USSF President Sunil Gulati and MLS Commissioner Don Garber, both of them almost literally right off the plane from South Africa, met on Sunday afternoon with representatives from both USL1 and the nascent NASL to discuss the ongoing situation vis a vis Division II professional soccer in the 2010 season.
Also in attendance was Dan Flynn, USSF General Secretary and the guy who handles day-to-day federation business since for Gulati USSF is mostly a part time hobby that gets him really swell travel and tickets.
It should be noted that Garber was officially there in his capacity as Chairman of the Federations' "Professional Council" rather than as Commissioner of Major League Soccer. His Co-Chairman, Kevin Payne, is not mentioned.
The press release from USSF IS VERY BRIEF and unfortunately contains none of the juicy, gossipy details we'd all love to hear.
The only quote is from Gulati:
“We had a productive meeting and the discussions will continue...In the interim we have asked both groups to submit additional information.”
Said details are to be provided by Wednesday - a remarkably short window, one would think - to USSF's "Professional League Task Force", a hitherto unknown entity chaired by Flynn and which "includes" Carlos Cordiero (who, as a USSF Board Member and also a member of the bid committee, may have also just returned from Cape Town) and Mike Edwards, Executive Vice President of USSF (Officially, the Federations' #2 man after Gulati) and also a USSF Board Member.
USSF occasionally uses the "task force" format to deal with single issues in an expeditious fashion. US Soccer lists three currently (Youth Issues, Diversity and Life members) but the "Professional League" entity appears to be a new construct.
My hometown guy, Jeff DiVeronica of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle SPOKE WITH RHINOS OWNER ROB CLARK (the businessman who rescued the team from oblivion less than a year ago) about the meetings which, it should be noted, he did not attend.
He says that NASL had three representatives present - they are not otherwise identified - and that "no compromise was reached", whatever that might mean.
Clark also "made a point to say" that no representatives from the Canadian Soccer Association were present. One still finds it fascinating that a couple of Canadian teams are applying to USSF to start a league and apparently haven't even bothered to ring up the CSA, but it's probably just as well. It's moose hunting season you know.
"We're unavailable to take your call right now; please leave a message at the tone, eh?"
So what if anything can we discern from all of this?
Obviously not much.
But there are some tantalizing clues, to wit:
The USSF says that their President met with representatives of "the North American Soccer League" - using that name in an official statement for the first time - thereby at latest tacitly recognizing the fact that they are a legitimate entity.
Secondly, USSF says the meeting was held "to discuss Division II league plans for 2010". OK then, let's you and I compare the two "league plans" as we now know them:
NASL Plan: Operate a ten team league consisting mostly of established franchises, including two in Canada.
USL Plan: Operate at best a four team league including none in Canada but featuring a Puerto Rico-to-Austin Texas commute and a New York team whose owners nobody has heard from since last Spring.
As a member of the "Task Force" if your job is to decide which outfit to sanction, it's sort of a no-brainer. Unless USL1 can convince USSF to toss the NASL out on their ear - and if that was the plan they would have killed it months ago when it would have been painfully simple and easy - then there's not much of a debate here.
Finally, Gulati says that both groups have been asked "to submit additional information" by tomorrow. There's no way to guess what they're looking for, but it's got to be pretty basic stuff - solid commitments in writing from expansion teams, for example - since anything involving a legal opinion or an accounting analysis would demand a lot more than the 72 hours the two sides were given.
The bottom line here is simple: USL1 is on life support. The TOA owners are not about to back down. They've come too far.
As for USSF, their only legitimate issue is to decide what is in the best interests of soccer in the USA, and frankly any other stance would be foolish. NuRock keeps muttering about how the TOA guys are "interfering with their business agreements" as may well be the case. But that's a matter for a court, should someone decide to pursue it. USSF isn't going to touch that kind of thing with a ten foot pole.
One thing we won't see - guaranteed - is the the NASL going it alone, without sanctioning. This idea (not to point any fingers) seems very popular among some Canadian bloggers, which figures, considering that it's based on a utterly complete and total lack of understanding of the rules under which soccer is administered.
FIFA and USSF are very clear: any player participating in an unsanctioned league is banned forever. Forget your national team. Forget moving to an MLS side. Forget a deal in Europe. You're a dead player walking.
It's the same for officials; a FIFA ref who blows the whistle in a renegade league has just seen his career ended forever in return for maybe a hundred bucks. Does that sound likely to you?
Simply not going to happen. Not now, not ever.
Which leaves Sunil Gulati and Co. two choices: sanction NASL or demand that ten owners play in a league they have publicly renounced. USSF would hail this as a "compromise", but anyone else would call it "surrender" and it appears increasingly unlikely.
I hesitate to make a prediction, since my record lately has been, to put it kindly, totally crappy, but if you have to bet, take NASL and give the points.