Tampa Bay Rowdies look for league alternatives?

And no, it is not MLS.

Soccer is a fickle sport in America. We do things a little different than the rest of the world. Normally, if a team wins the championship, they are promoted to the next level of play. If that were the case, the Rowdies would have joined Major League soccer in 2011. But it’s not.

A recent article in Sports Illustrated — published this week — has caused a stir among those who watch soccer in America, as it reported the North American Soccer League is in trouble. The NASL’s Ottawa Fury reportedly plan on leaving the league to join current “third” division league, United Soccer League, and the Rowdies might be right behind them.

Most folks know about Major League Soccer, the top league of soccer in these United States, and if you have been paying attention to anything in the Tampa Bay area for the past six years, you probably also know about the North American Soccer League, where the Tampa Bay Rowdies play.

The NASL is labeled as the “second” division on the U.S. soccer pyramid, but sometimes that gets misnomer of “minor league”, which it is not. Talent wise, most NASL teams can hang with MLS clubs. Money-wise it is a different story, and that’s where it gets shaky.

Money is everything in professional sports. It’s more important than the entertainment value, the loyalty of players and sometimes the game itself. MLS, like every other league in the country, is  driven by dollar signs; the current price tag to join the league is currently set at $200 million. Compare that with the fee to join the NASL, reportedly around $5 million.

Ft. Lauderdale’s NASL club, the Strikers, and Oklahoma City’s Rayo OKC are both in financial dire straits, while Minnesota United and former NASL’ers Atlanta Silverbacks forked up the cash to play with MLS next season. With the hypothetical departure of Tampa Bay and Ottawa, the NASL is left with little to work with.

The USL will use this to their advantage. Rumbles through social media and articles such as the one published in Sports Illustrated indicate the USL will petition to become the nation’s new second division league while the NASL drops to third. The problem with USL is it houses many of the MLS’s farm teams. Imagine the Rowdies playing the likes of Orlando City’s reserve team. This is akin to the Tampa Bay Rays playing the Albuquerque Isotopes or Toledo Mud Hens in AAA. Yeah, those are real teams.

Much of this brings back memories o the NASL past. The original NASL was the premier league of North America through the 70s and 80s until similar circumstances led to its demise. Though the Tampa Bay Rowdies lived on long after the original NASL, it seems like history may repeat itself. The Rowdies are in good financial standing and will be here to stay even without the NASL.

Nothing here is set in stone, and the show will go on for the time being. Despite the Striker’s owner no longer financing their team, the Rowdies will still travel to Ft. Lauderdale this weekend to face the struggling team in their “new” stadium, which is traditionally used for a sport called cricket, whatever the hell that is.

The Rowdies were asked to comment on the rumors and referred me to the Bill Edwards Group, which is a majority owner of the club. No response came from them. The NASL was also asked to comment, but the director of public relations for the league, Neal Malone, said the league has no comment on the situation .The league did release a statement ensuring the owners were meeting to ensure a viable 2017 season.