The North American Soccer League has asked the U.S. Soccer Federation to remove North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik from the USSF's Board of Directors and replace him "with an individual who can fairly represent the NASL."
The request was made in a letter sent via email from NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal addressed to USSF Secretary General Dan Flynn, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN FC. In the letter, the NASL stated that while Malik owned teams in the NASL and NWSL at the time of his appointment in 2017, he has since moved his NASL side to the rival USL, and the team remains a candidate to obtain an MLS expansion franchise, thus creating a conflict of interest.
The letter reads: "Despite Mr. Malik's obvious interest in staying on good terms with MLS, the USSF has consistently presented him to the NASL and the public as the Board member looking out for the interests of the professional leagues other than MLS. In fact, USSF specifically determined that Mr. Malik represented NASL when considering NASL's eligibility to vote for the At-Large position on the USSF Board.
"At this point, it is impossible to figure out whose interests, beyond his own, that Mr. Malik really represents on the USSF Board," the email reads. "In our view, at the very least we know that he did not represent the interests of the NASL or the best interests of U.S. soccer as a whole during the Board's deliberations leading to the discontinuance of NASL's Division II status for 2018."
Reached by telephone, a USSF spokesperson declined to comment. Malik also declined to comment through a team spokesperson.
The letter is the latest salvo in the ongoing dispute between the two entities. The NASL is currently suing the USSF on anti-trust grounds over the Federation's revoking of the league's Division II status for 2018. It recently had its bid to obtain an injunction to regain that status denied in U.S. District Court. That decision has been appealed and will be decided in mid-December.
In the meantime, the NASL is asking the USSF to ask Malik for his resignation by the time the USSF Board convenes its next meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 3, and replace him with an individual who it believes will better represent the NASL.
The USSF Board is comprised of 15 voting members, two of which come from the USSF's Pro Council that represents the interests of the country's professional leagues. MLS commissioner Don Garber has long held one of those seats, while the other has been held by several individuals in recent years. Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson, USL CEO Alec Papadakis, and most recently Malik are among those who have filled the Pro Council's other seat on the board.
MLS controls a majority of votes on the Pro Council, with NASL's letter putting the figure at 57 percent.
"In our opinion, the NASL has been without effective Board representation for many years," the letter reads. "If a matter comes before the USSF Board where the interests of NASL conflict with MLS's or USL's position, the NASL has no meaningful voice.
"This has further been compounded by the fact that John Collins, the current At-Large representative, serves as legal counsel to USL. This situation, we believe, is inconsistent with both the USSF's duty under its own organizational documents and applicable law to act for the benefit of all stakeholders, as well as with Article 11(1) of the FIFA Statutes, which prescribe that 'member associations involve all relevant stakeholders in their own structure.'"