For several weeks through the fall and early winter, New York Cosmos fans sat wondering if their favorite club would be back in 2017, or at all in the future.
A statement from the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors on its decision said that while neither league meets the standards set forth by U.S. Soccer, the board granted provisional DII status to both and will work with the leagues on a pathway to full compliance. What happens after 2017 is anyone’s guess.
But the decision over whether the NASL or USL has Division II status in the U.S. Soccer pyramid feels like a big “so what.” Admittedly, I’m unsure of what benefits a team in a league with DIvision II status receives. But with no system of promotion/relegation in the United States professional soccer pyramid, who cares.
While the big four American professional sports leagues have operated with what is in essence a Division I league (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) with a structure of minor leagues or development leagues — or colleges in the cases of the NFL and NBA — soccer worldwide is different.
As soccer fans know, the system of promotion/relegation has been in use in leagues across the globe and has allowed teams willing to invest in players and training facilities the opportunity to move into the top leagues. But not having pro/rel in the U.S. makes awarding Division II and Division III status to leagues largely ceremonial.
In three of the past four years, the Cosmos were NASL champions and proved worthy of promotion to MLS by beating New York City FC and New York Red Bulls in U.S. Open Cup play. In fact, the Cosmos U.S. Open Cup match victory two summers ago vs. NYCFC may have been the best pro soccer match played in New York in quite some time.
But the issue of leagues having Division I, II, or III status will continue to be largely irrelevant. The way into Division I, also known as Major League Soccer, is the ability to cut a check for what could soon be $200 million. While that has short term financial benefits for MLS, there is no long term benefit to growing the sport in the U.S.
Currently, there are probably two dozen cities across the country that would like a viable professional soccer team. However, not all can be or should be at the Division I level. Promotion/relegation would solve that and raise the competitive level for those precious DI spots.
Take the case of Bundesliga side RB Leipzig (same ownership as New York Red Bulls). While many German soccer fans have taken issue with the corporate nature of the team, owned by energy drink maker Red Bull, it did not use its considerable financial backing to buy its way directly into the German top flight.
Founded in 2009, its ownership invested in the team and earned promotion up the German football ranks. As of this writing, Leipzig sat in second place just three points behind perennial powerhouse Bayern Munich. In addition, Leipzig’s success has also breathed new life into the sport in towns and cities throughout the former East Germany, where football has lagged behind those teams in cities of the former West Germany.
We understand why Don Garber and MLS officials are anti promotion/relegation. But U.S. Soccer officials should know better and do more to promote the sport and give more soccer fans across the country the opportunity to cheer for a top quality professional team.
Greg Sleter is the Editor of SleterFC.com.