By Michael Lewis Editor

It’s Division 2 or nothing else for the North American Soccer League.

If it doesn’t get a preliminary injunction it seeks against the U.S. Soccer Federation, it won’t operate as a Division 3 league or as an unsanctioned league, its attorney said Thursday afternoon.

The NASL’s lawsuit will be heard in United States District Court, Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, N.Y. The honorable Margo K. Brodie is scheduled to hear the case Oct. 31.

The league has asked for a preliminary injunction of a Sept. 1 decision by U.S. Soccer, which ruled that the league won’t retain its Division II status for 2018.

“It is extraordinarily important,” said the league’s attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, during a conference call with the media. “We need this preliminary injunction or else. Without a Division 2 certification it is not likely the NASL will be able to continue on a going forward basis.”

Kessler added that without Division 2 certification the NASL would “not be able to keep its players, fans, sponsors and arrangements” as it continues it seeks a permanent injunction against U.S. Soccer. That part of the process could take from a year to two years to resolve, he said.

“Our club owners have created thousands of jobs for players, coaches, referees, administrators, service providers and an array of other constituents that play a vital role in bringing the NASL and our clubs to life,” NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal said. “However, an arbitrary [ruling] by the United States Soccer Federation board of directors has placed everything we’ve built at risk.”

So, it’s Division 2 or bust because moving down to Division 3 is not an option.

“That is not their intention to play at the lowest level, at a developmental level,” said Kessler, who is the co-executive chairman of Winston & Strawn LLP. “So, the answer is without this injunction, there are not a lot of options for this league, which is why the preliminary injunction is so important.”

And neither is becoming an unsanctioned league a possibility — ie. breaking away from the federation and FIFA.

“That is not an option,” Kessler said. “As all of you know in the soccer community, you will not be able to attract the best players, in an unsanctioned league through FIFA. You will not be able to engage in player transfers. You’re not going to be able to play in FIFA competitions or any of the regional competitions on a club basis. Fans, sponsors, broadcasters will not give you creditability if you do not have a FIFA sanction. So no, there is no possible consideration of playing without sanction. It is not a viable strategy.”

During the 45-minute call, Kessler criticized the USSF’s requirements for a professional league, whether it be Division 1 or 2.

“The requirements have been arbitrary, anti-competitive, unreasonable,” he said. “No professional football league in the world could meet all the requirements of the United States Soccer Federation to be a Division One league. Even Major League Soccer was not able to meet all of the requirements. but they were given waivers.”

Kessler said the USSF gave MLS a waiver for almost 10 years until a few years ago because several teams did not have the proper stadium size.

He added that he still did not know whether the league qualifies as a Division 1 in 2017 under the individual ownership rule. He noted that the 22 teams are owned by a single entity, adding that at one time as many as four owners operated at least 10 teams for several years, after the league contracted in 2002.

“None of that complied with these rules but Major League Soccer was always permitted to continue as a protected monopoly,” Kessler said. “The NASL has had to struggle, and it has struggled to comply, it has struggled to get along, it has struggled to avoid this lawsuit until it had no choice.”

Last year U.S. Soccer granted the NASL Division 2 status through the end of this year.

The NASL has competed with eight teams this season, four under the federation minimum for Division 2. Two west coast teams, one in San Diego, the other in Orange County, are scheduled to join the league for 2018. League officials claim there are as many as four other potential expansion teams. Detroit and New Orleans have been mentioned frequently as leading candidates.

Sehgal said that the league asked the federation for three years to complete its compliance to Division 2 standards.

“We felt a three-year period would be consistent what should be our mutual goals of growth and stability of the NASL,” he said. “Instead of granting the three-year period, the federation took a cold decision that compromises the investments of our owners and threatens the very existence of the league.”

If that temporary injunction is granted, the league will be able to make its plans for next season.

“It’s expected to come back and keep its Division 2 certification, bigger and better and stronger when it goes forward,” Kessler said. “It will continue to grow soccer while it pursues its legal rights.”

Kessler concluded: “The NASL is not looking for any handouts, it is not looking for any advantage. What it simply wants is an even pitch, where it can invest and build its game, compete at the highest level. MLS can do the same. Any other league can do the same. And just like every other sports business, in this country — really every other business in this country, period — the customers, the fans will decide the ultimate outcome of which leagues succeed and which leagues do not.”