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Interview with NASL’s Kartik Krishnaiyer

 The following interview is from the Tampa Tribune’s Rowdies Report by Nick Murray

A Conversation With the NASL’s Kartik Krishnaiyer
Posted May 10, 2010 by Nick Murray

Kartik Krishnaiyer was appointed the North American Soccer League’s Director of Communications in January this year after becoming well-known in American soccer circles as a writer and host of podcasts for EPLTalk.com and MajorLeagueSoccertalk.com. He also wrote his own blog, the Kartik Report which was essential reading throughout the split between the NASL and USL and the formation of the USSF Division II.

On Saturday, he was in town to see the FC Tampa Bay Rowdies’ home opener against the Austin Aztex and took some time to talk to the Rowdies Report about the season so far and the Rowdies themselves.

Rowdies Report: It was confirmed (on Friday) that Montreal is heading to Major League Soccer and that would seem to leave a gap in 2012 to get everything back up to at least 10 teams. How are things looking on that front as far as potential expansion?

Kartik Krishnaiyer: Very good, we’re definitely going to be able to fill that spot. (Note: Ottawa has already been rumored to be one of the cities the NASL will look to as an expansion franchise in 2012, along with other locations, but none have yet been officially confirmed.)

RR: What do you think of (the Rowdies home opener)?

KK: It’s fantastic, very impressive. You see the FC Tampa Bay Rowdies connecting with the legacy of the NASL Rowdies and the ASL Rowdies, let’s not forget those link years when the Rowdies brand was still important and you had several former Rowdies players who played in the NASL playing locally keeping soccer alive until MLS came in.

There’s just a vibe in town, there’s a vibe about this game and we don’t get that even about games at the MLS level in the United States often. I’m real excited about the crowd, I’m real excited by seeing people not just casually coming out to the game but you’re seeing people in Rowdies’ colors. Whether they’re wearing the new FC Tampa Bay kit or they’re wearing their old NASL Rowdies’ kit, it’s really impressive.

RR: Is this what you were expecting when the Rowdies became part of the NASL?

KK: Yes. I’m a believer, and this goes back to my background covering the sport, that Tampa is one of the best soccer markets in the United States, I’ve always felt that way. Youth soccer is stronger here than just about anywhere else in the country and the interest in the sport internationally and in the old NASL is stronger in the Tampa Bay area than just about anywhere else in the country also. In fact, a lot of the old NASL heritage sites that you see that cover the original NASL, they’ve gotten a great number of their hits from people who remember the Rowdies, followed the Rowdies, even young people who heard about the Rowdies from their parents in the Tampa Bay area.

This is really a soccer hotbed, and always has been. Per capita, this metropolitan area has produced about as many players as any metropolitan area in the country through the youth soccer level. If you look at a per capita list in the history of MLS since 1996 I believe this is third or fourth per capita for the most MLS players produced by a local market.

RR: When you see what has happened with Montreal, with Vancouver, with Portland and Seattle before them making the move up to MLS, how would you feel if the Rowdies worked themselves into making that transition?

KK: I’m not sure what the MLS’s view is of this market, but this is a very strong market and we’re very supportive of our clubs. This is an owner-run league and Montreal, it’s great for them and kudos to Joey Saputo and that club for moving up to MLS, but I think as we move forward our league is going to be a really high-level compelling second division and we’re going to do things at the second division level that haven’t been done before at this level of soccer in this country. I think this is going to be good for the market too, and we’ll see how it plays out with the 20th team, because MLS will have to make a decision at some point on numbers and FIFA restrictions. There are several soccer markets outside of MLS, good soccer markets that are not in MLS, and our league is going to have a lot of those.

RR: There have obviously been glitches in the start-up of the league, you might expect there would be, but how do you feel in the fifth week of the season things have come together?

KK: I think things have come together very well. We’re pleased with how the Federation has given us the direction that they’ve given us. They’ve done a very good job of getting the operations running properly. It hasn’t been smooth, let’s face it, because of what happened in the offseason and we’ve been playing a game of catch-up the last few months since we it was determined we would be in this hybrid arrangement but the reality of the situation is that in a World Cup year with the Federation having to focus on the senior national team going to South Africa and a couple of big U-20 and U-17 tournaments coming up that they’ve done a fantastic job of getting us up to this point and helping us get as much national media attention as a second division has ever gotten. We see more post-match stories, preview stories in the national press than we’ve ever seen in the second division.

RR: Do you feel as though next year when you have the two expansion franchises in Atlanta and Edmonton making a 10-team league that the NASL will be sanctioned to stand on its own by the USSF?

KK: Yes, I believe so.

RR: Any particular reason for that?

KK: Because we meet all the thresholds. There’s a clear outline and criteria that the Federation has for sanctioning a second division league and we meet all of those thresholds. The previous sanctioning process that ended up in this hybrid league was because of the lawsuit against three of our teams, including the Rowdies, by USL.

RR: Are you happy with where everything is moving with the NASL?

KK: Yes, and we’re moving forward. We would obviously like to have more lead-time next year in our league, and we will, to make sure that some of the issues we’ve seen with video quality that’s a particular concern here in Tampa after that first game in Baltimore would have been ironed out before the season. That’s really been the one concern. We’re happy with the crowds we’ve been getting in most of our markets, we’re happy with the press attention, and we’re happy with the level of play. The level of play has been very good.

The one issue has been video streaming on the internet and there have been numerous problems in the opening weeks, but those are being ironed out, those kinks are being worked out, but that was a byproduct of what happened during the offseason as far as the transition and not having all our teams understanding what the video program was going to be from the USSF until a couple of days before the season began, so some teams have home openers three days after they knew what the equipment was going to be, how you were going to stream it, and in the case of Baltimore they were able to record the game but they weren’t able to stream the game. Had they had more time to test the equipment they probably would have been able to avoid that snafu.

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