Written by: Hunter York
On a warm, muggy, and overcast Indiana Saturday night, this writer found himself watching some good ole American soccer. You must be thinking, “there is no MLS team in Indiana” and you would be right. But there is a NASL team. Indy Eleven is Indianapolis’ North American Soccer League team that has now been in existence for 2 seasons. The NASL is the 2nd tier of US soccer, with the USL residing below them. It’s no secret that the American soccer system does not have a promotion/relegation system like many other leagues in the world. So the 2014 NASL champions, the San Antonio Scorpions, will still be in the NASL this season. The league itself only has 11 teams in it at the moment but there could be some expansion in 2016 to bring in a total of 13 more clubs into the mix. The NASL was founded in 2009 and began play in 2011 with 8 teams after a season that combined the NASL and USL for a Division II league in 2010. The league has no connection to the original North American Soccer League even though it is run about the same way. The playoff championship game is called the Soccer Bowl and is held in the location of the higher seed in the final in a one game playoff.
The NASL has a different schedule than most people are accustomed to with a Spring season as well as a Fall season with an extended break from mid June to early July in between them. The NASL is no amateur league by the way. All of the players in the league are professional players and many have come from high profile clubs and some have even played in some more notable tournaments.
For instance, Indy Eleven midfielder Kleberson, was on the 2002 Brazil World Cup roster and even helped the country lift the coveted trophy. The Brazilian even had a stint with Manchester United from 2003-2005. He now plays midfield for the sophomore club and has quickly become a fan favorite around Indianapolis. Another name USMNT fans might know is Miguel Ibarra. The striker plies his trade for Minnesota United and is now a rising star in the national team stage. Minnesota United are of course making the jump to the MLS in 2018 and have made quite the buzz in bringing the MLS to Minnesota.
The fans do not seem to mind the “lower” level league as many of the matches in Indy and all over the league, sell out regularly. Indy has a special section called the Brickyard Battalion to help bring in a lively atmosphere to the match. Many of the clubs around the league have these types of supporter groups that the club itself endorses. A club might take note of the New York Cosmos, whom Brazilian superstar Pele once played for. The Cosmos sit at the top of the NASL table and have enjoyed success on and off the field with their style of play and style off the field with popular jersey and clothing sales. Former Real Madrid legend Raul now plays for the New York-based club and has been lighting it up so far. Having stars like Raul, Ibarra, and Kleberson seems to have added credibility to the league and is attracting many around the country to notice that there is more than one league in the country.
The quality of the league is growing and many fans have been calling for a system that would allow for some more diversity in the top flight in US Soccer. Many of these NASL teams play MLS sides in the US Open Cup and have some heated matches that cause the MLS teams to step up their games to squeak out matches. Could the increase in the competition cause a promotion/relegation system between the two leagues? The NASL thinks it would and want to potentially introduce the idea to the American soccer system. I personally believe it would help US soccer grow and bring some younger talent to both leagues as well as credibility.
The NASL is a growing league and is attracting more and more talented players from around the world to come play in United States and is helping US Soccer grow in general. I highly encourage anyone with a NASL side near them to head on down and check them out! I personally am a huge Indy Eleven supporter and love watching the boys in blue play. You will be surprised at the quality of players and the kind of soccer atmosphere you can only get here in the states.
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