The North American Soccer League—the professional soccer league that includes the Indy Eleven—has lost its sanctioning as a Division 2 league for the 2018 season, the NASL announced Tuesday.
The decision will relegate the struggling league to third-tier status behind the top division, Major League Soccer, and the United Soccer League, which is sharing Division 2 status with the NASL during the 2017 season.
The current NASL started play in 2011 with second-tier status and has been there ever since. The Indy Eleven have played in the league since the team’s formation in 2014.
In January, the U.S. Soccer Federation Board of Governors announced it would keep the NASL at the Division II level for the 2017 season but with provisional status. It also promoted the USL from the third to the second division, also with provisional status.
It appears the USL, which has 30 teams and is adding franchises, has moved ahead of the NASL as far as growth potential.
The NASL played the 2016 fall season with 12 teams, but has just eight this year. That’s four teams fewer than needed for Division 2 status.
The league is expected to add expansion teams in San Diego and Orange County, California, in 2018, and says it is working to add other teams.
“Since taking the pitch in 2011, the NASL has been working diligently to advance the growth of soccer by creating an entrepreneurial league where dynamic clubs bring the excitement of professional soccer to fans across North America,” the league said in Tuesday’s statement. “Despite the progress made by the NASL, U.S. Soccer has taken a decision to refrain from sanctioning the league as Division 2 for the 2018 season. The NASL is disappointed with the decision and does not believe that the federation acted in the best interest of the sport.”
Sports Illustrated soccer writer Brian Straus speculated that the NASL might fold rather than play with Division 3 status. He said viable NASL teams like the Indy Eleven might join the USL under those circumstances.
Indy Eleven officials declined to comment on the team's situation and referred questions to the NASL.
“U.S. Soccer's decision negatively affects many stakeholders in soccer: fans, players, coaches, referees, business partners, and the NASL club owners who have invested tens of millions of dollars promoting the sport,” the NASL statement said. “The decision also jeopardizes the thousands of jobs created by the NASL and its member clubs.”
The league said it would remain “committed to growing the game and is exploring multiple options as it continues planning for the future," and it was looking “forward to the home stretch of the 2017 season and beyond.”
On Jan. 31, the Indy Eleven were among a dozen minor league soccer franchises that turned in bids to become a Major League Soccer expansion franchise. That bid faces tough competition and hinges on the team’s ability to build a downtown stadium, a proposal that has met major reluctance from Indiana lawmakers.
Meanwhile, the Eleven are struggling on the field. The team is in last place in the fall season with a 1-4-1 record.