Bill Peterson, the commissioner of the North American Soccer League spoke exclusively to Samindra Kunti about the league’s ambitions in the near future and the role of the New York Cosmos in moving forward.
What is the difference in philosophy between the old and new NASL? I think in the first NASL they had challenges we did not have, and I don’t know if that is philosophical or not, but from an operational standpoint they really had to explain the game. They were pioneers, but they believed in the same thing – they believed that people in the U.S. would support professional soccer at a high level. The modern NASL hasn’t got the best players in the world and I don’t think it needs to go do that and take that risk. But this NASL will put on a competitive product, so the competition is always the most important thing.
What do you mean by a competitive product? For us, this league is about the matches on the field, that is where it starts and ends. Everything the NASL does is about putting on competitive matches, spring and fall season. No play offs, that puts pressure on coaches and players to play 90 minutes every night hard. You can’t take a tie home and feel good about because you are out. That is good for the fans. We put the rosters in the hands of the owners. The league doesn’t dictate who is in the league and who is not. That is good because the owners are part of their community and they’d better get a roster that can win matches, right? That puts pressure on the owners and you end up with more competitive matches. That benefits the fans and brings more fans in. Everything is done to benefit the competition.
What do the new New York Cosmos bring to the NASL? They bring a legacy first of all – a global legacy. That helps raise awareness for the league around the world. But more importantly today they bring a great work ethic to what they are doing. On the field and off the field, they got a great staff that is working very hard. They understand they ‘ve got the benefit and the burden of that legacy, but they take it seriously and they work hard. They will be very successful. On the field you look at Giovanni Savarese and the group he put together and their performance. That is amazing. They didn’t know each other prior to the start of the season. I think what is more important now going forward is what they put into it and what the results are and I am very confident that they will be very successful.
Back in the days, some people argued that the Cosmos ran away with the NASL. Is there a same danger now? I don’t think so. You know they obviously had a good fall season but a lot of those matches…
At one point Seamus O Brien explicitly said we want to be in the NASL because there are no financial constraints like in the MLS. He wants a free market and he wants to be able to compete and decide what is best for his club – all of our owners and that is why they are in this league. This season was a lot closer than what people think it was. They pulled a lot of matches out in the last second. It could have gone either way. Most of them, if not all of them, were one goal difference. But the Cosmos played well and they better each week, but there wasn’t separation around the league. The situation now: every team is sitting at home in the off-season and thinking how do we knock off the Cosmos. That sets up a great competition next year and makes it tougher for the Cosmos. People will gun for them and will want to beat them, whether it’s the clubs or the fans. Again, that is good for the competition.
Where do you see the NASL in five years in relationship to the MLS? Well. I don’t really compare us. The NASL has opportunities to grow to 18 or 20 teams and at that point we can think about whether we want more or not, but there is no pressure. We can stop right where we are and be fine, but I think the NASL will add some teams and grow. I don’t know where we will be in the relation, because where will they be?
But what are your goals in the next five years? To have a very competitive league where our teams could play anyone in the world and hold their own. Second, that all of our teams are financially stable and that means the league is financially stable and three that we have created a passion amongst people, not only in our own cities but around north America for watching our matches.
In a way you are still doing what the old NASL did, promoting soccer across the nation? You have to promote, be promoters. That is a lesson that our people need to follow. What the old NASL did really well was promotion. They were out in the communities and they were bringing it to the people and then the people came to watch. We have to do that; you can’t lose sight of that. The best way to grow, to gain support for a team is to be promoter, be out in the community, being part of it and then the fans will support you and be passionate about it. I have been in this business for a long time and what they were able to do was amazing.