Friday, March 20, 2009 |
Ostensibly, MLS is the top flight of American soccer. The league even has a fancy FIFA designation saying so.
USL First Division, also ostensibly, is the second tier of Amerian soccer. After forming from the ashes of the old A-League, USL is now a competition made up of teams from the U.S. and Canada.
Of course, because there is no promotion/relegation system in the United States (or Canada), none of this really matters. Because no MLS team will ever drop down and no USL-1 side will ever move up (at least not technically; the expansion teams in the Northwest are entirely new franchises, even if they carry over the old name), the "pyramid" as it exists in other footballing countries around the world just isn't a part of the American game.
I could go on about promotion/relegation, boring with you yet another opinion on how it would be great here, how it would make soccer unique and appealing, and how it makes sense on so many different levels. But I won't. I won't because it truly doesn't matter. Pro/rel will never happen here as long as soccer remains on the fringe. Until the day comes that the American public is willing to watch soccer on TV in significant numbers, allowing for rights contracts for two divisions, MLS teams will stay MLS teams and USL-1 teams will stay USL-1 teams (or rather, come and go almost at random, disappearing and reappearing as if by magic).
Instead of pro/rel, we get two leagues competing for players and fans while eating their own in a desperate bid to claw out a pauper's existence in the crowded American sport landscape. Fantastic.
MLS will continue to pick off USL-1 markets as long as two things hold true: one, MLS stays on the expansion path, and two, ULS-1 is without a national presence (which is extremely unlikely to change) that would enable it to compete directly with MLS, rather than than bob and weave about, taking potshots at its bigger (and richer) brother.
Originally, this post was going to be an attempt to draw a parallel between MLS-USL and the old league-wars between the NFL and AFL, the NBA and ABA, and even the NHL and WHA. I had the thought that perhaps one day we might see a merger, or something close to it, that would unite the two leagues in a glorious union. Together, they would fight the forces of the evil soccer-hating opressors, ushering in a new era of American soccer.
Instead, you get this. Essentially, I lack the initiative and resources to properly research the reasons behind the lack of cooperation that currently exists. I may revisit this subject in the future, as the situation truly does interest me on many different levels.