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Tampa Bay Switches Allegiance to USL

NASL original announces it will play in the league that calls Tampa home.

Tampa Bay Rowdies
Tampa Bay Rowdies

The Tampa Bay Rowdies are headed to the United Soccer League, it was confirmed on Tuesday afternoon by the league office. As Indomitable City Soccer shared on Sunday following USL President Jake Edwards’ brief teaser at halftime of the USL Cup, the Rowdies were one of two teams in the current iteration of the North American Soccer League that was surrounded in rumors of jumping ship. Now, what were once just rumblings have been proven true.

From an organizational standpoint, it makes sense that the Rowdies would defect. The USL is a far healthier league. The Second Division is either hemorrhaging teams or finding them in poor financial condition. By contrast, the USL has flourished even with a regime change last year, adding new clubs at a steady rate each year. Add to that the fact that the USL offices are in Tampa, and one can’t fault the Rowdies for wanting to switch allegiances.

So what does this do for the USL? For one, it gives the league the rights to one of the most recognizable American soccer brands outside of Major League Soccer or the New York Cosmos. Not only that, but since a vocal minority was complaining about the proliferation of "MLS 2" teams, and their subsequent success in the USL Playoffs, this provides another independent team to the menu.

Additionally, it gives the league even more of a presence in the Southeast, a market that’s proved tricky to enter. Sure, there’s Orlando City B, but now the league has increased its holdings in the region while weakening the NASL at the same time.

"This allows us to expand our footprint into the Southeast with a storied soccer brand while meeting our key tenets of market size, committed local ownership and stadium development," said USL CEO Alec Papadakis in a release.

Finally, this bolsters the already strong credentials of the league as it progresses towards US Soccer Second Division status. If there was any worry of another United States Soccer Federation (USSF) Division 2 Professional League like in 2010, the last time USL - then USLPRO - and NASL went head-to-head, that should be put to bed now.

As for the NASL? Like I mentioned above, the league is hemorrhaging. Minnesota United FC is also bailing on NASL starting in 2017, going to the greener pastures of MLS. Tampa Bay, thru Oct. 16, had the third-highest attendance, and MUFC the highest, in the NASL. Additionally, with rumors continuing to swirl around Ottawa Fury FC, the league could be looking at losing three of the four best-supported clubs.

Add to that the ownership issues with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and how their Brazilian owners have basically hung them out to dry. Never mind the fact that Rayo OKC has similar issues to FTL, and as recently as a month ago four teams hadn’t paid their bond for 2017. Finally, look ahead two years to the supposed start date of the Canadian Premier League, and the NASL can likely wave goodbye to FC Edmonton, who is so isolated they might as well be on a different continent as the rest of the league.

I realize I’ve made my mark on this site as the resident NASL hater, mainly because I love to talk noise on Rayo. I own that, and I have the pettyweight belt to prove it. That being said, this isn’t necessarily good for US Soccer to have another league hobbling along on life support. Whether the NASL wants to own up to a poor business model or continue to blame USSF strawmen for what has harmed the league, it’s probably past time for their own Meeting at the Ranch.

In the meantime, USL can celebrate another success for the oldest operating league in the modern era of US Soccer. Welcome, Tampa Bay, we’re happy to have you!