NASL Commissioner talks about Canada’s long-term plans, expansion and league format

Bill Peterson

Bill Peterson

NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson says his league is looking closely at one unnamed Canadian market as an expansion candidate, and is supportive of the long-term goals of the Canadian Soccer Association.

In a state-of-the-NASL conference call held Thursday morning, Peterson said he would be talking with CSA officials later in the day to discuss the organization’s long-term vision for the game in Canada. And he said the NASL would support the CSA’s vision, even if it includes the eventual launch of a Canadian Division “1A” league.

“We will have discussions with the CSA looking at the long-term future, what it looks like,” Peterson said. “We are open and supportive to what the long-term goals are going to be.”

CSA president Victor Montagliani, in an interview with Plastic Pitch(see the end of the post for subscription details on how to get the magazine), said that a long-term goal for the organization would be a Canadian only Division 1, which would “coexist” with MLS and NASL. It would not be directly tied to Canada’s bid for the 2026 World Cup, and investors would need to be found.

Peterson said that NASL will add more Canadian markets — adding to teams already in Edmonton and Ottawa. And he’s interested to see what that means for the future, and how it fits into the CSA’s vision. He called the CSA a “great partner.”

He said “what’s good for soccer in North America” is good for his league.

Peterson was a little more cautious in talking about Canada’s bid for the 2026 World Cup. That’s understandable, as just two of the league’s 10 teams are in Canada. And, while the United States has said it won’t bid for 2026 unless FIFA becomes more transparent, that possibility is still out there, especially with the buzz over the U.S. national team from this World Cup. So, no league would want to get caught in the middle at this stage.

Peterson said a World Cup bid is “federation level issue,” but said he does want to see the tournament return to North America.

“We are a North American league, so we would support any bid from North America, to the extent that we can.”

Peterson said he can’t wait for the July 20 match between the Ottawa Fury and the New York Cosmos, which will mark the first time NASL soccer will be played in the new TD Place.

The stadium is ready for the NASL fall season and the 2014 CFL campaign. And Peterson believes the response from the nation’s capital will set a new standard for the league.

“I suspect they’ll set an NASL attendance record (for a single game). The response has been quite incredible.”

This year, the league tweaked its split season format.

Because the NASL did not want to play against the majority of the World Cup (and we say “majority” because FC Edmonton and Ottawa play on the same day as the World Cup final), the league adopted an imbalanced split season. The spring season saw each of the 10 teams play a nine-game schedule. Meanwhile, in the fall, the teams will each play an 18-game schedule.

The fall and spring season champions will host the first round of post-season games. The teams with the best overall records who weren’t either spring or fall champs will take the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds and be the road teams for those post-season matches. The winners of those games will play for the Soccer Bowl.

But, there has been criticism of a system which will see the fall season be twice as long as the spring season was.

As the league continues to expand, the format should work itself out. The stated goal of NASL is to have 18-20 teams by 2018.

“The ultimate goal is to have 20 teams on a single table, playing a balanced schedule,” said Peterson. But he said the single-table, balanced format won’t be workable till the league gets to at least 16 teams.

And, to complicate matters, North American soccer fans will have the Gold Cup to watch next summer. Then the special centennial edition of the Copa America, which includes CONCACAF teams along with the South American powers playing on American soil, in 2016. So, timing-wise, the same kind of NASL format could be used for 2015 and 2016 that is being used this season.

Peterson said the short spring-extended fall setup is one of three formats the league is looking at, and it will be discussed in an upcoming call with the league’s coaches.

On top of the unnamed Canadian city, which Peterson said has an engaged ownership group, two more expansion possibilities were discussed: Miami and Hartford.

Peterson said he has spoken with Hartford’s mayor, and he is excited about the market. He said the city wants to accommodate a pro soccer franchise. But the elephant in the room is a committed ownership group. That’s the piece that still needs to be worked out.

As for Miami, Peterson said there is an ownership group interested in putting a team in the city where David Beckham can’t seem to get an MLS stadium built.

Even though there’s already a team in Fort Lauderdale, Peterson said he didn’t think they conflicted outside of the fact they share a TV market. He said the league saw them as two markets that could support two teams.

If the NASL would take plunge into Miami, it would have that team, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Jacksonville Armada — joining the league next year — to cover the state of Florida.

Despite the talk about Miami and Hartford, Peterson said the priority for the league remains expansion into the west.

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.