BY MARC WEBER
VANCOUVER — The United States Soccer Federation could have picked a side. Instead, they chose the path of forced camaraderie.
In a unanimous vote, the USSF’s board of governors have decided not to sanction the United Soccer Leagues, nor the breakaway North American Soccer League — which includes the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact — to operate a Division 2 professional league in 2010.
Rather, they have ordered the squabbling sides to get the ball and play nice. Or, at least fake it for a year.
“There are still too many uncertainties for both organizations, which would be extremely difficult to resolve in a timely fashion that would allow them to prepare for the 2010 season,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. “. . . we did encourage both leagues to come together in the next week and attempt to develop another plan which would allow a single league to be approved on a provisional basis.”
Five USL-1 teams, including Vancouver and Montreal, began aggressively pursuing a breakaway league following Nike Inc.’s August sale of the USL to NuRock Soccer Holdings, rather than an owner-backed bid.
Nine teams have committed to the NASL for the 2010 season, but the USSF determined that neither league was able to meet U.S. Soccer’s minimum requirement of eight “viable” teams for the upcoming year.
Legal action from the USL has muddied the waters. Minnesota, which is committed to the NASL, owe the USL close to $100,000 US according to multiple reports, while Tampa Bay — another NASL team — was to be one of two USL expansion franchises in 2010.
The Whitecaps are jumping to North America’s premier division — Major League Soccer — in 2011, so this drawn-out dispute is surely as annoying for the club as it is confusing for fans. The Impact could also move to MLS at a future date.
But Whitecaps club president Bob Lenarduzzi said Wednesday his franchise remains committed to the NASL cause.
The Whitecaps will have a need for a development team after their MLS move — something to close the gap between the under-19 residency program and the first team — and they could have a formal relationship with an Edmonton franchise that was committed to joining the NASL in 2011.
“We are immersed in this and we’ll see it through to the end,” Lenarduzzi said of the second division scrap. “There’s been a lot of work put in up to this point.”
He remains unconcerned about the prospect of not having a league to play in for 2010, an important transition year for the club as it tries to find and develop players to make the leap to MLS.
“I find it hard to believe there won’t be a league to play in,” he said.
Both the NASL and USL made reference to an interim league in statements released on Wednesday. They appear to have little choice left.
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