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NASL’s Fall-Spring calendar announcement hiding the league’s struggles

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The new NASL calendar isn’t about matching global soccer patterns, but about not having enough teams.

SOCCER: OCT 09 NASL - Strikers at RailHawks Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The North American Soccer League has just announced a big change to their season calendar. Rather than playing in the spring-to-fall model as all the other professional soccer leagues do in the United States, the NASL is shifting to a fall-to-spring schedule. This matches the calendar played in many places elsewhere in the world, including the most prominent leagues in Europe. The schedule would also conform to all FIFA International dates. As part of the schedule change, the NASL will not play in the spring. The official schedule has not yet been released.

This isn’t the first time the NASL has tinkered with their schedule. In 2013, the league adopted a split schedule, similar to the Clausura/Apertura model that exists in much of Latin America. In this model, the spring and fall are treated effectively as separate seasons, with a champion crowned for each. The champions from each, along with the seasonal runner-ups, would then participate in a play-off structure to crown an overall champion.

Many American soccer fans, of course, have been clamoring for such a move for a long time. Such fans will likely be very happy to see a league willing to attempt to match the European model in an effort to better integrate with the rest of the world. If the NASL can successfully pull this off, it could hypothetically help push the USL and even MLS towards that sort of calendar.

Of course, that is the rosy PR take that the NASL wants fans to see. In reality, this move was heavily motivated by the fact that the NASL are a collapsing league and literally cannot field a season of play at the time of writing. Take, for instance, the words of Caleb Patterson, a player on the Jacksonville Armada.

Because the league has been hemorrhaging both teams and money for some time now, the league is down to 5 teams, with two teams in California expected to join. At the end of the 2017 season, as FC Edmonton and the San Francisco Deltas folded and North Carolina FC joined the USL, the league lacked the sufficient numbers to either meet the USSF D-II standards or convince the federation to grant it a waiver (as the federation had in each prior year since the NASL’s founding). Without D-II certification from USSF, the NASL decided to file an anti-trust suit against the league, a lawsuit that was summarily dismissed from court and is now under appeal. Without certification from USSF, the NASL cannot begin play except as a rogue league. Without USSF sanctioning, the NASL wouldn’t have FIFA certification, which means that foreign clubs cannot transfer players to the league, nor would the players be eligible to receive a number of benefits tied to a league’s FIFA membership, including the ability to be called up to official international matches (which kinda would make the international breaks in the calendar a bit pointless). Indeed, the scant number of teams offers the NASL every reason to switch to a fall-spring calendar. Only Indy Eleven and the New York Cosmos play in places that experience harsh winters. And the league has so few teams with so many struggles attracting fans that competing with football, basketball, and hockey likely doesn’t matter (and much of the remaining calendar overlapped anyway). Without certification, the NASL cannot begin play in the spring as is. So, shifting the calendar made quite a lot of sense. A fall start at least gives time for the league to secure SOME certification (like as a D-III or even D-IV) from USSF, and even maybe cobble together some teams for the second half of the season. But that’s the best case scenario.

Quite frankly, it’s very likely that the NASL simply won’t start play at all. The Indy Eleven are reportedly moving to the USL, while reports are indicating that San Diego 1904 FC won't join until 2019. That leaves the New York Cosmos, Miami FC, Puerto Rico FC, Jacksonville Armada, and the incoming California United in the league for this year, with the possibility of one or two more defections. And five teams quite likely is not enough. With 9 teams leaving the league in just the last two years, the NASL has quickly started to look like a poisoned investment. This could very well be the death toll for the NASL.

Got thoughts on the recent announcements? Are you optimistic about the NASL’s chances going forward? How are you feeling about the calendar shift? Tell us in the comments below!