The 1 Soccer Policy that Cripples the National Team all the way to 9 Year Olds

NO-the-american-dream

US Soccer not creating a true soccer pyramid with promotion & relegation.

That’s it!

  • You want youth development on par with the rest of the world?
  • You want our top flight pro teams at the level with the best in the world?
  • You want the National Team to consistently be a legit World Cup contender?

Well, we need a soccer pyramid – like the rest of the world – where the best can rise and the mediocre get punished.

America’s Strength

One of the things that has made our country so great is enabling ideas to compete with one another in an open market.

There are no monopoly entitlements granted so that one business presides over a market.

So for example, the US government does not entitle Google monopoly power over the mass search engine market.

No. Google’s product must live and die on its own merits. And the consumer (aka, the market) dictates that, not the government.

This policy of not granting monopoly power to any one business is awesome!

It breeds competition between ideas and their execution. It spawns innovation and grants freedom and opportunity for all who wish to enter the ring – it is arguably the best mechanism we have for enabling the true ‘cream to rise to the top’.

Hell, it is what gives legitimate credence to the concept of the “cream rising to the top”.

In the global soccer arena, the standard mechanism by which this is achieved is an open competition between autonomous clubs who can be promoted or relegated through divisions.

American Soccer

In our country, this is being denied to us.

We do not have an open market where people’s ideas and subsequent products live and die on their own merits through open competition.

Instead, we have a closed anti-competitive system.
We have a centralized command and control system run by a singular business comprised of a small aristocracy.

And they govern the entire soccer landscape with one single-party voice. In effect, soccer in our country is being controlled and represented by a monoculture.

Over the years, I have grown increasingly convinced that as long as US Soccer does not champion and then institute promotion/relegation, everything will continue in perverse mediocrity.

Again, promotion & relegation is the market mechanism by which ideas/products can openly compete. The best rise, the worst fall. This is what better incentivizes hard work and innovation. This is what gives the ambitious a means to rise to the top. This is what punishes the lazy, and the mediocre. This is what incentivizes investments throughout the landscape.

This captures the essence of the American Dream!

And guess what, in soccer, that’s the system the whole world has.

And yet, we don’t. We don’t have a more open, merit-based system like theirs … we have entitlements insulating a select – privileged – few from competition.

Get this:

* The rest of the world has the essence of the American Dream woven into their soccer market.

* And America (US Soccer), has instituted policy that rejects the American Dream!

There is No Pyramid

Access to Division 1 soccer in America is sealed off. And controlled by one single business, MLS.

You must also understand that this “league” is not simply a container which serves to host competition between self-governing and autonomous soccer clubs (ie real clubs).

NO!

There are no such clubs in our 1st division. These teams/organizations are franchises of a single centralized command & control business – a sanctioned monopoly.

What I’m going to start sharing with you this year, and the years to come, is how US Soccer’s current policy – the one which sanctions this monopoly – is at the very heart of all the problems you see in American soccer.

From the National Team level, all the way down to what’s happening with your 9 year old kid, can be derived from this one policy.

All that conventional wisdom regarding the “problems in American soccer”. Well, you’re going to see how it can be remedied by changing this policy and replacing it with one that is in line with the American Dream.

  • Winning at all costs?
  • Big, fast, strong bias?
  • Gold standard coaching?
  • College soccer stifling development?
  • Larger pro contracts?
  • Large TV ratings?
  • World Class players?
  • World class teams?
  • La Masia’s?
  • More expertise in our soccer media?
  • A real and consistent World Cup contender?
  • etc …

All that stuff gets addressed once we have policy that naturally incentivizes solutions.

A policy that stops entitling a few, and enables all people and organizations the opportunity to pursue their destinies on their own merits.

The market, not a handful of privileged shot callers, should determine what’s worthy and what’s not.

Make no mistake, this is exactly where the fight lies. And in the true sense of the word – a word I have never used here before – we have a REVOLUTION on our hands.

Choose to fight for the American Dream, or choose to reject it:
It’s up to you.

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Comments

  1. Rob A says

    I’ve felt this for a long time—that sports leagues in Europe and across the globe are more “American” in the sense that success is rewarded and consistent success is richly rewarded. Think of the prize for winning the Super Bowl. You get the last pick in the draft. Everything is designed to create parity instead of rewarding success. Even the concept of salary caps work extremely hard to level the playing field.

  2. STL A-B says

    USSF doesn’t have the finances to withstand the the ensuing lawsuits from MLS owners should they mandate an open market.

    Isn’t it strange the soccer government has less power than the leagues they supposedly govern?

    • Bryan Hargrove says

      Hmm does this sound familiar STL A-B? What other American governing body has less power than the entities they supposedly govern?

    • says

      What lawsuit? US Soccer can sanction whomever and whatever they want. They could even sanction MLS as a domestic only league next to an open pyramid. MLS cannot dictate to US Soccer.

      Legal obstacles are bumps in the road. The real obstacle is a US Soccer board riddled with conflict of interest. How can Sunil Gulati stand up to MLS when an MLS owner pays him and US Soccer does not? How does one maneuver a pro/rel policy through a US Soccer Competition Committee headed by none other than Don Garber?

      • STL A-B says

        Assuming a group of people with money (similar to MLS owners) could start another league, build stadiums, gain TV revenue, sponsorship revenue, and survive all on the premise that they are an open market with pro/rel? Sorry, I prefer an open market too, but not happening without MLS. If US Soccer tried to force MLS to join the “open market”, lawsuits would drowned the lowly USSF who barely has enough money to pay their marketing department….then again, perhaps SUM has raised more revenue.

  3. NOVA mike says

    Another great post. There are some who would probably argue that promotion/relegation at the youth level actually increases the win-at-all costs mentality and the big/strong/fast bias. There may be some instances where that is true – particularly in less developed soccer markets, but in general I think the idea that size/strength will always prevail against skill/intelligence at the younger ages is a myth. Even at U9, I would take a (truly) highly skilled team that is well coached in possession against a bigger/stronger team playing kick and chase any day. For those who believe that the opposite is true, I don’t doubt your experience, but I wonder about your geography.

    I wanted to throw that out there because I am sure there will be many who will want to take the discussion in that direction, but I actually think maybe that misses the point. What we can probably all agree on is that long term player development needs to be incentivised. Breaking the MLS franchise based monopoly and allowing real clubs to compete for a spot in the 1st division does that by changing the incentives for those clubs’ youth coaches. Sure, winning would still be important, but ultimately those coaches would be judged based on how well they are developing players who can either make it to the first team or be sold – because those are the things that determine the financial health of the club. That end goal – the development of future professionals – is also what would drive recruitment and retention policies. Players would be scouted based on their long term professional potential rather than short term ability to help win trophies. Placement at those youth academies would become the be-all-end-all goal for the top players in the area, and therefore the criteria by which other clubs and trainers in the area would be judged. How successful are they at developing players who can win places at those academies?

    Change the incentive at the top and you change the incentives of the entire market. I think the only missing piece from this article is adding in the concept of the solidarity contribution – whereby youth clubs can receive compensation (a portion of tranfer fees) for developing players who later go on to make it as professionals. That combined with promotion/relegation would consign pay-to-play and the win-at-all-costs mentality to the scrap heap of US soccer history.

    What I find most amusing – or insanely frustrating, depending on my mood – is that we are even still talking about any of this. For all of the hnd-wringing, whining, and debating that goes on at soccer conventions, the blogosphere, twitter, sidelines, etc,… all centered in one way or another around the question “why aren’t we as good at this as they are in Europe & South America?”, one would think the answer was more complicated or elusive than this: maybe we should just do things like they do in Europe & South America. The fact that their way of doing things is infinitely more in line with the American dream than the way our current system operates makes it seem almost sureal that it would take a revolution to make that happen, but I think Gary is right.

    • Kevin says

      At the risk of being labelled a MLS fanboi, I have to admit that I am skeptical that pro/rel will fix things ALL the way down to U9. I assume that Gary will now post a series of articles about why I am wrong :).

      Don’t get me wrong, in the context of MLS I am 100% behind pro/rel and do agree that a lack of such a system holds the US back. And I do find it perversely ironic that all major professional sports in the US have drown right communistic organizational structures while indulgent socialist countries that coddle you from cradle to grave have intensely competitive and brutally meritorious professional sporting structures that make Sparta look like a vacation resort.

      In terms of youth soccer: in my area the major clubs don’t have “a team” that plays games in “a league”. They have a large pool of players sufficient enough for multiple teams that they train together. The “league” is not really a league, it is a random assortment of scrimmages. The players are in theory allowed to rotate freely for the games. In reality the top players play in multiple games, lifting the club’s B and C teams to victory over the minnow clubs. This enables them to use their winning reputation as a recruiting tool to hoard as many players as possible, some of whom are very marginal, increasing the funds coming in.

      So when the “league” season ends and the major club’s pool of players came in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the league because their top players played in every single game, whom or what, exactly, do you promote and relegate? Do you relegate the minnow club that played the major clubs top players every week? Doesn’t seem like open competition to me. Do you promote just 1 team from the major club? Or course the major club will use its political clout to demand that their entire pool be promoted, or rules be put in place that allow their players to play down.

      No. The only way that pro/rel works for youth soccer in my area is if each club is limited to 1 team. But the major clubs would never allow that because they need to hoard a pool of players so that they have numerous B and C players paying into the system, the goal of which is really only to develop the top players who are there because they want a college scholarship.

      If I had a magic wand that would grant me one wish and I could either:

      A. Institute a nationwide system of promotion and relegation from MLS on down.
      or
      B. Change the rules regarding NCAA eligibility so that players could sign contracts with clubs so that they could pursue their dreams of being a professional without losing out on a potential college scholarship.

      I would choose B. Even if A were to occur, you would still have to get past B. Participating in sports in order to obtain a college scholarship is a powerful cultural narrative in the US. Pro/rel alone does not change it.

      • Nancee says

        Kevin, do you mean similarly to how MLB drafts players and lets them play college first or gives them the choice of pro or college? I think that would defiantly have to be part of a solution, relative to the black hole years (18-22) that have been written about here a lot.

      • NoVa Mike says

        Kevin – What area are you in?
        “No. The only way that pro/rel works for youth soccer in my area is if each club is limited to 1 team.”
        Are you sure that’s the really the only way? In the National Capital Soccer League (NCSL) at U9/U10 there is no pro/rel and clubs can move players freely between teams almost as you describe – with the exception that they can’t play for more than one team on the same day. Pro/Rel starts here at U11 and once that happens clubs are no longer allowed to switch players between rosters during the season – to prevent exactly the situation you describe. It’s a pretty simple rule, easy to enforce, and it works. http://www.ncsl-soccer.com/divstruct/index_E.html.

        • Kevin says

          I am from a small area in a fly over state. Insignificant in the big picture, so whether or not rel/pro works here does not speak to its validity elsewhere.

          Large clubs in my area do not want to limit players to one team. They specifically want players to be able to rotate around as much as possible. They need this because it enables them to use their best players in 2 or 3 games every Saturday to pound the minnow clubs.

          Beating the little clubs is their best advertising. Parents want their kids to join the big club to be on a team that wins. Club needs a large pool of players paying large fees to cover the coaches salary, so he can coach the A team to college scholarships. If the big clubs could only play their players in one game, then that would expose their B and C teams.

          The B and C teams would lose to the minnow clubs, and then the parents would be pissed because they are paying the large club a lot of moeny to lose. They would then pull their kids out. Without the B and C kids subsidizing the coach’s payroll, the large club would be screwed.

          If the league tried to implement pro/rel the large clubs would say no. If the league tried to force the issue the large clubs they would just leave and start a league that did not. The leftovers would not be enough to sustain a meanful league.

          But like I said, that does not mean it would not work other places.

  4. Rob says

    Well in all fairness, those other leagues came about organically. MLS was a business entity from the start. Not saying it’s right but to get it going, they had to basically promise the initial investors that they’d be IN “Major League Soccer” not “2nd division”.

    But…

    The league should be trying to move past that at this stage of their existence.

    • Geoff says

      Also the concept of Relegation and Promotion is based on having a consumer who will watch the product at the top level.

      Could imagine having to watch FC N Dakota, or would we all truly expect the good teams to be in only the populated towns. If the latter is true, the other sports that are thriving in those markets occupy your fan base.

      I love the concept of promotion and relegation, but in our country with the cultural understanding of sports in general, its just bad business.

      • Andy Mullaly says

        The reality is that only teams in areas capable of supporting them would ever win promotion. In the England for instance, there are minimum requirements for size of stadium, financial backing, etc. required for promotion at each level. That requires the minnows to grow if they want to actually move up. If they cannot get the financial backing they can’t be promoted.

        For a basic understanding of the process the game Football Manager (in all its different incarnations) gives a decent mock up of the processes involved.

      • Bryan Hargrove says

        Geoff, have you researched the American soccer market potential as it relates to financial returns? If so I’d love to see what you found. If your right it’s too bad pro/rel is “bad business” in American culture. If only our country opened its doors to tens of millions of people from around the world whose culture would embrace the incentives and emotions produced by Pro/rel. I guess until that day all we can do is lobby our congressmen for immigration reform that would turn America into a country full of people from other cultures.

        • Rozano Fortune says

          Am………last I looked America IS a country full of people from other cultures. Don’t make that sound like a bad thing.

        • Geoff says

          We live in a capitalist society, if the relegation system was financailly beneficail it would be the standard in our country.

          The whole point is the same reason LA doesnt have an NFL team while appearing to be one of the major markets. Everything comes back to dollars the needs and cost of a pro team in any city are such that if it doesnt create reveunue it tanks. Regardleas of talent people in LA have too many distractions, the reason the Galaxy were a draw is because of the DP system,
          For relaration system to work you must have amajor market that is pro soccer like the northwest in every geographic location, using the EPL and countries that are the size of northern cal are not fair in comparison. Travel plays a role as well look at all the struggles the US Open cup has, it allows anyone to compete in it yet travel eliminates all the minnows ve

          • Steve_C says

            Lame excuses. People need to stop comparing soccer with other American sport. Soccer is the international game. It is played in almost every “capitalist” society in the world. They have promotion and relegation and it is the number 1 sport in most of those countries. In every country you have clubs in the major cities and from smaller cities. What succeeds has everything to do with the club’s commitment to winning and investing in its club. The fans don’t care if the owner is making money, they care about their team staying up or winning the title. It’s an insanely simple way of weeding out the posers.

            All you have is excuses. They’re weak ones. This country would be swimming in professional soccer clubs if there was a clear route to D1 that didn’t include groveling at the feet of NFL owners.

          • says

            It is so easy to justify closed markets when all you think about is the needs of owners. Same logic worked for the Russian Czars. Shoot, we should give every business MLS owner entitlements, and they’d all be happy to close markets and wade in their piles of cash.

      • Steve_C says

        Soccer is bigger than the casual sports fan. I’ve tried watching Chicago v DC or San Jose V New England. Complete shit show. That’s what’s holding back soccer in this country. That that level is acceptable because “it’s financially sound”? Do they give a fuck in England if Hull v Southhampton aren’t in “big markets”? Almost NO ONE is watching MLS soccer on TV. They average something like 100,00 per game. So the idea that no one would watch FC Des Moines because it’s a small market is irrelevant. If they earned their spot int he top tier, they done it by playing at the level of our D1. People tune in to matches like that to see if the can take on a top of the table team. That’s what makes promotion and relegation worthwhile. The “American Sports Culture” mindset is bullshit. MLS will never improve their product with their current mindset. It’s a protectionist cartel that is constantly using PR bullshit to make it seem better than it is. There’s a reason that it gets shitty ratings, it has nothing to do with the “casual fan.

  5. anon says

    The idea of competition is appealing to all of us who love sports. But I’d say it’s even simpler competition, really. It only comes down to money. Just look at Man City, Chelsea, PSG, Monaco, etc., etc. Whether Hull City or Cardiff City or Real Betis get relegated, sadly, will have little to do with the strength of the EPL or La Liga. No. It matters much more what’s happening at the top of these pyramids and competition for top resources to staff the tops of those pyramids. If a billionaire owner (who probably isn’t motivated by money, but rather, ego, access to other power brokers, athletes, publicity, pr for other businesses, FUN, etc.) wants to invest in a team in some league, say, EPL, or gasp, MLS, big name stars and managers can be attracted…. that’s where the competition is happening. It’s an 80/20 rule everywhere. Your club can get a big boost being promoted but it gets an even bigger boost depending on ownership (and ownership rules, etc.) and what those owners choose to do or not do.

    • Geoff says

      dont get me wrong i love the epl but its a system that is based of a continents national identity,

      I hate baseball but the marketing setup and farm systems have allowed that shitty game to sustain while the product has gone down isince the 80′s

  6. Noah Creagh says

    Ive been waiting for this post. Excellent. The market as it stands is anti competitive..Without real competition..Without incentive we just have this shell of a league called MLS. Without real competition there is no real development going on at all levels of the game here.

  7. anon says

    to understand mls or any league economics, you have to analyze the business side, not the sport side, primarily (something else those billionaire owners know). The NFL is actually a non-profit that administers the league and is supported by for-profit teams, even though total league revenues dwarf every other league’s (EPL, MLB, La Liga, NBA, etc). It wants a level playing field (very “American” as well) in order to maximize the league revenues. The EPL is “open” but far less successful than NFL. The NBA, also bigger than EPL, is “closed”. The UCL is a “superleague” (a league of leagues) which is great for fans but just makes the rich get richer (Barcelona, Madrid), not necessarily good for overall sport. The MLS is “single entity”. “Single entity” is in theory better in a startup phase but something that would no longer be needed once established. The structures are very important overall.

    • Andy Mullaly says

      What are your metrics for basketball being bigger than the EPL? Estimated team values: http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mli45ikdf/1-manchester-united-2/
      The highest valued basketball team in the world is only ranked 35th, far below some of the giants of the EPL. Total league revenue might be higher, but club revenue is higher per team in the EPL and about the same in the Bundesliga. (of course these numbers are a few years old and prior to the latest TV contracts for soccer) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_professional_sports_leagues_by_revenue

      The NFL is amazingly successful, I will grant you that.

        • Benjamin Yates says

          As Andy rightly pointed out, individual club revenue is what matters, not league revenue. And no NBA team comes close to matching the $$$ generated by top clubs. According to Forbes, 4 of the top 10 most valuable sports teams are soccer teams, while 2 are MLB teams and another 4 are American football teams. And actually, the #1 and #2 most valuable sports teams are both soccer clubs.

          But what surprises me from looking at the articles that anon posted is the fact that the Premier League is already so close to NBA’s league revenue figures, despite being 40 years younger than the NBA. How’s that for marketing growth? And from a country the size of Louisiana, no less.

