The National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) is just a few months into its long offseason, but the expansion which led to restructured conferences in 2017 may yield contraction in 2018. How this might impact Kingston Stockade FC remains to be seen. Winter is coming, and things could be about to change.
Stockade supporters who’d already imagined years of intense rivalries with fellow NPSL Atlantic White Conference sides Boston City FC and Hartford City FC may have to abandon opponent-specific terrace chants. It appears that both clubs are looking to make the jump from semi-pro to pro in the North American Soccer League (NASL) next season. Whether they would do so in their entirety or emulate the New York Cosmos, who have an A team in the NASL and a B team in the NPSL, is unclear.
The NASL is a professional league in a state of flux, closing out the second half of its 2017 season this month with six teams spread across the continental United States and one each in Canada (FC Edmonton) and the Caribbean (Puerto Rico FC). The franchise closest to the Hudson Valley, the Cosmos, play their home matches at MCU Park, a minor-league baseball stadium in Coney Island.
FC Edmonton is pulling out of the NASL at the close of the 2017 to join the Canadian Premier League, which is set to get its inaugural season underway after the World Cup next summer. Another NASL side, the San Francisco Deltas, are on the verge of collapse after just a single season; though they’ve drawn at least a few thousand enthusiastic fans at their home matches in Kezar Stadium on the southeastern edge of Golden Gate Park, the team’s owners over the summer said the cost of running a team was too high. Rumors abound that they’ve informed the NASL that they will withdraw from the league by the end of October. This week, the Deltas announced that all tickets for their final home match on Saturday, October 28 will be just $5, and that all remaining branded merchandise will be given away to fans in attendance, a sign that the end could be near.
The NASL is also currently in the midst of anti-trust litigation filed against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). It claims the league has been unfairly denied its request to remain at Division II. The divisional structure was established by the USSF to ensure leagues maintain a set of minimum requirements, including number of teams, geographic distribution of teams, market sizes, stadium capacities, and the financial health of team owners. A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for October 31.
The USSF granted the NASL provisional Division II status for the 2017 season, with stipulations including expansion to at least tweolve teams. Though they appear to be losing at least San Francisco and Edmonton, the league previously announced the addition of two new franchises in southern California: Orange County-based California United and an as-yet-unnamed team based in San Diego.
It was reported this week by soccer news website Soc Takes that seven teams signed letters of intent last month to join the NASL, including Boca Raton FC, Detroit City FC, FC Arizona, the New Orleans Jesters, Virginia Beach City FC, and the previously mentioned Boston City FC. At present, Hartford City FC has not been specifically confirmed, but sources cite a team from the city as being the seventh franchise. Though the club is just a year old, Hartford City team ownership has previously been bullish on moving up the food chain. And though it’s social media-related speculation, the team last week announced it was moving its official Twitter account from the NPSL-linked @HartfordNPSL to @HartfordCityFC.
If Hartford City FC is truly the team from Hartford, that would mean all seven established sides signing letters of intent to play in the NASL would be coming out of the semi-pro NPSL, six of them in 2018, with New Orleans moving on the following year. The NPSL division most impacted by an exodus would be the Atlantic White, which would drop from six teams to four. In addition to Boston, Hartford and Stockade FC, the Atlantic White in 2017 also included the New York Athletic Club, the Rhode Island Reds, and Seacoast United Mariners.
It’s still early to know how any of this might change things for Stockade FC. Should the NASL lawsuit against the USSF prove unsuccessful, soccer experts maintain that it may make it financially impossible for the league to continue. There is a NPSL owners’ meeting scheduled for December. Stockade FC chairman Dennis Crowley declined to comment on any of the rumors linking NPSL teams to the NASL. While the team might like to move up to a higher division, he confirmed that it would prefer to do so in a system that embraces the global practice of promotion and relegation.
“I have big dreams about what our club will be able to do in the future, but I would really prefer if we’re going to move up to another division I would like to earn our way into it, even though that system doesn’t exist,” Crowley said. “I want our club to be one of the driving forces behind opening the system so that when it’s open we can move up.”
Stockade FC in August partnered with Miami FC to file a claim with the court of arbitration to require the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) to incorporate promotion and relegation across all divisions of the sport in the country, including top-tier Major League Soccer (MLS), which has traditionally rebuffed the idea.
This week, Crowley expanded upon how that would work in a large country where air travel is necessary for top-tier sports teams. A true soccer pyramid would help lower divisions by distributing television revenue by division, he said. Division I in this scenario would be national, Division II divided into east and west, and so on, with 16 regions spread across the country. Without a promotion-relegation system, teams looking to better their circumstances are forced to come up with vast sums of money.
“Imagine a world where our team started getting so good that it was a given that we would win the conference each year, and win the region every year,” Crowley said. “And then we really should move up, but the only way to move up is to pay? Then I think you’ve run out of options.”
Crowley suggested that franchises considering a move to the NASL were not automatically leaving the NPSL behind, pointing to the New York Cosmos as a blueprint.
“Cosmos A, holy cow, you might go there and there are 3000, 5000, 7000 fans,” he said. “Cosmos B, almost no one was there because the Cosmos didn’t really promote it. The Cosmos B was a really tough team to beat because those guys are trying to make the A squad. That’s a perfect analog.”
Between the shakeup in the NPSL and NASL, and the optimism that Stockade FC may have done enough to earn a bid in the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the offseason promises to be more interesting than usual.