Read below for the full text of exclusive interview with Bill Peterson, Commissioner of the North American Soccer League, on the changing landscape of soccer in North America.
BoS: Where does the NASL fit as a part of the long term vision for the North American soccer landscape?
BP: We’re focused on building as strong of a professional league as we possibly can. That is our focus. Where that takes us and how it relates to other bodies down the road, as I’ve talked to Don [Garber], we’ll figure that out when the time’s right, but for now, we need to focus on what we’re doing. We can’t predict what’s going to happen between the different leagues in the future, so we’re solely focused on how can we build as strong of a league as possible, how can our teams become as strong as possible, how can the competition become as strong as possible.
BoS: With the focus on youth clubs and academies, how does the NASL fit in to that structure?
BP: What you really touch on in the question is the biggest issue I see with youth development and that is the country is too big and if you spread your resources out over too wide of an area, I think you have a hard time really developing solid relationships with the players at a young age and realizing who they are and what environments they’re in and who’s coaching them and how are you going to develop that. We have a couple of clubs that are working closely with their local associations and clubs and trying to find something that’s beneficial to that area to insert, so something that they may not have currently. What can we do to help add to the whole area rather than looking for some partnership or going to start dipping into the clubs’ pools and pull players up. We still have a lot of work to do to try to figure out what the best model is. We are talking to a lot of different people. What is the best way to identify the young players? Where is the best situation for them to develop? Ultimately, what role do we play or not play in doing that?
BoS: What do you expect the NCAA and college soccer’s role to be?
BP: I think it’s a huge benefit on a lot of different fronts. One, there’s a lot of people who that will be the highest level they ever play and if they have a chance to earn a free education by playing college soccer I think that’s wonderful. Two, you find when you start studying player personnel, player development that everybody matures at different levels. There’s going to be kids who maybe were passed over when they were 17 and end up going to play college soccer, which is becoming more competitive and they come out the other side, and they’re pro quality. It’s going to play a role. Is it going to be like football? No. The player coming up through a club association or somebody’s youth academy or whatever is going to exist in soccer and will exist, but I don’t think you can ignore the older kids coming out of college. You have to take a look at them.
BoS: How can NASL clubs provide more college aged players with professional experience?
BP: In six months [as Commissioner], I haven’t addressed that one. I haven’t put much thought into it to be honest. We have a lot of other things we’re focused on. It’s interesting and the NCAA and others would have a say in what’s going to happen there I believe, ultimately. That’s not one of our top priorities, today. Hopefully in the future.
BoS: Is the current alignment of leagues by U.S. Soccer, the right alignment for the NASL?
BP: Yeah, we’re happy with it. College division two or a division four team, it doesn’t matter what we do day to day. We’re focused on our own business, our own league, and we’re focused on our cities and our fans, and designation doesn’t mean much to us right now. We’re in control of our own destiny and we have to work hard to establish ourselves and that’s what we’re focused on. We don’t worry about it too much.
BoS: What are your thoughts on promotion and relegation?
BP: Sure makes sense, wouldn’t it? We’re not going to address that with MLS either. It’s too premature to have that conversation. If I take off my NASL hat and answer the question – I love relegation. I think it’s compelling. It adds some excitement to the league. I like the sort of finality of how you perform – the top and the bottom – but we’re not in a position to and neither is MLS to have that discussion. It’s down the road a few years.
BoS: Have there been developments in a potential MLS/NASL partnership following the October 2012 article from MLS?
BP: There’s no interest. We’re building a competitive league where every match matters and our owners are not doing that to become a minor league system for developing players for someone else. I don’t think that’s what the sport needs. It may work out well between MLS and USL and that’s fine, but take a look at our cities and where we’re playing. Those fans of professional soccer want to see competitive soccer as high level as we possibly bring it to them. Our job and our focus is to keep building our clubs to a point where what we are presenting is comparable to anything in the world.
BoS: Do NASL clubs aspire to make the move to MLS?
BP: No. If you ask me today, I don’t believe there’s an owner at our table that is looking to become an MLS team. I think they’ve looked at the model for whatever reasons – maybe it’s not the right one for them. I think they’re seeing the success they can have in our league with our model in their cities and everybody seems pretty committed to that. That being said, if one day somebody raises their hand and says ‘I want to go’ there’s a pathway for them to do that – it’s fine – but I don’t get the sense that people are here to go do that. I know they do in other places. We’re really focused on building our league. Everybody is excited about it. One of the key things for me is all the owners are on the same page, same vision – and they are – and that’s just by building out their clubs.
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