    • CDO says

      @anon — There are many ways to slice and dice statistics. You can search and find many lists of biggest clubs / teams, leagues, sports. Some base it on revenue, some on TV viewership, some on turnstile attendance, some on recreational participation, and other ways to measure . . . .

      But so what, it doesn’t matter if a closed or open system or promo / relegation. What matters is what works for those leagues. Each is different. MLS is about 16-years old. Soccer is an international sport. It’s smart to look at successful leagues and borrow what works. We cannot put our heads in a hole and pretend MLS operates in a vacuum.

      The biggest differences between MLS and Europe and SA are things like promo / relegation. This concept is a cornerstone of all major soccer leagues. That’s no coincidence.

      Will the American closed model work to push US soccer to new heights? That is the question. Or will promo / relegation force change that will result in pushing US soccer closer to a top footballing power? I belive the answer is yes and depends.

      Yes it helps, but only one of seveal other major fundamental changes. We cannot lock ourselves into the NFL model is the only way and expect meaningful impact on an international sport governed by different variables than insultated NFL.

  8. anon says

    One assumes MLS executives have examined these questions. What league would you want to create in the long run? La Liga with two of the biggest clubs in the world but with many issues on the bottom end? Or NFL or MLB or NBA, also with some of the biggest clubs in the world, but much more successful overall? Of course the American leagues are better models for your fledgling league (on-field product issues notwithstanding). One “level playing field” action MLB takes is trying to provide revenue allocation to make up for smaller market teams that would not be able to make as much money from their local markets (DMAs=designated marketing areas used by media). If you want a successful league, you need a certain number of teams to have interesting competition (that then attracts media, advertising, league level sponsorships, jersey sales, ticket receipts, merchandise sales, and yes, players). How you negotiate revenue share for those items is also very important. MLS has some opportunity (very “American”) to try to learn all of that and avoid creating a La Liga or worse, Bundesliga, situation. I would say, EPL, with the “open” structure”, comes dead last in terms of leagues to emulate (NFL, NBA, MLB are ahead of it) since MLS is barely big enough to succeed as an entity yet. It cannot yet deal with the question of promotion/relegation (which would be cool to see at some point). If the league were successful (very big), teams could increasingly eliminate pay-to-play for its youth academies. However, that’s probably not a huge consideration for them, when 30% of players are not American. An academy model like Ajax has is only one consideration (selling players). I doubt the random billionaire who doesn’t understand our sport is interested in that kind of revenue or sporting-side long-term project. Even though I agree with your long-term goals…

    • Steve_C says

      You have it backwards. It can never get big in it’s current form. It coddles mediocrity and misinforms the fans. Millions watch the BPL and La Liga, has nothing to do with the “league structure”. If the USSF were wise it would try to emulate the Dutch league. That tiny nation develops world class soccer players. It’s a selling league. Selling leagues develop talent.

    • says

      MLS executives have examined these questions. They have decided they are more comfortable with a cartel system that limits every US club – and a marketing arrangement called SUM in which they profit from imports.

      MLS isn’t making stupid financial decisions here. They are proving that smart financial decisions alone won’t help us reach the potential of the US game.

      Competition is a sin. – John J Rockefeller.

    • Dan says

      We get that franchise structure is better, or at least safer, for the owners.
      But we are frustrated because MLS isn’t only second rate, it’s inherently second rate. It’s not real competition, it’s a simulacrum of competition.
      And with an inherently second rate league, how can we expect our national game to ever be better than second rate?

  9. Terry Ransbury says

    Grreeaaatt post!! I know for sure that the worldwide clubs, both top and player development clubs, are establishing or planning to establish feeder clubs here in the US. The motivation for the PD clubs is simply transfer fees. They are perfectly content in this business model as one player can pay for a couple of years of venture money. They will take our best players unless Gary’s proposed revolution hits.

  10. R.Johnson says

    Bullshit. You can ‘blame the market’ all you want, but even the ‘open’ market’s you advocate suffer from the same criticism you level at the MLS. No, open markets are not the panacea that will cure all- even open markets have coaches and clubs (and parents) fixated on winning at all cost, or on promoting bigger/stronger/faster instead of the better soccer player- what you are really advocating is a top down approach where your own views of development (views I agree with in many ways) are implemented to replace the existing views. And lets not forget the market is not nearly as closed as you portray it- if you live in a major metropolitan area you will have more than one club, and even multiple coaches within a club, to choose from. Competition- that open system you advocate- dilutes any one philosophy of coaching, development, or play from completely dominating. When I am planning my practices, I am not taking direction from the MLS, and even if I follow the direction of my DOC, there is still plenty of latitude on how I train and play, and the playing philosophy that I use.
    No system is perfect, and I agree that there are major flaws in the MLS, but calling it a closed anti-competitive system that is the root of all evil in youth soccer is almost as foolish as pretending that an “open” competitive system is the cure for all evil.

    • says

      R. Johnson and this is where you are wrong, you were referring to you as a coach with your particular team. WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE WHOLE MARKET! when it refers to how soccer is run in this country. You wanna know why pay to play is prevalent it is linked pro/rel, want to know why US Scouting is constantly missing out on talent its again linked to pro/rel, why there is not mass player development, AGAIN ITS LINKED back to pro/rel.

      Let me help draw up what pro/rel will do:

      We as Americans love competition, if lets say your club could earn your way up to MLS and sought to go after that because you have ambition and your biggest rivals club x necessarily didn’t have it but you started to work towards that goal. What would happen? Your rival would start pursuing that same goal, thus increasing competition, increasing scouting effort, sponsorship efforts, funding efforts, development programs, facility etc You would be fighting to beat them there and stay there. The Whole market would dictate how much you must improve and develop your soccer club. It would improve youth soccer immensely in this country because everyone, EVERYONE! would have to improve their system or get dogged! So your DOC would be or club would have your going in the direction that leads them to improving their product.

      Do you think its a coincidence that after Real wanted to build this: http://sploid.gizmodo.com/real-madrids-new-stadium-looks-like-an-alien-mothershi-1513265410

      That Barca said they are going to do this: http://www.fcbarcelona.com/club/detail/article/a-new-stadium-built-on-the-same-structure

      See this is built off of market competition, because the competition increases the value of everything. It is not built on the BULL CRAP MLS System where they feel a stadium is the essence of a club. They are going backwards.

      Also for those saying Barca’s/ Madrid in Spain are bad for La Liga and Bayern for Bundesliga, yea maybe other teams won’t win, but don’t Madrid, Barca, Bayern pay HUGE Transfer fees for clubs talent? You don’t think that gets re-circulated throughout the whole system? What about PSG and now City? Chelsea? I hate all those clubs but don’t think that $ doesn’t help feed the whole system. You don’t think the EPL is not loving the story lines that relegation is about to give them, it boosts the league, the competitiveness and everyone scared of it here saying it won’t work its because you haven’t tasted it here yet to see what would happen.

      You have to have pro/rel in our country more than any other because we need 3four3 voices, my club Joga SC voices etc to be taken seriously on the top level in this country to really institute change. The masses only really care about the Top, why did everyone start following 3four3? It was because of the video, because the 1st American went to Barca from them, because they are considered the top in possession US youth soccer here. So how can they, me, anyone grow their platform if there is no pro/rel, how can we prove it here? The REAL SOCCER FOLK are ready to enter the ring but US Soccer is scared of it!

      Its not about having a club (MLS Model), its about Being a CLUB. That means your ambition, drive to be the best.

      • CDO says

        “Its not about having a club (MLS Model), its about Being a CLUB. That means your ambition, drive to be the best.”

        Perfect statement Kephern! Those who get it, get it and those who don’t, dont!

      • Kevin says

        But it is a jump to claim that pro/rel will immediately lead to abandonment of pay-to-play. It is far from certain that it will. Right now your argument consists of

        1. PROMOTION AND RELEGATION MOFO!!!!!
        2. …???…
        3. No more pay to play.

        So WTF is #2?

        Professional clubs (independent or closed system like MLS) will not consistently invest in youth because they cannot make good on that investment by bringing youth players into the top team or selling them. They cannot make a return on their investment because the kids lose NCAA eligibility.

        Is there a certain segment of the US soccer playing population that does not care about college? Sure, but are they numerous enough? I doubt it.

        If MLS franchises could invest in youth academies and reap the returns of said investment I am sure that they would as the desire to win is still there. The NFL is a closed system yet the franchises still go to extreme lengths to win, and there are tons of little boys who dream of being professional ball players.

        • NoVa Mike says

          Kevin:

          Going back to my earlier post – if the goal the we can all agree on is that long term player development needs to be incentivized – I agree that pro/rel doesn’t do that all by itself but it is certainly a huge step in the right direction, and I think it starts the process by building more support (even demand) for these 2 additional reforms:
          1) allow CLUBS (not the league) to reap the rewards for selling the players they develop; and
          2) Apply FIFA’s rules re: the solidarity contribution in the US.

          This creates a financial incentive at every level for developing future professional players.
          Financial incentive for youth coaches now: convince parents that you are offerring value for their dollar.
          Financial incentive for youth coaches in the system described above (i.e. – European system): develop future professional players who can either (1) earn the club money by making the 1st team and helping them get promoted / avoid relegation; (2) earn the club money when they are sold to another club; or (3) continue to earn the club money for years every time they are transferred from one professional club to another.

          http://espnfc.com/news/story/_/id/1543663/mesut-ozil-transfer-means-windfall-fourth-tier-club-rot-weiss-essen?cc=5901

          • Kevin says

            Yes, agreed. You are right. Long term player development needs to be incentivized, and clubs need to be able to devote resources to that and get a return on their investment.

            Rel/pro IS a step in the right direction, however what are the odds of an open system rel/pro occuring? MLS is not going to do it, which means USSF is not going allow any of the other tiers to do it. To make it happen you would have to blow the whole fucking thing up! Or build up an entire pyramid in parallel to compete with the existing structure. Now compare that to the odds of tweaking the rules to allow more investment in player development under the current, imperfect system. That seems more doable to me.

            And maybe I am wrong. Maybe there is a path to an open rel/pro system. Maybe under the closed system of MLS/D1 it is impossible to achieve that and the whole thing really does need to be blown the fuck up.

          • NoVa Mike says

            @ Kevin – Maybe the more people there are clamoring for “revolution” (i.e. – “blowing the whole fucking thing up”), the more likely it becomes that the rules at least get tweaked in a way that moves things in the right direction.

          • Kevin says

            No.

            Because people are clamoring for promotion and relegation which is related to, but not exactly the same, as pro player development. Screeching about “revolution” and calling anyone who disagrees stupid also makes it easier to stigmatize that side of the debate.

            Only way to get a pro/rel pyramid is to pursue it outside the context of the USSF.

      • R.Johnson says

        Kephern,
        Fixing everything that is wrong with youth soccer in the US all comes down to promotion and relegation because… you said so? And in your delusional world of competition, where a rival aspires to promote goals that were not being offered by the other, prompting the rival to match the groundbreaker, the reverse is true as well. The rival can tout his superiority on a variety of levels, never even attempting to emulate the groundbreaker, making competition really about differing philosophies of play as much as it is about the game on the field. And if it really is about “being” instead of “having” why are you advocating “having” a system?

        • says

          Ha in my delusional world? really what happens everywhere in the world but here? that’s delusional. If the federation gave clubs a gateway to the top to earn their right to be the best you would see clubs fighting to reach there. Now we have a global model that shows how that works, so using NFL, NBA and all the bull crap does not matter if you use a global model which has pro/rel.

          This is what you guys are not understanding no one cares or really follows mediocrity. Why did everyone start talking about possession? Barca? Why is Brazil and not England the creators of the game considered the home of football? Its greatness that leads makes the masses pay attention and shift change in a system.

          The system we have promotes mediocrity and gimmicks. So they continually give you mediocrity and gimmicks, where if pro/rel came about everyone would be fighting to reach for the top. So no more gimmicks, u have a stake in the game, u have to constantly improve or get snuffed out. It would create greatness, which is what we need to really be considered a top soccer nation. I’m tired of the US being looked at as underdogs and work hard, that’s bs, we can be the absolute best in the world. But we need pro/rel to start the process to weed out the crap and bring those with the ideas, know how, innovative thinking to the top!

          And of course there would still be problems but guess what now you would have a platform to help solve those problems.

    • Bryan Hargrove says

      R. Johnson, you’re right! US soccer is not as nearly as closed as Gary is leading us to believe. Anyone can earn their way into the top American league by demonstrating great mastery. All you need is a couple hundred million dollars and then ask for permission. I’ve been saving up and I’m getting close to starting another franchise in Portland. This town is so soccer crazy I think we could support a few teams. I really hope that Don Garber will allow me to build a second franchise in town once my online dildo sales business grows our revenue 20% this year. We’ve might have hit a ceiling in the US though, time to penetrate the international market. Wish me Luck!

    • says

      Open competition isn’t the answer. I think the point is possibly that an open market creates a space for the truth. Open competition allows for good soccer to prove its worth to the world. Totally agree with this post.

    • pulguita says

      You’re kidding right? You’re telling me the USDA and ECNL are not closed competitions and organizations. Hell they didn’t even have to win anything to get in. They were selected by a fucking committee. How much more of a definition of closed do you need?

  11. Tolya says

    Gary, I agree but obvious question to this post is how do you explain success in other sports – let’s say NHL and NBA? Let’s keep baseball and football out of conversation as nobody else plays these sports besides USA , but hockey and basketball do exist and pretty popular in Europe.
    I am sure you thought about it a lot and just curious to see your explanation (especially interested in NHL success).

    • Kevin says

      Good point.

      Also, what about UEFA financial fair play rules? They say that FFP is only to prevent clubs from overspending and then going out of business, but that does not seem very open market to me.

      If a club wants to leverage itself up to its eyeballs taking money from willing lenders so that it can shoot for the moon, risking going out in a blaze of chapter 11 glory, why not? That is the open market, is it not?

        • Kevin says

          Sure, but it will be replaced with something else.

          Point is the birth place of what Gary calls the “open market” has seen the trend of oil bazillionares dumping way more money into a club than will ever come out of it (Man City) radically altering the nature of the league, and said “Hold on, maybe it is not the best idea to allow this”.

          Cuz that is totally how businesses operate, dumping unlimited amounts of money into a product that will never lead to revenues that justify the sending.

          • Andy Mullaly says

            But the money is being “dumped” for a reason, right? Cuz that’s what rich people do just throw money away? They don’t stay rich for long with that attitude. The reality is that rich people like to stay rich and tend to make business decisions for their investments (whether a soccer team or their giant fields of black gold).

            Manchester City has spent a ton of money trying to build a global brand. Whether or not that pans out we’ll all see. And is it good for the EPL? Of course it is. Is it good for English soccer? That’s a different question and the jury is still out.

          • says

            Kevin – who are you or I to decide how much an owner invests in his business, or how much profit that owner needs to be a “success” or a “failure”?

    • says

      Other US sports leagues aren’t faced with consequential foreign competition, either on the field or in the market. These are benefits that – as long as FIFA exists – a US soccer league will never share.

      MLS seems to want to pretend otherwise – as every one of their predecessors did. Given that their predecessors didn’t face foreign competition in the US market – or any foreign competition on the pitch outside of friendlies… MLS myopia is epic by comparison.

  12. Greg says

    This is the single most myopic thing I have ever read. Clubs are financially crippled in these European nations, in part, due to promotion and relegation. Unlike those countries, there isn’t an endless supply of people who grew up with the sport here and would be willing to invest in the finances of the club once they went belly up.

    MLS isn’t the root of all evil in this country. Youth coaches who emphasize size over technical skill, are. Youth coaches who emphasize results over development are the root of all soccer evil in this country. Pay for play is the reason we lag in youth development.

    • Bryan Hargrove says

      Your right Greg, “Pay to Play” is ONE of the many mechanisms that cripples youth development. I wonder what type of incentives would bring financial investment into youth soccer that offsets player development costs? If only there was a model somewhere else in the world that we could use as a case study for creating these incentives. Too bad the Clubs in Europe are so financially crippled. I heard he EPL, La Liga, and Bundesliga are all standing on their last leg, this might be their last year of existence, TV companies are done investing billions of dollars into the clubs after this year. Oh well, I guess we should all keep taking whatever bones the US soccer elite give us. It’d be terrible to get hung up on this “Open Market” idea and become myopic.

    • Benjamin Yates says

      Even if clubs are “financially crippled” in European nations (and where is your evidence to support that claim?), it has absolute NOTHING to do with the way their leagues are set up. When clubs fail, it’s because they are mismanaged. When businesses fail in this country, which happens every day, we don’t go around saying “It’s the fault of the free market!” We say its because they were poorly run, or they didn’t provide a good service, or they couldn’t compete.

      If you want to critique European leagues, you can critique the way that bigger clubs have negotiated TV rights deals which unfairly skew the financial rewards in their favor and ensure that lower league teams can’t compete at the same level. That’s a major problem in Europe, and worth critiquing, but leave promotion and relegation out of it.

      I repeat: promotion and relegation has nothing to do with failing clubs. Hundreds of teams get promoted and relegated all the time without “failing.”

      • Devin says

        But why does it have nothing to do with pro/rel? I’m not sure I understand how pro/rel doesn’t at least contribute to the fall of certain clubs, though I wouldn’t go as far to say that pro/rel is the only cause. Seriously, can you explain how being relegated does not even contribute to a club failing? I think many people would believe that it does at least have some impact.

        • Sean says

          You’re absolutely right that relegation contributes to a club failing. But the difference is that in an open league, the failing of one club has no impact on the overall league because there’s another to club ready to replace it. In a closed league, a club failing is devastating and impacts the entire league.

          • Steve says

            That is a good argument for promotion/relegation. But there are people who say that investment in “promotion/relegation system” will trickle down to lower leagues. That isn’t necessarily the case. While promotion/relegation could give fans of more teams hope that their team could reach the top flight, in most pro/rel leagues, and this includes the IIHF World Hockey Championships, most promoted teams do not stay up for long without significant cash infusion to boost facilities, sign better and more technical players, and to commit funding to youth education and player/athlete identification and development (team development).

            Using the Premier League as an example. Most promoted teams do not become Manchester City. In a span of a number of years, they might rise as high as mid-table or above table, but they often face the relegation dogfight. A couple bad runs , even with the best of plans, or being reckless with how you sign players could see your season and your club’s future in disarray (at the top or even in the lower tiers of English football). Big clubs like a Juventus, Fluminense, or River Plate, as long as they acknowledge the difficulties of trying to get promotion and get buy-in from their players and staff, can usually find ways to get promoted back up easily. And many teams were in the first division, or were successful for years before promotion and relegation systems were implemented.

