happy at the end of the day, but that's usually the sign of a good compromise."
Peterson didn't immediately respond to a request for an interview. An attempt to reach Papadakis was unsuccessful.
It appears as though much will be decided at the USSF's Board of Directors meeting next week in New York, in which the issue of sanctioning leagues at the Division II and Division III level is on the agenda.
Among the standards for determining whether a league is Division II or Division III are number of teams, the geographic distribution of the teams, and size of the markets for the teams involved. The USL has been aiming to see the USSF declare it as Division II.
Between the two leagues, it would appear that the USL has the upper hand. The USL played the recently concluded 2016 season with 29 teams -- 11 of which were MLS reserve sides -- and is poised to add four more for 2017.
One rumor that had emerged was that billionaire Carlos Slim was poised to make some kind of investment in the Cosmos. One source indicated that there have been previous conversations between the two parties, but a spokesman for Slim, responding to a tweet from Newsday.com's Jim Baumbach, said that the reports were "Not true."
Not true. https://t.co/2tgGlkLRh5- Arturo Elias Ayub (@arturoelias) December 1, 2016
At least four potential expansion teams were represented at the NASL's Board of Governors meeting. One source stated that while there is a possibility that some of them could join up for the fall portion of the 2017 NASL campaign, a more likely scenario would be to begin play in 2018.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.