U.S Soccer refuses to recognise lower leagues

MIAMI - The United States is without an authorised second tier of soccer after officials declined to sanction the two league's claiming to be a second division.

The longstanding second-tier United Soccer Leagues (USL) and the recently-formed breakaway North American Soccer League (NASL) had both applied for second-tier status.

Major League Soccer (MLS) is the first division in the United States and Canada but with no promotion or relegation in the region, USL has been run as a separate entity.

The U.S. Soccer Federation said in a statement on Wednesday that neither USL, which has been operating since 1986, or NASL were in a position to be up and running for the 2010 season due to begin in March.

"The decision was made on the recommendation of the Professional League Task Force which determined that neither organisation on its own was able to provide a viable and sustainable operation during the upcoming season," said the federation.

"Both organisations were unable to meet U.S. Soccer's requirement of a minimum of eight viable teams for 2010."

NASL has announced it has 10 teams signed up including newly-formed sides in Tampa Bay and St Louis as well as teams who have quit USL such as 2009 champions the Montreal Impact and beaten finalists the Vancouver Whitecaps. EVIDENT BITTERNESS

There is evident bitterness between the leagues and USL has filed lawsuits against three of the teams who have left their organisation for the NASL.

U.S. Soccer said it had given both organisations a week to try and reconcile their differences.

"In the best interest of soccer in the United States we decided to not sanction either league at this point. However, we did encourage both leagues to come together in the next week and attempt to develop another plan which would allow a single league to be approved on a provisional basis," said U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.

The situation adds to a difficult organisational time for soccer in the U.S.

MLS faces problems with its collective bargaining agreement with players running out at the end of January and negotiations with the players union, who have hinted at strike action, showing no signs of progress.