Friday, November 20, 2009

Rowdies join breakway group, USL fires back

The Tampa Bay Rowdies were one of two teams on Friday that joined the breakaway group led by six former USL-1 clubs on Friday that will form a new professional league, bringing to total number of clubs in the group to nine.

The Rowdies and Baltimore Crystal Palace, which competed in the USL-2 last season, join USL franchises the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina Railhawks, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps and new club St. Louis Soccer United, which has submitted an application to the United States Soccer Federation for sanctioning as a Division II Men’s Outdoor Professional League.

“With this new league, which consists of some of the most established teams in North American soccer, we are excited about our team and collective future and the opportunity to make a significant impact on the beautiful game,” Andrew Nestor, owner and president of the Tampa Bay Rowdies said in a press release issued by the league.

The USL Team Owners Association group formed its own league in response to a disagreement over the manner of the organization of the USL. NuRock Soccer Holdings bought the league from Nike on August 31, continuing the private ownership of the league. The Team Owners Association’s members have been working to make the USL more in line with other professional leagues where ownership is held by the owners of the respective teams, not a third-party.

While currently considered a third-party, NuRock does hold USL interests, with a Premier Development League side in Atlanta, and the option to buy two USL franchises in Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala.

The USL responded with a statement late on Friday night which appeared to be a return salvo in what could become a legal battle that would likely be a struggle for both sides.

The USL statement reads: “Both the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Crystal Palace Baltimore have contractual commitments to USL to play in the 2010 USL First Division (USL-1) season. USL will pursue all actions to protect its interests and those of the USL-1 teams from any breach of contract caused by Tampa and Baltimore.

“USL further believes TOA is tortuously interfering with USL-1 team owners that are contractually obligated to participate in the 2010 season. TOA has made several misleading statements in a variety of press releases to taint the reputation of USL and its long history of developing the sport of soccer in the United States and Canada. USL will vigorously defend its legal interests against the TOA’s tortuous interference in contractual relationships with its team owners.”

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