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Major League Soccer is, in my view, approaching something of a cross roads. Manchester City is allegedly in the box seat to spend US$100 million on purchasing the 20th MLS franchise, to be called New York City FC.
The fans are becoming more knowledgeable about world football (or soccer as they choose to call it) about multiple leagues around the world, and they are open to the idea of promotion and relegation. However, there is little knowledge as to how it would be executed.
The purpose of this post is to give my thoughts as to how you would do it.
Immediate changes to Major League Soccer
The first thing that needs to change is that the conference system needs to go. It is an American concept that works for the purposes of lower league football, but needs to go for the professional level. Australia has managed without it for many years, so Major League Soccer can as well.
This post also assumes that there is a 20th team in existence – the host city for the 20th team, for the purposes of this blog post/essay, is irrelevant.
The process of expansion needs to be undertaken carefully. Once the 20th team is sustainable in MLS, my model would operate as follows:
- Year 1 – The split of the two leagues is announced (I am proposing to call the second division MLS2). MLS continues as normal
- Year 2 – MLS continues as normal.
- Year 3 – MLS continues as normal. Points are tallied as one of three years.
- Year 4 – MLS continues as normal. Points are tallied as the second of three years.
- Year 5 – MLS continues as normal. Points are tallied as the third of three years.
- Year 6 – MLS and MLS2 are formed. The 10 teams with the highest points tallies over the previous 3 years remain in MLS. The other 10 teams move into MLS2. Standard MLS Competition rules would apply for separating the teams in case of equal points.
Promotion and Relegation
Obviously the next question is how promotion and relegation takes place. I propose that while MLS and MLS2 are 10 team leagues, I would suggest that the last two teams in MLS would be relegated to MLS2, while the first two teams of MLS2 would be promoted into MLS. When the leagues expand, I would suggest that the third placed team in MLS2 would play off against the third lowest placed team in MLS over two legs.
Obviously, a television deal is essential for MLS2. While I don’t purport to understand the US TV market, I believe that a whole-of-media package would be essential – so working with the NBA and MLB for creating their digital packages would make for good planning. It is my thinking that this is a product that would be watched globablly. A sports betting company may be interested in streaming the product as well.
CONCACAF Champions League
The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup would operate as normal, so any team in MLS2 that wins the US Open Cup qualifies for the CONCACAF Champions League as normal. That will be the only opportunity for CCL positions for teams in MLS2. If a team is relegated during their CCL campaign, they remain in the CCL.
Expansion of MLS/MLS2
Obviously, the US soccer pyramid is already quite substantial without truly being linked together, due to various reasons.
This means that MLS2 can create a pathway for North American Soccer League, United States Leagues Professional Division, and the various leagues sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation to enter the MLS pyramid. While some clubs will object to entering the MLS pyramid, others will see the opportunities to create the US Soccer version of the English Football pyramid.
I would propose that any expansion teams, once the split has occurred, would go straight into MLS2. Obviously, the expansion teams would have to meet relevant expansion guidelines as laid out by the relevant body, but this is an opportunity for clubs like Orlando City and New York Cosmos to move into the MLS when they are ready. This also means that cities like Atlanta and Miami can prepare their more serious bids again, while Carolina, Cleveland/Akron, Detroit, Las Vegas, Minnesota, Ottawa, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, St Louis and Trenton can start brushing off their other bid documents again.
Further to this, additional promotions to MLS would take place to encourage an equal number of teams in each league where possible. The expansion of the leagues is not intended to diminish the strict financial requirements in setting up a team.
Obviously, in 10 team leagues, each team would have to play each other 4 times to make up 36 games over the season before cup games. However, with additional expansions, it would be long before each team would only play each other three times, and eventually twice.
A final note on expansion – at some point, MLS and MLS2 will reach a point where they are both 20 team competitions. They may wish to expand to 24 team competitions. I would not expand those two leagues any further than that, and it is in the run in to that point that consideration must be given to MLS3.
This is just my idea about how I would structure promotion and relegation in the MLS if it was up to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.