Tue Sep 1, 2009 6:59pm EDT

By Simon Evans |


MIAMI (Reuters) – A new soccer championship, potentially an alternative to Major League Soccer (MLS), will be created in the United States next season unless a dispute between clubs and their league can be resolved.

The United Soccer Leagues (USL), which runs soccer from the professional division below the top tier MLS down to regional youth leagues, faces losing at least eight of its leading professional clubs.

The USL, founded in 1986, was owned by Nike until last week when it was sold to Atlanta-based company Nu Rock Soccer Holdings, a move which foiled a bid by a consortium of leading clubs to purchase the league.

Now those clubs, including franchises in major cities such as Miami, Atlanta and Minnesota are threatening to breakaway and form a new league.

A statement from the eight teams talked of a «commitment to achieving a team-owner controlled league» and said the group would pursue all avenues to do so.

Selby Wellman, owner of the Carolina Railhawks and spokesman for the eight teams, said a breakaway league was on the agenda.

«It is certainly one of the options,» he told Reuters in an interview. «We are clearly at odds with USL, we have been at odds with them for two years over the fact that we are the only league in the world that doesn’t have (team) owners controlling it,» he added.

Selby said the teams, which also include franchises in Montreal and Vancouver in Canada and Tampa Bay and St. Louis, would be open to a compromise with the USL but that he was not optimistic common ground could be found.

«I have to be honest and say that my expectations of it are quite low — if you just bought a league for that money and put it in Nike’s pockets you are probably unwilling to turn it over to other people.

«We have been at this for two years..we are not willing to start all over again and drag it out for another year or so. Quite frankly we are tired.»

USL CEO Tim Holt said: «We’ve seen the announcement, which contains several incorrect statements but we don’t want to comment right now.

«At the moment we are focused on and excited about preparing the future of our professional divisions, we would prefer not to get caught up in a war of words.»

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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