Below is a link to a very interesting article written by Bill Haisley and posted on http://www.screamer.deadspin.com last week. The article immediately caught my eye, not just because of its seemingly contradictory title, but also because I have always been a big fan of U.S. Soccer and of the work they have done growing and developing the sport in their home country. I am very familiar with U.S. Soccer, having completed my USSF National “C”, “B”, “A”, and “Y” Licenses there, and also from my time working as Fitness Coach with the Canadian National Women’s Teams, when we frequently competed against strong U.S. teams. During my time in the United States, I became a big proponent of the changes they made to their National Teams programs, and also of the positive impact that Major League Soccer (MLS; the nationwide professional soccer league introduced in 1994) has had on the development of the sport in their country. Several aspects of soccer in the United States, if implemented, would be equally beneficial to the development of the sport here in Canada. Specifically, I am an advocate of the following:
- More funding for our National Teams programs in Canada
- The creation of full-time, residency-based youth National Team (U17-U20, male and female) programs
- The creation of a nation-wide Canadian professional league (similar to Major League Soccer)
- Expansion of more Canadian teams into the U.S.-based professional leagues (MLS, as well as the North American Soccer League/NASL, and the United Soccer League/USL-Pro)
- Awarding of athletic scholarships to interuniversity sport athletes, including Varsity soccer players
Thus, it was a bit surprising to read an article that so vehemently criticizes U.S. Soccer in general, and the relationship between U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer in particular. The main point the author makes is that the growth and development of the other rival professional soccer league in the United States (the NASL) is hindered by U.S. Soccer’s allegiance to MLS. Most recently, U.S. Soccer ruled in favour of a redefinition to their parameters of what defines a “Division-I” professional soccer league, a designation that affords a league significantly better chances of attracting advertisers and sponsors, and in turn of achieving long term success. Unfortunately, some of the new requirements seem to be arbitrary, unfair, and very much favourable to the MLS. Among them are “increasing the minimum number of teams from 12 to 16, placing 75 percent of teams in cities of at least two million people, and requiring all stadiums to have capacity for at least 15,000 people.” Interestingly, none of these requirements has anything to do with the quality of soccer on the pitch; they are basically all requirements that can only be met by MLS at the present time.
According to the author, the hindered development of the NASL will in turn hurt both Major League Soccer, and the United States Men’s National Teams. This is because teams in MLS, without having to worry about competition, are not necessarily going to be motivated or incentivised to achieve results, win games, or develop talented players. A simple, if not obvious, solution proposed by the author would be to have the professional soccer system in the U.S. function in the same way as every other professional soccer system in the world – with promotion and relegation across tiered divisions. As mentioned previously, the U.S. already has three professional soccer leagues (MLS, NASL, and USL-Pro). Why not designate MLS as the first tier “Division-i” league, with the NASL as “Division-II”, and the USL-Pro as “Division-III”? The top 2 or 3 teams in the NASL at the end of the season would get “promoted” up to the MLS, while the bottom 2 or 3 teams from MLS would get “relegated” down to the NASL. The system would work the same way for the NASL and USL-Pro. This type of system would reward the teams who perform better, and incentivise them not only to win, but also to try to develop their own players in order to keep their operating costs down and ensure long term success. In turn, this increased competitiveness and emphasis on player development would strengthen the U.S. Men’s National Teams, who must compete against countries from all over the world that already use this system in their own professional soccer leagues.
Jurgen Klinsmann, German-born Head Coach of the United States senior Men’s National Team, has repeatedly stated in the media that he believes a professional soccer league with a promotion-relegation system and tiered divisions is necessary in order for the U.S. to remain competitive with other soccer nations. Despite the many other successes and positive achievements of U.S. Soccer in the past 20 years, I would have to agree with him on this issue.
Below is a link to the article. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.