North American Soccer League Interim Commissioner Rishi Sehgal kicked off his comments to the National Premier Soccer League’s Annual Owners Meeting on December 1st by acknowledging that his league is in “an interesting place.”
The NASL is in a fight for its life in court, where on December 15th it will seek an appeal of a denied preliminary injunction request in its antitrust case versus the United States Soccer Federation. The injunction appeal, if granted, would serve as a stay of execution for the league and likely several of its teams, by preserving Division II sanctioning status while the antitrust case continues.
Sehgal remains optimistic of the NASL’s chances to win the appeal. “I think we will be vindicated,” Sehgal said. He echoed previous statements by NASL Chairman and New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso that the lawsuit will continue regardless of whether the league does.
Sehgal, who has been with the current edition of NASL from its inception, expressed pride in what the league has accomplished over the course of its seven year history, regardless of the outcome. “We have given opportunities to over 2000 players, staff and front office people,” he said.
As far as continuing, Sehgal shared that, “Everything we have set up is based on being Division II.” Without Division II status, the NASL is unlikely to continue for the 2018 season. Commisso has stated publicly that without the injunction, the league’s flagship team, the New York Cosmos, are unlikely to field a team in 2018.
Barring a shift in its position that it cannot continue as anything less than a Division II league, NASL can survive either by winning the injunction appeal or by settling out of court with USSF in a way that preserves its Division II status. In the case that NASL continues, it looks to revamp its business model based on the current market conditions. If the league survives, expansion will be among its first orders of business.
Despite the NASL’s current predicament, Sehgal said there remains a great deal of new investor interest in the league, which grants owners more freedom over their clubs than MLS and USL. Sehgal shared the NASL’s vision statement with the audience on a slide. “The NASL is committed to delivering a pure expression of global soccer, focused on growing our game by celebrating fans, supporting our communities and ensuring the highest quality soccer experience.”
Beyond expansion, the league will look to reform the way that it approaches doing business. Specifically, they will seek ways to lower the barriers for entry for new investors in professional soccer. One aspect of that could be a more formal partnership between the NASL and NPSL. Sehgal called for a joint task force to look at ways the two leagues can collaborate in the future.
Sehgal pointed out that the partnership between USSF and SUM, SUM and MLS, and MLS and USL puts both the NASL and NPSL on the outside of an unnatural alliance that has begun to consolidate power in the business aspect of the game.
“All of our owners believe in promotion and relegation,” Sehgal told the NPSL owners, whose agenda for their meeting included a proposal for a full season NPSL competition that could begin to fill the gulf between the current NASL and NPSL operating models. He later added, “There is interest in the drama around the sport, now imagine if that was tied to the field.”
Asked if the NASL is ready to formally support a candidate in the USSF Presidential election, Seghal said, “We are not ready yet to throw weight behind a candidate, but we are getting more comfortable there.”
Eric Wynalda, who once coached in the NASL, is believed to be the best match with the NASL’s vision for how the US Soccer landscape should re-align. NASL clearly wants to see a change in leadership at USSF, and Sehgal believes that the current leadership’s approach is limiting the overall success and potential of the professional game across the country, to the benefit of only Major League Soccer.