The North American Soccer League, which includes the Indy Eleven, has been granted at least a one-year extension as a Division II league by national soccer's governing body after fears that it could lose its status and concerns about its long-term viability.
On Friday, the U.S. Soccer Federation Board of Governors announced it would keep the North American Soccer League at the Division II level for the upcoming 2017 season but with provisional status. It also promoted the United Soccer League from the third to the second division, also with provisional status.
The USSF said neither league meets all of its standards for Division II status, and the federation soon will determine additional requirements and a timeline for meeting them.
“After an exhaustive process working with both leagues, in the best interest of the sport the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors has decided to grant provisional Division II status to the NASL and USL,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati in a general release. “U.S. Soccer will create an internal working group that will work with each league to set a pathway to meet the full requirements for Division II and allow for the larger goal of creating a sustainable future. We look forward to another productive year for professional soccer in this country.”
The two leagues "fought bitterly to beat the other out for divsion two sanctioning," according to Jake Nutting of the website Empire of Soccer. "Now both will have to settle for sharing it in 2017 and work toward proving they deserve to keep it."
Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir hailed the decision to keep the North American Soccer League at the Division II level for the upcoming 2017 season.
"On the field, the Indy Eleven family is eager to continue to provide our dedicated fans and partners a high caliber of entertaining, winning soccer as part of the NASL in 2017. Indy Eleven is also excited for the league’s impending growth this year through the addition of several promising expansion groups that will bolster the NASL in the years to come," Ozdemir wrote on the team's website.
In its third season, Indy Eleven came close to winning the NASL's crown last year, losing in the championship game to the New York Cosmos in a penalty shootout.
The current NASL started play in 2011 with second-tier status. There were 12 NASL teams in its 2016 fall season, but Minnesota United moved up to first-tier Major League Soccer for 2017, Tampa Bay and Ottawa shifted to the USL and it is unclear whether the New York Cosmos will continue to play.
The USL, which began its professional competition in 2011, had held Division III status and reached an agreement with MLS in 2013 to integrate the reserve teams of the top-tier league. Twenty-nine teams competed last year, and 30 are slated to play this year.
Sports Illustrated soccer writer Brian Straus characterized U.S. Soccer's decision as "a compromise that should give both the NASL and USL time to figure out their natural and ideal place on the country’s professional pyramid."
"Demotion would kill the NASL," Straus wrote. "The status quo would infuriate the USL. And attempts at some kind of compromise, from the absorption of the healthy NASL clubs into the USL to a D2/D3 split within the USL itself, went nowhere. So on Friday evening, the U.S. Soccer board of governors conducted a lengthy conference call and reached a decision that should leave both leagues temporarily satisfied while reminding them that there’s a lot more work to do."