This afternoon, Major League Soccer announced Minnesota United as the league's next expansion franchise. This news isn't anything new, as it has been circling for months that MLS has been in negotiations with the United ownership. This will put the MLS at 23 teams with Atlanta and Los Angles FC starting in 2017 and Minnesota and either Miami or possibly Sacramento in 2018.
At his point, there are two questions to be asked. How many teams will the MLS end up with and with the North American Soccer League's biggest franchise leaving for the United States' first tier league and Atlanta starting in 2017, what is going to happen to the NASL?
The North American Soccer League (NASL) is a division II US Soccer league that began play in 2011. It was also a league that was originally the top league in the United States. It started in 1968 and featured world known players such as Pelé. In 1984 the league folded due to financial problems. The present day NASL has 13 teams, which is counting the Virginia Cavalry and Oklahoma City, two franchises that never really got up off the ground, although, the Cavalry is rumored to begin play in 2016. Right now the league features 9 teams in the United States and 2 in Canada.
So what is next for this "revamped" league? Will it add more teams and become a competitive league or will it fail like it did in the 1980s?
The NASL has been rumored to have plans to expand into Hartford, Miami (assuming they don't get an MLS team) the West Coast and Canada. Recent news has come up that the league is trying to expand into San Francisco. The SF City FC twitter account has confirmed that this is accurate.
We can confirm that we have made initial contact to NASL regarding potential expansion.— SF City FC (@SFCityFC) March 18, 2015
NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson's plans are to be between 18 and 20 teams by 2018. While reasonable with potential expansion to Hartford and San Francisco likely, that would put the league at 15 teams. Going into Canada is another option for the NASL as Peterson has been in contact with the Canadian Football Association about expanding into Canada.
News came out Monday on empireofsoccer.com that the NASL nears a deal to televise ALL matches on ESPN3. This is big news for the NASL because it gets the league's name out and allows fans of the league and soccer fans in general to see the NASL and its players.
Along with that news, the San Antonio Scorpions are looking for new ownership. The Scorpions looking for a new ownership is potentially them seeking a move to the MLS.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber has also been quoted several times saying that the league would evaluate going past 24 teams when it comes to expansion. The NASL is in the shadows of the MLS, but that may not be a bad thing. For teams that don't get an MLS franchise, the NASL can offer them to join their league.
If the MLS were to expand past 24 teams, the cap would be around 30 teams, matching that of other leagues around the United States. Places like Minnesota, Sacramento, St. Louis, Detroit and Indianapolis, if the city is able to get a stadium built, will be in the running to get an MLS franchise. 30 teams wouldn't be bad for the MLS; it would make for some great rivalries. Sacramento would add another team in California. The Minnesota announcement combined with potential teams in St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Detroit could make more rivalries in the Midwest with Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew SC. The Cornfield Cup has a nice ring to it.
For the promotion and relegation crowd, if the MLS continues to expand and the USL gets division 2 status, the NASL and USL could get the promotion and relegation ball rolling. Bill Peterson told SI.com last year that the NASL would be open for the idea, stating it "could be a viable concept in North America and asserts that a European-style model could be successful and appreciated by American fans."
The NASL needs to continue to expand and continue what they are already doing. Attendance numbers for the league grew 30 percent from last year. Indy Eleven averaged over 10,000 fans a game in their first season. The Ottawa Fury had 15,000 in attendance for the opening of their new stadium. Minnesota United averaged around 9,000 fans for their fall season and the expansion franchise, Jacksonville Armada, saw 13,000 arrive for a preseason match against the Philadelphia Union.
The league has a following the in the United States and hopefully it stays that way. The competition between teams in the USL, NASL, and MLS is fun to watch during the US Open Cup. Hopefully it continues to happen and maybe some day we will see the USL and NASL merge.