North American Soccer League commissioner Bill Peterson spoke The Telegraph on Tuesday, opening up on a variety of topics of interest to American soccer fans. His interview ranged from expansion, to MLS, to Cuba, and of course, promotion and relegation. As usual, Peterson was fairly open with all of his answers.
Expansion has been a hot topic among fans of the league, with a pair of new clubs already announced in the past several months. The commissioner confirmed that the league has moved on from both Oklahoma City and Virginia without getting into specifics, but had some interesting things to say about the long-awaited west coast expansion that the NASL needs in order to maintain division two status:
"We expect to make some announcements this year regarding new teams in the league based on the West Coast. So we start to get to a number of 15, 16 or 17 and from there we have to be careful what we do with the last three, which is a great place to be for us."
"We don't have a hard deadline but within around 18 to 24 months we will be at our 20 teams and have a nice footprint on the East Coast and West Coast and we're going to fill it in the center of the country and in Canada as well."
"There's standards [from US Soccer] that require a West Coast team but we have plenty of time to conform to that. It's never played a role in our decision-making. We keep this very simple, find the right owners and the right cities and when everything is in the right place and proper manner and we feel the club is going to be in place for a long time, we'll make the decision to go forward. We can't let other perimeters or deadlines affect our decision-making - or you'll end up making bad decisions."
While I'd be hesitant to believe that US Soccer's requirement for a west coast club hasn't played a part in NASL expansion plans, it's very nice to hear that the league isn't just looking to put a single club in the Pacific time zone in order to comply.
Peterson also touched on promotion and relegation, a popular topic with many US soccer fans, and one that the commissioner brings up frequently:
"I don't think we become the soccer powerhouse that we can until every community is engaged in the pro game through a tiered system that has promotion and relegation. When that happens, we become the largest soccer economy in the world bar none. At that point a lot of interesting things can happen."
"Without engaging every community in this country then all you have is a regional phenomenon, similar maybe to ice hockey in the United States, where if a city has a team there's interest but if you don't have a team there's not much interest."
"We believe that the global model is the right model - I learned this personally from living in England [working for NFL Europe] and having people pound me over the advantages of having a tiered system with promotion and relegation versus a closed system and they were right."
"Not everyone has to participate, it's a free country, but we're going to continue to strive and move forward and start to take action at some point to build this out. It's a big territory so it may not look like it does in England, it may look a bit different, but we have to engage every community in professional soccer and get the pyramid system for real to reach our full potential."
"Maybe we've got to start to look at aligning with other leagues to start put the pieces in place. It takes a lot of time to build this out and you've got to build levels that teams can move from one to another. So it's not building down that worries me, it's building up. Do you start with a fourth division, then put in a third, then a second and a first?"
"There's different ways to do this but you have to identify existing organisations like the NPSL or other leagues in this country that have an interest [in promotion and relegation] and then start to figure out where you're gong to go. But it's going to be a process and it's going to take a bit of time but it's not impossible and it would be the best thing ever for the game here."
I found it interesting that Peterson mentioned the NPSL specifically, as the Cosmos already have a relationship with the league, having placed a B team in the fourth division this season. The possibility of some sort of pro/rel system between the two divisions would be fascinating, though as Peterson mentioned, reaching the 20-club goal in the NASL would be a precursor to any such experiment.
While pro/rel is still clearly a long way off (if it ever happens at all), Peterson's interview was definitely interesting, and has me excited about potential expansion to the west coast. I'[m looking forward to finding out what markets the league has picked out.