The State of U.S. Division 2 Soccer

Division 2 soccer went into limbo in the United States following the conclusion of the 2010 season.

That season had been made possible—after months of feuding between the NASL and the USL—by an 11th-hour provisional sanctioning from the United States Soccer Federation, good for one year only.

The league was called the USSF D-2 Pro League and it consisted of two six-team conferences. At the close of the season, two of its teams (Portland and Vancouver) made the jump to Major League Soccer, one (Rochester Rhinos) self-relegated to the third-tier USL Pro Division, two (Austin Aztex, AC St. Louis) folded, and one (Crystal Palace Baltimore) went on hiatus.

That left six teams twisting in the wind.

They eventually conscripted two more franchises (FC Edmonton and the Atlanta Silverbacks, who’d been on hiatus for several years) to form a reconstituted NASL, and put in a plea for Division 2 status.

Finally, on Feb 12, the eight-team league received D-2 sanctioning from the federation. Its season will kick off as planned on April 9.

That was the good news—we’ll get to the bad in a second—and here are the eight NASL teams:

Atlanta Silverbacks

Carolina Railhawks

FC Edmonton

Fort Lauderdale Strikers (formerly Miami FC)

Montreal Impact*

NSC Minnesota

FC Tampa Bay Rowdies

Puerto Rico Islanders

* Montreal will join MLS in 2012; its NASL replacement will be the San Antonio Scorpions.

Now the bad news: The league is in dire financial straits and the delayed sanctioning means that the five U.S.-based NASL clubs will not be allowed to participate in the U.S. Open Cup, the nation’s oldest tournament.

That’s a blow to league visibility and credibility as the USOC presents an opportunity to compete against MLS clubs in meaningful games, and it grants the tourney winner a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.

NASL CEO Aaron Davidson acknowledged those missed opportunities while also suggesting that the exclusion could be a blessing in disguise: “Frankly, from our perspective—I don’t want this to come out the wrong way—but we need to focus on our league right now,” he told IndyWeek.com. “The U.S. Open Cup is a phenomenal tournament….But, at the end of the day, we all know we’d rather focus on this league this season.”

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NASL Unveils Dynamic, Innovative Logo

Meet the new logo, same as the old logo.

We meant to get to this story a while ago but it slipped through the cracks. Starting in August—when Nike sold its stake in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) to something called NuRock Soccer Holdings—and continuing up until last week, there was a simmering, Hatfield-and-McCoys feud building between two rival Division 2 U.S. soccer entities.

After Nike got out, a number of teams split from the USL (perhaps the name NuRock scared them off), and formed their own league. In late November, they announced the official name of that new circuit: the North American Soccer League (NASL). (Above is their logo, which is not just modeled on the vintage NASL logo, it is the old NASL logo.)

But the new NASL and the USL holdovers immediately entered into a dispute over the legal rights of the breakaway teams, a conflict that led U.S. Soccer to initially reject the D-2 applications of both circuits.

Cut to last week, when the USSF and Sunil Gulati brokered an agreement and agreed to oversee a joint, two-conference league for the 2010 season, with the catchy name of USSF Division 2.

Got all that?

The USSF will continue to work with the NASL and the USL to create a more lasting solution for Division 2 soccer in this country, complete with new standards for second-level pro soccer in the U.S. that will, hopefully, ensure long-term stability and viability, and avoid similar disputes down the road.

Here is the conference breakdown for 2010:

USL Conference: Austin Aztex, NSC Minnesota, Portland Timbers*, Puerto Rico Islanders, Rochester Rhinos, Tampa Bay Rowdies (shouldn’t they be in the NASL Conference?)

NASL Conference: A.C. St. Louis, Carolina Railhawks, Crystal Palace Baltimore, Miami FC, Montreal Impact,  Vancouver Whitecaps*

*In 2011, Portland and Vancouver will become MLS expansion franchises.

Props to reader Dave L for the tip on the NASL logo.