            But to have such a system, you need the NASL, NPSL, USL, etc. to act as professionally, as MLS is now. If not now, the gap needs to be closed between the individual levels while MLS continues to increase in technical quality, and they make better use of the myriads of athletic and technically capable American players. It won’t be trickled down from a promotion/relegation system because, if we assume MLS remains at 24 teams in a pro/rel system, and we get similar numbers for NASL, USL, etc.

            The leagues themselves will have to negotiate league-wide TV deals to be seen as many homes as possible. And the USSF has to find a way to get the US Open Cup in as many homes as well–and good commentary in print and on radio and on broadcast that knows and understands the sport in an appreciation of artistry, and of the emotional highs (and allowing the game to develop).

            One other thing that has to develop is the willingness and ability of people to form pro teams–or teams that are willing to ride the highs and lows of the pyramid. This isn’t necessarily a money-bags thing. The franchise thing still needs to go on in order to ensure that enough places see something that looks like top-flight soccer in their area. It needs to be something in which people can form community clubs and to have the business sense to keep building.

            Even w/ a pro/rel system in place for 20 years, MLS will likely look like something close to what it was before pro/rel because the conscious efforts have to be made in expanding the professionalism of the lower divisions. Promotion/relegation can’t do that alone. It’s going to need to take some savvy TV and radio people (perhaps more ESPN-U channels for soccer in both English and Spanish), an expansion of RSNs so they can carry multiple teams and handle the spillover content (even though I support moving TV away from the RSNs and onto nationally-available networks). It may take more free-to-air games.

            But as with the DC stadium fight, ultimately, it will have to involve bringing the sport down to lower income people of all backgrounds (which means not complaining about turf vs grass, and players playing the game on concrete or in the streets, or on grass that hasn’t been cared for in years), and continuing to identify better players from all circles. This means canning a Graham Zusi or Kyle Beckerman early in the World Cup cycle for players that are faster, much more skilled on the ball and off the ball (like a Benji Joya), and be creative. It’s easier to get creative, athletic players to play in a structure and do well than it is to get uncreative, slower players (and less skilled players) who have played in a structured system to all the sudden play with creativity and flair. And you will have to embrace the enigmatic-ness that comes with a player like Clint Dempsey, Joe Corona, Juan Agudelo, or Freddy Adu–in American terms–or a Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Balotelli, Juan Roman Riquelme, Ronaldinho, or Leandro Damaiao, or Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

            In terms of demographics, per the Nielsen study, MLS’s demo is poorer than that for any other sport (by percentage of fans surveyed making a household income of $40K or less), and second least ‘white’ (meaning it will likely match up with American demographics years down the road), And this is for a study that skews closer to older, whiter audience and rules out the NFL in its observations because of the NFL’s size.

        • Benjamin Yates says

          Actually Devin, the burden of proof is on YOU to prove that being relegated helps cause clubs to fail. Show me your evidence. People toss that argument around all the time and everyone accepts it as truth, but tell me specifically which clubs are now defunct AS A RESULT OF BEING RELEGATED. I don’t know about Bundesliga, La Liga, or Serie A, but as far as I know, no Premier League club in history has ever gone out of existence after being relegated. Ever.

          Even lower-division teams who went bust, like Wimbledon or Rushden & Diamonds, simply reformed their clubs and are currently playing in the league pyramid. As far as I can see, most of the “failed” English club teams did their failing in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Frequently they simply merged with other clubs that are still in existence.

          Underneath your argument lies the implied assumption that our typical American pro-sports league (like NFL, MLB, NBA, or MLS) does a better job of preventing clubs from failing, unlike leagues with Pro/Rel. That’s ludicrous. In my own lifetime I’ve seen the Washington Senators, Montreal Expos, Seattle Supersonics, Vancouver Grizzlies, Houston Oilers, Miami Fusion, and Tampa Bay Mutiny (among others) all “fail.” (And Tampa Bay was one of MLS’s ten founding members, by the way.) We have dozens of “failed” teams in American sports. Most of the time we just transplant them to another city and try to pretend like it never happened.

          I’ll be waiting to hear any evidence you can find to prove that relegation contributes to club failure…

  13. Noah Creagh says

    I would say NHL NBA NFL etc..are not nearly as globally recognized and accepted as soccer is everywhere else. Those leagues and sports are primarily “American things”. The rest of the world has been doing it one way for a long long time and produced fantastic results. Interestingly enough this country has decided to GO AGAINST what is known to work everywhere else.

  14. Devin says

    Maybe you’re considering expanding on all this in more articles to come, but i see very little explanation in your article of why pro/rel would do all the things you say it does. This article strikes me as you trying to gain blind support and rally people behind you by saying stuff like “revolution” and “American dream”, but you give very little substance to support all of your claims.

    It’d also be somewhat disingenuous not to go over the counter-points people often give against pro/rel, and explain why those are false. This is what would actually give your position strength. Again, maybe this is all coming in another article.

    I believe that people shouldn’t support something they don’t fully understand, and just based off your article, I’d say it would be hard to fully understand all the facets of a pro/rel system vs. the closed leagues of MLS, NASL, and USL-Pro.

    I would very much appreciate a response to see what your plans are in the future to address in depth these issues.

  15. CDO says

    Promotion, regulation will cure a lot! Fully agree Gary, but we need to be aware of challenges.

    First, promote who? USL needs more financial support from fan-base for it to be viable. Most of the teams (maybe all) don’t even have their own stadium. No one wants to see an MLS game at a High School or Community College pitch.

    Remember that the pyramid happened organically in Europe and SA. Even now across all leagues, relegation brings with it loss of profits and best players. Promotion forces most clubs to splurge. Then if they get relegated they experience financial woes.

    That brings up problem two, successful soccer teams rarely (if ever) operate in the black. Soccer isn’t a business model. If the goal is profit, franchise closed system works. If it’s to develop football, it has to be a footballing model. Recommend read “Soccernomics” for the uninitiated.

    Can’t compare NBA, NFL, MLB. They don’t have a vast pyramid like rest of the world. Moreover, they are closed systems protected from the pressure of international pressure. Like the World Cup, FIFA rankings, federation tournaments (e.g, UEFA Champions League), and having to develop players from youth who can compete at the world level. Apples to organges.

    One step in right direction is MLS is now seriously thinking of realigning to the international schedule. But to promote and relegate, the game has to grow. Meaning more fans and / or investment from sponsors and big TV contracts. This is partly how EPL for example provides financial help for relegated teams.

    How do you grow the game? Well, add some excitement. Sign some big name players in their prime. Has-been 35-year old former stars lends itself to the insulated franchise model. Get the MLS marketing division to start earning their keep. NFL is great at this. MLS is very novice. For example, MLS should find a way to jump on the 2014 WC. Link international football and the WC to MLS through some clever advertising, partnerships, promotional TV spots. Go big to go home if they want to build the game.

    Finally, expand USSDA to include all MLS and USL clubs. Possibly limit the number of private clubs with USSDA to only those who are feeder clubs to MLS or USL. We need to get serious about which clubs truly have a pro-centric environment and those who use USSDA moniker as a marketing gimmick.

    All this said, BRING ON PROMOTION / RELEGATION!!!

  16. Frank Ogno says

    You have a sports and business infrastructure here in the US that exists to solely monopolize and profit on those who can “afford it”. Many sports, from pee wee through professional, have personalized training, travel teams, prep schools etc. that promise success for those with the largest checkbooks. The result of course, is that the many kids with the raw talent, and would be future stars, are being prevented from developing by the system that’s in place.

  17. R2 Dad says

    To be truthful, the American markets have always APPEARED more open and transparent than they really are, our sports markets especially. In our soccer context the openness applies to leagues and opportunities for adults to start new leagues/teams/clubs whenever they see fit. Kids/children/players/parents are handled as a commodity to be manipulated for profit. This doesn’t sit well with what many of us, who believe the goal is to teach kids how to play it, become proficient at it, learn how to work as a team, excel, work hard towards a goal, learn to achieve. The problem I see is that every coach/club/team has a different idea of what that is, so the training is not uniform, major elements of the game can be missing. This is the Real Madrid vs Barca argument. If you are a Real fan/coach, the answer is always going to be I Need Better Players (Galacticos), because better players must always play better than less skilled players. If you are a Barca fan, you will develop your own players by teaching them everything they need to know about the game, to play better as a cohesive unit and overcome the “best players”. Until we as a nation insist on the Barca model and pointedly reject the Real model, we a screwed. Right now, most youth clubs pursue the Real model because it’s cheaper (no expensive signings!), and they don’t have to bother with all that time-intensive training of the Iniestas of the world who 999 times out of 1000 will be mediocre talents that will never play div 1 college soccer much less professionally. So, back at the highest levels of youth soccer, this becomes an issue of scouting. How do we find the needle in the haystack? It would be much better/easier if every coach taught the same principles, better players moved to better teams, etc. But because every coach wants to hold on to their best players (remember, it’s all about the adults), this either doesn’t happen or happens inefficiently. ODP and DA programs have attempted to improve this, but the profit-seeking adults keep getting the way. So the markets here do work, just not for the benefit of the players. Case in point is my son’s team. They play at supposedly the highest level in a travel league, but need to get relegated because they don’t score and don’t win. I would like to move him to another team, but he has been with these players since U8 and at U11 they are his buddies–he is happy, just not on game day. To relegate the team would send the right message to the coach and parents, but the league needs teams at this level as easy marks for the best teams (they need teams to fill out the table). Same thing when going to tournaments. And the coach’s pride won’t allow relegation. So his team, which does have quality players, wallows like an MLS team at the bottom of the table, begging to be blown up or downgraded. The coach is unable to fall on his sword and do the honorable thing, so the years go by and the game goes by these players. It’s actually quite sad for our top players, as I watch their skills stagnate.

    • Steve says

      I think you’re missing a few things regarding the “barca” model. They have very good players, if not the best in Europe. You make it sound like they turn a nice middle school team in to the best players in the world at the professional level. You need to do more research.

  18. Brian says

    Agree 100% with Gary. Also, in addition, the areas with MLS teams in them are starting to see a major impact as those MLS teams suck up all the best local youth talent into their ranks from U12 and above. What favor are we doing these kids by allowing them to get involved in professional ‘jungle ball’ and the issues the poor MLS product is creating. This has to be a major concern for the development of soccer in this country – without a top to bottom program to produce the best soccer players we can, it will always be one step forward and two steps back. The US is too big, this is a problem, not an advantage. Too many layers of different ideas, and a massive ocean of politics. There has been a significant talent increase at youth soccer levels over the past five years. Brian and Gary have proven our kids can compete at the highest levels in Europe. However, its the black hole the kids get injected into at the older ages where we are really still in the soccer dark ages. I foresee more and more clubs from around the world building academies and partnerships in the US. I am excited about the talent those teams could pick up and look forward to the US building a NT this way, away from home, rather than in the crazy meatgrinder that exists inside the US soccer world today.

  19. Nancee says

    Am I missing some important point? Why do we need promotion relegation at the youth level? What function does it solve? I absolutely feel we need it at the MLS level or even open it up to the other leagues: NASL, USL, PDL ad infinitum. I read an article about how the Cosmos joining the MLS would make too many teams from the New York area. Doesn’t London have 5 BPL teams alone, let alone the litany of lower flight clubs that pepper the city side. Frankly, the MLS bores the pants off me because once the Union display the uninventive style of soccer again and are bottom dwelling, I lose any inspiration to watch them. If they were fighting for the right to stay up that would change things dramatically.
    So back to my original point, am I missing something in this discussion about the need to have pro/rel at the youth level? If a local club fields a youth team and bits and pieces of that youth team develop together over the years through their own academy and into an adult team- let them fight their way through promotion or relegation then. Couldn’t it happen that way just as easily?

    • CDO says

      Promo / relegation at professinal level. The benefits of P / R is at the professional level. If those clubs have yougt acadamies, the pursuit of pro-centric development will result in better plyer id, coaching.

      I think you’re missing the point on this one Nancee.

      • Kevin says

        Promotion and relegation will not create incentives for professional clubs to organize pro-centric player development. Clubs will not put resources into developing players that they cannot control (MLS draft, college) because they will not get a return on said investment.

        People who think that promotion/relegation is the silver bullet always have at the core of their belief that it also magically fixes the cultural narrative that sports development is for college scholarships which is the real problem. There is no reason to believe that.

        • NoVa Mike says

          “People who think that promotion/relegation is the silver bullet always have at the core of their belief that it also magically fixes the cultural narrative that sports development is for college scholarships which is the real problem.”

          Kevin – among the cultures that are producing the best talent in this country, that is not the narrative.

          • Kevin says

            Yes, agreed. But are those cultures enough to support the entire pyramid? And survive the backlash that occurs when they say “screw you gringos, we are going to do it our way!” like the way people were totally happy with Chivas USA?

            Maybe they are, and perhaps they don’t care.

            I still think it would be easier to tweak the existing system so that clubs can invest in player develop and provide a path to professional play, albeit in the imperfect MLS. Of course I could be wrong.

    • NoVa Mike says

      Nancee –

      At the youth level it may not be right for all markets, but just speaking from my experience, I wish our league would implement it a lot sooner. As I indicated in an earlier post, they start at U11, but at U9 there is no seeding whatsoever. With over 100 different teams in the league, and some clubs fielding A, B and C teams, the end result is that it’s pretty much a crap shoot as to what kind of game we are going to get every week. Sometimes it is a good competitive game, and other times it is a strong A team going up against a weak C team, which is pretty much a waste of time (and not very fun) for anyone. There are pitfalls to making winning/losing matter more at the earlier ages, but on balance I’d prefer it, at least in my situation. It’s always better when “like plays like” in terms of competitive balance.

      • Steve_C says

        IN the NYC CJSL league they have A,B and C groups. They type of win at all costs doesn’t happen. It’s good for the teams because they play against very similar teams. Teams that dominate the B division get moved up to A and often don’t do very well. But the learning experience is very important because that team and club can see first hand how a team has to play to do well in A. The best teams are usually both athletic and play possession, in the A group one player can’t usually dominate an entire team. Also the teams that are in A are pretty consistent.

        • Kevin says

          But you can achieve this without strict promo/rel. The clubs in the league can just agree which teams should play which.

          Also, with what frequency do you promote/relegate? At the end of a season? End of a year?

          My experience is that youth teams shift a lot from season to season or year to year which makes it tough to place them. Sure they were the top B team last season, but this season half of the team is new because kids left to play football and they are really a C team. Because they won in B do you put them in A so they can waste a season losing?

          And why do we even need to talk about it? Each locality probably has different factors and can figure out what works on their own.

          I support pro/rel for MLS. I do not believe it is a silver bullet for U10s, and very well make things worse.

  20. Neo says

    I’ve always found it interesting how Mr. Kleiban blames MLS and U.S. Soccer for lack of excellence. Often times I find myself wondering if Kleiban things he’d be a star coach if only for promotion/relegation being blocked. Is that it Gary?

    Promotion/relegation would be ideal, I agree with that, but there’s way too much blaming of all of soccer’s problems in America on the absence of it. That’s a crutch some folks just can’t let go of.

    • Bryan Hargrove says

      Neo, so if Mr. Kleiban does believe he is a star coach, a coach with ambition, a coach who believes he can elevate the game and many of the people whose lives are touched by the game, then how should he pursue achieving that dream?
      I guess he should hope the people who have never achieved anything other than global mediocrity will one day see his value, they will realize how mediocre they have been, they will replace themselves with people who they believe will do a better job… And all because of their good grace and love for the sport an American “Star Coach” will be born.

    • Benjamin Yates says

      Neo, you think Gary is arguing for this because he dreams of one day being a “Star Coach” on TV or something?! What a laugh.

      Brian and Gary have already won everything there is to win in US youth soccer. Their teams have held their own against European youth clubs like Ajax, Barcelona, and Manchester City. This year, their U14 team went UNDEFEATED in the US Developmental Academy with 29 goals for and 12 against. (Oh and by the way, it’s their first year playing in the DA.)

      So, let me ask you: what have you done as a coach that qualifies you to dismiss Gary’s analysis? How many players have you put in La Masia or sent to the U14 US National Team? The Kleibans have done that. Their credentials and expertise are on display for everyone to see, and their product of the field backs up everything they’re saying.

      Everyone can think for themselves and everyone has a right to their own opinion, but I’d think very, very seriously before just dismissing Gary’s critique of US Soccer as some sort of sour grapes.

    • Dan says

      This is a pointless, trolling comment. Second part is fair enough as you’re actually making an argument neo, but nobody wants to see the personal attack / psychoanalysis or whatever that was.

  21. CDO says

    A closed franchise model (no relegation) is about guarantee for investors to remain in a league and competition rights from local competitors. It works in NBA, NFL, MLB because they play in an isolated world within borders of USA and no viable 2nd tier league to rival them. Why do you think the NFL merged with the upstart AFL? Protectionism. The AFC was doing well and NFL made preemptive move.

    Take the lame Detroit Lions. Guaranteed league spot, guaranteed league spot, guaranteed TV shared revenue, top draft pick (reward mediocrity), and easy schedule. A perpetual cash cow for mediocrity.

    There a lots of NBA, NFL, MLB teams who live in this perpetual mediocrity. Don’t their fans want more? I don’t get it!

    Some of the best league games in soccer are the relegation / promotion battles. By game 8 of NFL season, you can throw in the towel and go for the #1 pick race. How does that promote being the best?

    World football works differently. It punishes mediocrity, financially and talent it attracts, TV revenue, and jersey sales. Teams at the top are truly the best (managed, coached, organized, and so on). Teams like Barca, Liverpool, Man U., and the other big clubs know this and do all they can to stay there. Their success is performance based, not a perpetual league subsidy.

    This mentality funnels down to the U9 player as Gary points out. And it’s not about picking the man child. These clubs want true players with quality when they mature. Winning with early puberty at U14 is none of their concern.

    • jjm says

      yes, it’s about the investors/owners. In the USA we don’t have rich oil sheiks begging to own soccer clubs. The majority of teams lose money. You aren’t going to get owners to invest unless they have some franchise guarantees. The first one being…”I’m in the top league”.

      The biggest problem is that our congress grants monopolies to these leagues, then protects them from anti-trust actions. The big kicker is that no leagues allow community ownership of a team. The green bay packers are the only community owned franchise in the USA. The leagues want robber baron owners, congress lets them put this condition in place, thus no community can decide to build a stadium, own a team and challenge the status quo.

