U.S. Soccer won't alter sanctioning process for Cosmos owner's $500m NASL proposal

The U.S. Soccer Federation has declined to alter its sanctioning process to accommodate a proposal from New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso, which would have pumped $500 million into a revamped North American Soccer League.

Commisso's proposal, first made on April 13, requested that the USSF grant the revised league a 10-year runway to come into compliance with the USSF's Professional League Standards (PLS). The standards specify requirements for professional leagues, including the minimum number of teams as well as the geographic dispersion of those teams, and are used to determine the sanctioning level (Division I, Division II or Division III) a league receives.

Commisso's offer, which included him pledging $250 million of his own money, also requested that the USSF allow an individual to own multiple teams in the overhauled league, as well as requesting that the USSF make significant changes in terms of how it governs the sport.

The USSF wrote in a letter to Commisso, a copy of which ESPN FC obtained, that its Board of Directors met via teleconference on May 27 "to consider, among other matters, issues relating to the NASL. At your request and the request of the NASL, the specific details of your proposal were not discussed except to the extent you have already publicly disclosed them."

The letter added: "The Board does not see a compelling reason to deviate from the annual sanctioning process."

In a letter addressed to "U.S. Soccer Stakeholders," a copy of which ESPN FC obtained, Commisso said the USSF's decision is "extinguishing any hopes USSF would voluntarily grant NASL a 10-year runway to develop a sustainable independent professional soccer league in the United States and [is] effectively terminating my proposal."

With regard to the request for multiple-team ownership, the USSF wrote in its letter that, "Although the Board did not specifically address this aspect of the PLS, if multiple team ownership is intended to be part of the NASL's plans, at least in the near term, please provide, as part of the application for divisional sanctioning, a detailed description of the provisions the NASL is prepared to adopt and implement to protect the integrity of NASL competitions."

The letter also noted that one governance-related request, asking for equal voting representation and voting power on the USSF Board for each professional league, would require a change of USSF bylaws that can only be approved by its national council.

The relationship between the USSF and the NASL/Commisso has become increasingly contentious over the last nine months. Last September, with the NASL struggling to maintain the minimum number of teams needed to comply with PLS, the USSF declined to give the NASL a Division II sanction. The NASL responded by filing a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the USSF, and later filed suit against all but one USSF board member alleging a breach of fiduciary duties.

In the interim, the NASL canceled its 2018 season, with the Cosmos, Miami FC, and the Jacksonville Armada operating teams in the National Premier Soccer League -- unofficially the fourth tier.

Since then, the two sides have been engaged in a standoff. The USSF insisted on seeing details of the plan given that it was coming from an individual who is part of an entity engaged in litigation. The USSF also contends that it doesn't need to alter its sanctioning guidelines given that it provided waivers to the NASL in the past. The USSF has long stated that the NASL is free to apply for sanctioning for the 2019 season at any time before Aug. 15.

Commisso wanted assurances on two fronts before agreeing to any meeting. He wanted the runway to be granted before putting any money down, citing the $18 million he had already spent on the Cosmos.

He was also worried that details of his plan would be leaked to MLS and the second-tier USL, so any meeting would have to include independent members of the board while excluding those board members with MLS or USL ties. Commisso canceled a May 9 meeting in Chicago amid concerns that independent members of the USSF Board of Directors wouldn't attend.

With Commisso's plan appearing to be no longer a possibility, he said his goal of restoring the NASL would go on.

"NASL will continue to pursue its breach of fiduciary duty claims against certain USSF board members, and it is about to begin the discovery phase in our antitrust litigation against USSF and MLS," he said. "Even though USSF and MLS are attempting to push off the trial date of the latter proceeding to October 2019 to keep NASL from playing earlier than the 2020 season even under a favorable court ruling to NASL, I will do everything in my power to seek a timely and positive ruling to help our clubs return to the field in 2019."