The North American Soccer League received its Division 2 sanctioning over the weekend from the U.S. Soccer Federation, but it will apparently cost the five American teams, including FC Tampa Bay, the opportunity to participate in this year's U.S. Open Cup, USSF president Sunil Gulati said on a conference call Monday.
"It's simply too late," Gulati said. "There's no place in the structure."
It will mark the first time since 1984 that a professional soccer league will not be represented in the Open Cup.
Otherwise, there was little clarity offered regarding the benchmarks the NASL will need to meet to gain sanctioning for 2012 and beyond. The league received provisional sanctioning in November, but it was pulled by the USSF last month due to concerns about the finances of the teams' ownerships. The NASL then received provisional sanctioning this past weekend to play the 2011 season, slated to begin in April.
Still of concern to the federation, however, is the stake that Traffic Sports USA has in several NASL teams. Traffic, which owns FC Miami, also took ownership of teams in Carolina and Atlanta to keep them afloat. But Gulati said there is no timetable for those teams to find individual owners. Minnesota's franchise also is owned by the league. And the league must make sure a new San Antonio franchise is ready to play next year when Montreal moves up to MLS.
"The immediate resolution or movement toward a single team and single ownership, we don't have a timetable on that," Gulati said. "So while we would like to see that done, and we will definitely sit down and work through that with them in the months to come, there's no timetable on that.
"I think it's clear that we'd like to see a situation where there are different ownership groups for each of the eight teams the league has."
But Gulati wouldn't say what benchmarks the league will have in terms of attendance figures or sponsorship dollars to brew confidence in Division 2 soccer.
"This year is all about focusing on the nuts and bolts and making sure we're running a league where the teams are happy with the direction it's headed, where the federation is happy with the direction it's headed, so we can build a methodical growth plan going forward," said NASL president and Miami FC owner Aaron Davidson.
The federation's Division 2 standards were the strictest ever, but Gulati said he'd like for the USSF to begin taking a step back and allow Division 2 to grow.