  22. Scotty says

    promo/rel in Professional leagues is one thing, but in youth soccer it’s an entirely different thing. How does youth soccer in the gold standard country’s operate, Spain, Germany, Brazil, etc.? Do they have promo/rel or a different system at the youth level or do they operate differently?

    • R.Johnson says

      Agree that it is different in youth. We have promo/rel and it does not promote development. It promotes movement from one club to another with the ‘relegated’ players then seeking to displace players on existing level team, or the promoted team, and what remains unchanged are coaches (and parents) who favor winning over development. You will not change the mindset, the philosophy of play, or magically transform coaches into proponents of development, by having promo/rel. They look for what they know, and that is not a better player, but a bigger stronger faster athlete, sure that they can make the kid into the player the team needs to compete. And yes, they call that development.

      • NoVa Mike says

        No one expects magic to transform coaches into proponents of development, and that is exactly the point. It isn’t going to happen by magic, or because yet another speaker at yet another soccer convention bemoans the evils of pay-to-play, win-at-all-costs, etc…, while all in attendance dutifully nod their heads ….

        Nothing will change without changing the incentive.

        Leaving aside for now the business implications of pro/rel, from a purely player development perspective, this fact remains true: In the entire history of U.S. Soccer, we have not developed one single field player capable of holding down a starting position on team that can consistently challenge for the final 8 in the UCL. You would be hard pressed to find a single European country – outside maybe Luxembourg – that we have outperformed in terms of developing world class players.

        It isn’t because we don’t have enough players who don’t love the sport. It isn’t because our “best athletes” don’t play soccer. [side Q: at which athletic endeavor - besides soccer -- would the Spanish national team beat the U.S. national team?]

        It is in large part because of pay-to-play, but there is a reason pay-to-play exists here and it isn’t going to go away just because we want it to.
        The model is there for all to see. The financial incentives in Europe are completely flipped from what they are here, and promotion/relegation plays a huge role in that.

    • Nancee says

      Scotty. I think this is more or less what I was trying to ask in my first post. Thanks for elucidating a point I don’t think I made very clearly.

      • Scotty says

        My apologies Nancee, you made the point quite clearly. I just wanted to add how to do the gold standard countries youth soccer systems’ operate? Do they use promo/rel?

        Or, maybe the other way at is – please tell me in what country has promo/rel in youth soccer been successful? Clearly, not the US….

  23. mattyice says

    Before anyone tries to derail me for what I’m about to say, I am ultimately “pro” pro/rel.

    That being said, I feel like most people tend to forget in the pro/rel argument that the MLS is only 18 years old. Compare that with almost any other major pro sport in America, or any soccer league in the world, and understand that the league is barely a toddler by comparison. What they have done so far is to survive, and even that has really been a struggle. Now, I’m also not an MLS fanboy, I think in the long run to be super competitive internationally they need to drop the single-entity and pro/rel.

    What is ultimately holding back US Soccer all the way down? To answer that, we have to understand that sports, and sports participation in America, is ultimately a cultural phenomenon. Take a look at England, Spain, Germany, etc., soccer has long been the top 1 or 2 sports in that particular country. That’s never been the case in this country. I’m relatively young, and so I’ve grown up with the MLS being a league for most of my life, but I feel like I’m similar to most guys my age in that soccer was not my favorite sport as a kid. I wanted to be in the NFL first, then MLB, then NHL, and then MLS. I think it’s safe to say that mirrors a lot of young kids (except probably switch the NHL and NBA). Long story short, the MLS and US Soccer have to compete with other sports on a level that most countries’ soccer federations don’t have to. We have to recognize that in order to “un-cripple” the US Soccer talent pool, we have to first change the culture to where kids are saying “I want to play professional soccer,” instead of “I want to be in the NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL/ect.” That starts with having a stable league, which for now means that pro/rel will have to wait, and having a national team that overachieves in international competition.

    • Benjamin Yates says

      Mattyice, that is the same, tired old argument that people have been making since MLS began. Sure, MLS may be 18 years old, but MLS is only a small slice of the soccer infrastructure in this country. American soccer has a history going back over 100 years. Also, MLS is NOT competing against other American sports; MLS is competing against every other top tier soccer league in the world. And failing miserably, by all indications, since most of the “big name players” that come to MLS have either 1) failed to make it in a top European league, or 2) at the end of their careers.

      RE: your last point…we have TONS of kids in this country who dream of playing professional soccer. They just don’t dream of playing in the MLS.

  24. says

    How come the NHL, NFL, and MLB all succeed without promotion and relegation? Why are they more solvent and in better shape (debt/profit wise) than most European leagues and clubs?

    • Benjamin Yates says

      You’d need to provide some evidence to back up your claim that NHL, NFL, and MLB are in better financial shape than most European leagues and clubs. But either way, it doesn’t matter, because NHL, NFL, and MLB aren’t competing (for fans, markets, TV rights, athletes, etc.) with leagues in other countries. MLS is.

    • jjm says

      because they engineer work stoppages every 4-5 years to break the players unions. Every collective bargaining agreement includes capping player salaries at some % of league revenue (in MLB it’s a luxury tax, the other sports have hard salary caps).

      That’s how these leagues control costs and ensure they are financially viable profit making machines and the franchise value increases year over year.

    • says

      Important to note that MLB, NFL, NBA and MLB have always enjoyed a combination of isolation and dominance that isn’t afforded an American soccer league. Soccer is played out on a global stage in a global market. You can’t just hope it works like an isolated US sport.

      NFL and MLS share so much in common – way more than a league without global competition should with a league awash in it.

  25. Mike says

    I’m totally on board with pro/rel, but much like Ted, you call people to arms and revolution, but with no plan. You want people to fight for it, but do you want anarchy or a cohesive statement from the masses. Provide some ideas on how people can work to change it.

    Hell, half the problem is that the majority of people who go to MLS games and enjoy them don’t even know there’s another option out there. Let’s start with education of those people. Go to games, hand out flyers to explain it and call them to action.

    Create an online petition, have people sign it. A meaningless gesture? No less meaningful than a few hundred people on Twitter complaining about a lack of pro/rel. Put a list of 200,000 names that sign a petition in the hands of USSF, maybe that will get the ball rolling.

    • says

      The anti pro/rel faction relies on the global perception that we Americans don’t want it, don’t get it, or just don’t care.

      The first part of the plan: Nuke that perception. Judging by this conversation, that plan is working.

      Then we split the US into two pyramids with 16-18 team D1s and begin promoting from the bottom up – giving MLS more time to decide in the process. That’s my plan…. but let’s not get hung up on the details while we’re trying to wipe out the perception that we don’t care about pro/rel.

  26. CDO says

    Here’s what we need to do to build the game:

    1. Need promo and relegation at pro level (MLS, NASL, USL, NPSL).

    2. Need acadamies in above leagues, whether they be USSDA or part of some other professional academy league.

    3. D1 soccer needs better alignment with NASL, USL, NPSL or possibly play in same league.

    4. Need regional centers to identify youth talent sponsored by USSF (like the German model). For example, need an IMG Bradenton west in SoCal, one in Seattle and one in the VA / DC / NJ area.

    5. MLS change to international schedule.

    I don’t see any of above as difficult. #4 and #5 should be easy. MLS already talking about #5. #1 is all about money (more on that below). #3 is very bureaucratic with the NSCAA.

    THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX FOR PROMOTION AND RELEGATION: MLS franchise have the most to lose in promo and relegation. instead of immediate jump to relegation, do a 5 – 10 year transition period where instead of adding 2- 3 more MLS clubs in next few years, allow 2 – 3 spots for NASL and USL (too much of a jump for NPSL) to be promoted to MLS. That would give us the 25 team MLS they want. In the 5 – 10 year transition period, only NASL and USL teams can be relegated. Why? Becasue MLS franchise paid so much money. That has to be respected. Then after 10 years full out promotion / relegation. This should give MLS teams enough time to prepare. And by the game shoudl have grown enough with TV revenue and better quality on the pitch to sustain a windfall for relegated MLS teams. It would be harsh and difficult for MLS franchise to buy into immediate promo and relegation. So we have to be realistic about the transition.

    • R2 Dad says

      Good points, this has not been addressed and should be, but would crimp any new teams from joining MLS going forward. My only quibble would be Seattle (3.4M) is a smaller market than SF (4.4M) and would be a better location for another Brandenton.

  27. Phil says

    Well to add to this issue here in America is that every coach, club, and team is motivated by the gain of money. No one is gonna change the game for free and the fact that youth club soccer can be as expensive as youth hockey, baseball and swimming kind of categorizes it as a “rich man” sport. Talent in America has mainly derived from urban areas like Long Beach, New Port News and so on but most families from these areas cannot afford $3,000 a year. And to be blunt, their coaches aren’t making $60,000 a year either. Most coaches for these sports work full-time and devote their off time to develop their kids. Gary, as you said before, we cannot replicate what other countries do football-wise because we do not have that environment yet, well I agree but add that soccer in America has a more treacherous path to the top than other countries do. Soccer is competing with sports like Football, basketball, and track. All which are far more affordable than soccer and promise a more lucrative future than soccer in America. It is almost similar to convincing kids in Argentina to transition to basketball rather than soccer when they know that soccer is far more desirable as a country than basketball. Most of the coaches I know in American football, basketball and track were very successful but a small minority of them asks for thousands of dollars in annual fees. I’m gonna be quite frank here but, we should consider lowering the costs and raising the standards of play here in America to “undercut” the other sports soccer is up against. Some may disagree but I ask if we’ve been doing the same thing for decades now, why haven’t we made any significant impact in finding our niche?

    • R2 Dad says

      The other sports are crumbling under their own limitations. Baseball has declining attendance and participation because of all the inactivity of both youth players and fans at the professional level, and the NFL concussion issue is going to prevent every suburban kid’s mother from letting their kid play football, leading to all-urban players in the next few years.

      • Phil says

        lol Well that is my point exactly. If it is all urban, then you’re roughly speaking the majority of the U.S. population. Although I do agree with the NFL concussion issue being a concern, I believe that the league is an extremely progressive league that will somehow find a resolution for their ailments. Unlike U.S. soccer, which is not as progressive as it should be in terms of locating, demanding and growing potential stars, talent is not permeating the MLS market… well at least from America.

        • CDO says

          @Phil
          Skill is not permeating because from youth coaches favor size. Was watching a U15 (about to be U16) side recently. Player “X” (a man child CM) gets the ball at mid-field, dribbles all the way to the box using size. Then gets surrounded and motion stops. He lacks skill and it falls apart. He didn’t look for the streaking wingers. Lacks vision.

          Same scrimmage: the left back gets the ball. Has time and space. No skill or confidence to move into space. So he looks around waving arms for someone to pass to. Then boots it 20-yards. 50/50 ball and jungle ball starts.

          This happens all the time on this team. Yet they are pre-USSDA academy. The coach favors big players. But they provide nothing tactically or technically. Size for no reason. Smaller players on the team are substitutes.

          This is a microcosm of the conveyor belt mentality that permeates into MLS.

  28. Benjamin Yates says

    Why does MLS even need to be the major factor in this discussion? If US Soccer sanctioned promotion and relegation on their own, I guarantee you that NASL, USL, and NPSL would get to work on structuring a pyramid with pro-rel.

    Then let MLS decide for themselves if they want to be a part of it. If they don’t think it’s viable, they can continue doing their own thing. And good luck to them. I guarantee you that, in another 18 years, they will have been left behind.

    • Devin says

      I find this statement to be odd for a few reasons. First of all, it seems as if you want to not include MLS because you dislike MLS already, therefor you’d rather just leave it out for no apparently good reason. Secondly, I’m entirely sure if the NASL, USL, and NPSL would get to work on a pyramid with pro-rel just because US Soccer now says they can. NASL and USL seem to be competing at the moment, and they split a couple years ago for a reason. I’m just not sure if they could set aside their differences considering that if those leagues actually wanted pro-rel, they could simply do it right now without waiting for US Soccer to say they can. Lastly, if US Soccer were to start pushing for an actual pyramid with pro-rel, and NASL, USL, and NPSL were willing to do it, MLS would have practically no (smart) choice but to join as well.

      Aside question: Why NPSL? From my understanding, NPSL and PDL are around the same level of play, but in my area the NPSL is practically non-existent. I’m not sure how it’s doing in other areas, but the PDL teams are much more established here than the NPSL ones.

  29. Rozano Fortune says

    Gary, you have “coaches” running scared cause with rel/pro they will get found out really quick. Now “coaches” will have to coach and show that they are worth their salt. No longer will they be able to baffled the soccer mom with a WAGS 1st place or a Disney trip.

    Rel/Pro is the way to go. This will allow for TRUE player development. It will allow clubs to sell players that they’ve developed, it will allow greater long term planning on the clubs behalf, the US National teams will have an easier job selecting the best players as the best players will be scouted and signed by bigger and better teams around the country, increased interest from international clubs to set up TRUE academies as pay to play will be on the back burner (why would I pay for my child to play when he/she is being scouted to play for a bigger club), winning will come in various forms a la Ajax, don’t always win the league, but sell many players thus winning in the developmental race or Barca where many of their 1st team players come up through the ranks, create a true tradition a true empire.

    But, many will not like this as the dad-coach will have to find something else to do. Players may have to…..gulp…….commit to something, thus leading to a drop in participation numbers. There are way more pluses to rel/pro than there are negatives, but the few who wants total control will fight it tooth and nail.

  30. Jeremy says

    Now this is what I’m talking about! Great post , Gary. All of us who are dissatisfied with our paradigm and are knowledgeable enough about the way football culture in the wider soccer world need to band together, begin to formulate a cohesive vision for the future and make a push to attain it. Everyone can agree that this system does not and will not work, but rarely is there any agreement on what will. I’m glad to see a much more mature vision for the future laid out in this post than most articles that rail against the contemporary model succeed in putting in print.

    Gary, I get the impression that our e-mail exchange may have gotten you contemplating just a bit!!!

  31. John says

    I find it difficult to understand this post in the context of soccer’s tremendous rise in this country in the last 20 years. I believe America’s chances of being a world power in soccer depend on only a single issue. Our top athlete’s need to choose soccer. So how do you market the game to these players? How does pro/rel improve the chances a world class athlete will pick soccer over football in this country? Maybe teams would have a greater motivation to recruit these players but it would still come down to scouting other sports and than convincing player’s to switch. No easy task. I also think since the lower leagues in the US basically have zero t.v. revenue and even MLS has a pathetic number, pro/rel would have a massive destabilizing affect. Relegation would be a death sentence for any large market team. The wouldn’t even be able to play the leases on their stadiums much less their players.

    • Steve_C says

      John, we have the players, we don’t need the “top athletes”, we don’t have the coaches or scouts. You have a lot to learn. Read a bit more. The only way soccer will improve in this country is for MLS to be destabilized. Promotion and Relegation would actually most likely bring in a huge influx of investment. Our current structure does nothing to promote excellence and punish poor management and play. I’d rather owners invest in clubs rather than buying a stake in a cartel that has little interest in taking risk or improving the level of play.

    • says

      If one admits that pro/rel drives interest and investment to lower divisions, one can’t turn around and blame lower divisions for not having the resources for pro/rel. Yet… it happens all the time.

    • Benjamin Yates says

      John, the myth that we are not a world soccer power because “our top athletes play other sports” has been debunked on this blog many times. Go back and read some of the earlier blog posts and comments.

    • Jeremy says

      DEAR GOD!!!!!!!!!! I didn’t expect people who post on this blog to be this jaw-droppingly ignorant. The “top athletes” argument is so inordinately baseless and unimaginative I literally am angry to see it here. This is the crap you read by posters on mls.com. And then to say it is the “one and only” thing keeping us from being the soccer superpower…truly the words of someone who decided to learn about soccer for the first time, typed the word in, clicked a random link and ended up here.

      However, this is a good example, because John here represents one of the main roadblocks to soccer growth-the uneducated fan. The average American does not know nearly enough about the finer aspects of the sport. It is up to all of us to help educate as many of them as we can.

  32. Maradona says

    This is the only way to talk…only one. One question though why do we always go back to our “cousins” setting them as examples for this an that. OURS is the number one sport IN THE WORLD so we should be looking to ourselves and start our fight for what it is to come!!! People do not compare yourselves with the Coliseum Circus Sport or any of the other ones for that matter!!!!

  33. CDO says

    One thing is clear from this post: many Americans (even those supposedly in a soccer environment) don’t understand promo / relegation. For me the benefits are intuitavively obvious. Those who can’t understand are psycologically locked to the American franchise closed system and cannot think outside that preconceived dogmatic box. Xenophobia in a sort of way. “If it’s not American, it can’t work” mentality. MLS has to be like NBA, NFL, MLB or it isn’t Apple Pie and Chevorolet.

    • Devin says

      This is the most ridiculous comment I’ve seen so far. Maybe people would understand why pro/rel is a good thing if Gary Kleiban would explain why it does what it does. All Gary did in this post was say pro/rel does this, this, and this, without saying how it does that. I find it completely reasonable for people to not want to follow his ideas without an actual explanation.

      • Steve_C says

        Is it really that hard to understand? Losers drop, winners don’t. Winning clubs and programs scout and attract the best talent. And so on… the reason some in this country fight it tooth and nail is because their privileged position would be threatened because they know other are better at soccer then they are.

        • Devin says

          I already understand everything you said. Pro/rel in and of itself is easy to understand. We have winners and losers here in the US, the only difference is that the losers don’t get relegated. So why don’t we see our winners attracting top talents through scouting like you say they do? They win just like leagues that have pro/rel…. Do you see what I’m getting at here? These are the types of things that need further explanation than what was given in this article.

          • Steve_C says

            Not only aren’t the losers relegated but half the damn table gets a chance to win the Cup. It’s completely ludicrous. Why would this league attract top talent? It’s best teams don’t win any international competitions. The MLS level of play is completely mundane. It’s based on “parity”… nothing about the MLS resembles the tested system of the sport everywhere else.

          • Devin says

            What I got from this is that MLS does not in fact need pro/rel to attract the top players, because their actual problems are that half the league has a chance to win the cup, the level of play is too low, and the teams in MLS don’t win any international competitions. According to what you have said so far to me, I can’t see any way pro/rel would fix those issues.

            All you really showed was your hatred for MLS, not why pro/rel would fix your issues with it.

          • Steve_C says

            Wow. Are you serious? The whole point is that MLS is a league of Sanctioned Mediocrity. There can be no dominating clubs and the shittiest have nothing to lose, they get to come back next year and do it all over again with a “SuperDraft” pick. Nothing about the league is world class. It’s not even best in this hemisphere!

          • Kana says

            @Devin,
            Pro/rel is not meant to attract top players. Attracting top players has more to do with salary and quality of the league. And pro/rel will not fix the fact that MLS doesn’t play in int’l competitions or half the league can win the cup.

