By Michael Lewis
The U.S. Soccer Federation has rejected the $500 million proposal by Cosmos owner Rocco B. Commisso to bring back the North American Soccer League as a Division Two league for the 2019 season.
During a USSF board of directors meeting via telephone May 27, it was determined that the league should follow the proper sanctioning process that has been around for more than a decade, secretary general Dan Flynn said in a May 30 letter.
In response, Commisso said in a letter dated Friday, June 1, the federation board’s decision extinguished “any hopes USSF would voluntarily grant NASL a 10-year runway to develop a sustainable independent professional soccer league in the United States and effectively terminating my proposal.”
The NASL, which had its Division Two status revoked last year, took a hiatus for 2018. It is seeking to return next year.
The USSF will not deviate from its sanctioning process, Flynn said, although the league could apply early for sanctioning.
“If the NASL wishes to seek a sanction for 2019, the NASL should submit the details of its proposal, consistent with the Professional League Standards (PLS) for the division for which it is applying, to the Professional League Task Force (PLTF),” Flynn wrote.
Specific details of Commisso’s proposal were not discussed during the meeting, “except to the extent you have already publicly disclosed them,” Flynn added.
In his April 13 letter unveiling his multi-million dollar proposal, Commisso said the revived NASL would need multiple team ownership in the beginning while finding new club investors. Commisso noted that Major League Soccer had used multiple team ownership in its first 15 years of operation.
Flynn stated that while the board did not talk about the waiver of the PLS prohibiting multiple owners, if the NASL wanted to continue to pursue that avenue, the federation asked the league to provide as part of its sanctioning application “a detailed description of the provisions the NASL is prepared to adopt and implement to protect the integrity of the NASL competitions.”
“While we understand that this timing may not be what the NASL desires, the board does not see a compelling reason to deviate from the annual sanctioning process,” Flynn said. “And, this should not be an issue for the NASL either for 2019 or for 2020 so long as the NASL applications comply with the applicable PLS or are in substantial compliance and accompanied by a detailed plan for coming into full compliance within a reasonable period of time.
“We also do not see this process negatively affecting the proposed capital infusion, at least not as it has been publicly described,” Flynn added. “Based on your public statements, the capital you and several other NASL owners are prepared to commit as well as the additional capital you propose to raise is intended to be invested over a 10-year period. Knowing what the PLS require for divisional sanctioning and the status of the league as it prepares its sanctioning application for each year will help the NASL and its financial backers determine whether to continue to invest and, if so, in what areas the financial resources would best be directed. There are no present plans to make changes, and to the extent future changes are suggested, each professional league will have an opportunity to review and comment on any proposed changes.”
In a letter to U.S. Soccer stakeholders dated Friday, June 1, Commisso stated his disappointment in the decision and the process itself.
“While it is unfortunate that USSF has rejected this historic $500 million proposal that would have created thousands of soccer opportunities for youth, amateur and professional players and staff while building out critical infrastructure for fans and communities, our fight to grow the game of soccer in America does not end today,” Commisso wrote.
Commisso also claimed that the federation allowed several “conflicted” board members with current of past ties to Major League Soccer, Soccer United Marketing and United Soccer League to participate in the May 27 telephone meeting. That included former U.S. international captain Carlos Bocanegra, who is the Atlanta United technical director and vice president, John Collins, MLS commissioner Don Garber, former USSF president Sunil Gulati and North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik.
“In the end, not even a $500 million offer squarely in line with USSF’s stated mission of promoting ‘the growth and development of soccer in all its recognized forms in the United States’ could break MLS’s stranglehold over our federation,” Commisso wrote.
The Cosmos owner added that he was disappointed that new USSF president Carlos Cordeiro, who was elected in February, “could never find the time to meet with me, in person or by phone,” to discuss his proposal. The Cosmos owner claimed that Cordeiro was concentrating on “virtually full-time World Cup matters.”
The U.S. has a joint bid with Mexico and Canada to host the 2026 World Cup. It is scheduled to be voted on by FIFA in Moscow June 13, on the eve of the World Cup.
Commisso wrote that the NASL will continue to pursue its antitrust lawsuit against the federation. He claimed that the USSF and Major League Soccer were trying to delay the trial date to October 2019 to stop the league from playing earlier than the 2020 season even after a possible favorable court ruling for NASL.
“I will do everything in my power to seek a timely and positive ruling to help our clubs return to the field in 2019,” he wrote.
In his letter, Flynn said that the USSF “looks forward to receiving the NASL’s sanctioning application for the 2019 season.”