NASL aims to 'take drama out of boardroom and on to pitch'

Bob Williams
New start: New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso (left) poses with players Carlos Mendes, Jimmy Maurer and Ayoze Perez during a news conference in the Brooklyn this week - AP

The North American Soccer League is poised to announce up to three expansion teams by the end of April, The Telegraph understands.

The eight-team league needs 12 clubs in 2018 to keep its division two status after being handed a lifeline by the United States Soccer Federation early this year.

And three groups are close to being named new arrivals to the NASL, whose season kicks off again this weekend after a turbulent winter in which its very future appeared on the brink.

The NASL has also been in close conversations with two other groups but it was felt they were not yet ready to join the league.

Orange County, San Diego, Atlanta and Chicago have recently been linked with NASL expansion bids.

After the off-field difficulties faced by the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Rayo OKC last year, prospective expansion groups have, significantly, been asked to fill in a detailed 10-point business proposal to ensure greater diligence in the process.

The NASL is also expected to create a new front office position that will exclusively deal with expansion and club services this summer.

In regards to the quest for a new commissioner, a three-owner taskforce has hired a search firm and a number of candidates have already expressed their interest in the role.

It is believed interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal will be considered for the position. An announcement is expected in May.

Keith Bruce, who was brought in as "executive transition consultant", meanwhile, has agreed to continue his role until the end of April.

For Sehgal - who stepped in following the exit of former commissioner Bill Peterson - the principal aim for the NASL this year is to "take the drama out of the boardroom and on to the pitch".

On his new role, Sehgal told The Telegraph: "It's been an exciting challenge. We have a lot of work to do to grow the league but it is a huge opportunity - the future of this sport is very bright.

"I've been with the NASL since day one and I believe we can contribute something special to the sport.

"I'm humbled to be given the leadership and try to drive us in a forward direction.

"I'm interested [to continue in the role] but it's not something I'm focused on right now, which is getting the league up and running and deliver a high quality soccer experience to our fans."

On Wednesday, the NASL announced broadcast deals with beIN Sports and ESPN3 and Sehgal says the league's troubles did not affect negotiations.

"We've been in contact with our partners when we were having our issues and they were very supportive of us. It didn't really affect those negotiations or discussions all that much," he said.

After Minnesota United moved from the NASL to Major League Soccer last year, the rebranded North Carolina FC and Indy Eleven have since applied to become MLS expansion teams.

But despite the possibility of losing those two franchises, Sehgal sees their bids as a welcome sign of the owners' ambition.

"Our owners want to grow the game - and as the NASL we are nowhere near our end game. I take their applications to MLS as a sign that they want to grow and that's a positive thing."

Sehgal will see Miami FC three times in the next three weeks - starting with the club's trip to North Carolina this weekend. 

And the Miami FC chief executive Sean Flynn has been struck by united front of the NASL owners this year, something he felt was not evident in 2016.

"The NASL went through some turbulent times towards the end of 2016 and what I found in that time it was amazing how the owners of the clubs who remain came together with a common interest and a common goal. I'm not sure that was the case before with some of the partners who moved on," Flynn told The Telegraph.

"There is a core group that has a shared vision and a true partnership to take the league to a new level. 

"The league was in dire straits but at the 11th hour this core group really pulled it together to put us on a course for bigger and better things."

He added: "The clubs have agreed to more transparency to work in a more collaborative fashion to ensure the health of the league. Clubs have been sharing ideas and actuals of what is happening in each market to derive best practices that will help each other grow. We are all in this together. 

"The spirit of cooperation is pretty evident."

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