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Nascent NISA Announces Eight Applicants

The proposed National Division III plans to begin play in 2018

The new pet project of Peter Wilt, the former Chicago Fire and Indy Eleven President, began to take shape today as the National Independent Soccer Association announced it’s first eight markets on Twitter

The relevance here for Cosmos fans is that NISA will become the national Division III with the goal, once fully populated, of implementing promotion and relegation into the US professional soccer ladder. In other words, should everything go to plan, in 2022 the NASL could welcome for the first time a team promoted on merit alone.

The league aims to provide a route between the host of amateur and college affiliated leagues (such as the PDL and NPSL) to the D-II NASL and USL. Though initially populated by largely new teams able to pay the six-figure buy-in, once NISA reaches it’s capacity of 24, the only way to enter the league will be through promotion or relegation.

Five Pillars of the nascent NISA

Given the business model of teams being independently owned (with fan ownership models also encouraged) the NISA is clearly pegging itself as an affiliate of the NASL.

The eight markets announced today are as follows:

  1. Charlotte
  2. Chattanooga
  3. Connecticut
  4. Miami
  5. Milwaukee
  6. Omaha
  7. Phoenix
  8. St. Louis

Information about the teams themselves (and whether they include existing D-IV sides looking to move up) is still a source of speculation. However in talking to Chris Kivlehan of Midfield Press, Peter Wilt suggested that we are likely looking at brand new franchises. Either way, some of these markets do provide interesting points. Four of these are existing USL or NASL markets (Charlotte, Phoenix, St Louis of USL, Miami of course in NASL) while others have a history of professional soccer or previous MLS pushes.

Though David Beckham’s MLS franchise bid looks to have finally hauled itself to the finish line, the addition of a NISA side could mean there are two professional soccer teams up and running in Miami before an MLS team kicks a ball in the city.

Meanwhile, Chattanooga is probably the most notable market to make the list. The existing NPSL side Chattanooga FC have drawn impressive crowds while dominating their Southeast Division, averaging nearly 5,000 in 2017 as well as drawing in excess of 12,000 for a friendly against MLS newcomers Atlanta United.

Although we reported in 2015 that Hartford was about to join the Cosmos in the NASL, a number of legal issues befell the franchise and ultimately Hartford City FC joined the NPSL. Original Cosmos fans will remember the short-lived Hartford/Connecticut Bicentennials of the old NASL, while the Hartford Whalers of the NHL ended an eighteen year stay when they relocated to Raleigh in 1997. Last year brought professional sports back to Connecticut however as the Hartford Yard Goats, a Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies began play. So this will likely be a welcome return of a latent market starved of professional sports for too long.

NISA has declared that there are 7 further teams who have signed Letters of Intent to join the league in 2019, with another 30 markets already in consideration.

Though it’s still early days for this endeavour, it does feel like something of a trojan horse for NASL and Pro/Rel advocates. The intent of NISA is certainly to bring meaning to the lower league competitions in the US by providing an incentive for success. But it also allows for fan or community owned clubs to progress in a system that otherwise appears open only to the super wealthy.

I grew up watching a lower league team in Scotland with an average attendance of less than 2,000. By watching a local team, it gave me a much more meaningful connection to the sport as a whole. My interest in the Scottish and English Premier Leagues, La Liga, Champions League and International football was hugely amplified by the experience of watching meaningful competition on my doorstep. Should the NISA prove a success in the long run, it can only help to grow interest in US soccer as a whole. Perhaps it could indeed begin to undermine the closed shop of the MLS and be a functional testament to the power of promotion and relegation in engaging and growing the soccer fanbase nationwide.

What are your thought on NISA and it’s initial eight markets?