One particular phrase which went viral for the past three years in the United States was, “Let’s make America great again.”
Now, I have no intentions in entering into the merit of this particular sentence but I may have a suggestion into how to “make (soccer) in America great again (finally).
Let me start with a narration of one of the biggest storylines in soccer, called ‘The Great Escape.”
Christmas is always an indicative time for Premier League followers, as usually those leading would set the pace and eventually clinch the title while those at the bottom, will sink into the second-tier.
In December of 2004, West Bromwich Albion were bottom of the Premier League and destined for a miserable year which would culminate in a nightmare relegation.
Yet, after changing managers twice, things were to change in West Midlands as Bryan Robson took the reins of the club and went on to chalk up 24 points from the turn of the year.
Fitting the situation on the last day of the league, where no one was still relegated and four teams were still with the chance of waving goodbye to top-flight football, that Sunday was called as Survival Sunday – like in MLS, where instead it is called Decision Day.
In a stadium filled with supporters biting their nails, Robson’s clan made their part by overcoming Portsmouth 2-0 and when the news of Norwich losing to Fulham and Southampton falling to Manchester United came through, their fate was in Charlton Athletic’s hands.
And indeed, a guy named Jonathan Fortune, not a coincidence at all, preserved The Baggies’ status as Premier League side.
What I want to demonstrate with this piece of narration is that soccer is not just about trophies and triumphs, golden balls and golden boys or any other flattering thing that shines in this game.
The ‘Beautiful Game’ is a sport which connects people through joy and pain, transcends emotions and goose bumps that no other sport can provide.
Relegation battles have always intrigued soccer followers because surviving in the top-flight it is equivalent to lifting the coveted the trophy for the clubs who reach the salvation objective at the end of the season trek.
Soccer in the States has made significant steps as MLS is improving in its quality of players, level of gameplay and also attendances.
However, given I am a European citizen, what it lacks is those nerve-wrecking moments which are created by the intensity of pressure piled up by the volume of the situation which I am used to in my continent.
Depicting an ideal situation in which to apply promotion and relegation in MLS is a very complex theory because there are various factors which come into play such as the owners’ ambitions and their agendas, but one can still underline some incentives for this idea to be implemented.
For those who have romantic connections with the game, the story of Leicester City is probably the one that catches the eye most. How a team with odds of 5000-1 to win the Premier League title, ended up on top leading the pecking order, will always remain of the greatest storylines told in soccer.
Other intriguing stories are those of Reggina, who started the 2006/2007 with a deduction of points and Crotone, who were rock bottom until the Christmas period last season, two teams from the region of Calabria, in the south of Italy, managed to survive on the last day of the league.
From the financial perspective, even though finances in soccer in England may differ from those in the United States, it still catches the attention of the followers as those who clinch promotion into the top-flight into the Premier League may earn as much as £200million ($270million approximately).
On the other hand, there may be some repercussions as lack of financial boost and being short in quality, may not be so helpful when you compete alongside the big guns. Case in point is this year’s Serie A championship in Italy where the three teams who were promoted last year, are currently sitting the relegation spots – SPAL, Hellas Verona and Benevento.
However, putting in motion the promotion and relegation process would increase more competitiveness between teams because everyone has a target to play for and that is one of things which U.S soccer lacks in – the pressure scenarios where boundaries are pushed, talents are tested and superstars are made.
Moreover, the idea of putting promotion and relegation in the soccer pyramid would automatically increase the prestige of the US Open Cup, which myself as an EU resident, feel so intrigued to watch especially when lower-leagues teams match up with MLS sides.
For example, this year Christos FC, literally a pub team, clashed with two MLS sides and I felt the emotions of a sweet cup run while following their games on stream in the late hours of the night here in Malta, as if it was the English FA Cup – it’s a pity that such a competition is downgraded by most clubs and sometimes even the media.
To conclude with, connecting MLS with NASL and USL would be beneficial for the soccer movement in the United States because that would help to increase the quality of the game while it provides more authentic platforms for the players to showcase their talents, and eventually expanding the U.S National Team pool.
Finally, since I am writing on Twice a Cosmo, it feels to right to express all my gratitude to all the Cosmos fans who at the end of every season feel anxious about their club’s future and that is not fair, given the weight of the club in American soccer – it is a situation which hurts the club, the league but most of all the image of soccer in America, a nation which is striving to become a global leader in this game.
Together, let’s make soccer great in America.