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Promotion and Relegation in US Soccer: Will it Happen?

It’s a topic that is gaining more and more attention as each day passes by. While leagues are expanding, people cry for a promotion and relegation system to be implemented into U.S. soccer.

But it just isn’t that simple.

According to ‘American’s Guide to Soccer’, “promotion and relegation is a system in which teams are transferred between leagues based on their performances. At the end of each season, the teams that finish at the bottom of the league are “relegated” (or forced down) to the division below. Teams that finish at the top of a league move up to a higher league, if they are not already at the top.

As soccer grows in the U.S., the fans want to become one of the top dogs in world soccer. Therefore, they think the promotion and relegation system will help strengthen competition and have a good influence on the U.S. National Team. Or, they think it’ll create some very entertaining games and draw more views.

Nathan Nipper of The Dallas Morning News wrote, “Like many American soccer fans that track leagues abroad, I think I like the “pro/rel” (to borrow what the hip social media hipsters call it these days) model.  It’s a fun system.  It adds drama to the late season games involving cellar dwellers.”

While many may think it is a simple thing to do, MLS owners will disagree 11 times out of 10.

Owners don’t want such a radical change for the MLS. The league and its teams is making huge progress by signing world class players (that are in their prime years) such as Giovani Dos Santos or Sebastian Giovinco. Why fix something that isn’t broken?

We as Americans don’t want something that’s just good. We want to improve and find the next big thing. We want to be innovative. But, it’s a bit complicated when you try to dump an extreme change onto multi-million dollar teams. If relegated, those teams lose a massive amount of money.

But have the lower league teams grown to where they can be ready to move up? 

Soccer fan Paul Scanling says, 

” Lower divisions have developed to the point that within a few years, enough teams could be ready for promotion. Conversation must begin now between leagues. 

It’s one thing to not want to be exactly like England or Spain, but MLS owners don’t want to risk the loss of income if their team gets relegated. For example, Portsmouth was a team in the Premier League in England. When they had financial troubles, they had to sell their top players in order to financially be steady. It wasn’t enough as the club struggled to pay its players, and to prevent the club from dissolving, the owners put them in administration- giving them a nine point deduction and certain relegation. Portsmouth suffered financially, but were eventually relegated to the English fourth division.

Portsmouth aren’t the only example of a big club being relegated and suffering financially. Leeds United were runners-up of the European Cup (now known as the Champions League) in 1974-1975. In 2002, Leeds failed to qualify for the Champions League, which meant they lost money they needed to pay their best players. As more and more players were sold, and financial troubles grew bigger, Leeds saw themselves in the English Third Division. Leeds now are in the Second Division of English football.

MLS club owners just do not want to risk losing major amounts of money. However, the lower league teams who don’t have the finances to survive the MLS have a bigger struggle.

A member of the front office of an unnamed club told Wrong Side of the Pond ,”From a soccer perspective it is (almost) a must. From a business perspective it is very hard (almost impossible) because of the cost associated to play in higher Divisions (especially travel).”

Here’s a good example of what relegation would’ve prevented. In 2013, DC United finished dead last in the entire MLS, and set the record for fewest wins in a season at three. The next season they finished first in the Eastern Conference. Today, they sit happily on top of the Eastern Conference. But their success these past two seasons would have been prevented if the MLS had a promotion and relegation system.

Via DC United's Website
Via DC United’s Website
For people who are craving the promotion/relegation system, you may have some hope. The NASL and NPSL are not affiliated directly with the MLS (or with each other), which means they can’t sign deals with each other and introduce their own promotion/relegation between the leagues. The USL Pro would seem like a better option for the NASL to deal with, but they (the USL Pro) already have a partnership with the MLS.

This isn’t speculation, either.

The NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson told BBC (Via NBC Sports) that the league should be all for promotion and relegation. He said, “We would be all for promotion and relegation, and this is something I want to talk to the USSF about. Every amateur team needs to have the dream of going up the football pyramid.”

Joe Barone, the chairman of the NPSL, announced he wants to work with the NASL to join forces and create some sort of promotion/relegation system. Barone also said he already has contacted Peterson, but as of now it’s just to see the chances of it happening.

It is a hot topic now that the MLS has gained respect from around the world. Soccer is growing at a fast rate and fans continue to advocate supporting local teams or teams in lower leagues. Promotion and relegation won’t be possible if clubs can’t financially back it. But, as it is in every sport, the fans control American soccer’s direction.

Noah Ziegler View All

I write about the beautiful game. From the smallest islands to the biggest teams, it all will be covered.

9 thoughts on “Promotion and Relegation in US Soccer: Will it Happen? Leave a comment

  1. so MLS owners do not like risk, understandable; yet they bet that we (fans) swallow single entity. We were never taken in consideration!
    What if we don’t?

    my point: there is always risk, and if NASL and NAPSL link works, MLS owners will find out what the risk of ignoring the fans & the essence of that game is!


      • don’t you think that the evidence that p/r works is overwhelming?
        What is the % of soccer nations adhering to this meritocratic practice?
        around 98% of Fifa members association!?

        Nations with any kind of differences that you could think of; size, wealth, cultures, religions, tradition etc. Facts that we could only ignore for so long.

        you can definitely fool some people, some of the time…………

        I have no doubt that:
        -p/r is coming to the US
        -the US will have the bigger and most attractive soccer league on the world

        yes, you can mark my words


        • I’m not saying it doesn’t work, I’m saying MLS owners don’t want the risk. And if you’re a fan of a team whose owner doesn’t want that (therefore staying in the MLS), why would you have that big of an issue?
          I am actually for p/r. I’m sure there are fans who wouldn’t mind the feeling of seeing their club rise and fall. It’s all apart of the sport.


          • noah I think that it is important to emphasize what the function of p/r in the soccer world is, since it is usually totally misrepresented in the US.

            p/r is at the national club level, the practice that enforces meritocracy, a core value of our game.

            that principle is achieve at the International level, by rounds of qualifiers to either the WC, Continental Nations or Clubs Championships.

            it is the culture of our game that it’s competition are:
            A: Open to all————————–> Inclusion
            b: qualified by sporting merit——-> Meritocracy

            by ignoring this principles, we are totally out of tune with the game values.


            • Again, I am for it. There’s a reason that the US, Australia, and Canada are the only countries who do not have some sort of p/r system. But it won’t be until it is 100% sure it will have a positive outcome that owners will sway towards “Yes for p/r”


  2. Leeds is a good example of the manipulation of anti pro/rel articles like this.

    “…Leeds failed to qualify for the Champions League, which meant they lost money they needed to pay their best players….”

    which means they bought players they could afford only if they qualify for CL; great business management!? So, they get in trouble because of the financial stress caused by:

    A: the promotion/relegation practice, or
    B: their club’s financial mismanagement,

    the difference is, on an open meritocratic system, soccer is a beautiful struggle that could get financially very stressful; yet clubs could bounce back (River, just an example); on the other hand:

    Where is the Mutiny?
    Where is the Fusion?


      • actually, it can definitely help you.

        a well designed US system should have travel distances jumps between divisions that make sense. That would mean that when a struggling club is relegated, next season travel distances reduction would act as a financial relief.

        Also, on a lower division the quality of play would be lower. Therefore, relegated team could get away with reducing its squad salary a bit.

        it will be naive to ignore that relegation comes with financial stress, yet it’s not the inferno painted to us by the anti p/r crowd. There is a world of evidence that supports my claim.

        When I say “a world of evidence”, I mean literally


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