The U.S. soccer landscape is changing on an eventful day. First, the MLS commissioner, Don Garber, arrived in Cincinnati to view the FC Cincinnati soccer facilities, a USL franchise, potentially for future inclusion in the U.S top tier. Second, the New York Cosmos, a second tier NASL franchise, are reportedly on their last leg and in serious danger of folding operations. Third, rumors are the NASL could fold entirely and their remaining teams may join the USL.
With Garber in Cincinnati many have put FC Cincinnati in the running to receive a MLS franchise. The second round of additions are scheduled after 2018, possibly 2020, when the league will expand to 23 teams, or maybe 24 if the Miami affiliate headed by David Beckham pull the proper resources together. If measures fall through in Miami, Cincinnati could be the next team included due to their excellent attendance and terrific fan support. It’s only necessary to see how many people showed up for Garber’s arrival at a local airfield to understand the support in Cincinnati.
— Charlie Hatch (@charliehatch_) November 29, 2016
The New York Cosmos had been rumored to be in trouble for a while. Reports coming out today have verified those rumors. Once the flagship franchise of the original NASL, which folded in 1984 returned under the same name in 2010, taking the field in 2013. They were successful on the field with three NASL Championship trophies, but a different story off the field with lagging attendance and no progress securing their own stadium.
Sad news surrounding the Cosmos was met with more bad news from the league. Reports from the league meetings suggest a possible NASL and USL merger. This is good for a league currently with ten teams scheduled to play next season, but bad for two of those teams in financial trouble, which could leave the league with eight.
If the merger goes through with all of the teams remaining there will be 39 teams in the new league. This is too many teams for one tier, but it can work in the short term. Long term, splitting into two tiers will be huge for the promotion relegation fight in the U.S. This long-term model would not be sustainable without the support of a television contract and the leadership of U.S. Soccer, including President Sunil Gulati.
A television contract will be the most important asset owned by MLS. This will be the surest way to expand the sport in the U.S. and pay the designated player salaries that drive attendance. For any USL/NASL potential merger to succeed there has to be either a partnership with the MLS or their own television contract to survive.