At the end of last season, things didn’t look good for the NASL. But this weekend, soon after it came close to folding, the league returns — sharing Division II status with USL and with only 8 teams, but here nonetheless. And you’d never know the difference; what the league lacks in size, it makes up for in personality. Here’s what makes each team strikingly unique.
New York Cosmos
The New York Cosmos are one of the most storied franchises in American soccer history as well as one of the most turbulent, from their highs in the Pele and Raúl days to the lows of folding and disappearing for years. Fear of the latter returned again towards the end of last season. Winning their third title in four years was marred by reports that the team was millions of dollars in debt, meaning it had to terminate all of its players — confirmed on Twitter by several players themselves — and had not paid the front office in months. Supporters tried to raise money to pay the staff’s wages while wondering if they even had a club to be supporters of anymore.But in the darkest hour, Rocco Commisso came through and purchased a majority stake in the team, singlehandedly saving them. He also moved them into a new stadium, MCU Park in Brooklyn, NY. Some of their core players from last year’s title-winning side — those that hadn’t signed for new teams after being terminated — returned.It’s interesting to watch one of America’s most historic clubs consistently get a makeover while clutching tight to their core identity, and it will be interesting to see how this all plays out on the field.
What makes Indy Eleven so incredible is their supporters; specifically, the unbelievable and vibrant soccer culture their supporters have built in what had been considered a boring, sleepy Midwestern town — “Naptown,” if you will. But who better to speak about that than the supporters themselves?As explained by Peter Evans, a member of supporter group Slaughterhouse Nineteen: “Civic pride is continually growing and it's a movement primarily of the younger generations to make the city into what they want it to be. Indy Eleven seems like the natural conclusion, where love of soccer and love of Indy combine.The culture we've created in Indianapolis is one of acceptance. Homophobia, racism, and sexism are not permitted in the West End. We come together on gamedays to not only love our club, but sing for our city as well. In only four years we have this culture where we want our tifo to be bigger, our stadium to be more intimidating for visiting teams, and the distances we travel for the club to increase. Last year we went from Ottawa to Puerto Rico to support this team, including bringing 190 people to Chicago for our Open Cup game against the Fire.Eleven captain, Colin Falvey, always speaks about how the supporters are what makes Carroll Stadium so hard to play in and why we didn't lose there last season. We all commit to the idea of a full 90 minutes in the stand and have given up relationships, jobs, and so much more to support this club we love. For us, nothing is more important than those that wear Lady Victory over their hearts.”
Opposite Indy 11, what makes NASL’s only west coast team SF Deltas most interesting is not their supporters but their owners. In true San Francisco fashion, the team is lead by a group of tech entrepreneurs – smart soccer fans who are good at building things from the ground up and looking for a new project. Led by CEO Brian Andres Helmick, the Deltas came to fruition like a startup. Helmick and the owners built a website (through alpha and beta stages), held meetings with the community to finalize stadium plans — take note, NYCFC — and then secured enough investors to launch. (According to the press release, those Bay Area investors have been involved in other small projects such as “Apple, Facebook, Google, PayPal, Twitter and Yahoo.”) Finally, they were granted a spot in NASL.Speaking of Twitter, all of the Delta’s home games will be streamed on Twitter for the 2017 season. And eventually, they hope to fuse technology and the club in other ways —such as using virtual reality to train a goalkeeper’s reflexes and something called “smart ticketing” that allows fans more mobility within the stadium.
Jacksonville are the third team with an interesting ownership story, but theirs is not quite for the better.After almost getting caught in the wave of folding clubs, the league itself swooped in to purchase the Armada in order to keep soccer in what they feel is a promising market. However, they’ll be “kept” there in the very barest sense of the word; they’ll likely struggle on the field, as a struggling league likely won’t want to splash cash on players or anything else, and it’ll be hard to continue attracting fans to a not terribly well funded project. Plus, in terms of personality, the NASL is known unlike MLS to give clubs the ability to operate with more independence outside of a rigid league-down structure; a league-owned club, naturally, is quite the opposite of that.This won’t be the case for Jacksonville forever; the league is only taking over while the club searches for a more permanent owner. The fans and the club will hope that happens soon.
North Carolina FC
North Carolina FC have one foot in the door and one foot out. While the NASL returning means they have a league to play in for now, it’s not the league they want to play in for much longer: they have their sights firmly set on MLS.The club formerly known as the Carolina Railhawks recently rebranded as part of their announced interest in moving up, along with a new stadium plan and the possibility of putting that stadium in a different city. They’re doing everything they can to show they’re legitimate contenders for a bid “in the next 18 months.”
FC Edmonton is, top to bottom, the most self-sufficient club in the league. They’re a small club with a big product.They consistently churn out excellent national team players; four of their squad were named to the most recent Canadian rosters this week. Many of these players come through their academy as well, which is surprisingly one of the most low-profile academies in North America despite its continued achievements. With all this they look to build on last year, which was the most successful season in their team’s history.
Puerto Rico FC
Also in its second year in NASL is Puerto Rico FC — a team in both the shadows and the spotlight, as its location keeps it more off the radar while its owner, basketball star Carmelo Anthony, keeps them on.When he first bought the franchise Anthony announced his intentions were to “bring global awareness back to Puerto Rico.” Finishing mid-to-bottom table last year, Puerto Rico FC hasn’t quite done that yet.
Miami doesn’t need David Beckham to build a European-inspired soccer scene: they already have Miami FC. From using Macron as their sponsor — an Italian sportswear company who sponsor no other U.S. team — to head coach Alessandro Nesta – former Lazio, Milan, and Italian national team player — to their borderline reckless spending habits, they’ve already brought a distinct European vibe to this American league. They’re only in their second year in NASL, but Miami FC are a very confident club who operate like they own the place. Some fans in the region are still holding out for the English star’s promise, but give Miami FC the time — and the cash — and they just might win everybody over. And at the end of the day, the soccer fans in the community may not have a choice; Beckham’s plans for his Miami MLS side have been stalled by difficulties in finding a stadium for years...while Miami FC is currently planning upgrades for theirs.