The New York Cosmos and San Francisco Deltas meet in the title game this weekend. It could end up being the leagues final ever game
To an outside observer, it may be hard to believe that the North American Soccer League was able to play at all this season.
Last winter, the league was left for dead. Having just watched two teams fold, another move to MLS, and two more head across the second division landscape to the USL, the six-year-old NASL was left with just eight clubs. News came out that the historic New York Cosmos (linked to the days of Pele and Franz Beckenbauer in brand alone) had lost $30m over their first four years and were likely to fold.
This fall has seen two crucial rulings: one from the US Soccer Federation stripping the NASL of its second division sanctioning, and one from the US District Court denying the NASLs request for an injunction to reclaim that second division status. As teams across the league plan for 2018, many believe the NASL is all but done. Ahead of the leagues championship match this Sunday, between the Cosmos and San Francisco Deltas, now is a good time to ask: where did it all go wrong?
Completely separate from the national top-flight league that Pele once graced, and with which it shares a name, the NASL was founded after Nike sold its stake in the USL to an independent firm rather than the league itself. This sparked outrage among nine USL teams (whose owners formed the Team Owners Association), uncertain about the direction of this league. Instead, they formed their own second-division, which they named the NASL in order to pay respect to the history of the game in the US.
This was the beginning of an interfederational feud, with the NASL and USL grappling over who was the rightful second division. The NASL was granted sanctioning at this rank, and inaugural commissioner David Downs set out a clear vision: be the best second division possible. The United States had failed to foster a truly successful lower-division at this point, and Downs saw this as a way to crack into markets untapped by MLS. Creating a foothold in these areas would lead to wider national interest.
The first two years of the league went well. Teams in Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Fort Lauderdale thrived, and the NASL was ready to welcome the Cosmos the following season. Then, the league faced its first true test: Downs abruptly stepped down after the 2012 season, citing a desire to return home to New York.
Downs had moved to be stationed at the leagues office in Miami, also home to Brazilian-based sports marketing company Traffic Sports. Traffic invested in four clubs as the NASL kicked off, and the lawyer overseeing their US operations, Aaron Davidson, served as the president of the leagues board of governors. It wasnt until 2015 that this became particularly damning, as Davidson was arrested on suspicion of giving bribes as part of the Fifa sting (he later pled guilty). It took until late 2016 for the league to cut ties with Traffic, but the mud had stuck.