Miami FC and its loyal, growing fan base enter the holiday season with one wish: To have a team next season.
The future of the club, which reached the league semifinals this year, is in doubt as the North American Soccer League (NASL) continues to press an anti-trust lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation over the league’s Division 2 status.
In early November, a federal judge in New York denied the NASL request for an injunction against U.S. Soccer to grant the league Division 2 status. The federation has criteria for a league to qualify as Division 2 — number of teams (12 is the minimum), market size, geographic diversity — and deemed that the NASL currently does not meet those criteria.
There were only eight NASL teams this season, but U.S. Soccer granted the league “provisional Division 2 status” for 2017 to allow the NASL time grow to 12 teams. Instead, the league is down to five teams after North Carolina FC moved to the United Soccer League (USL) earlier this month and FC Edmonton and league champion San Francisco Deltas announced Friday they were folding.
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USL is a 29-team second-division league, of which 22 teams are affiliated with Major League Soccer clubs.
The NASL contends that by rejecting promotion/relegation and imposing criteria for Division 2, MLS and U.S. Soccer together are trying to block NASL from competing as a top-tier league because they prefer to have MLS as the only Division 1 league and USL as the sole Division 2. They appealed the court ruling and have a hearing scheduled for Dec. 13.
In the meantime, Miami FC staff, players and fans are left in limbo. Head coach Alessandro Nesta resigned last week, leaving things even more unsettled.
It is truly a shame to see Miami FC in this situation, considering the professionalism and excellence the club showed on and off the field.
A year after joining the league, Miami FC had established itself as the league’s glamour team. Deep-pocketed Italian owner Riccardo Silva spared little expense in assembling his roster and sprucing up FIU stadium, which now bears his name after his $3.76 million donation.
Miami FC pulled off upsets of Major League Soccer teams Orlando City and Atlanta United in the U.S. Open Cup. They led the NASL with 61 total goals this season, and also boasted the league’s top defense. Forward Stefano Pinho led the league with 17 goals. Five players from the Miami FC roster were finalists for league MVP.
The team had begun to create local buzz among soccer lovers. A crowd of 9,004 showed up for the Atlanta game. That grew to 10,415 for the U.S. Open quarterfinal against Cincinnati. And 7,115 were on hand for the league semifinal penalty-kick loss to the N.Y. Cosmos. The season attendance average was 5,223.
“We’re in the middle of lawsuits, and Nesta said he wants to pursue other options, so we wished him luck and agreed to separate,” said Miami FC CEO Sean Flynn. “We’re in a holding pattern right now, waiting for the ruling on December 13. We believe our suit has merit. It’s very disappointing that our request was denied, but we hope we will be allowed to keep the status quo and help move the sport forward.”
NASL Interim Commissioner Rishi Sehgal released a statement on Friday following the demise of FC Edmonton and the San Francisco Deltas.
“As we anticipate what we hope will be a favorable outcome in the U.S. Court of Appeals, we have been working diligently to build a strong foundation for the 2018 season,” Sehgal said. “We are looking at making a number of changes to our business structure, and we are encouraged by the amount of expansion candidates that are ready to join the NASL.”
Two California teams, one in San Diego and one in Fullerton, are scheduled to join the league in 2018.
Sehgal thanked founding club FC Edmonton for its contributions over the past seven years and said league executives “are in active discussions with potential ownership groups and we aim to keep professional soccer in San Francisco in the future.”
For now, it’s sit and wait for Miami FC, the Cosmos, Indy Eleven, Jacksonville Armada and Puerto Rico FC.
“We built a solid fan base, and strong partnerships with sponsors and media, and we really hope we will be allowed to continue operating and growing,” Flynn said.
EPL: Manchester City (34), Manchester United (26), Chelsea (25), Tottenham (23), Liverpool (22).
La Liga: Barcelona (34), Valencia (30), Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid (24), Sevilla (22).
Serie A: Napoli (35), Inter (33), Juventus (31), Roma (30), Lazio (28).
Bundesliga: Bayern (29), Schalke, Leipzig (23), Monchengladbach (21), Dortmund (20).
Ligue I: PSG (35), Monaco (29), Lyon (26), Marseille (25), Nantes (23).