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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

NASL confident U.S. Soccer will sanction RailHawks' new league this weekend

Posted by and on Wed, Feb 9, 2011 at 5:04 PM

The ticket booth at WakeMed Soccer Park was closed for business Friday.
North American Soccer League (NASL) officials are so confident that their league will gain Division 2 sanctioning at the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) Annual General Meeting this weekend in Las Vegas that they don’t have a back-up plan.

“We believe we are in a great position to finally stabilize the second division,” Aaron Davidson, the NASL CEO said. “We feel very comfortable and very confident.”

In a conference call with journalists around North America and the Caribbean, NASL officials declared that its application for Division 2 sanctioning was in order, and that they anticipated Division 2 sanctioning to occur this weekend in a process of approval and ratification at USSF meetings Friday and Saturday.

Division 2 sanctioning, which permits NASL to operate a continental professional league just below first-division Major League Soccer (MLS), had been granted provisionally in November. But in January it was withdrawn, just three months before the scheduled start of the season.

Among the standards the league must meet in order to be a Division 2 league:
—All teams must be led by an owner who has at least 35 percent of the shares and has a net worth of at least $20 million.
—Each team must put up a $750,000 letter of credit that can be applied to any struggling club in the league.

USSF.D2standards8-2010.pdf

Davidson indicated that the latter provision had been a major issue in leading the USSF to rescind its provisional sanctioning. The snag occurred when it emerged that the letters of credit needed to be “joint and several,” meaning, in effect, that teams must be on the hook for each others' liabilities. Davidson said that problem has been rectified.

Davidson also acknowledged that at least one club, the Puerto Rico Islanders, had struggled to be considered a viable Division 2 franchise, despite impressive on-field accomplishments that include winning the USSF D-2 Pro League title over the RailHawks last season and defeating the Los Angeles Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League. After praising the team for performing at a “first-dvision level” on the field, Davidson spoke about the business managers of the Bayamon-based club.

“They’ve always been humble and candid,” Davidson said. “They’ve always been up front about where they’re lacking from a business perspective and where we could help them.—with best standards, best practices.

“You’re starting to see those things implemented right now.”

When pressed about any contingency plans NASL might have in place should D-2 sanctioning be denied, Joey Saputo of the Montreal Impact insisted there were none. When asked directly if NASL’s teams would consider playing in Division 3, Saputo noted that such a move would complicate Montreal’s planned move to MLS in 2011.

“I’ve spoken with people at the USSF and people at the MLS,” Saputo said. To go to D-3 “would put us in a very difficult position moving forward with our MLS plans and the USSF understands that, the MLS understands that.

“All of the indications we’re getting make us comfortable that we shouldn’t even be thinking about ‘what if.’ I don’t think there are any plans for us to go down to Division 3.”

When NASL representatives were asked if they might consider litigation if Division 2 sanctioning is denied, Rishi Sehgal, NASL’s director of business affairs and legal counsel, declined to comment but reiterated that he thought such speculation was unwarranted.

Davidson added, “This process has been characterized by 100 percent cooperation between us and the Federation, and we don’t expect anything different from that.

“We all know that when you’re in the FIFA family, the soccer family, you accomplish things politically,” he continued, “and that’s our plan.”

The theme of litigation came up again, but in a local context, when Triangle Offense asked if Traffic Sports USA had actually paid Selby Wellman or another entity the winning bid of $14,999 for the rights to the RailHawks name, website, mascot and other proprietary items.

Davidson, who is also the president of Traffic, responded in the affirmative, and also indicated that there are no remaining legal impediments to moving ahead with their ownership of the

It also appears that the current lineup of NASL owners are flying alone. Davidson was asked if the NASL owners had been approached by current USL owners looking to join them in D-2,

“Not really. As we ratcheted up standards to second division, we went through—I don’t want to use this derogatorily—a cleansing process of the haves and the have-nots, the men from the boys,” Davidson said.

“I hope some of those [other] markets, as they get the right ownerships in place, and want to look into stepping up to second division, just as some of our teams, as those markets mature, will likely look into stepping up to MLS,” Davidson said.

“We’re ready, willing and able to work with anyone. We believe all three divisions will continue to play a critical role in the development of the game.”

On a local note, Davidson was asked if Traffic has paid for its winning bid of $14,999 for for the RailHawks' proprietary items, such as the name and mascot.

Yes.

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