The Major Soccer League, which has been inching toward expansion, may be about to grow by leaps and bounds.
Last night Blast owner Ed Hale, speaking at the team's Fan Club Appreciation Dinner, finally made public a merger plan between the Major Soccer League and the National Professional Soccer League that has been in the works for more than three weeks.
Hale, who is handling the negotiations for the MSL, said if the merger is going to happen, he would like it to be done by May 1.
"We've talked to them," Hale said. "Hopefully we can get together on our mutual interests."
The NPSL has grown into a nine-team league over the last nine years, the last four under the direction of commissioner Steve Paxos.
Paxos is non-committal about the merger of the two leagues, but said, "I am for anything that will benefit our sport of indoor soccer."
The NPSL's franchises are: the Canton (Ohio) Invaders, the Chicago Power, the Atlanta Attack, the Dayton Dynamo, the Milwaukee Wave, the Hershey Impact, the Illinois Thunder (in Rockford, Ill.), the Detroit Rockers and the New York Kick (Albany/Glen Falls).
The league's attendance blossomed a year ago, going from 522,403 in 1988-89 to 671,820 in 1989-90, an increase of 28.6 percent. During the past regular season, attendance also rose, though the exact figures have not been compiled yet. The Milwaukee Wave had the largest crowd of the 1990-91 regular season when it attracted more than 16,000 for a late-season game.
According to Paxos the bottom line for the league's success is controlling expenses. The NPSL's salary cap is reportedly $300,000 per team, compared to the MSL's $675,000. That difference will have to be resolved.
Hale would not go into the details of the merger plan, but said the MSL's offer was to form a league that would admit all the NPSL and MSL teams, which means MSL membership could jump from eight to as many as 18 teams.
"There is absolutely no reason why this shouldn't happen," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "Bringing these two leagues together is a great idea and Ed should be given a lot of credit for having the vision and the ability to look at the total picture."
Whether the leagues come to an agreement, however, may have more to do with overcoming ingrained animosities than it does with good business practices.
Former Dallas Sidekicks owner Phil Cobb recently referred to the NPSL as "minor league," and in a recent story by Bob Young for Soccer Digest, Paxos said, "If a team has to lose over a million dollars to be called major league, I don't ever want to be major league."
Paxos has said his league still has some problems but basically has stabilized in its markets.
The MSL, meanwhile, last week saw its Dallas franchise fold with the promise of return under new ownership within the next two weeks. At the same time, a new franchise in Pittsburgh has been given tentative approval by the MSL's board of directors.