by Joe Schwartz
Carolina RailHawks majority owner Selby Wellman expects at least 10 teams to be in the newly named North American Soccer League, though he declined to name the possible additions to the nine confirmed ownership groups.
Wellman and fellow owners announced Monday that they will bring back the NASL name, conjuring up memories of the first American professional soccer league, which included the likes of Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff before it folded in 1984.
"We talked about it a long time. There's pros and cons because the league didn't make it, that would be the con. The pro is it really did launch professional soccer in America and had a good brand," he said. "There's a lot of us around here with some gray hair that'll say, 'I remember that brand.'"
The league now has a name, but the owners have a lot of questions to answer before the first ball is kicked in April. Along with the RailHawks, former USL teams Atlanta Silverbacks, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps FC are part of NASL. St. Louis Soccer United, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Crystal Palace Baltimore also are slated for inclusion in the breakaway league.
Others have speculated that Rochester Rhinos may be included, but Wellman, also the spokesman for the new league, isn't saying as of yet.
"I can't name them," he said. "We already have plans underway, and we're getting all kinds of requests coming in from different groups."
He says that Vancouver, which is set to enter the MLS in 2011, will develop a second team to play in NASL. As for Minnesota, where the Thunder is facing a long list of unpaid bills, Wellman says the "situation has been resolved."
The picture in Minnesota has become blurry with reports of a second ownership group entering the Twin Cities market. Wellman said that Minnesota will have a franchise, but he was coy when asked if it would be the Thunder.
"There will be a team," he said. "There's a couple of issues that'll be resolved in about three weeks with signed documents."
The addition of Tampa and Baltimore, announced just last week, also is controversial, given that both clubs agreed to $750,000 deals to play in the USL in 2010. The USL has threatened a lawsuit. Wellman says NASL consulted an attorney "every step of the way" and he believes both franchises are set to play matches in April.
Wellman said NASL is being created because USL did not foster collaboration on things like group car rental rates for road trips or uniformity of team Web sites.
"For the last x number of years we've all had to operate out here under ourselves," he said. "It's different when we all come together and have owners operating like a league."
NASL has worked closely with MLS and hopes to have a relationship on player development, Wellman says. Promotion and relegation, as is done in most major soccer countries, is still decades away though, MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Wellman agree.
Despite all the unanswered questions, Wellman guarantees the league will be ready come April and that it will be a success.
"We've been working on this for two years. It's not just something we dreamed up in the last 30 days," he said. "We think we just might be on the verge of making soccer history."