The president of the North American Soccer League angrily charged yesterday that the rival Major Indoor Soccer League is "holding Team America hostage" by refusing to release its players to try out for the squad, and he said he was putting together his own indoor league with or without MISL's cooperation.
"We needed the immediate co- operation of the MISL to bring the team (Team America) up to strength, but this has been enormously difficult to get," said Howard Samuels, the NASL's chief executive officer. "There is obvious talent in the MISL which the coach ought to look at, but so far he has not gotten any MISL player into camp."
Earl Foreman, the MISL commissioner, did not respond yesterday to telephone calls seeking his comments.
One game into the regular NASL season, Team America, the combination U.S. national team in training and Washington NASL franchise, is at least six players short of full strength with only 16 men on its roster. One player, Hayden Knight, has a broken foot.
After breaking training camp in February in Tampa, Fla., Team America intentionally left room on the roster for players then playing in the MISL. Eleven of the 39 players initially chosen to try out for Team America were playing in MISL at the time.
"At least half of those players are available right now," Samuels said, noting that MISL's regular season has ended and playoffs are under way. "But I can't get them into camp."
Samuels charged Foreman with deliberately reneging on a commitment to expedite the transfer of MISL players to Team America as part of a strategy to wring concessions from NASL on plans that might affect the future of indoor soccer and other issues of interest to MISL, such as whether they can borrow players from NASL. He also said MISL is insisting that players released to Team America be assured of a place on the roster instead of having to undergo a two-week tryout period.
"I have taken the position with Earl that these are extraneous issues. They have nothing to do with the commitment that NASL made," said Samuels. "We are not negotiating league relations. I think it is important for MISL and NASL to be partners, not adversaries. We have mutual interests."
Nevertheless, said Samuels, the two leagues have been unable to agree on the shape of an indoor soccer program. "I have a lot of teams that want to play indoors," said Samuels. "But MISL has required that everybody play 48 games. That's impossible. You destroy the outdoor game. You've got to have a month off after indoor soccer and six weeks off after outdoor soccer."
John Kerr, staff lawyer with the union that represents both MISL and NASL players, said the dispute boils down to the fact that you have "two different leagues in competition with each other. The NASL has made clear its intention to run an indoor soccer league next year, and that creates competition. Only a few months ago, there was talk of a merger, but something has gone wrong.
"It's a case of the U.S. national team saying, 'we would like to employ some of the players from the MISL,' and the MISL commissioner saying 'Team America plays in the NASL. Why should we be helping our competition?' Unfortunately, to take that kind of attitude deprives the U.S. of the best possible team it can put forward."
Robert Lifton, the owner of Team America, said he's disappointed "that it's taken this long to have a resolution of matters that I thought were already clarified.
"But I personally feel the matter will be cleared up," he said. "This has nothing to do with Team America but the relationship between the indoor and outdoor league and their internecine relationship."