            Pro/rel is more to do with developing a league where clubs have that carrot in front of them to put out a better brand of football. If they don’t they pay the price.

            This performance-based system will provide the fuel to stride for better than guaranteed mediocrity and fat owners. Competition is the key. If you don’t understand the benefits of competition, then I can’t help you. Maybe people who think this way should be living in the old Soviet Union.

          • Devin says

            Please don’t insult me with your old Soviet Union quip, you at least kind of answered my question though. All I’m trying to do is point out that no one here, including Gary, who wants pro/rel to happen is actually saying anything besides that pro/rel will make US Soccer better because it increases competition. Their will continue to be debate simply because people who are for pro/rel don’t adequately explain what it does to people who don’t understand, and that’s what they need to start doing.

            The only issue with what i see hear is, that their is competition in MLS whether you’d like to admit there is or not. Having relegation does increase competition at the bottom of the table, but for a team like Manchester City who has no fear of relegation, what does it to for them? These are the kinds of questions that need to be answered… does a pro/rel league do anything for the teams who almost certainly won’t be relegated? If MLS had pro/rel starting this year, I’m sure LA would have almost no fear of getting relegated. So what would it do for them?

            BTW, I know that attracting top talents has very little to do with pro/rel, that was the point i was trying to make to Steve_C since it was the only benefit he listed that came from pro/rel. I’ll be clear that I know more than I’m letting on, but if we treat people who don’t know a lot about pro/rel like they are stupid, then we won’t get any where.

          • Geoff says

            Cheers to you,

            nobody can list a pro besides the fabled “it makes clubs try harder”

            I would agree with everything Kana said about the current system structure is having success, are we on par with the world, not yet but in ten years time sure we could be. We all would love relegation systems for all of our leagues but Playoffs have marketing value, our soccer leagues wouldnt benefit from that system just yet.

            If you could pick one thing to further develop our nations soccer, it better be the pay to play model that our future has to deal with, not a simple league feature/aspect.

          • Devin says

            I’m not saying MLS is world class… you’re missing my point entirely. I was trying to have a discussion about what changes pro/rel would have on US Soccer including MLS. So far, the only benefit you said pro/rel had was that the winners in pro/rel leagues attract the top players (whether that’s true or not is another debate), while i pointed out that we have the same types of winners in our leagues here in the US, but we don’t attract top players. What I’m really asking you is, what would instituting pro/rel do to improve our chances of attracting top players? Would it do anything at all?

            Furthermore, I understand that you hate MLS for a multitude of reasons. However, it doesn’t seem that any of the reasons you have stated so far have anything to do with pro/rel. Let’s be clear, and I’ll capitalize it just to make sure you understand, I’M NOT AGAINST A PRO/REL LEAGUE HERE IN THE US. However, some reasoning to back up why a pro/rel league would do all these magical things that people say it does would actually make Gary’s case much stronger.

          • ASO says

            @ Devin is making some good points. The Pro/Rel issue is very intuitive to many who have followed football outside of this country. It is less intuitive to the soccer masses. This forum is a great place to dissect what Pro/Rel can and cannot do the growth of football here. Without an ability to cogently explain it, we will go no where. I suspect Gary left his explanations thin as a way of “testing the waters.” The comments have been enlightening on folk’s perceptions of the issue.
            I will throw out that one potential benefit of Pro/Rel would be that lower division clubs are incentivized to develop strategies to improve their play with a goal of promotion. Those strategies would likely include a stronger commitment to youth development-it is the cheapest way to build a quality team.

          • Devin says

            I am in complete agreement with your last point, this is (as far as I know) one of the stronger points in favor of pro/rel. And this would have an overall benefit to US Soccer because, and this is one of those that needs to be explained pretty thoroughly to people who don’t fully understand, expanding the pool of clubs that are trying to get to the first division, and have figured out that having a strong youth academy is practically the best way to get there (and stay there) long term, will also help the USMNT improve long term. This is the kind of thing I was hoping to read in Gary’s article originally, but I may understand why he didn’t include it in depth.

          • NoVa Mike says

            “I will throw out that one potential benefit of Pro/Rel would be that lower division clubs are incentivized to develop strategies to improve their play with a goal of promotion. Those strategies would likely include a stronger commitment to youth development-it is the cheapest way to build a quality team.”

            Bingo!

            Just change the word “potential” to “proven” and you’ve got it. It’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel here.

          • Kana says

            As I and others have said, promo / rele wont’ fix problems of MLS and US soccer. It helps drives competition to be better because going through the motions will penalize the club ownership in pocketbook.

            That’s why the promo / rele battle in every country is so interesting. They are fighting for their life. Brings out the best for fans, players, clubs, TV. And if CONCACAF were a better federation, the fight for a CL spot would be financially rewarding and further push the game.

            Promo / rele is just one of the things we (USA soccer) needs to do to improve. Like @CDO said in his post, an international schedule, more USSF sponsored academies in different regions of the US, a true academy system across MLS/USL/NASL, and continuing improvement of the league pyramid. I would add a better D1 game and coaching.

            All of these improvements will impact the game. KEY POINT: EACH OF THESE IMPROVEMENTS ON THEIR OWN IS NOT ENGOUGH. PROMO / RELE IS ONLY ONE PIECE OF THE LARGER SOLUTION.

            Imagine a time in the future when we have promo / rele, an int’l schedule (this makes it easier to sign foreign players), viable USL and NASL leagues, a depth and breadth of top academies operated by professional clubs (MLS, USL, NASL), and more than one IMG Academy operating regionally. Now we’re talking! We need to get there. That is the promised land but we need to start building those foundations one by one.

          • Kana says

            And we won’t get to that promised land if people don’t understand the vision, the bigger picture, the philosophy and strategic tactics to get there.

            Ask yourself what we need to do to improve the game. It’s not a single silver bullet. Not that simple. Think of developing a player at U5. So many things to do to get him to a pro. Likewise, building soccer in this country requires a long term vision and not following the closed-system USA model.

            One of the first things we need to do is accept that soccer is an international game and requires different approach than NFL, MBA, MLB. If you can’t accept or recognize that, then we are doomed from the start.

        • Geoff says

          so in this relegation system you would be allowing ass clowns who run the bigger clubs in the more populated areas to have a pro team.. lol

          I just dont agree that a relegation system in this country would fix everything right now, or even help.

          As someone said earlier, Incentive based youth development should be the goal, losing the pay to play model, and encouraging the current pro teams to invest in the communities for discovery players should be the goal.

          People act like fixing the pro system will fix the lack of quality education in this country.

          • Steve_C says

            Huh? No one is “allowed” they either get promoted or they don’t. They play into the top level… at every level, including the youth system.

          • Geoff says

            and who you you think would be promoted at first… and for the first few years, the club with most resources is not the best club in soccer. Academy X wins every national title for 3 years, while Academy Y develops all the best U10s, and losses them to the Academy X , currently there is little or no reward for having the best U10s, in a relegation model, Academy X starts with a leg up,

          • Steve_C says

            I don’t follow your logic. If team Y has the best U10s, why aren’t they winning? It’s about a table of teams. If team Y is doing a good job, being in the top tier of their region is doing a good job.

          • Geoff says

            and the fact you dont follow my logic tells me there is a bigger problem than just the relegation promotion system.

            VERY RARELY ARE THE BEST U10S THE BEST BASED ON RESULTS,

            Once you introduce a result based system then its up to the coaching staff and do 1 of 2 things,

            1 play for the result,
            2 play for the experience,

            number 2 doesnt happen enough and thus kids dont develop, and playing for the result means the big fast kids are more successful at U10 regardless of system of play etc…

            as to the regional club doing a good job… look at the current top clubs and ask yourself why are they good, or would you let your kid play there..

          • Geoff says

            Lol ensuring the sport has a foundation and a basis to build long term, ass clowns worry about winning at any age under 13.
            Winning should be nothing more than the by productive of training and delevopment of kids,

          • Benjamin Yates says

            Gary has written other posts on the “winning vs. development” myth, Geoff. You’ll find a lot more about on those threads, but let me just say that if you believe only “ass clowns” worry about winning at the younger ages, then you’re not gonna like or agree with 99% of what you read on this blog.

          • Geoff says

            I have been a member here for a while, even in the link you posted it talks about the context of the win,

            If your in a good educated market, you may be lucky enough to find a coach who puts development first, that breeds eventual results but not intimidate ones. I have played plenty of Crossfire/ Eastside/ timber academy and others, they trot out their youth robot team with crazy screaming coach beggin all the kids to “buzz around the pitch” and smash it in the mixer, now add the euro accent to this and viola you have what the average person would think is a great coach. I would suggest his population and previous history with the aforementioned clubs draws the big strong fast kids. Rarely do I see a player with soccer IQ but a relentless work rate. I see zero style of play since all its about is smashing the ball forward. In the end those that live in the Northwest recognize them to be the best teams because they win a majority of the time.

            For me and my kids, its always about the context of the win, or how you win, Smash and grab is best left to the Brits…

          • Rozano Fortune says

            You simply don’t get it.

            The MLS team that won the MLS Cup finished the season 17-10-7 (2nd in conference), the East coast champ was 17-9-8, the western conference champs was 14-5-15. What excitement *yawn* . Mediocrity rules the land.

            Now think about DC vs Dallas fighting for the last point on the last day to avoid relegation. Absolute emotional torment for fans. A season victory in and of itself.

            It is simple, pay to play will go out the window if there is promotion and relegation. Youth clubs will be able to “own” their players thus being able to profit of players. To profit off players clubs will have to invest in their product (the player). Therefore, the quality of infrastructure will have to improve, the quality of coaching MUST improve, the thought process into how much a player play in a season will be taken into greater consideration as injury to your most valuable player will not sit well, wins will no longer be the bench mark as big clubs will only poach technically competent, tactically astute and physically strong players. So if a club wants to sell their player it would not matter if they won disney, won state, is on the ODP team, plays for Notre Dame if that player is not good. The current state of “my kid is on the to state team” will no longer hold any water as youth players will now be judged individually.

            Players will have to commit as now the power will be transferred from the parents with the cheque book to the club (who is investing their money). Kinda like how parent shut their mouth during HS season.

          • Kevin says

            “Youth clubs will be able to “own” their players thus being able to profit of players.”

            See, here it is again. Assuming that promotion/relegation fixes all problems without any details as to exactly how it does this. Whenever this is pointed out the only response is passive agressive ad hominem attacks:

            “You’re not smart enough to get it. Pro/rel! IT’S WHAT THEY DO IN EUROPE!!!!! I just dropped a knowledge bomb on you fools!”

            How does pro/rel allow a club to “own” or “control” a player? To own a player that player would need to sign a contract with the club that grants the club control of said player. There goes NCAA eligbility.

            Is it _possible_ that, under an open system, a small local club with a revolutionary approach could start up and attract enough players to rise to dominance of the MLS? Yes, I suppose. Is that _likely_ to happen? If you believe that it is, you are a fool.

          • ChrisP says

            Right now in my state, the players join a club for 1 year, another club can’t recruit them until after state cup. There’s a limited transfer window in January between the fall & spring season. Even within the pay to play system, change the thinking from 1 yr registration to a membership period of 3 years, you join for say, u10-u13. If a larger club wants your player, they put up a 3 year membership that the smaller club can use to get the next promising u10. Or maybe if the player is a baller, he’s worth 4 or 5 incoming memberships. This also reduces the churn of the cup-chasing parents if they’ve sunk a 3 year membership. Moving towards memberships also moves people towards thinking of their clubs as clubs, instead of just a year to year activity.

          • Kevin says

            #1. Your suggestion does not have ANYTHING to do with pro/rel. MLS could implement pro/rel and the youth policy could stay as is. That policy could be implemented at the youth level with MLS remaining the same. Pro/rel and an open system is IRRELEVANT to what you just suggested.

            #2. The same 1 year policy is a USSF policy and is in effect across the nation. However it does not give the club control over the players, just prevents other clubs from taking them. They may not “sell” or exchange players for any sort of compensation without hitting NCAA eligibility issues.

          • ChrisP says

            Kevin – my fault for following the thread from the recent comments on th sidebar. I misunderstood where you were coming from, not seeing any of your earlier posts. I threw my idea out there hoping to convey that, if one accepts that it can work, one can start brainstorming all the issues that would have to work out to make it successful. Going back to your “if you had one wish” post, I see your B option as necessary for opening up the pyramid to be successful. Just declaring a pyramid structure without changing ncaa eligibility, or on the field rules, is a recipe for failure, in my opinion. I trust that the people who are much closer to the front lines on this have a plan for the order the changes would need to happen.

          • says

            While it’s true that pro/rel works in Europe, it is perhaps more important to note that our system doesn’t work here.

            Can’t speak for everyone, but my position on pro/rel is informed by the 100 year failure of our system when applied to soccer – in a market chock full of potential for 100 years.

          • NoVa Mike says

            Kevin, did you realize that in the same post you criticized others for “ad hominem attacks”, you ended with this line: “If you believe that it is, you are a fool”?

            Come on man.

            “Is it possible that, under an open system, a small local club with a revolutionary approach could start up and attract enough players to rise to dominance of the MLS?”
            Under an open system, I wonder what would become of a team like this: http://blog.3four3.com/2012/05/30/cal-fc-defeats-portland-timbers-us-open-cup/

          • Kevin says

            I aware of the hypocritical that I ended the post. Do you think rel/pro supporters have anything to complain about given the way they label other sides of the debate ignorant incumbent fanboi MLS supporters?

            Swansea. Playing pretty soccer, but perpetually 10th-14th in the top flight. Losing in the 5th round of the supporters shield cup. Good enough to not be relegated (most years) but not good enough to ever win anything.

            If you read a lot of the stories about clubs that have gone on a meteoric climb to the top division the chapter of their history right after isn’t so rosy. “They went from bottom of the 4th division to the top flight, and on the first day of the league they won 5-1 and were TOP OF THE TABLE!!!!”

            For one day. Because of goal differential. And the ended the season 10th or 14th or something mediocre. Then got relegated the next year. And the year after that. And so on until they were right back down in the 4th tier, declaring bankruptcy.

            Manchester United does not pop out of your practices at the local elementary school because you have a fancy drill. Even if the top tier is the shitty MLS.

          • Steve_C says

            You really don’t get it. The glory and prestige of playing in the top flight is good enough for most fans. That they can go to a home game and watch their team, play against the best in the country and sometimes the world is what it’s all about. This is how history is built, team legends are created and fans are rewarded. You don’t hear them whining about not having a chance at winning the league. You hear them bash owners and coaches for sure… because they demand better. Everton are flirting with top 4 status, that took good management and smart coaching. Swans weren’t even in the top flight 4 years ago. They won the league cup too.

            You have so little understanding, so little ambition, and a real lack of critical thinking skills. But hey at least in MLS a 10th place team gets to play in the playoff with a 14/13/7 record. They don’t have the indignity of sitting out of the playoffs.

            Oh and DC United shouldn’t be considered shit, they have a stadium plan in the works. Right?

          • Kevin says

            I understand it just fine.

            The Welsh can throw back a pint or 9 at a local water hole and sing songs all night long about that infamous night where the “legendary” boys from their podunk little hamlet were a bounce here or a touch there away from only losing to Mighty Manchester United’s scrubs 3-1 in the 5th round of the FA cup instead of the actual 7-0 score.

            This is what pro/rel does. It deludes losers (who root for a team more from emmotional attachment than anything else) into believing that their team actually won something (avoiding relegation) despite the reality that they came in 17th place.

            Businesses then compete to using their attachement to rob these delusional fools of their paychecks.

            Americans could not be bothered to give a shit if their team does not have a chance to “Win it all.”

            Are you 100% sure that the American mindset is the one that is wrong?

          • Benjamin Yates says

            Kevin, Swansea used to play in the 4th Division in the UK. Now they’ve become the first Welsh team to win promotion to the Premier League. If I was a Swansea fan, I’d be delighted with the club’s progress. I’m sure that’s why 20,000 fans pack into Liberty Stadium each week to watch them play.

            And according to the NBC TV figures, Swansea gets several hundred thousand more viewers for their matches than any of the MLS games. Not bad for a team sitting mid-table with no hope of winning anything, huh?

            You say there are “a lot of stories about clubs” going bankrupt from relegation…can you provide some evidence to back that up? I’d like to know how many of the total Premier League clubs have fallen from the 1st division to the lowest tier and then gone bankrupt. Thanks.

          • Benjamin Yates says

            Are you saying your “evidence” is something that almost happened to one club about 40 years ago?

            Also, as even your Wikipedia article points out, the club’s problems in those years were the result of poor form, financial mismanagement, and unsound transfer policy. Pro/rel was not to blame for Swansea’s fall, seeing as the club was put into receivership in 1985 despite avoiding relegation that year!

            If Swansea had been an NFL franchise, they would have been transplanted to a more “deserving” city with a bigger market base. Instead, they’re now back in the top division and doing well financially, having learned some hard lessons from those years. Isn’t that proof that Pro/Rel actually drives investment in lower league teams? If not, Swansea would never have made it back.

            Lastly, how much of your knowledge of Swansea (and this issue) is derived from Wikipedia entries? I’m only asking because Doug Sharpe was no “sugar daddy.” He did not bail the club out with injections of his own money. He was a financially-shrewd businessman who stepped into the role of Chairman and negotiated a deal with the club’s creditors for additional time to settle their debts. The club held a massive appeal to fans for financial support, and even Manchester United staged a friendly match to raise money for the effort. It was a collective effort by the fans (including Doug Sharpe) that saved Swansea from extinction, because they loved their club. And still do.

          • Benjamin Yates says

            “This is what pro/rel does. It deludes losers (who root for a team more from emmotional attachment than anything else) into believing that their team actually won something (avoiding relegation) despite the reality that they came in 17th place.”

            Whereas the MLS system deludes losers into thinking their league is “competitive” because teams with horrible records can win a spot in the playoffs, and franchises are always ensured of being in the “top” division no matter how horrible they play? That sounds pretty deluded to me.

            The fact that you used “players rooting for a team more from emotional attachment than anything else” as a negative example just shows how far removed the American approach is. Of course people root for teams because they have emotional attachments! It’s called love! What better reason could there possible be for a fan to support their club?

          • Benjamin Yates says

            Sorry, couple of typos to correct in my last post:
            1. horribly, not horrible
            2. “fans rooting for team…” not “players rooting for a team…”
            3. possibly, not possible

          • NoVa Mike says

            “As someone said earlier, Incentive based youth development should be the goal, losing the pay to play model, and encouraging the current pro teams to invest in the communities for discovery players should be the goal.”

