The Kick-About: NASL Action and Intrigue

October 30, 2012; By Mustefa

With November upon us, it’s time for those yearly changes that some love and others hate. Days are getting shorter, the weather getting colder, people getting sicker, and the North American Soccer League season drawing to a close. What’s unusual, though, is the amount of thrills and spills seen by the league during the month of October, starting with commissioner David Downs announcing his unexpected resignation to open the month, followed by news of the league discussing partnership plans with MLS midway through October, and finishing off with more-expected feel good news, the culmination of the season with the league final and, with that, the crowning of a new champion.

As a supporter of footie in Ottawa and Canada, I had nothing but respect and admiration for David Downs in his time as head of the league. The man was completely open and patient with expansion into Canada, even calling us “a fertile ground for professional soccer”. Having to put up with ridiculous delays and politics from both Ottawa and Hamilton is tough enough for fans, much less the commissioner of a league in its infancy. But give him credit, he stuck with both, and, as a result, I want to congratulate and offer him loads of appreciation as being the league boss while the Ottawa team was awarded. That is not something I’ll forget anytime soon. NASL as a league was extremely lucky to have a man of his pedigree, with experience including serving as the executive director of the US 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. The next person to serve as league boss will have big shoes to fill.

With news of Down’s sudden resignation, came further news of NASL working with MLS to create a new partnership between the leagues. We’re still at an early stage in terms of speculation, but with the timing of these two pieces of news, one has to wonder: is this Downs’ last act for the NASL, or was he getting in the way? Or, is there nothing but coincidence here? It’s probably too early to tell, as we’d need more news of the partnership (at the very least), but with Downs’ previous stance that NASL is willing to operate as a division 2 league below MLS, there may have been grounds for behind-the-scenes chatter and disagreement. Hopefully that wasn’t the case.

October was capped off with the NASL championship, resulting in the Tampa Bay Rowdies winning the league. While offering congrats to the champions, I’d like to draw attention to what really warmed my footie-supporting heart: The Minnesota Stars players and their interaction with their supporters club. After scoring the winning goal to get to the final, the players celebrated by jumping into their supporters section and letting the fans in on the action. If that’s not enough, a number of them showed up to post-game supporters parties and celebrated with the fans. And, if even that is not enough, a few of the players showed up to a championship beer-league game which featured a team made up of their supporters. There was nothing more classic than seeing players supporting the supporters. Those were some great moves from the Minnesota Stars, and reflective of encouraging behaviour from the league, which seems to value its supporters clubs a lot more than MLS. Recognizing the fact that supporters are the heart and soul of a team’s fan-base will do the league wonders in years to come.

With all that in mind, I’m already looking forward to seeing FC Edmonton, the New York Cosmos, a new schedule, and the rest of NASL in 2013. And, as we all know, that will set the stage for Ottawa’s entry in 2014, an event that we, the Bytown Boys, will make sure takes the league to a new level. History is being made here, and it’s great to be a part of it all.

- Mustefa