Association football (aka football aka soccer) in North America is a shambles. Half-hearted attempts have been made to create leagues based on the fake, commercialized American model of franchising. Those of us known as Eurosnobs on MLS forums realize that the governance of football is as important as the game itself. Football is interesting because it is a contest between autonomous clubs, with deep histories and local connections, that compete within a pyramid of leagues – within which they are constantly facing the free-market prospect of promotion or relegation. This system promotes fans actually playing the game which they love (because you never know if your pub team could rise to the premiership); it makes every game count; it creates honorable clubs with historic crests and colors and representative names, quite unlike the New Orleans Hornets with their cartoon bee; and also, it works best at a smaller scale so that even small towns get a chance to compete. In fact, many people say that America’s large expanse predisposes it to franchise models.
Well, there is hope, yet. The National Premier Soccer League has taken one giant leap toward proper football in the States. It is, by its own admission, “a league run by teams instead of teams run by a league.” Autonomous clubs, ladies and gentlemen! And it’s working too. For the first time, I’m seeing clubs with real community roots, real names, real crests, and real passion. One stands out to me: Queen City Football Club of Buffalo, NY. They truly seem intent on bringing the European football experience to their home city. They have youth training programs, embroidered replica kits, and best of all, they’re financially independent of their league. In their short existence, they have been quite successful – winning the Eastern Division this past season and coming in second in the National Final.
Now, if you can tell by my last sentence, there are remnants of the franchise model in this upstart league. It still aims to be “national.” It still runs playoffs instead of operating single-league tables with promotion/relegation. But autonomous clubs are a start. My wish is that a state/province Soccer Association has the balls to break with the federalist mentality and foster its own league pyramid. In football as in politics, governance is best kept local. It seems that football supporters in the States and Canada are so tied to the idea of a confederation/federation-wide league system that they cannot see that the costs are too great. What you end up with is fuddy-duddy leagues like the NFL, with mascots and cheerleaders but no substance. The Ontario Soccer Association could support a league system like England’s in a second. In fact, Ontario is fertile ground because of its polis-like character: local rivalries and connections are intense. With our large immigrant population, most people understand how football is supposed to be played. This future league would be everything the nascent CSL is not. It would be a framework to be filled in by the initiative of local clubs in existence and waiting to be created. Toronto would probably have several neighborhood teams in the top-flight, just like London: The Grange FC, Greektown FC, Little Italia Calcio, Harbourfront Lake SC, Oakville SC, the list could go on forever.
I digress. The NPSL is an evolution from the MLS and the NASL. It may well be hampered by its scope and franchise vestiges. Yet, what I’ve read is thus far promising. Many players are leaving the United Soccer Leagues, a franchise system, for the more meaningful play of NPSL. The clubs are legitimate in their attitude and independence. Hopefully, this league will allow them to grow until a future arrives in which each state/province sits on FIFA’s board separately, with their own league pyramids and local football culture. Kudos, NPSL!