            Exactly! Just like they do in Spain and Germany, right?

            Question for you though, how exactly do we do that without pro/rel? What’s your plan?
            Ask top quality coaches to work for free?
            Ask teams to invest thousands of dollars in youth soccer development … out of an altruistic desire to “give back to the community?”

          • Geoff says

            @NovaMike
            when I spoke to this, it was under the thought process that it could happen without pro/ rel. When I see the Galaxy forming a USL 2 Team it makes me think that they are attempting to get there, based on just personal opinions from the landscape I would say the MLS as a whole is eventually going to have the development we all want at the younger ages, but and the BIG but.. they seem to think a Top down approach is the way to go, everyone everywhere else, and those of us in the Youth ranks here would think its the complete opposite.

            MLS USL Club PDL Youth
            if it were me it would look like Youth, Club PDL, USL MLS
            Youth being the roughly the 9 and under ages,

            I would be curious to know what others thought the landscape or current structure looks like?

          • Steve_C says

            Interesting how you ignore NASL which is the sanctioned D2 in this country. Something someone from MLS FO would do.

          • Geoff says

            Didnt ignore the NASL,

            In my honest open minded to change opinion, it functions at the same level as the USL.

            Does it function at a different level in your eyes?
            is it above or below the USL as a system.

  34. Rozano Fortune says

    Tell me this is not absolutely amazing right here. Last day, last minute, total chaos, unequivocal emotional roller coaster.

  35. Steve_C says

    Geoff
    So if your U12 team isn’t winning the majority of it’s games… we should just take the coach’s word that he’s “developing” the players and tactics?

  36. Kana says

    I remember when MLS started. “It would never work. NASL failed.” When USSDA Academy started, parents complained about 4-day a week practices. I recall talking to a U18 USSDA friend of mine about 5-years ago about U14 Academy. He said parents would complain. Now it’s reality and I don’t hear complaints.

    The talking heads of MLS aren’t stupid (I think). They are seriously talking about moving to the international schedule. The day will come when promo and relegation will be reality. I think the game needs to grow a bit first. If we don’t have it within 10-years, then we may never have it.

    Part of our growth as a soccer/footballing nation is to take on some of the proven, time tested fundamental elements of European and South American football. A true academy structure across MLS, USL, NASL is another component that has to happen.

  37. Frank says

    Very inspiring. This post almost makes me want to go to war. Then I realize I’m behind a desk and I start thinking Ok, if he has a point, what can I do to help? What does someone who doesn’t have money or power do in order to help the “revolution” against the MLS, I would love if the next post was about how one can help to change the MLS.

    • says

      Here’s what you do: Utilize every avenue at your disposal to broach the topic. The internet alone gives you hundreds.

      The other side of this relies on the perception that this debate isn’t occurring.

      Take every opportunity to prove them wrong.

  38. Vitale says

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/20/sports/soccer/pickup-soccer-in-brazil-has-an-allure-all-its-own.html

    The American dream is about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and working hard to achieve your goal. You are only limited by your own work ethic. That is hardly the case in US Soccer. Circumstances can hold back the most talented youth player. What happens to those kids who are too small/big, poor or not connected and out of the loop? In countries like Brazil, Argentina and Spain if you have the passion you can find a game at one of many outdoor futsal courts and do what Basketball players here have done for years- go to the park and work on your game. In US – good luck finding a free soccer game that is open to anyone, anytime. When China decided to emphasize Basketball, they decreed every village or town had to have a basketball court. What would happen to US Soccer if every town had an outdoor futsal court, like the tennis courts and basketball courts that are everywhere? The revolution has to start by making the sport more accessible to all the players who have the passion for the game.

  39. says

    Awesome story. Awesome comments. Here’s mine:

    Beyond player development, an open promotion and relegation system has two immediate benefits: It accommodates great clubs and drives investment/interest to lower divisions. Soccer thrives on the international stage, and that stage is dominated by great clubs – both in wins and in ratings. Unlike our other major sports leagues, soccer teams battle in thriving extra-league environment, and foreign leagues and clubs flood our air, cable and web waves. The current system disarms our clubs in the face of serious competition – both on the field and in that marketplace.

    Instead of helping our clubs reach the US market, the current system enables MLS to cash in on conceding the US market to imports, via Soccer United Marketing (SUM). Every MLS owner is a part owner in SUM, and SUM has marketing agreements with many foreign leagues and federations. If you have attended a international or club friendly over the past 10 years, it is almost certain that part of your support went to MLS owners.

    Now, as the story goes, this SUM money will eventually trickle down to MLS, but I don’t believe in trickle down soccernomics.

    So, on top of being the only system to accommodate great clubs, thriving lower divisions, and a product that can compete for the US market – pro/rel is also the only way to break this vicious cycle of conflict of interest and keep our owners honest to their soccer clubs.

    Owners of other US sports have been trying to push soccer into our closed domestic sports model for a century. Perhaps it’s time to admit that it can’t be domesticated.

    • Terry Ransbury says

      Agreed Soccerreform. I would also add for those looking for more substance to the benefits of pro/rel that it makes the top teams better by pushing from the bottom. The top teams in any league are already leading by definition (by their successful ways) but if you take pro/rel to a state that the weak are constantly replaced, the schedule gets tougher for the entire league. The league then gets better over time. This is true for D2 as well.

  40. JoeD says

    I respect Gary’s youth coaching accomplishments, but being good at coaching kids doesn’t make you suddenly an expert or somebody worth hearing from on professional soccer. Sorry, but that’s apples and watermelons.

    Gary’s entitled to his opinion, and I respect it, but spare me the “His youth teams are AMAZING, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to everything soccer related.” Nope, sorry.

    • says

      Joe… here’s the deal. The US market has spoken on the issue already. We’re flooding to imported soccer. You neither need to be an expert nor a conspiracy theorist to suggest that there is a connection between our preferences and the shortcomings of the US pro-sports model when applied to soccer.

      All you need to do is acknowledge that MLS is neither acting in the best interests of the US game – nor can they be expected to. The league lives in a bubble current US Soccer policies written for their financial well-being. You can go from there to a US Soccer body that can’t tie their own shoes without MLS approval.

      Which experts do you trust? Sir Alex Ferguson said the end of pro/rel would be suicide for lower division English clubs. Does one need to be an expert to wonder if the beginning of pro/rel will breathe new life into ours?

      The US soccer market is full of experts. We decide which clubs and leagues to follow, and which to ignore. Millions of experts are speaking against MLS.

      • Nancee says

        Soccerreform. I would be curious to know who you are. A secret shopper maybe. Your comments are erudite and seem to come from a different level of understanding than most. Thanks for the good read.

        • Benjamin Yates says

          His name is Ted Westervelt, Nancee. He’s a leading voice for Pro/Rel in this country, both well spoken and outspoken. (The incumbents call him a trouble-maker.) You can read more about the arguments in favor of Pro/Rel and even hear him debate Taylor Twellman on the issue at his website: http://soccerreform.us. I highly recommend checking it out.

          • Steve says

            Ted might sound articulate, but he leads a lot of people to be blind to the transformation of MLS in front of our eyes. There still might be boot-ball players, and players who are slow and unskilled in MLS. BUT, there’s a larger number of players coming into the league that are fast, good on and off the ball, and can compete with the best players in the world. Many MLS media people are blind to who the good players in the league, and who aren’t and bring up stats that don’t mean anything to justify them. And the only hope for it will have to either come from 1) USSF being desanctioned by FIFA because of no pro/rel, or 2) CONCACAF banning USSF and CSA from entering its tournaments in both national or international play, or play against FIFA opponents until they put a system in place. It’s not going to happen without concentrated investing down-pyramid or making the resources to form teams easier for most people to access.

          • Steve_C says

            Ted doesn’t blind anyone, if anything I see MLS fans putting blinders on and ignoring the deficiencies in the league. Having “good players that can compete” means nothing if the teams can’t compete. It’s like people think that if MLS players are on the USMNT that they must be world class. NO. just no.

            I was a big MLS fan 3 years ago. But after watching more and more of it, it was clear that the level of play is just not that entertaining. I just can’t fanboi for a league that so clearly has it’s priorities in the wrong place. I’ll support my local franchise because they do quite a lot on the youth development front. And I’ll route for Porter to shake up the expectations of what a MLS team with a good couch can do.

  41. Nuno says

    Open leagues are better for fans ( thus better for the “good of the game”)

    Studies say:

    “Sports leagues in different parts of the world are set up in different ways, some as open leagues and some as closed leagues. It has been shown that spending on players is higher in open leagues (Szymanski and Ross 2000 and Szymanski and Valletti 2005). This paper extends these studies, finding that sports leagues that practice promotion and relegation will have unambiguously higher aggregate spending on player talent than closed leagues. This will lower profits in the open league, but increase fan welfare”

    http://www.shu.edu/academics/scholarship/scholarship-detail.cfm?customel_datapageid_298601=431138

  42. Benjamin Yates says

    “5 of 16 MLS Teams lost to lower-Division competition in 2013 Open Cup. 9 of 16 MLS Teams lost to lower-Division competition in 2012 Open Cup. Most of the market is darkened by the current structure. NO reliable way to determine market bounds (Division I or otherwise) absent competitive distribution across multi-tiered league architecture. U.S. Soccer will continue to suffer from how current anti-competitive structure undermines legitimate competition and organic distribution of market participants. An overwhelming majority of soccer players, fans, and consumers are underserved by U.S. Soccer.”

    –from The Football Garden blog by Jacques Pelham

    • says

      The plan is to keep this discussion going at every possible level. The other side depends on portraying the pro/rel debate in the US as a fringe peculiarity – and closed leagues as cultural imperative.

      The plan is to encourage a policy change at US Soccer that gives every US club the same opportunities as any in the world. The first step to policy change is robust, persistent and reasoned opposition to the status quo.

      This discussion is one damn fine example.

      • PH says

        Ted, why aren’t the supporters of clubs in USL, NASL, NPSL, etc. actively protesting at MLS matches? It could be organized efficiently, executed legally, and publicized tremendously, which would put much greater pressure on MLS and US Soccer than online forums. Imagine if one or more clubs organized just their hardcore supporters and bought a block of tickets at an MLS match, certainly the seats are available, and sang, chanted, created Tifos, etc. asking for a match, equal opportunity, etc.

        E.G. In my part of the world, the Midwest, you could get supporters from one or more of a number of clubs at a CREW or Fire match with minimal cost and effort. Some of these clubs already have a decent core group of supporters and with a real mission to drive their existence and growth who knows what they might be capable of. In fact I think this is a meaningful part of the organic growth of clubs, versus the fabricated fan bases of MLS franchises.

        Imagine if a little coordination happened and pockets of protest were popping up all over at MLS matches with no warning and all over the country. I don’t know the political machinations occurring behind the scenes and if public debate of this kind (online forums/debates) is actually having an impact, but it seems to me that more tangible and visible efforts are capable of much more.

        • Kevin says

          For that to work, the protest would have to be seen on TV. Have you seen MLS TV ratings? An MLS game is the last place you would go if your goal was to be seen on TV.

          Either have to work with existing US soccer structure without pro/rel or go around it. Trying to get MLS to do pro/rel is like pissing in the wind. And what you really want is professional player development, not pro/rel which is not a magic wand.

          Go around USSF. Strike a deal with European or South American clubs. Have those clubs invest in youth development here in the US. Use that investment to offer players a professional development environment and a path directly to professional soccer. Build a culture that believes soccer development is youth straight to pro, not youth->college->MLS. If enough like minded clubs were established this way, form an independent league with pro/rel.

          You would have to start in a relatively highly populated area that already has a culture ready to accept professional development. Like SoCal.

          For all I know this is already happening.

          • PH says

            Kevin, I don’t know if it is a viable or meaningful strategy, but I do wonder why there isn’t more visible grassroots dissent.

            As to your point about TV. I wasn’t suggesting that the goal be to appear on a live network broadcast of a game. In fact, as you mention, that wouldn’t be all that practical, although if you picked your battles you might get a little mileage out of that approach. Rather, an aggressive effort to document and disseminate the protests via various new or social media platforms would require minimal cost and effort, but with a potentially big impact. You’re right about just beating your head against the wall trying to get MLS to act against their own best interest, but an organized, grassroots effort to create a flood of viral videos, tweets, etc. might make USSF take notice of a constituency they seem comfortable ignoring or marginalizing right now. The federation opening the pyramid is the necessary route.

            I also think your plan misses the mark, because as long as USSF is sanctioning MLS as D1 and FIFA recognizes USSF as our governing body there is no real going around them. Any pro development of elite players that would be happening with your partnership model would see the best youth players syphoned off to the parent clubs and even potentially to foreign federations. Any domestic plans at an independent alternative league get stifled by the closed market, which is a historical reality as well as a contemporary problem. Some of the other posts address that specifically.

  43. Brian says

    Why not ignore MLS and focus on a better alternative created from grassroots efforts. This is America, land of opportunity ;-) If there is a push to ignore MLS then the owners may be forced to make the changes being discussed here. Spectator and viewing numbers are already dwindling, how far do they need to fall until the owners understand that changes are needed. I believe the initial interest in MLS has fallen away as folks realize it is a sub-par product.

    • Benjamin Yates says

      Well said, Brian. That’s my thinking too. If MLS wants to do their own thing without pro/rel, more power to them, but that shouldn’t prevent other clubs in this country from following their own ambitions.

  44. Steve_C says

    Kevin. You’re such an entitled little poser. Stick to MLS and it’s sad little parity model that will never produce a club that can win anything but a pointless tournament at the end of a unimportant season. Support SUM for it’s friendlies with real clubs that destroy our MLS teams with bench players and off season form.

    Winning a league in Europe or most other places is an amazing feat, because it’s so hard to do. Here, no one cares. It’s definitely the US Sports mindset that’s messed up.

  45. MG says

    Gary, I agree with most of the things that you’ve said in the post and I loved the analogy with the free market vs centrilized control systems. Most of us (i.e., the readers of this blog) realize that the current system is broken and is holding back our soccer development, but the hard question is how do we change the system? It seems that the USSF and MLS are largely content with the status quo and are likely to resist any effort to disturb the monopoly. Where’s the REVOLUTION that you are talking about? How do we fight for American Dream? We need practical solutions for fixing this mess.

  46. CDO says

    Promo / rele is great but more important in the larger context over next 5 – 10 years are things like improving the academy system, coaching, more regional involvement in the form of centers of excellence are more important, stable and growing NASL/USL. D1 soccer is part of the solution as all roads to professional soccer goes through it.

    Gary, my humble suggestion is for this site to tackle the larger issues in order of importance. Address the issues in some logical fashion.

    On a related matter, Jurgen Klinsmann is going on about US players getting onto UEFA CL squads. MLS recently ranked 49th in competitive level among international leagues (talked about on “The Locker Room” last night on BeIn sports TV network). It’s subjective, but MLS is definitely a third-rate league by any measure.

    Besides having technically and tactically inferior players, it is based on the internationally unproven franchise model but is surrounded by other leagues with nearly 100-years of promo / rele proven model. The American franchise system rewards failure and punishes success. The path to MLS relies on recruits from a D1 system of part-time student athletes who don’t play to international rules and do so in the critical U18 – U22 range.

    The BIGGEST difference between us and everyone else is created at 18 – 22. For elite clubs, they start to widen this gap as early as U12 or younger. It is w/o question we miss the mark at every age level! This is a broad issue but is at the core of our current state. Focus all our energy here.

    Before we make the leap to UEFA CL, how about first doing better in CONCACAF CL? Mexico owns it. MLS has trouble with NASL/USL teams in US Open Cup, yet Klinsmann is setting the bar at UEFA CL. Saaaay whaaat!

    Before sticking our US player and MLS flag in the hallowed ground of the Santiago Bernabeau, Camp Nou or San Siro, we gotta be able to put the flag on the small hill called MLS, academy, D1, supporting NASL/USL, and getting USSF into to establish regional centers of excellence. Does every USSDA club have some sort of player and coaching agreement with an professional club (MLS, Europe, Mexico, South America, USL, NASL)? Why not? They should!

    Why jump straight to Europe? How about getting some yanks in Liga MX or SA leagues like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and so on? They are step above MLS and proven spring-board for Euro leagues.

    So my point is our progression should not be reactive, unrealistic, and cannot happen in condensed time skipping levels of maturity or we’ll end up a bottle of cheap Thunderbird wine.

  47. CDO says

    I think it’s very important from my previos post, so I’ll single it out:

    “The BIGGEST difference between us and everyone else is created at 18 – 22. For elite clubs, they start to widen this gap as early as U12 or younger. It is w/o question we miss the mark at every age level! This is a broad issue but is at the core of our current state. Focus all our energy here.”

  48. Rozano Fortune says

    In the US once a player hit 16/17 that’s it. Most clubs and coaches don’t know what to do with a player. You can only teach so much “tactics”.

  49. Gazza says

    England’s #1 sport is soccer. In America soccer is maybe #9 – and that’s being generous. They’ve had pro/rel of clubs for a hundred years. and the EPL has SuperClubs. We have MLS. England doesn’t produce better players than America. England’s national team is not better than the USMNT and hasn’t been for years. There is minimal investment in the lower divisions. Ted and his crew are full of crap.

    MLS (like the NFL, MLB and NHL) has promotion and relegation for it’s players, coaches and scouts.

    • Steve_C says

      You’re an idiot. EPL is not the only league that has Pro/Rel. The Dutch are better. The Germans. Italians, Spain, France, Belgians, Brazilians, Argentinians… We’re not “Ted’s Crew” you moron.

      You’re clueless. Stick to hockey.

    • Andy Mullaly says

      Again, what are your metrics? Soccer has much more popularity than 9th. By any stretch. What are the other eight sports. In the 12-24 age bracket professional soccer is the 2nd most popular sport in the USA. http://www.fordhamobserver.com/soccer-steadily-gaining-popularity-in-united-states/ Not baseball, basketball, hockey, lacrosse, whatever else you can come up with. The sport is gaining in popularity because the youth of our country play the game and can see the best in the world on television. We need to be able to grow our domestic league into something better than College Soccer 2.0.

    • Dan says

      Then why aren’t any Americans in the champions league? Please don’t say it’s the mean old Eurosnobs not giving them a chance. Does USA have a defender as good as JohnTerry? Or an attacking player as good as Walcott? I have respect for Dempsey but he’s sitting the bench for Fulham, more often than not. Walcott and Terry are far from world class, but what USMNT players can even hold a candle to those guys?

