The North American Soccer League (NASL) has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) after the national governing body rejected a request to grant it Division 2 status for 2018.
The NASL relaunched in 2011 with second-tier status below Major League Soccer (MLS), but U.S. Soccer in January initially elected to afford Division 2 status to both it and the United Soccer League (USL). This was a provisional measure as the governing body said neither league met its requirements at the time.
The NASL currently has eight teams, four short of the required 12 for Division 2 status, but has already confirmed expansion sides for San Diego and Orange County in 2018. U.S. Soccer’s decision casts doubt over the NASL’s long-term future and the league issued a strongly-worded statement earlier this month criticising the governing body.
In a statement on its website, the NASL has now said that U.S. Soccer’s ‘Division’ structure “violates federal antitrust laws” and also accused the body of manipulating its structure in favour of MLS.
The lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn federal court, highlights several commercial links between U.S. Soccer and MLS, including “multi-million dollar media and marketing contracts” with Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm of MLS, that jointly sells and markets MLS rights, combined with rights to US national soccer teams operated by U.S. Soccer.
The complaint also alleges that U.S. Soccer has “selectively applied and waived its divisional criteria to suppress competition from the NASL”, both against MLS and USL.
In addition, the lawsuit accuses U.S. Soccer of seeking to “limit competition” from the NASL to MLS and USL, with the league stating that it is now seeking to “destroy the NASL” by revoking Division 2 status for the 2018 season.
Rocco Commisso, chairman of the NASL board of governors and principal owner of the New York Cosmos, which plays in the NASL, said: “U.S. Soccer left the NASL no choice except to file this lawsuit. The NASL has taken this step to protect not just the league, but also the game, fans, and everyone with a stake in the future success of professional soccer leagues based in this country.”