While the Miracle on Ice is widely considered the greatest American sports story in the country’s history, Leicester City’s tale of a Premier League title is far more miraculous for a host of reasons.
Preseason 5000 to 1 shots to end the 2015-16 season as champions, the Foxes did something that football/soccer fans around the world may never see again. A team that 13 months ago was battling to stay above water and remain in the top flight of English football, is now sitting atop that very same prestigious universe.
Throughout the season, as Leicester City climbed to the top of the Premier League table, few (including this Liverpool fan) gave them a shot to remain there. Surely they would begin to crumble under the pressure of bringing their fans the team’s first top flight title in its 132 year history.
But throughout the Premier League campaign Leicester City held form. Around them perennial powerhouses including the Manchesters, Arsenal and Chelsea sputtered at various times throughout the season. Only Tottenham Hotspur tried to keep Leicester honest, but in reality never got close enough to truly worry the Foxes.
As the football/soccer world now celebrates and digests Leicester’s unlikely title run, their success could have an impact on the sport across Europe and around the world. Smaller clubs in the Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A should be inspired by Leicester’s run and know that despite long odds they can overcome the dominance of the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, PSG and Juventus among others.
However, the story of Leicester City cannot play out in the United States. The system of promotion/relegation, the one which saw the Foxes move from the lower divisions of English football to the top flight, does not exist in America. Although the sport, with Major League Soccer perched atop the nation’s soccer pyramid, continues to grow in the U.S., the ability for teams to move up or down from MLS to the NASL and USL does not exist.
While major football leagues around the world use the promotion/relegation system, U.S. Soccer has chosen not to work toward this system. Why? Well, MLS Commissioner Don Garber has spoken out against pro/rel.
As he was quoted by ESPNFC.com in 2015, “We play in a country where the major leagues are really successful. There is no promotion and relegation in hockey and basketball and they work really well. It is not happening in MLS any time soon.”
Some could argue — and I would — that Garber’s statement is myopic at best and rings of American arrogance that even though the top football leagues around the world successfully use promotion/relegation, U.S. Soccer has a better system.
But imagine the New York Cosmos, 2015 NASL Champions, earning promotion to MLS and joining New York City FC and New York Red Bulls. Would having three professional soccer teams from New York playing in the country’s top flight be a bad thing? I’m guessing most would say “no.”
Ironically, the promotion/relegation system that gave Leicester City an opportunity to play in the Premier League and ultimately win a title has also put English football on the front pages in America. The week prior to Leicester clinching the title The New York Times and Wall Street Journal among others ran front page articles about the Foxes remarkable story.
Think Mr. Garber and Major League Soccer would like that type of coverage? I’m sure they would. But without the system of promotion/relegation, a Cinderella story similar to that of Leicester’s could never happen in the U.S.
And that’s too bad.
Greg Sleter is the Editor and Publisher of SleterFC.com.