Over the last couple weeks, the soccer pyramid here in America has become shaky, to say the least. As if it wasn't already shaky enough throughout 2010, it's looking like 2011 might be sans D2 altogether unless things really begin the turn around within the next couple of weeks.
Of course, even if things are patched together well enough to start a USSF sanctioned D2 this year, that certainly doesn't mean that D2 soccer in the United States will be perfect. Let's face it, aside from teams seemingly closing down every year, and general low attendance (PDX and Montreal aside) D2 in America still has a lot of work to do to improve its image.
So what can be done with our nation's rapidly decaying soccer pyramid? Here are some ideas floating around, not all of which are my own:MLS 2
This is actually one of the more popular ideas floating around out there amongst die hard soccer fans within the US. The concept is fairly simple; with D2 in America failing, it would make sense for the sake of US Soccer for MLS to just buy the NASL and create out of it a sort of "MLS 2" with which to spread the MLS brand and establish a future for promotion and relegation.
This type of system seemingly has the most perks for everybody involved. MLS gets so spread its brand to markets not yet in MLS. The NASL (D2) would become financially stable and wouldn't have to worry about teams immediately not meeting financial obligations, additionally the use of the MLS brand might boost popularity in D2 clubs. The fans would also benefit from having a team that won't disappear in a couple of years due to financial instability.
That said, however, I'm not necessarily a fan of this avenue. Let's face it, as stable as MLS seems today, we are still very much the underdog of American sports... below college football and basketball. For MLS to be in the position that it is today has taken almost two decades of hard work and exhaustive planning. Even still, were MLS to heavily invest in D2 and should D2 fail spectacularly it could have broad sweeping implications for D1 MLS teams and the organization as a whole.
All in all, too much risk, not enough reward for this plan to be feasible.
There's a huge difference between our national league and leagues in Europe, namely the sheer amount of travel required within the United States as opposed to England, France, Italy, or Germany. This amount of travel is very taxing on both the players, and, more specifically, the books.
Creating a regionalized D2 league makes a lot of sense in this matter. Not only will teams not be taxed with such an expensive means of travel, but in creating "conferences" D2 can spread to more than a paltry 8-10 teams and not have to worry so much about finances.
The worry with doing something like this is that it would too closely resemble our current D3 in America, USL Pro, which has done something very similar.
Continue on Unsanctioned
This is looking like the most likely situation at the moment. Even though the USSF might not sanction the league, there's nothing legally stopping the NASL from hosting a 2011 season, it just means that they are, in no way, affiliated with FIFA.
This also happens to be one of the worst things you could do for D2 right now. Hosting an unsanctioned league means that no team playing within the league can play in FIFA or USSF competitions. For D2 this primarily means no US Open Cup. Additionally, no players who play on any of those teams would be eligible to play for their national team, making finding players willing to play in an unsanctioned league difficult at best.
Beyond that, could an unsanctioned D2 really be considered a division 2 American league? MLS wouldn't have any interaction with it, USL Pro wouldn't have any interaction with it, and the USSF wouldn't have any interaction with it. The only thing it would accomplish is that players would still be able to be transferred to MLS, but with an unsanctioned league comes worse players since many of the best NASL players would probably leave for a sanctioned league.
Overall, this is just a terrible idea for all parties involved and it's best we hope that it doesn't happen at all.
So what is the best way to rebuild or D2? Right now, it's all just a bunch of bad ideas that wouldn't really solve anything long term. What the D2 league needs right now are committed owners in untapped markets that will support a local team.
Part of this means to avoid cities like Miami which has trouble supporting major league teams. It also means putting on a more authentic product and getting fans, no matter how little there are, actively involved with the team. It might seem redundant, given that that has been the idea all along, but it's realistically the only real way to build a solid D2 at the moment. Anything else would just be a band-aid.