The NASL is Growing, Just Ask Ronaldo

US Soccer's second division is on the rise, inching closer to MLS game
by Eric Harris   |   Sunday, January 25, 2015

Defending The Fort - column on San Antonio Scorpions (SASFC) & the San Antonio soccer scene.

NASL is starting up their 5th season this spring and has quietly become a well run organization with steady growth. That is a far cry from the original North American Soccer League that folded in 1984.

Overexpansion forced the league to fold, but today it has slowly grown to a league with growing fan bases and more talented rosters. The league is expanding slowly to markets new to soccer, and as we see with Ronaldo’s involvement with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, it is improving its talent across the board.

Ronaldo is one of the most decorated soccer players in history. He has 98 caps for Brazil, 3 FIFA World Player of the Year Awards and 2 World Cup titles to his name. So what is he doing in Fort Lauderdale? This offseason Ronaldo bought a 10 percent share in the Strikers and he has a lot of plans.

While living in South Florida, he wants to start a youth academy. But most notably, he announced his intention to train and play in some games this upcoming season. There will be no tougher ticket to get in NASL if a legend at the stature of Ronaldo suits up. Regardless if he does or not, his impact will be felt across the growing league. Setting up youth academies and building a local fan bases will create a foundation to avoid mistakes of the past.

This Ronaldo story encapsulates how NASL is growing in two important ways. By building up talent and establishing their fan bases. Across the league, teams are bringing in more talented players. Even to the point of getting the attention of Jurgen Klinsmann. The 2014 Golden Ball winner for Minnesota United Miguel Ibarra was called up to the USMNT’s October and November camps.

The UC Irvine grad has been one of the best in the league and it has grown to the point where Klinsmann belives he can compete at the highest level. Minnesota isn’t the only team keeping and growing talent as well. The New York Cosmos have captain Carlos Mendes and Spanish international Raul. Mendes has made 158 appearances in MLS but has been with the Cosmos since 2013. The Cosmos biggest signing this off season is the same Raul with over 100 caps for Spain and 228 goals in his career for Real Madrid. Bringing Raul and Ronaldo into the mix follow the way MLS has tried to grow the league in the past, mirroring the David Beckham and Thierry Henry.

All of this growth is moot if they can’t bring fans into the stadium, and so far that hasn’t been a problem for teams in NASL. In the 2014 fall season, Indy Eleven had more than 10,000 per game and three other teams averaged over 5,000.

They have been bringing more fans to games than USL Pro has. Of the top ten attendances for lower division teams, NASL has seven of those. And one of those USL teams is the new MLS side, Orlando City. The lowest attended NASL team, FC Edmonton still had better numbers than nine other USL teams. The addition of the Jacksonville Armada this season and Oklahoma City FC and Virginia Cavalry in 2016 should only help. The addition of Oklahoma City will be especially interesting because it will be the first time a NASL team and USL team will compete in the same market.

The numbers for the league are strong and growing, even San Antonio has their own soccer-specific stadium. Financially, NASL is taking steps off the field to remain viable. On the field they are consistently adding talent to improve the product and grow their league. With a continued model of success that is similar to the one MLS used, year five in NASL should be the biggest one yet.

Eric HARRIS

Nationality:
USA
College:
U of Arkansas
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Fulham
American soccer fan by birth, SKC and Fulhamerican by choice. Watcher of all soccer, professional, WoSo and college. A life long Arkansan, he spends more money on soccer jerseys than a college student should.
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