NASL commissioner Bill Peterson has been busy lately, making the rounds to visit NASL cities and talking to the media along the way. Yesterday he had another conference call, and included in his comments was the fact that he's asked CONCACAF to consider giving a berth to the league champion:
"It's actually so important for us that we've asked the CONCACAF people to consider giving us our own entry. We feel at this point in time arguably we are one of the top leagues in the region and we feel we should probably have our champion earn a berth in the Champions League."
"It’s a global game. We want to be able to compete with the best clubs in the world in the next 3-5 years. It’s a lofty goal, and I didn't say we'd beat them every time, but we want to be in a position where we can compete with everyone. That's the fun of this sport, that's the great part of the sport, that it is global. So we've got our sights set on getting to the Champions League and currently that has to be through the U.S. Open Cup, so that's the first step along the way. We need one of our clubs to win the Open Cup."
I wouldn't hold my breath at this point looking for a berth, but if the NASL has some solid showings in the U.S. Open Cup over the next several years, it's probably something that people would begin to take more seriously. Until the NASL proves that their top teams are competitive with MLS sides though, it's just not likely to happen.
Honestly, the lack of MLS salary restrictions and split schedule format would probably make an NASL side better suited for a successful CONCACAF Champions League run, assuming they could recruit enough talent to compete with the better sides in MLS. Where the current Champions League participants have often struggled because they can't carry enough talent (despite having designated players better than anyone their opposition can put on the pitch), the NASL's lack of regulation could lead to a far more balanced squad for about the same money. At the moment, though, only one team in the league can even consider competing with that sort of total payroll.
Whether or not the NASL ever manages to get it's own berth into the competition, it certainly doesn't hurt to get the discussion going now. After all, anything that closes the gap between MLS and the NASL would be beneficial to both, as well as soccer in the United States in general.