It'll be easier in MLS in 2011
By Marc Weber
Fans of acronyms, rejoice! The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced Thursday that feuding footsie foes, the United Soccer Leagues (USL) and North American Soccer League (NASL), have reached an agreement on a second-division for the 2010 season: the USSF D2.
The newly-formed, and highly temporary, league has 12 teams split into two conferences. The Vancouver Whitecaps join the Montreal Impact, Miami FC, AC St. Louis and Crystal Palace Baltimore in the NASL Conference.
The loyalist trio of the Austin Aztex, Portland Timbers and Puerto Rico Islanders -- the only three USL-1 teams from last year to remain sided with that league during the dispute -- join the Minnesota Thunder, Rochester Rhinos and Tampa Bay Rowdies in the USL Conference.
Of course, the Whitecaps jump to North America's premier loop, Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2011, so don't get too attached.
"It's a great short-term solution," said Caps president Bob Lenarduzzi. "I applaud the USSF for coming up with this and getting everybody to buy into it."
There wasn't much time left for any other course of action.
A week ago, the USSF denied sanctioning to both the USL and breakaway NASL, forcing the sides back to the bargaining table.
Nike's August sale of USL to NuRock Soccer Holdings, rather than an owner-backed bid, sparked the split.
Sunil Gulati, USSF president, said his federation will play a large role in governing the one-year league, while also working toward a more stable, long-term second-tier structure in the U.S.
The 2010 schedule has yet to be set, but there will be inter-conference play and between 28 and 34 games starting likely in late April. Also noteworthy, all USL litigation against NASL teams has been dropped.
Lenarduzzi said this drawn-out dispute hasn't hurt his club.
"We've dealt with the odd call from a sponsor or season-ticket holder wondering if we'd be playing in 2010, but very few," he said. "The only thing we'd like back is a little bit of time, but when I look at what's ahead, it's been an unfortunate blip."
Atlanta and New York were also mentioned as potential markets, but neither is ready for 2010. The NASL has talked up Edmonton as an addition for 2011. They could take Vancouver's place and forge a formal development partnership with the MLS Whitecaps.
But the Caps are still exploring the possibility of maintaining their own second-tier squad. It all depends on the changes MLS makes to its roster rules.
"There's still the MLS part that's unresolved in terms of what we can or can't do," Lenarduzzi said. "We're just delighted we can now get back to planning for this upcoming season."
The Canadian Soccer Association
(CSA) backed the USSF's decision and confirmed that Nutrilite Canadian Championship play between Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto FC will continue as a six-game tournament with a CONCACAF Champions League berth awarded to the winner.
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