      • STL A-B says

        Dempsey doesn’t like tactics as he explained in why he grew tired of the “style” of play in England. He preferred to roam and do what he wants…creatively. Another sign that US soccer philosophy is behind in most areas. On a side note, a possibility Dempsey is just burned out at the moment since he wanted to be “home” with family.

      • CDO says

        @Dan,
        Champions League is not just UEFA (Euro). USA is in the CONCACAF CL, but dominated by Mexico. We can’t be in UEFA CL becasue of geography. We don’t want to be in UEFA CL. That would be ugly!

        You’re right, we have no world-class players. Even second-tier such as Walcott.

        • CDO says

          I misunderstood your response above Dan. I see you were talking about American players, not teams. My apologies. Coffee not kicked in.

  50. CDO says

    Besides promo / rele, we need to start building real clubs. A topic Gary talked about before. Even top USSDA clubs don’t instill that sense of pride, history, local spirit. In its own way, this reinforces key concepts such as how to get to that mental level required for highest levels of the game. Wearing the jersey with pride, honor, respect. Players feeling like they have the support of the local community and represent them. Even lower division clubs in any country in Europe or SA illicit this emotion in youth players, parents, supporters.

    Playing for a “real club” will have more impact to the U9 player than promo / rele.

    Another concept is how to compete. This means doing whatever it takes. Don’t’ give opponents an opportunity. It’s not a gentleman’s game. Grit and determination and the dark arts of football are important. The gritty street smart ability and confidence to take on opponents 1v1, go hard into headers and 50/50 balls, getting angry at teammates and letting them know it. Two players per position fighting it out to start. No guaranteed place in next year’s team. Only the best footballers make it. All these are difficult concept to instill in vanilla suburbs where we pay to play and many see it as a paid activity.

    Playing in a real club where competition is intense and coaching top-notch will have more impact on the U9 player.

    Again, the point I keep pushing is that for us as a nation to advance in soccer, there is a laundry list of concepts / traditions / beliefs / mental attitude that is not yet a part of our collective footballing fabric. That’s why it takes generations. We are in elementary school and think we can go straight to Ph. D.

  51. CJ says

    Hey guys:

    Just heard the news. Hope that doesn’t change your end of things—that which you continue to do. Well, a lot of fans are happy; they think that this is part of moving MLS to the next level. But as I re-read this post, I can’t help but think that this is illustration of what you’re saying.

  52. Steve_C says

    People keep asking for a “PLAN” to move to Pro/Rel. I think it could be easily done, USSF institutes a pyramid by requesting all the leagues join the system. The highest current league that joins, becomes D1, most likely NASL, and then so on. If MLS and USL Pro decide to stay separate, so be it, it seems like they’re moving towards an MLS1 and MLS 2 model anyway. There could be a 1 or 2 year grace period the leagues to sort out the legal and financial aspects, and use the period to plan the procedures for how many teams would be promoted and relegated and what the club requirements are to be eligible for which divisions. I could see there being a huge influx of cash into all the leagues that say they are joining the system, those shoring up clubs to get ready to fight for promotion or to fight relegation. I think the interest in local clubs and the chance to invest in a team that could rise to the top would be attractive to thousands of investors.

    But none of it can happen unless the USSF does something. It may take a lower team ownership group or league suing the USSF or FIFA pulling it’s credentials. No corporation should own the sport and now Federation should be beholden to that corporation.

    • CJ says

      I agree that this should be the plan. MLS probably isn’t going anywhere, but the lower leagues could probably switch to a pyramid structure. Although, I’m not as confident in the willingness of investors to enter the market. If it could, then perhaps sometime down the road, the pyramid structure could push out MLS.

      • Steve_C says

        If there’s a clear route to D1 I don’t see why there wouldn’t be investment. Also investors can choose at what level of the pyramid they want to start in. Don’t need to be a billionaire to go to D3.

  53. CDO says

    To whomever posted the Paco Fernandez link: thank you! Here’s the punchline for those who haven’t read it. The article brigns out valid points not discussed in this forum. Here it is . . . .

    The problem is it deters many from even trying, or going somewhere else (speaking of players now too). Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of quality players and coaches in the MLS, but how many have we missed out on? And how many are there because they knew how to work the system, as opposed to those who aren’t familiar with the path to the top. Coming from Costa Rica, I have seen plenty of players who through promotion played their way into the top flight, and in some cases even got called up to the National Team. Here, there are too many stories of players who had the talent, but never got a shot in MLS and knew of the road blocks put up to get there so decided to end their journey before it even started. Many didn’t think it was worth playing in USL or NASL because there was no guarantee they could make it to the top level. I can guarantee if the possibility of getting to the MLS was possible through their and their teams merits, they would have been more inclined to possibly stay in the game. And who knows, maybe its a player who didn’t know about travel soccer until he was 12, or didn’t have the money to play in an Academy or play ODP, so they never got a look by a top 10 school so they didn’t get invited to the combine… You see where I’m going with this. Right now there is a path, and that path is controlled by a few at the top.

    Is having promotion and relegation the answer to all of the soccer problems in this country? No, but it’s a damn good start.

    • Geoff says

      This speaks clearly to me as a product of not knowing or having the understanding of how to progress as a player to whatever the next level was in my time.

      Looking at this one can see the path a player can take to develop to the highest level. I still dont think the Pro/rel system would fix everything as the leagues that use it, do so with their national past time that everyone their follows, hence my original point about pro rel being bad business,
      I get all the benefits people suggest about it, i understand wanting to usher in as much as we can to start a revolution. The only problem, our revolution we be fought with pitch forks and torches vs cannons and guns, but not on our home soil…. Thats a tough fight that we wouldnt win yet
      Now the more time that goes by with our kids playing being educated by Ex players the more our weapons increase, we are definitly closer to a pro rel sytem and soccer enlightenment than we were 17 years ago…

      That gap is getting closer every year and maybe one day soon some of these features and concepts will be a reality

    • Kana says

      This is also a reason a league pyramid with all teams having academies is important. Big clubs like Dallas Texans and Surf don’t have path to MLS. As we increase the number of professional aligned academies, we open opportunities for players who happen to live in wrong geography. Then when you add promo / relegation, even more opportunities.

      Look at how bad Chivas USA has been doing. They should have been relegated years ago. Give chance to new club, new players. Instead they are guaranteed MLS spot. WTF!

  54. Eric says

    Interesting reading, as always. This blog gets my attention because it looks outside the box and is provocative at times.

    This time, I think you are wrong. Or, at least, you are right in the minority but wrong in the main.

    Here is why. Pro/rel isn’t the only thing that is different about US soccer. Here are some other key differences:
    - A relatively low salary budget
    - Which in turn produces a relatively even league, or relatively high degree of parity in comparison to the rest of the world.

    This creates a situation where player development can immediately benefit a team, for example in the case of Yedlin last year and Gil is another one over the last few years. And that encourages teams to invest in youth development and to incorporate a youth policy on the senior squad – they simply can’t afford not to, from a strategic perspective.

    This introduces 2 huge differences vs the rest of the world:
    - Young players can get a chance realtively early with their ‘home club’. The biggest clubs in the world can’t afford to invest minutes in young players, unless a player is an elite talent. This often results in needing loan arrangements and other means to get minutes, which means instability in coaches, playing style, etc.
    - When they play, they play in a different type of game. That is, a competitive one. In the vast majority of leagues (including England, France, Holland, Spain, Germany, Italy et al), there are 3-4 ‘big’ teams, that have a bigger budget , more resources, etc. These teams consistently finish top of the league, make continental qualification, and so on. Those teams rarely play young players, even great ones, because so much is at stake in every single game – case in point, I don’t expect to see Gnaby and Zelalem anytime soon at Arsenal, and you could pick out similar situations across the top 20 teams in Europe, although admittedly to a lesser degree at Barca which is not an exception to this rule but a less severe case. So, when young players do play, it is typically for a middle or lower team, and, especially when playing for the lowest teams, this means playing in a very defensive, conservative system designed to try to steal points off better teams. This is counter-productive to development, as this blog has ably shown.

    So, MLS is a unique development environment. It has done great things for players like Montero, Gil, Yedlin, and others and it will continue to do great things because players can play early, can play open soccer, and they can actually make a difference in the win column – which means teams focus on and invest in them.

    Honestly, I think Agudelo was short-sighted. He was better off with Heaps at New England than Stoke, and he really lucked out to fall into a postive development situation in Holland instead, with an upper-middle tier team that plays open soccer in an open league.

    With the young DP and homegrown initiatives, this is becoming even more pronounced. The teams that fall behind in youth development will fall behind at the top level, and this disentive will galvanize them into action and lift all the ships league-wide.

    Back to pro/rel, pro/rel would be a counter-weight to this positive trend for two reasons, 1) because you can’t really have pro/rel and modest salary budget co-existing, it creates too much risk without opportunities for control. So,the budget salary would be loosened or eliminated, and the money would be diverted from youth investment to salary and transfers, just like has happened with the pro/rel leagues. And 2) because with pro/rel the most powerful owners and biggest markets will inevitably craft advantages for themselves which will eliminate the parity and reduce the development opportunity. Yount players will find themselves ‘staying organized’ in closed, conservative systems.

    Love this blog! But sorry, you are dead wrong on this one. My 2 cents. :)

    • says

      Hi Eric, hi everyone.

      First, like I stated in the article, I will be fleshing out the assertion being made over the course of time. To expect that to happen in one essay, is to not understand the magnitude and depth of the layers involved.

      Now, on to Eric specifically …
      Huge – and critical – mistake already in thinking 3four3 is “outside the box”.
      We are very much inside the box.
      Again, we are INSIDE the box.

      It is the incumbent American soccer narrative (controlled by one single tribe – a tiny minority of the soccer community), which has indoctrinated so many of you, that is outside the box. So far outside the box that everything is backwards.

      I wholly understand your reasoning Eric, and all the points you want to make. They are derived from the incumbent narrative and story-lines. I’ve been swimming in this forever, and know it all too well. That’s ok, I don’t expect to undo decades of indoctrination in 10 minutes. This is a multi-year and lifelong process.

      Actually, I don’t expect to convert anyone who is from the incumbent church. They’re likely too far gone. I hope to engage Americans that are ‘global soccer people’, and have not been bamboozled by the incumbents.

      • Eric says

        Don’t worry – the real world will prove me right over the next 10-20 years. I’ll e-mail you afterwards.

        I respect your sentments on where you reside regards to the box. You guys are in the middle of what works – your track record proves it. That is where the box should be, and from that perspective you are in the box. If the box is the conventional wisdom, what the vast majority of coaches have pursued over the past 20 years, then you are out of the box.

        Common usage typically refers to conventional wisdom as the box, but truth is probably a better weather vane, especially in this case.

        While we are correcting misperceptions, I would definitely not fall within the incumbent US soccer narrative, but there wouldn’t be any way for you to know that based on one (or a handful – if you go way back) post.

        With all due respect, I also have to say that it doesn’t seem like you response actually addresses my 2 points nor is it clear how the specific thoughts fall within the incumbent narrative. You have to be careful that it doesn’t seem like any disagreement is rejected out of hand and labelled invasive incumbent thinking. If you guys are closed to rival perspectives you aren’t really any better than the other guys.

        I do admire what you guys are doing. I agree with upwards of 90% of the content of this blog. I call them like I see them, and this blog is a much needed perspective and one I have certainly benefitted from.

        • NoVa Mike says

          @ Eric –

          “If the box is the conventional wisdom, what the vast majority of coaches have pursued over the past 20 years, then you are out of the box.”

          Conventional wisdom where? Vast majority of coaches where?

          In the context of the global soccer community, the conventional wisdom of the vast majority of US Soccer coaches is very far outside the box.

          Your main point has me kind of perplexed though, because you seem to be an intelligent and informed follower of the sport. I am at a loss though, as to how you could possibly believe that the MLS is a better environment for player development b/n 18-22 than Europe?

          Man City, Barca, Leverkusen, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Bayern, Man U, Olympiacos, Zenit, Galatasary, Milan, Chelsea, Dortmund, Shalke, PSG.

          Those are the final 16 in the CL. How many players on those 16 rosters were developed in the MLS? Last year? The year before? Ever??? Pick a top 6 league – EPL, Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Eredevise, Ligue 1. How many players on a top 4 team were developed in the MLS between 18-22? Ever?

          If your theory is that there has been some kind of fundamental sea change in the developmental environment in the MLS for that age group in very recent times, so that 5 years from now the answers to those questions will be different, please elaborate b/c personally I just don’t see it.

          • CDO says

            @Eric,
            Agree with others that you are far off base. I respectfully suggest you take a few months to research this topic more and then come back. If you still truly believe MLS is better, then so be it.

            There are people who think we didn’t land on the moon, that Elvis is alive, and that MLS is better than Europe in player development. Ok, whatever!

    • Kana says

      @Eric,
      You’re right, MLS is different due to low salary driving parity. But it doesn’t necessarily create a situation that benefits the teams. Having 1 or 2 aging superstars making a few million and everyone else below $100K creates situation where you are forced to settle for young unproven talent and journeyman players. The majority of American players still come from D1. No cost for MLS there. So using your logic, D1 should be preferred.

      Investing in youth academy is smart regardless if you are MLS or La LIga (e.g., Real Madrid). MLS can use it as a way to live within the salary cap. Real Madrid can sell-off the cream and make money to further invest and keep the crème de la crème for the first team. MLS does not have the free-market buying and selling of players with salaries not limited to salary cap or MLS leadership directing and approving purchases. If a Real Madrid starlet isn’t quite good enough, he may to Getafe on loan or sale to “develop”. This system is proven and works. But never heard it “creates instability”? Do you really think teams like Madrid, Barca, Man U. Milan, and so on would loan out players if it caused “instability”? Maybe you need to go to Europe and consult because they all got it wrong.

      All clubs (be it MLS or La Liga) give young talent a chance. But on your second point, you seem to want young developing players to get guaranteed minutes or starting spot jus to serve “development”. European clubs have no guarantees. They are not there to be altruistic to young phenoms who still need molding. No guaranteed MLS franchise to supposedly “develop”.

      And what is wrong with playing with a “middle” or “lower” team? That’s how you develop. Are you suggesting a team such as Arsenal allow major playing time for Gnaby? He has to earn his spot. If that means going to a lower league or loan, then that’s what it takes. No free rides.

      But MLS is no different. I’m not going to go into tit for tat on that, but MLS doesn’t have any better track record for allowing giving young talent easy street. Just go ask Juan Agudelo. But he came out ok. He went to Chivas. He steeled himself. Tried harder. Developed and now in Europe.

      And to your final point, where do you get that young players going to lower teams play defensive? Unless it’s a domestic cup, such as Copa del Rey, lower divisions do not play higher division teams. They play like talent. And guess what, some coaches prefer to be defensive. But so do first division clubs who play better teams. Even Chelsea parked the bus against Barca in UEFA CL.

      I don’t know where you’re coming from Eric, but your points don’t make sense to me. You make it seem like MLS has the right recipe and Europe and SA have it wrong and in 5-10 years you will prove everyone wrong and MLS will be on top of footballing world. Ridiculous beyond reason!

  55. Oscar V. says

    Dear Gary, finally you are making some sense. About three years ago or longer I advised you that the USDA was a bad idea because it puts all the power in the hands of the big clubs and you disagreed with me saying that ” it was a move in the right direction.” What I loved about Coast Soccer League was having all the best teams earning their promotion to the top, not the current system that continiously rewards those people with only money in mind and not true development. The best coaches that I’ve seen out there are not usually the name brands, but those coaches that think outside box and have the skill to make players better (development). The current system continues to reward the status quo and removes the possibility of any innovation and creativity. I usually cheer for the underdog because he has fight, the big clubs are fat and lazy and sheppard the flock of naive and stupid parents that can’t see they are being taken for their money. US Soccer should be destroyed and start over with an entire new group of people, that trully would be revolutionary

    • Jeremy says

      Though I imagine that last sentence was a joke, I also will assume there is truth to it as well. I, myself, sometimes truly do believe that MLS must collapse and the USSF must outright fail for us to finally succeed. That way, we can start again from scratch.

      Sometimes, when a broken system is too big for too long, without any competition, it becomes impossible to change. The only solution becomes collapse. Think USSR.

  56. Eric says

    I don’t think MLS necessarily is or will be the top of the world – I am talking about youth development, not quality of the leage overall. I also never said anything at all about guaranteed time, just more opening to legitimately earn time because of the structure. For the record, I’m also not saying MLS is inherently or permanently better, these are just structural advantages that may be temporary as MLS grows.

    Here is a thought for you. Of course Europe develops talent, but there are 100′s in for the few that succeed. For an individual player, just one guy who has just one chance, where is the best opportunity at 18 years old? If you really follow Europe then you know some make it but you also know the names of many highly-rated players that bounced around England or Germany or Spain and then fall of the radar. I’m saying in the near term, MLS success rate will be higher. On far fewer prospects, it will produce (or mayber better stated, be a stepping stone) for some world class players.

    The conditions happen to make MLS one of the best places in the world for an 18-22 year old in development right now and conditions are likely to continue to improve going forward. The proof will be in the pudding. In 5-10 years, when it is selling players who entered the system at 18 years old (say, between 2014 and 2019) and then transfer to Europe as 22-25 (so, players who are sold in the 2018 -2026 time frame), MLS will start to have multiple suitors for young MLS players. The proof will be in 2 places – the MLS record transfer fee will be set multiple times in the 5-10 year time frame and then the players will have success in Europe when they transfer. This is like geopolitics, the things that will happen seem unbelievable but yet they are predicted and then they happen, based on the underlying forces. Don’t believe me now, just wait and see.

    Ironically, even though Gary obviously disagrees with me on this one, it also happens to make his brother one of the most marketable people in US Soccer, potentially ahead of even some of the first-team MLS coaches. No one else has a comparable track record for developing talent and he is in a very small group that could potentially build or revamp a youth setup. If you have to get something out of young players to win, because buying players and even retaining experienced players isn’t always an option, then a guy who can provide that foundation for you is invaluable.

    • Kyle says

      Eric,

      How can you possibly say the US is better for players aged 18-22 to develop than Europe? 90% of players that age are in college and I can guarantee you, about 10% of those players are actually getting better and developed properly. You say that the success rate of players making it (whatever that means) is higher than in Europe, but you are forgetting about the thousands of players each year that can’t get a tryout in the MLS. Where exactly are you getting these numbers? Could you explain what you mean by success rate?

      But go ask these players if they would prefer to be out of the league before they ever get a chance or if they would like to “bounce around Europe”. I’m pretty sure Deulofeo, Rafinha, Muniesa, Cuenca and a countless other players who weren’t going to get the chance at Barca would rather get that chance somewhere else than not be in the league at all. It’s honestly ridiculous to think more young players are getting developed here than in Europe when Arsenal just started a 20 year old in the biggest game of the year for them. How many players here are getting that chance?

