TAMPA — The new Tampa Bay Rowdies professional soccer team overcame a major hurdle to playing this year when the U.S. Soccer Federation on Thursday announced a compromise between feuding Division II leagues.
The Rowdies still have yet to announce a new stadium plan or introduce players. (Team president Andrew Nestor said both will occur this month.) But at least the new franchise has a league to call home for 2010.
"All sides agreed that we had to play in 2010," Nestor said. "It's too important not to for all markets and for the sport in general."
When the Rowdies were introduced nearly two years ago, it was as a member of the United Soccer League's First Division. But in November, Tampa Bay joined a group of former USL teams to create another league, later naming it the North American Soccer League.
That prompted a lawsuit from the USL, filed in Hillsborough County circuit court, that the departing teams were breaching their contract. Late last month, the U.S. Soccer Federation denied both leagues sanctioning, urging the parties to come to an agreement for the sake of soccer expansion in the United States.
Thursday, the sides did so.
U.S. Soccer will oversee one 12-team Division II league (MLS is Division I.) with two divisions, the USL and NASL, for 2010 while working toward a long-term solution.
"For us, the most important thing is long-term stability," U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said. "We think what we've achieved gets us a short-term solution for this 2010 season, but we want to work with a number of people to find a long-term solution so we don't have teams changing between divisions."
And while Tampa Bay is slated to play in the USL division — with Austin (Texas), Minnesota, Portland (Ore.), Puerto Rico and Rochester (N.Y.) — they will exist as an NASL franchise. As part of the agreement, USL agreed to drop all legal action against the Rowdies and the other teams planning to move to the NASL.
The league plans to announce rules and a schedule in the coming weeks.
Nestor said the Rowdies have signed a handful of players — they held three invite-only combines and have plans for another on Jan. 18 — and they will be introduced later this month.
"I'm excited," Nestor said. "With this out of the way, I feel we can really get to the fun stuff. Instead of talking about the league, we can talk about the team. That's what we want to be talking about."