By J. Mike Blake, Sports Editor | CaryNews
After waiting months for a concrete ruling on whether or not the Carolina RailHawks will play in a new league next year, the United States Soccer Federation decided to have us wait seven more agonizing days.
USSF President Sunil Gulati all but walked out of the door, arms raised over his head in frustration, saying: «You guys figure it out yourselves and get back to me in a week. Or else.»
I have no idea why Gulati preferred not to negotiate longer, or why it’s 2010 and we’re still talking about a problem that’s been billowing on the horizon since September. But I do have an idea of what fans want.
Fans don’t care if the RailHawks are in the USL in 2010.
Fans don’t care if the RailHawks are in the NASL in 2010.
Fans just want to see the RailHawks in 2010.
Which is why owners from all teams, both USL and NASL, must swallow the same pride for the good of the sport.
Sure, owners of NASL teams like RailHawks owner Selby Wellman will tell you they wanted to break away from the USL for reasons like better branding, or more say in league matters.
But don’t ignore the power of pride.
Wellman and other owners failed to secure the bid of the USL when Nike sold the league to NuRock Soccer Holdings LLC in the last week of the regular season. Their actions since then have resembled a playground kid who threatens to take his ball and go home.
The ownership of the USL would rather eat a shinguard than allow the RailHawks, one of the leaders of the rebel league movement, back for another season. They’ve had a problem with pride too.
Threatened by the intentions of the RailHawks and two other clubs to form a new league, the USL turned spiteful and pulled perhaps the most bush-league stunt of this whole ordeal when it e-mailed all players of those teams and told them they were free agents.
Both sides have been at a crossroads, but now the train’s about to leave the station.
If we’re to have U.S. Division II soccer next year, both sides will have to compromise with a group they’ve come to despise.
Leave arrogance at the door.
Drop all hubris for the good of the game.
Reach a solution.
Wellman has been a leader in the NASL movement. But with that league all but thwarted with Gulati saying there weren’t enough viable teams for either side, he can be a leader in the solution that’ll save the season.
If you want to break away, try again in nine months when the season is over. Maybe then NASL will have the minimum of teams.
After attendance for RailHawk games flatlined from 2008 to 2009 – despite the vastly superior product on the field – a year without play isn’t a route you want to test. Playing unsanctioned in 2010 wouldn’t be a bad short-term solution, but that’d be thumbing your nose at the USSF – and good luck continuing as a league without their sanctioning in 2011 and beyond.
The Triangle sports market is saturated with the Carolina Hurricanes, Durham Bulls, Carolina Mudcats, numerous high schools and three ACC schools.
If the RailHawks think they won’t fade out of sight and mind in the Triangle sports fan’s mind after a year without play, there’s more pride involved than I thought.