      So you actually have it backwards. It is here in the MLS where if you don’t get it right from the start you have no chance of making it. In Europe, if you’re not Arsenal, Juventus, Milan, Real Madrid quality you are guaranteed a shot somewhere else, including second division, something MLS can’t offer.

      Finally, just use the eye test. If you watched any part of the Euro Under-21 Championship last summer there would be no way you can say that players from age 18-22 are getting developed better here.

      • Eric says

        I didn’t say anything at all about college. Obviously, college is a far worse environment than any professional on any continent.

      • Jeremy says

        Have to totally agree with each point. Anyone who thinks that Europe is not the cream of youth soccer development, and then goes to say that MLS will lead to a better path towards development for a player at any age desperately needs to educate themselves about the finer points of world football. MLS has YET to produce a truly world class player.

        I feel what Eric is trying to say, even though he may not realize it himself, is that it is easier for a kid to find success in MLS than it would be in a European league. And, of course, that is true. A talented soccer player would be in possession of a greater probability of succeeding in MLS than in any top Euro league. Factual as it may be, it is not a compliment, however.

  57. CDO says

    Just thinking out loud:

    Lack of game knowledge with the only benchmark being American football, basketball, baseball are equally cripple players down to U9. For example, hearing coaches and parents say things like:
    • “He’s big, must be good player” (heard this many times). Then all the parents complain to each other saying “they must be wrong age group, we’re going to get killed.”
    • “Kick it” or “Shoot” (but the player is well outside the box, has better options, wrong angle, and so on . . ..)
    • “Keep dribbling to goal” (typically said in wrong circumstance)
    • “Unlucky” or “good try” (when 80% of the time it was a rushed shot with minimal probability of success and there were better chances if they were patient and understood the game better)

    Above comes from American sports mentality where it’s a lot to do with physical aggression, big strong players = top players in their sport, and so on. We (USA) don’t fully understand that technique, tactics, mental speed are more important than size (competitiveness, not size). It’s better for us to build game knowledge through the generations. Those who are locked into the American sports mentality cannot shake that mentality. This site is helping in a big way, but it’s the new generations that will make the change and we are at least 10 – 20 years away. The old guard coaches need to retire and we have to wait for parents who played competitive to have their own kids and MLS/NASL/USL have to also grow. Then we can start seeing meaningful change.

    Unlike Europe or South America, parents in those countries understand football. They get it if a player makes a nice deep lying run, the team pings around the ball with 1 – 2 quick touches, the center mid spreads the ball equally, patience and composure, the beauty of a short backward diagonal ball in the box to an oncoming attacker, a winger who can take an outside back to the goal line and cut in with a cross and forcing defenders to turn and face goal or a winger who can see channels and cut inside to disrupt shape (not just cross the ball 100% of the time), an outside back who has the technique and tactical understanding to build from the back and provide offensive threat, playing aggressive to limit opportunities and doing all you can to create opportunities, having team chemistry and playing philosophy deeply engrained where players don’t need to talk as much to know what his teammates are doing and where to pass, understanding the dark arts of the game (when and how to foul, when to be sneaky), and so much more.

    Our collective lack of game knowledge greatly influences everything from the national team down to U9. It defines coaching, playing style, player development, player id, and so on.

  58. Brian says

    Give the opportunity for one MLS team to be owned by the clubs fans….similar to the model around the world, but especially in Germany and Spain. Then you will start to see things change…talk about pride in ownership, and a desire to have a coach and a team that can really play football.

  59. CDO says

    I think beliefs such as Eric’s stem from misunderstanding of system versus philosophy and ignoring of collective history (could also call it soccer culture).

    Europe has numerous academies and several levels (pyramid) with different playing and player development philosophies and models (system). This multi-dimensional structure comes together in transfer windows to loan and sell players. It works because that free-market understands its needs. Yes, it doesn’t always work, no perfect system. Especially in something as subjective as football talent and the numerous variables that account for player / team success.

    MLS is one-dimensional. By default, a limited market. And the league controls player movement. And salary cap limits better foreign players from coming in. If this weren’t the case, MLS academies would be forced to better player id / development system to ease financial strains of larger salaries unbound by salary cap.

    The other is ignoring collective history. Einstein was brilliant. However, he build on what people like Newton, Max Planck, and Robert Brown (to name a few). From musicians, to surgeons, and athletes – each new generation learns from those before. For example, tiki-taka is a given in youth development in Spain. Clubs like Barca, Real Socieadad, Bilbao, and Valencia have excellent academies. Routinely pump out starlets.

    They do so because of collective knowledge in coaching and soccer culture at large. They rely on proven constants and build on them in their own way. So going back to my first point, philosophy is the foundation of the system. This in turn sits on a league pyramid. Together they form a solid player development fabric.

    We have none of this in USA. It’s silly to think that MLS is better than Europe in player development when you consider only about 5-years on average for MLS teams having academies, only 16-years of MLS, about 25-years since 1990 World Cup (re-birth of US soccer), an embryonic league pyramid, salary cap that limits better international players from coming, and a closed franchise system that limits competition .

  60. pg 19 says

    I don’t think the pro/rel rule would work here in the States as it does in Europe and other soccer countries. Primarily because you can’t look at one facet of what works in Europe and think it can apply here in the States. Along with pro/rel, there has to be ownership of players, meaning the children that are being developed. There are two models to which clubs make money in developing youth soccer players. Ownership and selling them off, which is the business model of some European teams; and our system of pay to play which is an immediate profit maker, not something that is a long term investment before there is a return. The thing is, our model, there is not a cost to the club as the player (parents) pay so to not develop the youth player would be dumb and is not done. It simply is not being done well (player selection, coaching, you name it). As it has been argued, those that can’t afford to play, or live in an area with a DA nearby, are at a disadvantage. For the time being.

    I’m all for how the MLS is set up currently. It is based on a model that works for other professional sports domestically. Meaning it works within the laws that apply in the US. If there are changes that would lead to improvement, I guarantee that it happens and I’ll touch more on that briefly. The MLS is generally very young, been around since 1996. That is significantly longer than its predecesor, NASL (1968-1984) existed, especially when factoring in that NASL didn’t really take off until the signing of Pele in the late 70′s and that it imploded early 80′s well before 1984. Salary caps, awarding better draft picks to teams that are losing, again based on lessons learned from the failure of NASL (unlimited salaries and expansion) and from other domestic pro leagues.

    Having more equity in terms of talent based on salary restrictions and “awarding” of draft picks to poor performing clubs means any team has the potential of winning a championship when a new season starts. It is based less on the acquisiation of players, but more so on innovation. I think it feeds competition as it forces teams to constantly improve themselves and find new ways to success because what they had one year, is not a guarantee over the long term and ultimately, the fans like this. A team wins, the more fans spend, the higher the profits and eventually the heightening of salaries. That is in contrast to how clubs work abroad in terms of how they pursue success.

    The complaint I see is how do we get to where Europe is right now. Taking on a model that works elsewhere that doesn’t take into account how our economy is situated (expectations, laws, child labor), nor all the part of what makes it work, will not work here, as it did not before.

    Yes, MLS rules are intended to protect the league. The point being, without a league, our best team is nothing. Since the MLS has existed, how long did it take before fears of its collapse, subsided? We think more now of expansion. With expansion and a healthy league, it grows financially. With a league, more players have the opportunity to rise to that level, and beyond. How many players rose to the MLS levels and beyond between NASL and the start of MLS?

    As MLS becomes more successful, it then can fund more development opportunities for those that are less financially fortunate who may have the skills to play this game. It will always be a model based on profitablility, as it is with any club outside the US. Its a matter of how you make a profit.

    A relegated team in the US would likely die off. A 2nd tier team that is promoted, will likely be on the fence of relegation and promotion every year as it will not financially invest what it needs to compete at a tier 1 level. Meaning they are often not any better than the team they replaced that was relegated.

    Pro/rel already exists now in youth soccer in the form of competitive travel teams (gold/silver/etc) to even within the rec soccer community (tier 1 to whatever). Often first teams at the youth level award physically advanced players. So the issue seems to be with the relegated teams that are training the supposedly talented players that are undersized, and underserving them by not teaching them the right way to play the game, the right fundamentals of the game and insisting on a similar method of play for an entire club philosophy. If anything, we have what is being asked for, we are simply failing as coaches when it comes to organizing our clubs in a way that ensure that the first team, and the reserve teams at each age group, are taught how to play the game so players can interchange more freely amongst teams when called upon, all the way to the senior team.

    I like the concept of pro/rel. It has its place in youth soccer already, needs to be refined. It does not belong in the MLS as I don’t think it would work for the financial well being of the league when only a handful of teams dominate play compared to now when any team has the potential of being champion if they are innovative, if their players buy in to a winning philosophy, and if the coaching is of substance that leads to success.

  61. CDO says

    Nice website upgrade!

    @Pg19, agree that promo/rel is good but the time is not now. 5-10 years maybe.

    Some quick facts, in 2008 MLS asked all teams to form academies. Only 6-years ago! From MLS website: The average MLS salary in 2013 is $169K, median is $100K. MLS salaries on average are lower than English 2nd tier. The $3M salary cap (with exceptions such as DP and homegrown) forces youth development. But the problem is the lack of opportunities and league pyramid and top-class coaching, which affects young developing player quality.

    An important point: leagues that rely on player development MUST have world-class coaching, scouting, player id. MLS does not. And neither does MLS supplying D1 and youth clubs. So the default is mediocrity. And buying foreign players is limited to journeyman and old superstars because of salary cap. In current structure, it is impossible for MLS to attract 3, 4, 5 respectable internationals. So again, mediocrity. But many of you are ok with that.

    Everyone who likes promo / rel should support NASL. It has open door policy for new clubs. No centralized MLS control. No salary cap. Single table. They even stream game footage. They are most closely setup to reflect football in rest of the world. They just need academies and better fan support. Hopefully they can be like the old AFL and push MLS to bring them in (like NFL did with AFL). NASL can be the viable second division for relegated MLS teams. If NASL can forgoe the francise model, why can’t MLS?

    Owners who buy-into NASL and MLS know what they are doing. Just like they do when owning and operating any other business. There’s a chance for failure. Except for socialist MLS.

    NASL has the right model, but we masses are spoon-fed MLS and is all we know. And so goes the mass con game.

    • says

      I’m with Sir Alex Ferguson on this. If lack of pro/rel limits interest and investment our lower divisions need for pro/rel, isn’t it sadistic to cite lack of interest/investment as a roadblock TO pro/rel? We’re ready to drive up the values of lower division clubs, and draw new investors to them. We’re ready to begin a pro/rel transition in five minutes.

      Any owner of any business in the world would prefer MLS entitlements to a risk and competition free existence. Unfortunately sport – and soccer specifically – is about risk and competition. It’s no wonder to me that a league prefaced on protections from risk and competition doesn’t produce compelling soccer.

      Perhaps the most cynical part of this equation is the cynical sell-off of the US market via SUM – almost a rote admission of the shortcomings endemic to the MLS system and the US pyramid to which they dictate.

  62. CDO says

    I think many of you are missing Gary’s thesis statement: “US soccer is not creating a true soccer pyramid with promotion & relegation.” For people like @Eric and pg19, please show me a top-class footballing country that lacks any of these. I consider the variables “absolute” as there is no data point absent these. MLS is using the American sports model as if MLS and USMNT operated in the vacuum of the 48-contiguous states.

    Many are forgetting the former and argue against P/R in the vacuum of MLS and it’s franchise system conveniently forget the pyramid part. Can’t have promotion & relegation w/o a proper soccer pyramid. PERIOD! But in USA, we need a soccer pyramid, P/L, and a free-market system (like NASL). To put into perspective, USA has none of these.

    As we know it via history (~100+ years) and observable “time now” clubs, world-class soccer includes a few variables: top-class coaching, top-class scouting and player id, soccer pyramid, and promotion & relegation.

    Philosophy, style of play, formations, type of preferred player (small, big, athletic, strong, speedy, aggressive, etc . . . .) is tactical level. More important is the overlying strategic variables stated above. The tactical level should complement the strategic. This is why different teams such as Madrid, Barca, Bayern, Juve, Chelsea can be so different, yet absolutely brilliant in their own way.

    The USA doesn’t have the strategic level nor the tactical and much dichotomy between MLS, USSDA, youth clubs, college, ODP, NASL, USL. A chaotic, uncoordinated system of systems.

    Think of MLS as a business (which it is). There is vast money in the international arena. There is risk and reward for sure. MLS is like the local clothing store that is happy confined in its small neighborhood (becase they want to be financially safe) but harbor dreams of challenging international giants like Macy’s and Nordstrom. Yet they aren’t willing to invest and change operating model to support growth.

    To say we can’t do it because of financial reasons (as pg19 is suggesting) is MLS showing lack of leadership, lack of foresight and marginal growth. The MLS is overly risk-averse and too many control mechanisms (e.g., salary cap and centralized league) controlling (like the failed 5-year plans from the old Soviet Politburo).

    If you step away, it’s easy to see the MLS model having a glass ceiling. It’s system and policies can only allow for a finite level of player quality. About the only option for MLS in current form, is to have better player development (which means better scouting and coaching and player id) and become the spring-board for Europe (similar to how leagues like Eredivise operate). But so much has to change for that to happen. And if MLS wants to be comparable to best Euro leagues, so much has to happen. None of this is happening, so perpetual mediocrity.

    • Kana says

      @CDO,
      Good points on NASL.

      “Can’t have promotion & relegation w/o a proper soccer pyramid. PERIOD! But in USA, we need a soccer pyramid, P/L, and a free-market system (like NASL). To put into perspective, USA has none of these.”

      You put it into good perspective. Thanks! I think I”m gonna cry now.

  63. CDO says

    I guess everyone is done with this topic? One final thought I’ll add is when I was watching recent Burnley v. Derby County match (English 2nd division), the announcers mentioned the drive to EPL promotion. This got me to think back and the light went on. So many lower division matches focus on the promotion / relegation battle. Same true for EPL. Same true for any country in Europe, and South America.

    This drive to avoid relegation and earn promotion often dictates coaches (firing & hiring) and player personnel. It’s the fuel that drives completion and better quality on the pitch. It’s an extricable part of the game. A driving force. Why? To make money! It’s Adam Smith 101 (greed drives competition . . . and we’re the benefactors as viewers and players benefit from improved quality).

    But so many here in USA are happy with MLS mediocrity. Imagine a world where NFL and NBA had to face serious international pressure and better players coming from other countries and better leagues, you can bet your paycheck they would have to awaken from their slumber and security. The best players want to play in best leagues.

    Visionary owners want to seek the lure of greater competition on a world-stage because it brings money. The media (internet, papers, television) and their marketing arms as well as sports apparel organizations (Nike, Adidas, etc . . .) all invest in the big stage. If you want to make pennies, operate in pennies. If you want to make multi-millions, operate in that environment. That’s what visionary owns and leagues understand.

    MLS owners remind me of the old AT&T and Big 3 automaker monopoly in USA where they were fat and happy but seriously inferior products. How times have changed!

  64. Memo says

    Some suggested ideas to help on future articles:

    • Establishing true pro-centric academies. How are they different and why we need them.
    • The case for NASL as the preferred first division model.
    • The interrelation of technique, tactical understanding, physical (speed, stamina, fitness), and mental (toughness and speed of thought) and why they are better indicators of player ability over physical size.
    • Discussion on why the focus on size, club structure and focus on winning, college soccer, and professional soccer (MLS, lack of pyramid, no promo / rel) creates a youth development glass ceiling. Why is understanding of proper trajectory so important in youth.
    • Discussion on Europe and why it is the benchmark of football. What are the pillars of its success (history, culture, pro-centric academies, promotion & relegation, football pyramid, coaching, and scouting / player id). And which of these pillars is the USA missing.
    • Comparison and contrast as to what European and South American player ID philosophies versus the American model.
    • Discussion on why fans at Barcelona clap in good passing sequences and whistle at poor tactics and decision making. Why is this simple thing so important for the American player, parent, coach to understand.
    • The case for American coaches plying their trade overseas at different levels. Why this is important to everything from youth development to MLS to the national team.
    • The super draft has went from about 12 rounds to about 3 and more and more American players coming from MLS academies. In 10-years, many believe D1 will be an afterthought for MLS. What do they need to do to not go extinct? Or do we want them to go extinct and be more like Europe?
    • The case for regional centers of excellence (like the German model). We have IMG in the South. Ideally, we need one in NJ/DC/ NY region, one in Dallas, one in SoCal and one in Seattle area.
    • Should USSF or local federations adapt progression from 7 v 7, to 9 v 9 w/o concern for league standings? Start 11 v 11 at U12 or even U13? Talk to benefits such as players not “hiding” and avoiding touches. Why this forces players to make touches, dribble, increase technical aptitude, build confidence. Coach doesn’t have to worry about not letting smaller players on pitch because they are not focused on winning. Focus is on “development”. The time and place for competition is at older ages. Europe and SA already do similar things.

  65. CDO says

    A piece of an article from Goal.com for folks like @Eric who think MLS is great player development:

    ” . . . Take, for example, the league’s pool of coaches, which appears to grow less and less experienced with each passing year as teams vie for players wrapping up their careers rather than coaches with experience and credentials, with the handful of success stories paving the way for a wave of clubs trying to be the next uncover a gem of a young coach like Jason Kreis or Caleb Porter.

    Consider that 13 of the league’s 19 head coaches have never been the head coach of a pro team other than the one they currently coach. You can make the argument that MLS’ current trend of hiring young coaches is planting the seeds for an American coaching renaissance, but a look at your average MLS match leaves you wondering whether tactics are regressing while the talent pool improves.

    Also consider the league’s pool of young players, and we’re talking truly young in soccer terms, from 17 to 21. An age range where MLS still isn’t producing enough pro-ready prospects, or providing enough true development for them. This is an area MLS is working to improve with the help of increased loan opportunities and the looming step of having more MLS clubs establishing their own lower division feeder clubs (Which the LA Galaxy will be the first to do this year after launching a USL Pro team). Those are good steps, but the lack of impact academy products suggest the league’s academy system has been slow out of the gate in terms of production, with many of the top Homegrown Players having honed their games on the college level. . . . .”

  66. Erick says

    I don’t think simply putting promotion and relegations rules will solve anything. What top youth English players are being developed because their league structure has promotion relegation? I’m not opposed to it just don’t think we should give it the credence of being a major issue for development.

    Also, we do have an open market in the US. Can NASL or USL compete with MLS to set up a better product with relegation and promotion?

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