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NASL Struggles Have Massive Impact on Professional Soccer in Florida

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The NASL is currently in dire straits, which is having a huge impact on professional soccer in the state of Florida.

Soccer: Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The recent turmoil with the NASL has shaken up the American soccer landscape, and could have an impact on Orlando City.

Over the past few weeks, the North American Soccer League (NASL) has taken blow after blow. First, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) declined the league’s application to continue as a division two league, mainly due to its lack of teams. The subsequent antitrust lawsuit against the federation failed, forcing the league to appeal the decision. The result is likely to see the league play as a third division in 2018.

Adding to the NASL’s troubles, the league champion San Francisco Deltas have all but officially folded due to financial stress after their inaugural season and North Carolina FC, one of the flagship teams, announced its move to the United Soccer League (USL). These moves could be the final nail in the coffin for a league that has been flirting with extinction for the better part of its existence.

The current strife of the NASL will have a huge impact on soccer in the state of Florida as two of the league’s teams reside in the state.

Miami FC is a team that was founded in 2015 and has made as much noise off the field as on. The club’s owner, Riccardo Silva, was a founder partner of the MP & Silva Group, which buys and distributes international soccer media rights to companies like Bein Sports, ESPN, and Fox Sports. In July, Silva offered to buy MLS’s media rights, which are now at $90 million, for $4 billion with the contingency that the league institute a system of promotion and relegation.

The New York Cosmos and Miami FC are the NASL’s two big-money teams and have waged a verbal war with MLS over the past few years. Silva and Rocco Commisso, who owns the Cosmos, reportedly were the only two NASL owners wanting to file the antitrust lawsuit against the USSF.

If the NASL settles into division three, it’s unclear what that would mean for Miami FC. It’s highly unlikely that either Silva or the USL would want that club in the league, so it could mean the club dropping a division or dissolving. Popular head coach Alessandro Nesta resigned his position at the club this past week, possibly indicating the future of the club is in doubt.

The other NASL team in Florida is the Jacksonville Armada. Founded in 2013, the Armada soon found themselves in the same situation as many of the league’s teams, having trouble financially. After reports surfaced in Dec. 2016 that the team may fold, founder Mark Frisch denied them but revealed his intention to sell the team. The league took over the team before Robert Palmer, founder of RP Funding, purchased the team.

While it seems to be NASL-or-bust for Miami FC, the Armada are a little more of an enigma. Prior to Palmer purchasing the team, there were several reports that they could move to the USL, following the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury. However, Palmer has shown no indication that he is looking for such a move since taking over the club.

Palmer has publicly stated that his intention of buying the team was for marketing purposes, which would make remaining a division two side very important. Doing that may mean a switch over to the USL and a team in a large city like Jacksonville would likely be a welcoming addition to the league.

From a proximity point of view, moving to the USL would make financial sense for the club as the NASL travels across the country and teams in the USL only play within their conference until the USL Cup. The Armada would make the third team in the USL in the state of Florida, along with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Orlando City B.

While any of this would have little impact on Orlando City’s MLS side, it could have an impact on the USL team. Currently, OCB enjoys a bit of a rivalry with the Rowdies, who developed a rivalry with the senior side when it was in the USL Pro. Annual games with the Armada could create another rivalry for the reserve side.

Another impact could be if Orlando City ever decided to change to a hybrid team for its USL side. The only areas in Florida that are large enough to host a division two team are Tampa, Orlando, Miami, and Jacksonville. The Rowdies are an ambitious team whose aim is for MLS so they are unlikely to affiliate in any way with Orlando City. Likewise, David Beckham’s Miami MLS team appears to be coming very soon, so putting another team in South Florida would be asking for trouble. That leaves Jacksonville.

It’s unknown if Palmer would be interested in making his team into what would essentially be a reserve team for Orlando City, but if the Lions ever decide to go the hybrid route, Jacksonville would likely be the only option, as the next closest available city is Columbia, SC.

The future of the NASL is currently unknown, leaving its teams searching for a stable situation. For some, that situation may be landing in the USL. With two of the current six NASL teams playing in Florida, the league’s struggles are making a major impact on the state’s professional soccer landscape.