RailHawks, others try NASL bid again

Staff writerSeptember 2, 2010 

The North American Soccer League plans to submit its bid to the U.S. Soccer Federation this week for the Carolina RailHawks and nine other teams to play next year as NASL clubs, RailHawks owner Selby Wellman said.

The other teams in the proposed NASL would be the Puerto Rico Islanders, the Montreal Impact, the FC Tampa Bay Rowdies, Miami FC Blues, the Rochester Rhinos, NSC Minnesota Stars, Crystal Palace Baltimore, AC St. Louis and FC Edmonton, an expansion franchise .

Wellman and other team owners had hoped to break away from the USL earlier this year and create an owners-controlled league. However, the USSF stepped in to operate this year's USSF D-2 Pro League after it determined that the United Soccer League and NASL were unfit to independently sustain leagues.

This month, the USSF announced a new set of standards for Division-2 pro leagues. There must be a minimum of eight teams to apply, and all must pay a $750,000 bond that would be set aside in case a franchise hits hard times (as St. Louis and Baltimore did this year).

Another standard aimed at removing the unstable franchises from the league was the requirement for a single owner, with a financial worth totaling more than $20 million, to control at least a 35 percent share of the team.

"There are six of us who meet all of the standards, so we're two short," Wellman said. "The candidates [who do not meet all of the standards] would be St. Louis, Baltimore, Puerto Rico and Minnesota, who are not in the core six."

The deadline to apply for USSF sanctioning is Sept. 15.

Wellman said NASL has requested that USSF president Sunil Gulati rule on the matter on or before Oct. 1 to allow franchises to move forward with ticket sales, promotions and sponsorships.

"Oct. 1 is about the latest date you can really start laying out your plans for 2011, specifically sponsorships," Wellman said.

Puerto Rico, which was aligned with the USL before signing on with NASL this week, doesn't meet the owner requirement.

But the Islanders team has been in operation since 2004 and recently defeated Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy 4-1 in a CONCACAF Champions League match.

"They've never done anything but play at a high level and represent our league at a high level," Wellman said. "Trying to get a waiver for them, we think, would not be that difficult."

A waiver would be needed for the other three teams in question as well, although ideally the waiver would be for only the 2011 season.

NSC Minnesota is seeking new investors, as are the RailHawks. But Minnesota, unlike Carolina, fails to meet the owner requirement.

"They're trying to find an investor group because they don't meet the standards," Wellman said. "We would go for a one-year waiver for them, giving them next year to find investors."

AC St. Louis and CP Baltimore have had financial trouble this year, and both came dangerously close to folding in midseason.

NASL owners helped the teams make it through the season, but new investors are needed.

Wellman said a waiver request is likely for both.

The Montreal Impact will be leaving for the MLS in 2012, and FC Edmonton has spent the past year assembling a team and getting its franchise in order.

Puerto Rico's expected defection leaves only three current USSF D-2 teams that are not part of the NASL. The Vancouver Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers are moving to the MLS next year. The Austin Aztex, a team that Wellman said does fit the requirements for Division 2 sanctioning, remains affiliated with the USL.

mike.blake@nando.com or 919-460-2606

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