Credit this second version of the NASL. It’s willing to swing for the fences. Long, looping swings that would make Mark Reynolds blush, but swings nonetheless.
Just this week, the U.S.’s second-tier league unveiled Raúl as the newest member of the New York Cosmos. Yes, that Raúl – the Real Madrid legend who was playing out his the final days in Qatar. Then the Cosmos came along. Is this the type of move that will lead to continental glory? No, but we are writing about it.
Now comes the league’s latest headline grab: bringing in Il Fenomeno as minority owner in Fort Lauderdale. Though Brazilian legend Ronaldo won’t be stepping on the field for the Strikers, he will snare a few headlines, hopefully motivating a few more South Floridians to walk through the turnstiles. Is he taking a majority stake of a team whose value is well within his checkbook (and recently sold)? Of course not. This is a part-time thing – most likely an affiliation, not a commitment.
This isn’t the same NASL that provided so many memories three, four decades ago, but there’s still a heavy backward-looking part of the marketing. Not only are many of the teams still hoping old brands can have lasting appeal, but two iconic players well past their prime significance are now part of the league’s push.
But that’s the other arm of the league’s marketing approach. It wants to compete with MLS, it says. How? Not through the type of nine-figure commitments that would allow it to catch up. Those are hard to come by. Easier to obtain? The signature of a 37-year-old looking to land in the states, or the name of a legend who’ll never actually take the field.
For a league with modest aspirations and a more measured message, the arrivals would be pleasant curiosities. But amid the bombast of the NASL’s rebirth, there’s an irony to the news.