NASL CEO Aaron Davidson: 'After Four Years, You Don't Just Give Up'

It's still not entirely clear whether or not Division 2 soccer will be played at Montreal's Saputo Stadium this year as the Impact prepare for joining MLS in 2012. (via upload.wikimedia.org)

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for Aaron Davidson. The NASL CEO was in Baltimore when the USSF handed down its decision to revoke his league's provisional Division 2 sanctioning; came back to Miami where he's preparing to have his second child, as well as helping the team he operates rebrand (Miami FC to Strikers); was off to Texas for a San Antonio Scorpions press conference announcing their Nike sponsorship; and was back in Miami, answering questions during a midnight taxi ride home.

There's no guarantee that most of this work will ultimately be rewarded, but that doesn't seem to be fazing him.

"After four years, just the time I’ve been leading it, you don’t give up now, you make it work," said Davidson, referring to when rifts really started to open in USL. "I’m as confident as I’ve always been. If we got provisional sanctioning in November, we’re in a better position now. It's just a matter of getting things done."

Among those things getting done is securing $6 million in letters of credit. That's $750,000 for each of the eight teams, a significant portion of which has been posted by Traffic USA, who owns the Miami team as well as stakes in the Carolina and Atlanta teams. Davidson and the other NASL owners hope that's enough to win USSF's approval.

"We’re proceeding that way," Davidson said. "We needed to turn in everything on Monday and it's our hope that If we take care of details that are left that we go back to where we were. It would be the right thing to do."

Getting to this point has, obviously, not been easy. Second division teams have essentially gone from needing to post about $100,000 in security three years ago to $350,000 last year while playing in USSF Division 2 to $750,000 and then finding out that the league's $6 million pool would collectively serve to insure any catastrophic collapse. These obviously aren't small leaps, and these are significant chunks of change owners are being asked to potentially lose.

Davidson, for his part, seems to be taking it all in stride. He's even supportive of these changes. He also wants to know that something good is going to come of all these efforts.

"Obviously wish we didn’t have to deal with it, but if it doesn’t kill you, it will make us stronger, right?" he said. "I told (the USSF) thanks for being hard on us.

"But they have to understand, there’s no way to come out with a black-and-white standards, and comply right away. MLS didn’t comply right away. You can’t comply with all the standards right away, and make it work.

"It’s a sad day in soccer to tell owners like Montreal, Puerto Rico, Traffic, that we’re now going to play at a level of soccer that is similar to USL when we know we adhere to much higher standards."

It remains to be seen whether playing at a lower division remains a viable option for NASL. Davidson certainly doesn't seem to be suggesting it is.

"You risk losing a lot of jobs," Davidson said when asked what happens if NASL doesn't get D2 sanctioning. "We haven’t fought for four years, haven’t elevated our standards to this point to be turned away on technicalities or on issues of procedure.

"Are there going to be certain exceptions? Sure, you can’t lay down standards across the board, if you want second division to go forward. But no one is materially below the standards."

The major issue with NASL's sanctioning appears to be with the ownership situation in Carolina. Selby Wellman, who had owned the team for the past two years, decided he was no longer willing to incur the losses and the team is in the process of changing hands to Traffic USA. In addition to owning Miami FC, Traffic has an ownership stake in the Atlanta Silverbacks. NSC Minnesota Stars is also league owned. That means there are five ownerships operating the eight teams.

Although the USSF guidelines spell out how a league is to handle teams that share ownership, which NASL seems to be following as each team will have its own front office staff, that's obviously not the preferred way of doing things. There may be other issues concerning USSF, but those have yet to be articulated.

While acknowledging that ownerships in Baltimore and St. Louis hurt his league's image, he also believes ownerships like those in San Antonio and Edmonton are proof that the league is heading in the right direction. He believes NASL is up to the task of carrying the D2 banner. From here, it seems like the U.S. soccer pyramid is better off giving NASL a chance.

"This is not a new movement," Davidson once again pointed out. "It’s four years old. If it was a three-month-old project, and we were going through this, we might throw in the towel. But anyone who thinks we’re just going to concede, it’s not going to happen."

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