A series of meetings in the next seven days will determine whether the North American Soccer League continues efforts to launch a Team America in Washington for the 1983 NASL season.
Howard Samuels, NASL chief executive, said he has "a lead investor" who has agreed in principle to commit as much as $1.5 million to operate the franchise. Samuels also said one major corporation has agreed to sponsor the team. He declined to name either the investor or the corporation and said no contracts have been signed.
"I have a final plan to present to the U.S. Soccer Federation executive committee over the weekend, and I'll meet with NASL's executive committee Monday to present the plan," he said. "I'd say instead of a 50-50 shot, we now have a 75-25 shot of having a team in Washington next year."
Sources in the soccer community with ties to this area and to the professional leagues said yesterday they are more optimistic now about the team being formed here in time for next season than they were five weeks ago. At that time, Samuels announced league owners had approved the Team America concept and said he wanted to place the team here.
Team America is to be a joint venture of the NASL and the USSF. It would serve as the U.S. national team for developing players for World Cup, Olympic and world junior competition. The contracts of native-born players in both the NASL and the Major Indoor Soccer League would be assigned to Team America, which would play as a NASL franchise.
The Team America concept, the brainchild of NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam, is seen as the league's last chance of survival, by increasing interest in soccer in this country. The NASL reportedly lost $25 million last season and the number of franchises now operating is 12, half as many as started the 1981 season.
The 1983 league schedule is supposed to be put together in the middle of December. But, Samuels said, because of loose ends it is likely to be Jan. 1 before there is certainty whether Team America could operate next season.
The "lead investor" is a businessman, believed to be a New Yorker, who, according to Samuels, has no previous experience with a professional sports franchise. "If the group is put together as he planned it, it'll be a mixture of buisness and political interest on both sides of the street."
Among the details that must be worked out are final contracts with the lead investor and the sponsoring corporation, finding additional sponsors, a lease for RFK Stadium and an arrangement with the North American Soccer League Players Association concerning the NASL-NASLPA's collective bargaining agreement.
Samuels said the league had received a list of dates available at RFK Stadium. "They're acceptable to us, but the new owner has to negotiate the lease," he said.
NASL officials and John Kerr, executive director of the NASLPA and the MISLPA, have met as recently as Wednesday. Kerr said some clarifications are necessary and some problems exist, such as the league wanting to reduce the number of Americans, now four, required on each franchise.
"We say, 'No way,' " Kerr said. "We don't want any fewer Americans. To form Team America and reduce the number of Americans on other teams is sheer hypocrisy. If there's nothing else to save the league, we agree with the idea. But we believe the league could increase the quality of American players . . . It's our opinion that six or seven should be on each team."