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Don’t wish for the demise of the NASL

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Recent problems for NASL teams, both real and rumored, don’t bode well for the sixth-year league, but don’t think it doesn’t affect the other leagues.

Soccer: Rayo OKC at New York Cosmos
Michel’s Rayo OKC is one of several clubs with an uncertain NASL future.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The struggle is real.

The North American Soccer League has some work to do. After being forced to fold the Atlanta Silverbacks, the league has been dealing with headaches in Oklahoma City stemming from the relegation of Rayo Vallecano, an exodus of staff and investors, and a case of stolen turf so bizarre that Sarah Koenig is getting involved (okay, not actually).

Follow that up with yesterday’s rumor that Ottawa Fury is headed to USL next season, Edmonton’s paltry attendance in what could be a championship season, and the continued inability of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to make payroll, and you have a stranger-than-fiction animated s***-show.

There’s a fair amount of snark across social media from those of us who consider ourselves educated on what kinds of teams will succeed and what kinds won’t. The conclusion typically reached is: “The NASL is not screening its ownership groups properly.”

Often, the proof is in the pudding, but I’m not ready to jump on the “I told you so” bandwagon, particularly because after we all get done scoffing at what looks to be a net negative for the NASL over the next year, one problem affects us all.

Despite my personal affinity for what the USL is doing currently, and my belief that MLS has carried North America from the doldrums of the 1990’s soccer economy to more-agreeable currents, those leagues are not perfect, and having alternative approaches in the landscape is a good thing.

In a purely business sense, it’s instructive and helpful to any industry to see the examples of what doesn’t work, just as it’s useful to see what works. In that way, anyone not running a team called Rayo OKC can breathe easy and make mental notes of 1,001 things not to do. But if, by extension, the NASL should someday close up shop altogether before it too has learned from those mistakes, then soccer in this part of the world will be worse off in the short term at least.

There’s much to be said for the thrust of the NASL’s general philosophy on the management of its member clubs. Great autonomy is granted to those who join, and this indeed could be a transparent proving ground for the type of independent ownership that many fans argue is the way forward for every club in North America. Without this, enterprising owners will have to start a league from scratch, and the barriers to entry are high (unless you straight-up tell US Soccer that you don’t need their sanctioning, but that’s another topic).

The point here is, have your fun with what’s going on (as will I), but don’t be wishing for the closure of a league, or the final exodus of the last of its good teams. The only thing I want is for every person involved in soccer to follow and learn from as many mistakes and successes as possible, and pivot toward a better path each time. If that means that every decent team below MLS joins the USL, then so be it, but I prefer continued innovation and the long-term health of the NASL.