Q&A With NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson

Commissioner Peterson talked about the 2015 season and what lies ahead in the New Year
Matthew Levine (@NASLInsider} | Jan 4, 2016 has selected an elite group of soccer and sporting personalities for wide-ranging Question & Answer features that will appear online throughout 2016. The NASL will begin its sixth season in April with the addition of two clubs in the Spring Season – Miami FC and Rayo OKC – and one additional team in the Fall Season – Puerto Rico FC.

First up, Matthew Levine of spoke with Commissioner Bill Peterson about the 2015 season and what lies ahead in the New Year.

LevineWith The Championship format introduced in 2014 and the way the postseason and ultimately the finals have shaken out, is this what you had envisioned when the league came up with the format?

Peterson: I think that’s what we hoped for. When we put together the format  we wanted to have a tournament at the end to recognize one team and wanted it to be limited so that it was hard to get in. I don’t think we could foresee how the tournament and the way you enter has kept all the teams in play. It’s added weeks of exciting soccer down the stretch that you might not have if there were more teams involved, a different way to qualify, or if we had one long season.

I don’t think anyone can take credit for all the advantages it has proven to show. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I think it’s fantastic.

LevineWhat were the top successes of the 2015 season?

Peterson: On the field, the competition going to the last week was incredible. The two semifinals were very exciting. The final, and I’ve told a lot of people, I’ve never seen more professional athletes so emotional. I don’t think there was a dry eye on the Ottawa side. [The Cosmos’] Raúl and [Marcos] Senna were jumping around like 16 year olds who won a local cup competition. They were going crazy. To me that translates and says it was really important for everybody, and these guys were playing their hearts out.

That’s really the soul of this league that these guys go out and play hard each and every week, so that means we’re getting great coaches and technical directors who are putting together great teams who want to play hard and win trophies. From there you can build a sports business if you have a great competition. To me that’s the most successful part of the year.

LevineWhat do you hope the league can improve on in 2016?

Peterson: I expect that the teams on the field will continue to get better. These technical sides are getting more mature – they are finding better and better players. The competition to win is getting fiercer. You see with the number of coaches that were dismissed last year the kind of pressure the owners are putting on their teams to win now. That’s going to force guys to strengthen their rosters and next year should be even more exciting.

We have to continue to stay focused on being relevant in the communities – getting players out to be a part of community activities and adding value to people’s lives. That’s the base of all of this. Once you’re recognized for enriching people’s lives and making a positive impact they’ll give back to you. They’ll want to support you – that’s why they are called supporters. We can never lose focus of that and never think it’s not job Number 1. We want to continue upgrading our stadium experiences. That job also never ends.

We’re also looking at opening up the commercial side of things. Is there a cable TV partner or a couple of sponsors who could bring real value to the league? I think those are things that we’ll focus on improving.

LevineWhat will the three new teams for the 2016 season add to the league?

Peterson: They add a lot of passion. The people of Puerto Rico, where soccer is growing – and we’ve seen that with big games down there – are huge supporters. They have fans everywhere and there are people in New York that are going to be fans of that team.

You see the same thing happening with Miami. I think the ownership group in Miami has a chance to finally unlock the code down there, and it’s because of their backgrounds not only in Miami but around the world, their passion, and how they are putting this team together. For once, I think it’s going to appeal to people in Miami and will surprise people in that respect.

In Oklahoma City, the Rayo connection is very exciting for me. With all three of these clubs they’ve brought in people who understand how to build an organization quickly and who can do it at a high level. Especially with Rayo, and Maldini and Nesta [in Miami], they could be really good right out of the box. It’s not been the track record of teams in this league – they usually struggle in their first year – but this could be a turnaround there.

Three great cities and three great ownership groups that will bring a lot of passion, excitement, and hopefully that translates to the fans and we start off very strong in those cities.

LevineHow exciting is it to have people like Carmelo Anthony and Paolo Maldini owning teams, with more successful soccer stars also on the touchline like Tony Meola and Alessandro Nesta?

Peterson: I think it’s a huge advantage for this league. Having people, Ronaldo as well, who have been at the highest level, even if it’s the NBA, they bring something to the table that no one else has experienced. Instead of figuring out how to build a club, they are starting out with ‘this is where we need to go and let’s get there as fast as we can.’ It’s a different approach than with an ownership group that may not have that experience.

If I’m thinking about being a supporter I’m pretty excited if my owner is Carmelo Anthony or Paolo Maldini, or Rayo. That’s a pretty big step. I’m calling it an advantage because it’s going to help this league grow even faster than what we initially thought. 

LevineThe league has seen one player recently called into the US men’s national team – Miguel Ibarra, who is now with Club León in Liga MX – and several into the Canadian men’s national team. How can the NASL continue to develop talent, especially the North American player? 

Peterson: We’re going to have to spend more time and resources on identifying younger players and having the coaches in place to truly develop them. Then we need to keep them on the roster long enough to see them develop. I think you see more of a focus from our teams in doing that.

After that, it’s a bit of a numbers game or it has been to date, but I’m not saying someone can’t breakthrough and accelerate development further than we’ve seen so far. First thing we have to do is have more players in the funnel that are being focused on and being developed so that more players can come out of it.

I’m confident we’ll have more players on the national team. Our North American players are mixing it up with guys who are playing at the highest levels or have played at the highest levels, so it all sort of feeds itself. I think the other thing that is important is that it’s such a competitive league that the guys are naturally going to be tough and have their nose bloodied a bit from battling week in and week out. That’s important for players who are going to be on a national team to be tough and ready to handle anything that is thrown at them.

That said, we are proud of all of our national team players.

LevineWhat is the relationship with the NPSL as more and more clubs are adding developmental teams to that league? How can that relationship continue to grow?

Peterson: Our owners are exploring this – it goes back to development and how they piece together a reserve component to their structure. The NPSL provides a partial answer for that as they look to find the full answer.

The relationship is starting to develop more formally among our clubs and the league. I think that path will continue for another year or two and from there we’ll see what that means. We’re big supporters of theirs and they do a great job of organizing their competition. There are teams in that league that have shown interest in joining our league, which may or may not happen in the future. They are good for soccer, they are growing and getting stronger, and we want them to be very successful.

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