Sunday, December 4, 2011

Orlando City Causing Shakeup in Soccer's Minor Leagues

Orlando City owner Phil Rawlins has no desire to pay the second division North American Soccer Leagues franchise fees (last check-$750k).  He's content to continue his partnership with United Soccer Leagues, the third division of pro Soccer in the U.S., and not risk losing money.  In the NASL, without major backers, he could suffer losses with the franchise fees, travel costs, payroll, stadium costs and marketing promotions.

His strategy is to get to Major League Soccer bypassing NASL.  He believes he can raise the investments to pay the MLS franchise fees without dealing with playing second division.  He wants to jump to first division MLS from third division.  (Any major backers are going to want to try for MLS not NASL.  This is a problem for NASL right now).

It's probably a good strategy for him.  MLS is said to be watching his franchise closely and he has signed a non-disclosure with them, apparently meaning that they won't choose another team from the area without giving his team first dibs.

For minor league pro Soccer, the struggle for stability and respect continues.  NASL is caught in a situation it has no control over.  Teams in cities that may be able to afford an MLS team down the road are not required to play anywhere to get noticed.

Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver and Portland all made their jump to MLS the same way, playing in the USL with cheaper franchise rates, before NASL (second division) arrived two years ago.

The United States Soccer Federation is not getting too deep into the discussions, other than sanctioning each league.  They sanction the divisions, but the business matters of where individual teams play and how they try to get MLS's attention is not USSF's interest.

But, should it be?  Should USSF try to assist in creating a stronger minor pro league system with more regulation or allow for less regulation?  Less regulation looks to be like letting capitalism be what it is. More regulation looks like they are trying to force situations involving money that is not theirs.

Orlando is being courted by MLS for a few reasons.  One reason is that MLS has no presence in the Southeast of the U.S.  At some point Atlanta and Miami will be ready to come on board, but Orlando may be ready sooner.  Their home crowds of 6,000 people or more per game last season in the USL Pro league (third division) got enough execs at MLS to think more of Orlando's potential.

Should MLS ask Orlando to play division two NASL to prove they can function in the parameters of a higher budgeted league?  Doesn't look like MLS cares to play any influence in those decisions.

The most interesting note to all of this may rest in the difference in talent between leagues, which apparently, is not so much.  MLS teams routinely lose friendlies to lower division teams and in the matches that mean something, the U.S. Open Cup, MLS teams win most of the time, but not in dominating ways.

Soccer's minor leagues don't end at third division, because the league making the most noise and moves during the off-season so far has been the fourth division, National Premier Soccer Leagues (NPSL).  This league, with even cheaper franchise fees, has teams playing in both large and small markets throughout the country, too.


  1. This would be a terrific idea, why not?

  2. I also believe that Phil Rawlins that he can raise the investments to pay the MLS franchise fees without dealing with playing second division. He has a huge chance of jumping to first division MLS from third division.

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  3. I think Mr. Rawlins is a coward and is afraid of competition.