Imagine there’s no NASL. Imagine there’s no USL. The brand names and any baggage associated with them are gone.
Instead, you have the U.S. Pro League. (OK, I’m not good at coming up with names, but I think it should be something generic, and “the Football League” is taken. Maybe just get the sponsor’s name: “The Bud League” or something like that.)
This would be the league that fills the USA’s D2 and D3 designations.
And yes, it would have promotion/relegation.
With caveats. The MLS reserve teams would stay in D3, which would be largely regional. But the top D3 teams could move up to D2, and the bottom D2 teams would drop.
Here’s what we accomplish with this system:
- We have a clearly defined top level of play below MLS for clubs that aren’t quite ready for MLS but maybe a little too big to consider “LA Galaxy II” a rival.
- That top level of play is defined by how well a club is doing at that period in time. The 1999 Rochester Rhinos would clearly be in that top level. The 2015 Rochester Rhinos might not. (Or maybe they would — they’re leading their USL division at the moment.) If my beloved Wilmington Hammerheads put together a good run, they get to run with the relatively big dogs.
- We get a chance to experiment with pro/rel at the highest level possible before we consider doing with MLS, which has, it bears repeating, invested
hundreds ofbillions of dollars to jump-start professional soccer in this country. (I took out the “hundreds of.” Not sure it would add up to that much. But I think 10 figures is safe. MLS had lost $250 million at one point — lost, not just spent — and it’s still investing at a loss today.)
After a couple of years of this system, perhaps we ease into some pro/rel with MLS. I’d suggest doing it the same way England did for years — not with full-fledged pro/rel but with elections.
A few things I’d suggest:
- U.S. Pro League clubs have the option of declaring themselves promotion candidates. That would mean, over a two- or three-year period, they have to meet certain criteria for Division 1.
- MLS can put certain underperforming clubs (“underperforming” in many senses — financial, lack of academy development, etc.) on notice that they risk being voted out.
- When you have a year in which a promotion candidate is in the top three of USPL and an underperforming club is in the bottom three of MLS, you have an election. Could have multiple clubs involved in a given year.
So this way, you’re not simply tossing down a club that’s having a bad year and decided to experiment with young players and new tactics in its last few games. A relegated club will be one that clearly deserves it. A promoted club, conversely, will be up to MLS standards.
Eventually, perhaps, you move into simpler pro/rel — three up, three down. But then you’d do what I think the Premier League desperately needs to do, forming a second tier of the top league so that the drop is not so perilous.
That said, maybe we make the drop “not so perilous” in the first place by offering up a good revenue stream — shares in Soccer United Marketing. An MLS promotion candidate would be expected to buy a share in SUM, which would entitle it to the revenue it produces whether the club is promoted on not.
This isn’t the first pro/rel idea I’ve suggested, and no, I’m not really sure why I do it. We’ve established there’s no pleasing the contingent within the pro/rel advocacy subset that defines itself has smarter or hipper than thou. If we suddenly re-created the German league structure in the USA, they’d probably become rugby fans.
But it’s fun to kick around ideas every once in a while. Have fun with this one.