People have mused over the years about the possibility of a promotion-relegation system in the MLS, possibly with the USL1. After some quick musing, most summarily dismiss the possibility due to the North American mentality and separation of the two leagues, for starters. With the USL1 possibly coming apart, this could be the only time a promotion-relegation system might be feasible.
Turmoil has been brewing in the USL for a few months. It all started when Nike sold USL without consulting first with the team owners. This resulted in several team owners becoming disgruntled, feeling they could do a better job of promoting their league and brand. Several USL1 owners then broke off into a Team Owners Association (TOA) and began engaging in talks with the USL1 owners about how things would proceed, i.e. on their own or within the USL1.
CBC reported today that Vancouver and Montreal would not be returning to the USL1 next season and would be looking into forming a break off league along with other TOA clubs. The TOAs include the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina Rail Hawks, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, St. Louis Soccer United and Tampa Bay Rowdies.
CBC has updated its website indicating the following:
Lenarduzzi originally confirmed to CBCSports.ca Wednesday afternoon that both the Whitecaps and the Impact would not compete in the USL next year. The Whitecaps president clarified his comments in a second conversation with CBCSports.ca Wednesday evening, saying that the “door hasn’t been shut” on Vancouver possibly returning to the USL next year but that it is actively pursuing other options, including forming its own league with other USL teams.
And further that:
Lenarduzzi said that the Team Owners Association (TOA), a group of USL franchises that includes the Whitecaps and the Impact, would actively try to start up a breakaway league. The TOA would first need permission from the United States Soccer Federation, soccer’s governing body in the U.S., before it could form its own league.
“We’re still pursuing the new league alternative, and by the end of the week, we should have our application into the USSF for them to grant us that status,” said Lenarduzzi . . .
If all of the TOA teams leave, USL1 is left with Portland, Puerto Rico, Charleston, Rochester, Austin and Cleveland.
In the best case scenario, assuming there is no USL1 make-up with the TOA, the TOAs would form a new 7 team league. Vancouver would be leaving within 2 years and Montreal would have aspirations to leave. USL1 would be left with 6 teams, and one of them (Portland) soon to leave.
The USL1 doesn’t appear to be heading anywhere positive. Three of its top clubs in terms of attendance and performance will be in the MLS in the near future. The league owners and the TOA’s are miles apart. The TOA league will be too small with teams leaving in the near future. The remaining USL1 league would be pathetic and shrinking.
MLS1 and MLS2
This could be the best and only opportunity to actually have a relegation-promotion system in place in the MLS. You have two groups of clubs both without clear futures. The TOA’s need somewhere to play next season and USSF status cannot be taken for granted, especially with two Canadian clubs.
Why not have the TOA’s join with the MLS and form an MLS2 league. If done, they could extend the offer for the remaining USL1 teams of their choice to join; what would those remaining clubs have to lose? A league that in 5 years would feature 5 small market teams?
The MLS2 league could be the relegation league, composed of 8-12 teams. The first place team is automatically promoted to MLS1 and the 2nd and 3rd have a playoff for the next spot. A similar arrangements in MLS1 for relegation at the bottom of the table.
Many argue that in North America this just could not happen. Why not? In the NFL or MLB the owners would NEVER go for it. They are Americans not used to this European soccer concept. They would lose millions of dollars in TV revenues. MLS does not generate huge TV revenues. They have their core fans who will be interested even if their club is relegated. The whole concept may even create new fans and new rivalries. Relegated MLS teams would still have a crack at Champion’s League.
The salary cap could be increased by $1 million and add one more DP, with no DP’s counting toward the cap. This would result in less parity and more possible interest as underdogs like Puerto Rico battle against the LA Galaxy with 2-3 DPS and a maxed salary cap.
With Vancouver and Portland already slated to join MLS, the first MLS2 season could be essentially a warm up, with promotion pre-determined to fill the MLS. From thereon, Montreal could just WIN their way in into MLS1. Jeff Hunt in Ottawa would want in and we would have four way MLS1-2 Canadian content and a sweet Nutrilite Finals.
It probably will never happen. Garber may not interested in the concept. Perhaps neither are the TOAs. BUT, true soccer/football fans know this would be the best system. It’s one of the things we love about the European system. It’s worth taking a serious look. And this is the best opportunity to make it happen; possibly ever.