TAMPA — With exactly two months before the scheduled start of FC Tampa's Bay's 2011 season, the North American Soccer League relayed its confidence Wednesday that it will receive U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2 sanctioning at this week's USSF annual general meeting in Las Vegas.
The NASL received provisional D-2 sanctioning in November, but three weeks ago the USSF pulled the league's sanctioning because the league has not yet met some of the federation's financial requirements.
"We've delivered on the standards, so we have no reason to believe we won't be sanctioned and playing for the 2011 season," NASL CEO Aaron Davidson said on a conference call Wednesday. "Given the submissions we've made and our belief that we comply with the second division standards, we believe we'll be sanctioned Friday by the board and ratified on Saturday."
The NASL and USSF's goals are the same — to flourish in their markets long term. But the USSF's standards are tough. Among them, each team has to have a 35 percent controlling shareholder with a net worth of at least $20 million.
Each team must also have a $750,000 letter of credit — in comparison, two years ago the D-2 standards required only $100,000 — which must be joint and several, allowing the credit to be interchangeable among the league's teams to pay debts if needed.
"That's a very big deal," Davidson said. "For us, it was a surprise. That was one of the things we didn't get done by the time they rescinded our provisional sanctioning. But now our letters of credit are in across the board and are joint and several. That's a big deal, not only for us internally, but as expansion teams seriously look at our league to join. It gives them the peace of mind that our league will not have issues during the year and it a stable league for the long haul."
FC Tampa Bay's 2011 season not only is at stake, but it is potentially another blow to the growth of pro soccer in North America. While MLS has flourished, the second division level has always lacked stability.
And the NASL league brass made it clear Wednesday it will not consider playing at the D-3 level alongside a newly realigned USL pro league it believes pales in comparison standards-wise.
"We believe that soccer in North America had matured to the point where we need a stable second division," Davidson said. "We need the second division to fill the gaps in this country in a stable fashion. Second division to date has never ended and started a year with the same teams, and that's something we're out there to change."
FC Tampa Bay owner/president Andrew Nestor, a member of the NASL's three-man executive committee that will meet with the USSF in Las Vegas, is also optimistic.
"I think you will see the NASL team owner's commitment to this process to this process of developing the sport of soccer in North America," he said. "I think you'll see that rewarded and I hope that translates into a good product for our fans and our sponsors. Hopefully, we'll have good news to report at the end of this week."