NPSL continues to expand and aims to prevent exits
This is part two of our NPSL story. Make sure you check out part one here.
Thoughts on D3
The NPSL is preparing for a strong year. The league just kicked off their season with 96 teams, and that number is expected to rise significantly this year, based on a strong set of expansion teams.
As we reported, Club 9 sports is working aiming to launch a D3 league primarily comprising of NPSL clubs. While refusing to comment on the status of those conversations, Barone clarified that, as a league, they were not speaking with Club 9 directly.
“We are not working or communicating with Peter Wilt or his group,” Barone clarified adding some skepticism of the plan, “Do you think US Soccer will want to start another league from scratch?”
Barone is proud of what the NPSL is building. He constantly points out the league’s desire to help US Soccer grow, and is openly frustrated at what he perceives as other leagues and individuals not sharing that vision.“For us, we are about growing the game. We pay 150k for team that make it to playoffs, we help teams and players meet their potential and don’t have an agenda. We’re giving back to those teams.”
NPSL Success Stories
Going back to our initial analogy from Part 1, if NPSL is AS Monaco FC, Kingston Stockade FC is most certainly its Kylian Mbappe. Young and full of bravado and unmet potential, a team like Stockade is exactly the sort of team NPSL is proud of. Teams like Chattanooga FC and Detroit City FC boast strong attendance numbers, rivaling many D2 teams.
While teams like Stockade are recent, the NPSL showcases clubs that have successfully traversed the tribulations of time together with the league. Teams such as Brooklyn Italians, FC Buffalo, Erie Commodores FC, Georgia Revolution, Knoxville Force, and Sacramento Gold have been league participants for five years or more.
Meanwhile, Minnesota TwinStars FC, Tulsa Athletic, Atlanta Silverbacks, and New York Athletic Club have been in the league around ten years.
Therefore, for much of the discussion of lower league instability – and there certainly is much of that – there is longevity within the NPSL as well.
As opposed to the laissez faire approach of the NPSL, competitor PDL requires its teams to effectively sign over their names for two years after the expiration of their contracts. PDL franchise contracts are currently 3 years long, and teams can renew for another 3 years.
What this means is – as things stand – an imaginary club named Soccer Wars FC playing in NPSL could fairly easily switch to the PDL. Meanwhile, Soccer Wars FC playing in the PDL would have to jump through some legal hoops to switch to NPSL. One of which would be foregoing the name Soccer Wars FC. An example of this was the Kitsap story from earlier this year.
Barone accepts that it is currently easy for NPSL teams to join PDL, but stated that “Today they can take our teams. By the time we get to the next AGM, they won’t be able to.” When asked what these measures would be, Barone declined to answer. Similarly, Thiffault told us “All new teams will be joining NPSL under the terms of a new member agreement.” Whether said agreement includes existing teams remains unclear as well.
“Today they can take our teams. By the time we get to the next AGM, they won’t be able to.”
A source tells Soc Takes that NPSL may institute a non-compete for 2-3 years; similar to PDL’s. Soc Takes was unable to independently corroborate this information.
Reaching ‘The Summit’ of US football
Ultimately, Barone wants to reunite the soccer pyramid. For him, the first step would be to get all the powers that be under one roof – USSF, MLS, NASL, USL, NPSL, PDL, etc – to discuss the current status and the future direction of the game. To promote collaboration instead of aggression. The Summit.
“Part of the summit I’m asking for is to get everyone in the same room. To talk about these issues to prevent scavenging at amateur/professional level. I’m curious where the game is going to go. We need that summit, to put people in the same room and start communicating on how we make US Soccer at all levels very very powerful.”
NPSL will continue to support amateur soccer. NPSL personnel cited strong attendances in their first week of play, and along with the possibility of a year-round league, NPSL is expected to announce “quite a few” new NPSL franchises.
While looking at a map of NPSL clubs, it’s clear to see that NPSL teams tend to be punctuated along both coasts diffusing in population inland. In fact, there is a dearth of teams in a central strip of the country. Barone recognizes that and expects some team announcements in those areas:
“I think you’ll see teams in the immediate future in Colorado and Utah. New Mexico is another hot-spot that is a high priority” Barone said.
Oklahoma, currently home to Tulsa Athletic is another key market. Soc Takes understands that a group from Norman, Oklahoma is poised to submit a bid for NPSL expansion imminently.
Another state currently without a team (Edit: As was pointed out to me, by ‘USSoccerboard’ and Andrew Retz, FC Indiana is still an active NPSL team) is Indiana. With the shuttering of Indy Eleven NPSL last year, many Indy XI supporters were left disappointed, having supported their other team during an exciting run to the semi-final of the NPSL championship. While refusing to confirm the certainty of the scenario – citing unpredictability of lower-league soccer, Barone had some potentially good news for Indiana fans:
“Indiana is a hotbed for soccer; just look at what Indiana University has produced. Indiana is an urgent market for us, and we are talking to multiple owners.”
Asked if Indy XI owner Ersal Ozdemir was one of those owners, Barone was careful in his answer, “We spoke to Ersal and asked him to make an investment, but, he’s not the only person we’re speaking with.”
Whomever these ownership groups are, their time has come. Thiffault told Soc Takes, “We (NPSL) are accepting expansion applications next week, which is earlier than ever before.”
NPSL is still in flux. It is trying to assume a new identity to help protect itself against external forces. While those external forces – PDL and the potential new D3 league – continue to hover around it.
Ultimately, Barone and his fellow underdogs are bullish about NPSL’s future.
For American soccer to thrive, growth needs to occur, in parallel, at all strata of the league. An expanding, successful NPSL is a sign of the upward trajectory of the beautiful game in this country.
The NPSL is preparing for a strong year.