United States soccer follows the common trend of other North American sports. Hockey, football and baseball all determine champions by playoffs. The teams towards the bottom of this system get a reward as well. The lower you are in the standings, the higher position you get on the draft board.
Soccer in the U.S. follows that same idea; at least the MLS does. Teams in the NASL and USL all have to follow the European style of acquiring players through the transfer market. The MLS, however, can draft young talents from colleges and academies to incorporate them into the squad.
The system seems simple at a first glance, but it comes with some huge problems. Once a team know they’re meant for the bottom of the league table, their results towards the end of the season usually start to plummet. This rate of losing usually occurs at an unreal velocity, as all the bottom-dwellers know they are fighting for the top draft pick. This form of dropping games is otherwise known as “tanking”, and it occurs in all pro United States competitions.
Where you don’t see the process of tanking is in a promotion/relegation system, simply because there’s huge consequences if you do lose.
Promotion and relegation also isn’t very complex. Teams towards the top of the league fight for the championship and in Europe, fight for the Champions or Europa league too. Clubs towards the bottom, however, still play with the best of their capabilities to avoid relegation to the league below.
For example, England has several other competitions below the Premier League. The bottom three teams all get demoted to the Championship, where they have the chance of getting top three there to get back to the Premiership.
The list of benefits from promotion and relegation is too hard to count. First, teams play with the same passion week in and week out to get the best possible spot on the table. This requires maximum effort from players and coaches to get the best result for the club. The increased level of competition in Europe goes unmatched in North America by miles. A lot of credit has to be given to the pyramid system as a result.
Think about the level of play at the lower leagues as well. Players now only have the motivation to do well in hopes of getting to a bigger club one day. If promotion and relegation was installed, those same players can now carry their clubs all the way to the top of the chain. This really helps with player development, something the United States National Team has been looking to do after their failure to qualify for the World Cup. NBC Sports’ Joe Prince-Wright explains it in further detail:
The big question in your head has to be money. Billionaire owners likely wouldn’t be interested in the risks involved in having a big club playing in the USL. Let’s take Leicester City as an example. Everybody including my grandmother knows the story of facing relegation a year before shocking the world when winning the Premier League in the 2015/16 season. Leicester’s owners played into the pyramid not only because they have an enormous financial backing, but because they invested in their club to produce players that could win a league. They probably didn’t know that beforehand, but I’m sure they were happy with the result. The Foxes also got rewarded with some great Champions League experience the year after, too.
What’s also going to motivate the owners to invest more dollars into their club is the potential increase of attendance at all levels. Fans want to see their club fighting for their respective championships. Supporters in the lower leagues also want to see their clubs play to move up the ladder. And even supporters of struggling clubs want to see their team survive in the league. Soccer is growing in North America, but we can’t act like expanding to every city in the United States is going to help. Sooner rather than later, the MLS will likely strip lower league clubs away from supporters, re-brand the team, and promote them into the dull North American league style. Keep the fans where involved in their respective, and let the teams fight for the right to the top. I guarantee attendance numbers would go up, and so would the entertainment value.
You’re also thinking about when this article is going to end? Well, I’ll pull it to a halt right here. There’s so many more benefits of the pyramid that it seems kind of silly that the United States is one of the only few countries in the world to not have the system in place. Everybody can benefit from the system including players, coaches, owners and most importantly, the fans. This country needs to grow the courage to take the next step into separating themselves from the narratives such as “soccer is a joke in the USA”, into becoming just as popular as the NFL and the NBA.
Expect opinions from the lovely Mike Chiara and Ben Bryden on promotion and relegation soon. I hope you all enjoyed a glimpse of my thoughts on the scenario. Please let all of us here at Twice A Cosmo know what you think in the comments below. There’s nothing I love more than discussing the beautiful sport with all of you!
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