Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Relegation question (soccer) -- BardGuy asks whether I think relegation is in the U.S.' future. I'm opening up the floor here for comments. My opinion is that this will not happen anytime in the next 25 years. There are a few teams in the USL that are putting together good teams, and building soccer specific stadiums. First among equals are the Rochester Rhinos, who play in the newly opened Patec Park. The Rhinos have always among the top second-division teams -- they enjoy success on the field, and in the stands. Indeed, the good folks in Rochester have been campaigning for an MLS entry for years, recalling the days of the NASL Rochester Lancers. Perhaps their stadium could be expanded, even with the construction of a second tier. Patec Park, as it stands now, isn't big enough for a big-league team.

And that's the real problem here. MLS owners are sinking serious money into their teams, including the building of substantial stadiums. They want a return on their investments. The last thing in the world they would want to see is the relegation of their team. Now, they might be a good thing from a competitive standpoint, but MLS owners will not stand for it -- at least not for the next 20 or more years, as they recoup their costs.

Moreover, MLS will be busy setting its foundation over the next couple of decades. Expansion is MLS' no. 1 priority. The league has to take it slowly, but they are committed to establishing a nationwide brand. Also on the list is the development of academies and a strong reserve team system, so the teams can develop their own talent. This doesn't bode well for the likelihood that lower-level teams could assemble the talent needed to compete at a higher level.

I don't doubt that a top-level team in Rochester could be more popular than some MLS franchises have proven to be, despite the fact that Rochester is a relatively small, and shrinking, city. There are other, curious omissions from the MLS. St. Louis has long been a hotbed of soccer, at least at the collegiate level, but doesn't appear to be on MLS' short list. The potential for a team in Seattle has been explored in previous posts, but I think it's excellent. San Diego is also strangely absent. I would have expected to see a franchise there long before a second team was placed in Los Angeles. Perhaps San Diego is just too close to Mexico? I also happen to think the (Raleigh-Durham) research triangle in North Carolina might be a good location for a team. And the Bay Area should be able to field a strong franchise.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, though, the league needs to find a way to get a team into New York City, if the Red Bull hasn't been given a monopoly. It's OK to have a team in the suburbs for suburban fans, but, unlike American football, the top soccer league needs to get a team into New York City, if it wants to become part of the national fabric.

There are some big cities that could host MLS teams, if the league is prepared to make the investment. But that investment isn't going to happen if the bottom feeders will find themselves relegated to a lower league every couple of years.

Is a relegation system a possibility here? It certainly cuts against the way other sports leagues are organized here, but soccer will have to blaze its own trail in many ways. With the Open Cup, soccer is organizing along the lines of European leagues, notwithstanding the fact that there is no relegation system. I won't say there will never be a relegation system here, but I wouldn't hold your breath, if your hoping to see it in your lifetime.

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Askinstoo said...
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