The United States Soccer Federation held the functional equivalent of a shotgun wedding yesterday, with Sunil Gulati playing the role of the backwoods daddy holding a Remington double barrel 12 gauge.
And they say chivalry is dead.
When the confetti settled and the happy couple were finally headed down the road in the three-tone 87 Ford pickup, it was comforting to know that amongst all the hysterical blather of the past few weeks there was at least one thing that the "The Sky is Falling" crowd got right:
Neither USL nor NASL will be sanctioned.
In their place there will arise a new entity, prosaically titled "USSF D-2". (Gulati says he'd be happy to sell the league naming rights)
Contrary to what you're reading elsewhere, this won't be a two league setup with some limited interleague play and a championship along the lines of the World Series. Although the "Conferences" will be called USL and NASL, Gulati says this will be a fully integrated league (he used the term "full interplay") which will play a more or less balanced schedule of either 28 or 32 games.
Scores of headlines to the contrary there was never a chance in the world that the US would forgo having a second division. USSF's power to create and destroy is absolute - thanks to FIFA - and in the end they were always going to make something happen. Those who figured Gulati would just throw uo his hands and say "Ah to hell with it" were simply not in touch with reality.
Ditto all the guys - including, I'm sorry to say, some of the most prominent and highly-regarded writers in the field - who claimed that the lawsuit put the US in the same boat as Chile, (the situations were completely different) and that FIFA might yank our World Cup bid.
There was never any chance of that happening - this was a private squabble between team owners and FIFA isn't much interested - and it was particularly silly considering that most of those comments were written AFTER the two sides agreed to binding arbitration, meaning that it was going to be settled one way or the other.
Of course the topic we really hate to see vanish over the rainbow with Dorothy and Toto is the "Sunil Gulati won't sanction any Second Division soccer so that there'll be a ready pool of available scabs for lockout-bound MLS teams" theory. Pity. That was my favorite.
As for the deal itself, Gulati made it clear that he plans on it being a one-year-and-out arrangement, and while I'm certain that's what he'd like I wouldn't bet the ranch on it happening.
In any case, the agreement - or settlement or arrangement or whatever it is - has one simple goal: stability. The turmoil, the league shifting (and that's not to mention the expensive competition for players) and the "now you see them now you don't" nature that has characterized USL1 hasn't been good for anyone.
From now on USSF wants to see the goods. Performance bonds. Full time CEO and PR person. Involvement in youth soccer. Solid leases. Financially stable and committed owners.
You know, all the things Frank Marcos didn't care about as long as your check didn't bounce.
Two conferences of six teams. (The alignment doesn't really matter). No New York. No Atlanta. Tampa Bay is still up in the air.
Gulati isn't even pretending that this is anything other than what it looks like: he's taking over.
The Federation will take a much more direct role than it does in other professional leagues in the United States for this year in our arrangement. We’ll be involved with officiating, scheduling and some of the marketing issues if there are any of those, disciplinary issues, and operational issues in terms of settings and general guidelines.
In short, USSF CEO Dan Flynn is now the Commissioner of a league.
There'll be a Board of Directors, consisting of representatives from all 12 teams, but day to day management will rest with a five member Executive Committee consisting of two members from each side an one from USSF. (AKA: "The deciding vote").
But beyond the nuts and bolts, the intriguing part was when Gulati opined that some form of partnership or formal relationship with MLS would be looked on with favor at Soccer House:
We’ve had discussions with MLS, some of the teams and some of the leadership of the groups we’ve been talking about had their own independent discussions prior to all these processes starting with MLS.
They talked about working together and potentially partnering, having MLS handle some of the functions and developmental relationships. There was a longstanding relationship early on between MLS and the USL on player development and players moving up and down.
All of that is possible, and we certainly encourage everyone to try and do things in an efficient way financially. If there is an economy to be had, or a player development scheme that makes sense, then terrific.
READ THE WHOLE THING, particularly the last item where Gulati is asked about what is becoming known around the world as The Archer Plan.
Make no mistake: this was a compromise made necessary by two cold hard facts:
1) neither side was willing to let the other take the lead role
2) neither side could field 8 teams.
There's not much doubt that having USSF run the league (has anyone heard from the Canadian Soccer Association? Why wasn't their federation even in the room? Why does nobody even wonder why? Do they have a telephone? Why isn't Canada embarrassed by the fact that they're being treated like a province of the US?) was not Gulati's first choice.
In fact, it's likely that USSF had to clear the arrangement with FIFA, although the Boys in Zurich have never shown a keen interest in second division affairs.
In the end though, Sunil Gulati had to bow to the reality that without USSF stepping in there would be no US Second Division, and he was never going to let that happen.