The promotion/relegation discussion for soccer in the United States picked up some steam in early August due to the efforts of the NASL’s Miami FC, which won the league’s 2017 spring regular season title.
Filing a claim in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Miami FC is looking to have the CAS ask FIFA, CONCACAF and U.S. Soccer to require an opportunity to be promoted. In addition, fourth-tier club Kingston Stockdale FC joined Miami FC’s effort.
While we could spend time debating the merits of Miami FC’s efforts, perhaps the best argument for promotion/relegation in professional U.S. soccer was made recently by MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
In the spirit of transparency, we are proponents of promotion/relegation in the U.S. for a variety of reasons. But rather than us make the case for pro/rel, we feel Garber’s own words do it just as well, if not better.
During the recent MLS All-Star Game in Chicago, when the league’s best players met Real Madrid, a clearly beaming Garber sat with the crew from FS1 at halftime to discuss the wonderful scene at Soldier Field and issues such as expansion.
On the topic of expansion, the MLS commissioner stayed true to his prior statements of one day in the not-too-distant future having 28 teams in the league. During the FS1 interview, Garber responded to a question from Eric Wynalda saying there are 12 markets that are in contention for the final four expansion slots.
The hot spots, according to Garber: Nashville, Cincinnati, San Antonio, Detroit, Charlotte, Raleigh and Tampa. We would also throw in St. Louis and San Diego and there’s probably a couple other markets we’re missing.
But using the commissioner’s assertion that there are 12 cities in the running for the final four spots, and employing some basic math, there are eight major markets and fans who strongly support soccer that would be shut out of the American top flight for the foreseeable future.
Expanding the league beyond 28 teams seem untenable, so the result would be a host of cities and franchises in the NASL, USL and elsewhere left without an opportunity to grow and compete in America’s top flight soccer league.
While that may protect the financial interests of the current day MLS owners, it hurts future growth of the game in the U.S.
We’ve seen the MLS system of promotion recently when former NASL side Minnesota United was “promoted” after paying the league’s expansion fee. But a team buying its way into something when most of the rest of the soccer world uses pro/rel drips of arrogance.
There’s no better example of the benefits of pro/rel than the Premier League’s Bournemouth AFC. In 2015, the team ended a 125 year drought and earned — keyword, earned — promotion to England’s top flight, a spot that they have yet to relinquish.
Located on England’s South Coast, the Cherries play at cozy Vitality Stadium and its seating capacity that falls just short of 12,000, smaller than the New York Cosmos former home, Shuart Stadium, on the campus of Long Island’s Hofstra University.
Since 2015, Bournemouth has played against England’s best professional teams with stadiums that have seating capacities five to six times that of Vitality Stadium. But Bournemouth is proof that a smaller club can survive against the big boys if their money is managed properly.