This article is about the real future of the MLS. It is not about what should happen in a perfect world, or in an imperfect world for that matter. Talking about what should happen in soccer is like talking about what should happen in politics, it's fun, it lets you show everyone how smart you are at parties and it has very little use in the real world.
There will never be a third political party, no matter how much there should be, no matter how much sense it makes. Ask yourself, 'why'? The system is structured in a certain way and the barriers to change are very tough to overcome. Especially when the powers that be don't want or need to change.
Things in the soccer world here in North America have become much the same. The future of the game is bandied about because we all love it so much and want to see it succeed. We model our North American game on the better leagues of the world because as fans, we want to see our game become as good as the rest. We want to some day challenge European clubs, we want to start winning our friendlies with them.
How do we get there? And what should we do? They have promotion and relegation shouldn't we? I'm here to say we already do, and we never will.
The answer is we will never have promotion and relegation in the MLS. We already have promotion. And we will never have relegation. Relegation in North American sports in general, is when you move a team from a small television market to a larger television market. It too is a form of promotion. Whether we should have something or shouldn't is irrelevant.
But what if I get 100,000 thousand signatures and go to the commisioner? They have to do what we say!
No they don't. They have to keep their interest protected and make money. Period.
Fans have never reformed a sports league from the bottom up and they certainly never will in the good old USA. If you don't understand this then study American sports culture instead of European. If we don't have the will to reform politics, then the appetite for sustained sports activism is decidedly small indeed.
The MLS has the best promotion model in the world. It can not be forced to move teams down, and out of the biggest money making markets, because they had a bad year. What it can do is to watch the league below it and cherry pick the best run, most profitable teams to expand its league. This to me, from a business standpoint, seems to be the best of both worlds.
If an existing team is struggling in its market then find a place where it will be supported, this place will be found usually at the top of the USL-1 standings. Simple.
Wouldn't it be great if MLB, or the NFL, or the NHL or MLS had promotion relegation; Probably, but I don't really care to waste time talking about it, see you at my next cocktail party.
Right now, Jim Balsilie has the names of the entire city of Hamilton on a petition to bring the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Ontario. Gary Bettman and the NHL won't even open the envelope before tossing it out with the rest of the junk mail. Sports in North America is not a democracy. Reform comes from the top.
Here is the best way to reform the MLS, from the top down, or in other words realistically.
Any effort at reform must target three things, bringing more fans to the games, raising the level of play and the quality of players, and finally succeeding on the international club level.
1. Find strong markets, good television markets, which can develop strong rivalries. The MLS has done this with it's recent choices in promotion, ahem, I mean expansion into Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia, and Vancouver.
These new teams and all existing teams must play in excellent soccer specific stadiums. There is no place for field turf in the MLS and it should be banned.
2. The salary cap must be increased. We can follow the lead of the premeirship by increasing the salary cap so that some really good teams start to emerge. These teams will bring prestige and bigger name players to the league.
The limit on designated players must be lifted. There must be no limit on the number of star players in the great MLS.
Ask yourself why Red Sox and Yankee games sell 40,000 tickets not just at home but in Toronto, and Tampa Bay and many other markets. Prestige.
These high budget teams will do much better In CONCACAF Champions League play and further raise the profile and status of the MLS. The MLS All-Star team will be better, and these teams will stand a chance in international friendlies.
Soccer supporters love being the underdog and winning against the odds is so rewarding. The big club vs small club rivalry would be intensified.
Change will come to the MLS through the existing framework and culture of the MLS and of North American sports. This will be our game, it will succeed, our way. And trust me, it will make tons of money and take on the world. And win. Like it or not that is the American way.