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Now’s not Quite the Time for Promotion/Relegation in MLS

Promotion and relegation in soccer can sometimes be the most exciting thing in sports. As the season winds down, there’s drama at both the top and bottom of the standings. Teams at the top are clamoring for either a spot in the Champions League, or the equivalent, the league title and possible promotion to the next highest league. Meanwhile, teams at the bottom are hoping to just survive and spend another year at that level.

So there’s good reason some people here in the U.S. are clamoring for Major League Soccer to start using the promotion and relegation system. And I actually tend to agree with that way of thinking. I think it would be unique and against the “traditional American” sports; however, at the same time the league isn’t quite ready to tackle the task of switching the entire U.S. Soccer pyramid to such a system.

MLS has only been around for 20 years now, and judging by attendance there’s still a long way to go. Sure, Seattle, Portland, Orlando City and the like have solid fan base that would likely follow the team even if it were to be relegated. But I doubt other fan bases would do the same. You would still have your diehards, but getting a city to support a team after relegation would be much more difficult than it would be in England.

That also brings up a good point with ownership. Many of these owners purchased their teams and brought them in knowing they were buying an MLS team — a major league team. They bought into the league knowing that they’re team would be at the top flight in the U.S. no matter what. Getting all of the owners on board, because that’s what it’s going to have to take, will not be an easy task.

Further complicating the effort is the current state of the U.S. Soccer pyramid. It’s not just MLS in America. There’s MLS, the NASL and USL and the cooperation between the three leagues, especially MLS and the NASL, necessary would be tricky for sure. And then there’s the fact that there are a number of USL teams that are glorified reserve teams for MLS squads. Many MLS teams have USL teams or have affiliated themselves with USL teams, treating the league like a baseball minor league system than like a separate league needed to have a working promotion/relegation system.

Having said this, I really hope that a promotion/relegation system does happen in the United States some day. It would be a nice, unique difference from the rest of the American sports and the drama it could create could help propel soccer up further into the mainstream sports cycle in the states.

But there are some issues to work out before we get to that point. The short of it all is that the league just isn’t ready for a promotion/relegation system quite yet. So until that point, let’s just enjoy MLS as it is right now.