After delaying any decision on several occasions the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors have finally announced the updated accreditation status of both the United Soccer League and North American Soccer League for the 2017 season.
For the past 6 years the NASL has been operating as a provisional Division II league within the guidelines set forth within by U.S. Soccer. However, with updated guidelines made official in 2014 and the loss of a number of teams with severe financial issues following the 2007 season, the league’s future and any accreditation for 2017 has been in doubt.
United Soccer League has been operating as a Division III league since 2011 while growing exponentially — up to a total of 30 teams — and negotiating a beneficial partnership with MLS. Earlier this year, USL made formal application for Division II accreditation in a effort to further strengthen their brand.
In their formal statement, U.S. Soccer notes that while neither of the two leagues is in full compliance with the 2014 standards it will proceed with accreditation in order to let the leagues proceed with final planning and scheduling for the 2017 season.
The board carefully considered the applications of each league. While neither league meets all the standards set forth by U.S. Soccer, the board granted provisional Division II status and will work with the leagues on a pathway to full compliance. The board also determined that the leagues will be required to meet additional criteria
“After an exhaustive process working with both leagues, in the best interest of the sport the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors has decided to grant provisional Division II status to the NASL and USL,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “U.S. Soccer will create an internal working group that will work with each league to set a pathway to meet the full requirements for Division II and allow for the larger goal of creating a sustainable future. We look forward to another productive year for professional soccer in this country.”
U.S. Soccer will determine the additional requirements and a timeline for completion in the coming weeks.
NASL is reportedly finalizing plans to begin play with 8 teams in the spring portion of their split 2017 season and issued the following statement by one of the team owners.
“The NASL Board of Governors and I support U.S. Soccer's decision to grant the league provisional Division II status,” said North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik. “We’re excited about beginning play in April, and we look forward to the continued growth of our league and soccer in the U.S.”
USL can now move forward with 30 teams split into two conferences with very limited overlap during the 2017 season and issued the following statement.
"We would like to thank U.S. Soccer for taking the time to work through this process and provide us with provisional sanctioning for Division II in 2017,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said. “We welcome the opportunity to work closely with U.S. Soccer to meet all the division two standards in the near future and continue to be part of the impressive growth of the sport in the United States."
While the real value of Division II accreditation in the United States which has no system of promotion/demotion can be debated, it appears clear that both leagues will have new guidelines and oversight in the efforts to receive Division II status for 2018 and beyond. However, for now, the way is clear and we can begin to play ball this spring which is all the large majority of fans for these teams may really care about.