Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Judge Brodie, presiding over the NASL lawsuit on the USSF’s standing to apply standard to American professional soccer, and on its claims that the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) colludes with Major League Soccer (MLS) and United Soccer League (USL), has officially scheduled an October 31st hearing on the NASL’s call for an expedited ruling on its request for preliminary injunction relief.

Based on analysis shared publicly by lawyers like Miki Turner, Leo Glickman, and Steve Holroyd, the USSF may have convinced the judge that the NASL must demonstrate two elements in order to secure preliminary injunctive relief. A “substantial likelihood” of proving in trial a conspiracy existed to restrain trade, “along with [proving] irreparable harm, will demonstrate entitlement to relief”.

This raises the bar for what the NASL must demonstrate at the hearing tomorrow. While many believe that the NASL – regardless of the outcome this week – will pursue its case to the end, questions are raised as to what will happen in the short term to the current NASL teams, as well as those who signed letters of intent to begin play in the spring of next year. Some team owners, like NY Cosmos Rocco Commisso and 1904 FC’s Bob Watkins, have made emphatic statements that a D2 sanction is a prerequisite to fulfill their sponsorship obligations, overhead maintenance and capitalization solutions; that the USSF’s invitation to re-apply for a D3 sanction was not just an insult but a functional non-starter.

NPSL teams who have signaled their intent include: 1904 FC (San Diego), California United (Orange County), Detroit City FC, Boca Raton FC, Boston City FC, Hartford City FC, FC Arizona (Mesa), and Virginia Beach City FC. The New Orleans Jesters have also signed a letter of intent to begin play in 2019. A new Atlanta team is also in flight to join the NASL but has not yet formalized their intent. NASL teams currently experiencing distress and uncertainty for 2018 are the San Francisco Deltas, and to a lesser extent FC Edmonton.  FC Edmonton’s issue is more of a surplus of opportunities as Canada is poised to start a national league of its own – the CPL. Until recently, it was unclear if it was to start up in 2018 or 2019 but recent news points now to 2019. If this sticks, the Eddies are likely to hold at least until the next year. Puerto Rico FC have had a difficult season, both on the field and with hurricane season damaging their stadium, but PRFC spokespersons have indicated an intention to rebuild not abandon.

1904 FC, in particular, has begun a series of obligations tied to the construction of a new facility and are more exposed by the USSF’s September change in behavior to withhold a D2 sanction from the NASL.

Interesting developments in the past week that may play into the NASL’s ability to point to evidence of a conspiracy amongst the USSF, MLS and SUM to improperly restrain trade include:

  • A Bexar County Texas judge, Nelson Wolff, involved with the former NASL San Antonio Scorpions, is requesting the Bexar County District Attorney investigate MLS’ dealings with the effort to bring an MLS team to San Antonio without informing the leading group of the pending move from Columbus to Austin of the Columbus Crew franchise license, and of clauses in the current Crew owner’s contract specifically detailing a 10-year option allowing the move of the team’s license to Austin. This latest development brings into question the fate of the former NASL San Antonio Scorpions, and whether they would have become defunct and sold their stadium to the county had the MLS not asked them to do so as they tantalized the SAS group with the probability of an MLS franchise in San Antonio.
    • Update: The Bexar County District Attorney’s office has confirmed they are initiating an investigation. MLS has released a statement acknowledging Wolff’s, promising a more substantial response in time but expressed their disagreement with Wolff’s characterization of their interactions and their commitments to one another.
  • Crew owner Precourt’s self-described negotiation with the city of Columbus demanding a new stadium be built 10 blocks closer to downtown from its current location may just be window-dressing; emails have leaked to demonstrate the move to Austin – including venue and MLS Commissioner Garber’s approval – are fairly well advanced to the point of securing a venue.
  • SUM’s uncharacteristic offer to purchase the New York Cosmos days before Rocco Commisso bought the team and kept them on the field. SUM offered five million dollars for all IP rights and a covenant that NY Cosmos LLC would not operate any sports team in metro NYC for ten years.  While not seeming to be illegal, the optics of the NYCFC president emailing offers using SUM money are not favorable.
  • The US Mens National Team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 Mens World Cup under Bruce Arena. Hired soon after the firing of Jurgen Klinnsman for, among other reasons, suggesting that US NT players should go and play in Europe in order to find improvement rather than settle for playing in the MLS. Arena and Sunil Gulati both initially claimed that nothing significant needed to change in the US National Team’s methods and priorities. Under intense pressure, Arena soon after resigned. Despite repeated, persistent calls that continue to this day, USSF president Sunil Gulati did not resign, citing his necessity with work in flight and the upcoming election for his role in February.

First Team Podcast will attend the hearing, barring any last minute access changes. We’ll see you on the other side of tomorrow with hearing coverage. Whatever happens Cosmos Country, Sunday’s match was a really good game.

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