American Soccer is Not Yet Ready for Promotion/Relegation

By Malamine Sane
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer has come a long way since its beginning. When it  started in 1996, it could hardly be considered a serious soccer league.  Most teams didn’t have their own stadium, attendance was far from what it is today and the rules were just too different from real soccer for the MLS to be taken seriously.  As the years went by, the MLS has evolved towards what’s done by the rest of the world but never considered a promotion/relegation system despite all the critics.

American soccer has often been criticized by the rest of the world for not adopting a promotion/relegation system.  Many believe that having a single entity does not make any ”soccer sense”. I am myself a strong believer that teams that performed poorly should be punished and not rewarded with a high draft pick, but is American soccer ready for promotion/relegation?

When calling for a promotion/relegation system, many American soccer fans never ask themselves how it would actually work. There are many issues that make it very difficult to change the system currently in place.  The first problem is that the  first two leagues (MLS,NASL) are not affiliated. If MLS teams were to be relegated, where would they go? There is no strong league below the MLS for the relegated teams to get knocked down to. As long as there aren’t two strong affiliated leagues, promotion/relegation will be nearly  impossible to implement.

Also, the franchise system in the MLS makes promotion/relegation very unlikely to happen in the near future. All current MLS teams have paid a fee to be allowed to play in the league, and it is very unlikely that any of them would accept to see any team get into the league for ”free”.  New York City FC, which will begin play in 2015 paid $100,000 to enter the MLS. It would be quite difficult to explain to the New York owners that their team could still be relegated after paying that much money. If promotion/relegation was introduced today, every MLS team would face the risk of seeing their franchise value decrease significantly in case of relegation. Also, what if the promoted teams don’t meet the MLS financial requirements? Would they still be allowed to be promoted?

The promotion/relegation debate has been raging for years now.  The MLS has been often criticized for refusing to introduce a promotion/relegation system, and looking at the American soccer landscape it seems highly unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future simply because American soccer is not ready for it yet.

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