Relegation vs Tradition: MLS Socccer Will Eventually Seek International Standard

Dan Irwin@irwinsportsCorrespondent IIJanuary 14, 2015

MLS Soccer has gotten to a point where expansion could lead to a relegation league down the road. But will it be enough?
MLS Soccer has gotten to a point where expansion could lead to a relegation league down the road. But will it be enough?Julio Cortez/Associated Press

If you're a fan of the traditional American style of competition of leagues and rivalries, you may want to avert your eyes for this one. Until it happens, and it will, relegation will be a word that gets tossed around all the time, every year. However, there's just no chance of if happening right now.

But evolution comes along with being a successful business, and Major League Soccer has certainly shown it is a dynamic league at connecting with fans and improving business strategies.

So relegation has a place at some point, but the question is when. Fans of American sports simply aren't used to the concept, and in today's fair-weather environments where a team's financial state could be heavily damaged by the loss of interest from not playing top teams and regional rivals, it's a hard sell to convince many to entertain the idea at all, let alone that it's a better move.

But what everyone can agree on is that top sports and top quality teams certainly help viewership. That in the end is what will make the transition so attractive.

So how long until we have enough quality teams?

Right now, the list of MLS cities reads something like a list of nominees for an Olympic bid; scattered about in big markets, with an occasional team in the middle of the country because they have to be. But the same elements of debate about expansion that have caused friction may serve to be the launching pad for relegation.

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Meet St. Louis. After Jeff Cooper's bid to put a team in Collinsville, Illinois was overlooked in favor of the now obviously more intelligent expansion at the time in the Pacific Northwest, St. Louis soccer fans fear that their time to seize a franchise is drying up.

The announcement of an MLS franchise in Atlanta to begin in the 2017 season.
The announcement of an MLS franchise in Atlanta to begin in the 2017 season.David Goldman/Associated Press

So much talk about the plans in Miami, Atlanta and the greater Southeast area has St. Louis fans fearful that they won't get a team. But now enter the idea of having a second division team in St. Louis that could serve as a solid franchise to support relegation. Fans in St. Louis wouldn't care if their team was first or second division, just that they had a professional team they could see compete.

The city of St. Louis is just an example. There are many other cities and situations similar.

As we see the popularity of soccer increase over the next several years, many teams from towns looking to make economic upswings could enter the MLS/professional soccer expansion market. Eugene, Oregon, a college town that houses the University of Oregon, has looked at renovating their Civic Stadium in an attempt to attract an MLS franchise.

I decided to ask an authority on tough decisions, Kansas City's soccer guru James Starritt. He helped put it in perspective for me, like always. The most pertinent point he made about relegation:

@irwinsports I think the 2nd tier will need to prove itself to be real financial competition and force that co-operation/change.

— James Starritt (@JamesStarritt) January 13, 2015

Exactly. The MLS is going to have to be forced into it with the success of second tier teams. But given the climate, it could be at least 15 years before enough teams were stable underneath the MLS to be granted that kind of business partnership.

But I say force away, small-town USA. Let's get behind these additional expansion bids, get St. Louis and Eugene going, and get this relegation that the U.S. game needs underway.

Follow Dan Irwin on Twitter @irwinsports or on Facebook.

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