by Neil Morris
UPDATE 3:50 p.m.: The NASL has now released an official statement confirming this announcement.
According to high-ranking league sources, the North American Soccer League (NASL) will announce today that the Puerto Rico Islanders will not participate in the Spring Season under the new split regular season format being instituted by the league in 2013. The official decision was finalized during a teleconference of the NASL’s Board of Governors late yesterday afternoon.
The Islanders’ ownership group has long been a confederation of investors with varying stakes in the club, led team spokesman Andrés (Andy) Guillemard-Noble. However, without a primary majority owner supplying the club’s funding, the principal source of financing for the Islanders continues to be the Puerto Rican government, which last year spearheaded the multi-million dollar renovation of Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium, the Islanders’ home ground, into a soccer-specific facility. Delays in completing those renovations required the Islanders to play 10 of their 14 NASL homes matches last season at the tiny Bayamon Soccer Complex. As a result, the Islanders’ average home attendance was 1,864, the second-lowest in the league.
However, the government’s ongoing financial backing was thrown into doubt after an upheaval in the Puerto Rican government following last November’s general elections. Alejandro García Padilla narrowly defeated incumbent governor Luis Fortuño, and Padilla’s Popular Democratic Party (PPD) wrested majorities in both Puerto Rico’s Senate and House of Representatives away from Fortuño’s New Progressive Party (NPP).
Padilla and his party do not assume power until January. As a result, uncertainty persists over whether the new government will continue financial backing of the Islanders in time for the start of the 2013 season, if at all. Even if financial support continues, it’s unlikely those allocations would be in place before the NASL must finalize scheduling and other logistics for the upcoming spring season, which is tentatively scheduled to begin the first weekend in April.
The NASL anticipates the Islanders will be able to participate in the fall championship, which will begin around early August and run through early November. It remains unclear at this time what La Tropa Naranja’s status will be regarding participation in regional cup competitions, including the CFU Club Championship and potentially the CONCACAF Champions League.
This news comes on the heels of the recent announcement by the New York Cosmos, the NASL’s newest expansion franchise, that it also will not begin play until the 2013 Fall Season. As a result, seven teams—including the Carolina RailHawks—will now compete in the NASL’s Apertura and either eight or nine clubs will compete in the Clausura.