Portland Business Journal |Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The United States Soccer Federation’s board on Wednesday voted against sanctioning two rival leagues in a decision that could threaten the Portland Timbers 2010 season.

Both the United Soccer Leagues and the newly-formed North American Soccer Leagues submitted proposals to become sanctioned second-divison leagues for 2010. Major League Soccer is the only sanctioned first-division league.

But the federation, the governing body of U.S. soccer, said its Professional League Task Force determined that neither league presented themselves as sustainable organizations. In particular, both leagues fell short of the required minimum of eight viable teams for 2010.

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“After carefully reviewing the findings from the task force it was clear there are still too many uncertainties for both organizations, which would be extremely difficult to resolve in a timely fashion that would allow them to prepare for the 2010 season,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said in a news release.

The problem could be temporary.

Each league was given seven days to present alternatives. Gulati said the leagues have been encouraged to “develop another plan which would allow a single league to be approved on a provisional basis.”

The development is yet another road bump for the Timbers as the club prepares to play one more minor league season before ascending to MLS in 2011.

Neither Timbers owner Merritt Paulson nor a team spokesman could be reached for comment.

The Timbers play in the USL’s First Division, which has long been the only sanctioned Division II league.

But a majority of the league’s teams formed a splinter league this fall, citing a long-running dispute over a lack of input in league operations. They adopted the North American Soccer League moniker after the professional league that represented the top-tier of U.S. soccer from 1968 to 1984.

The defections, and a decision by the Charleston franchise to move into USL’s second division, leaves the Timbers as one of just four first division teams in USL. The others are the Austin Aztex, Cleveland City Stars, and Puerto Rico Islanders.

Unlike the Vancouver Whitecaps, which was also granted a MLS franchise for 2011, Paulson has said he wouldn’t consider jumping to the new NASL for his final season in the lower division.

In September Paulson said he was contractually obligated to USL for the 2010 season, which wasn’t the case for Vancouver and a handful of other franchises that jumped to the NASL.



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