North American Soccer League owners voted yesterday to cut down on travel and increase games with regional rivals in its schedule next season, moving Madison Square Garden Corp., owner of the Washington Diplomats, a step closer to retaining ownership of the team.
The league, in its first day of meetings in Toronto, voted in favor of a format in which teams would play each divisional opponent four times. That would mean the league champion Cosmos would play here twice during the regular season. Each league team would play 10 other opponents on a home-and-home basis while not facing 10 other teams at all.
Sonny Werblin, MSG chairman, an Jack Krumpe, executive vice president, who is representing Werblin at the meetings, have advocated this kind of scheduling change since the Dips became Garden property in October 1978. Krumpe is still expected to push for realignment of the league into three eight-team conferences when the meetings resume today and Wednesday. But, sources indicated, he and Werblin took yesterday's vote a a sign that the league is beginning to think their way, at least in part.
"No comment," Krumpe said when asked his reaction to the schedule change. "We'll be making no comments at all until these mettings are over."
In other words, the Garden regards yesterday's vote as a victory in Round 1, getting the Cosmos to RFK Stadium twice in a season (at least) and getting the NASL to adopt a more regional schedule since not playing 10 teams will eliminate a good deal of coast-to-coast travel.
In other action, the league recommended the competition committee draw up a proposal that would lengthen the playoff format. Instead of best of two plus minigame, series would be best of three full games, with the Soccer Bowl still just one game.
Several other proposals concerning the game itself were discussed but tabled, including widening of the goal; shortening the game to 70 minutes but including timeouts; penalty minutes for players given yellow card; reducing from six to four the number of standings points given a team that wins a game in shootout; making back passes to the goalie illegal and giving teams one standings point for their first goal, two for theirs second and three for their third, instead of the current one point per goal system. All those proposals are expected to be voted on in the next two days.
The owners were also briefed by their counsel, Bob Rolnick, on the status of negotiations with the NASL Players Association. Rolnick recommended that the 19 teams planning to begin indoor play go ahead even though there is no contract yet.
The league also voted to continue the Trans-Atlantic Cup, inaugurated this past season when the Cosmos and Soccer Bowl champion Vancouver hosted two European teams in a round robin tournament. The Cosmos and Seattle were elected to represent the league in the '81 tournament.
In addition, an agreement was made in principle for the sale of the Houston Hurricane, one of the league's failing franchises, to a group that plans to move the team to Memphis -- which lost its team to Calgary last month -- in time for the start of indoor play.