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Could promotion and relegation come to the USL?

The four letter word of soccer in the United States reared its head this week.

SOCCER: MAY 31 U.S. Open Cup Third Round - Charlotte Independence at North Carolina FC Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images



Admit it. You have an opinion on it.

Full disclosure: I am a massive supporter of promotion and relegation and have written about it for the Wave before.

For the most part, pro/rel in the USA is a bit of a farcical idea. There is no way it would ever happen here. But in an interview this week with, United Soccer League President Jake Edwards stated that there is an interest in pro/rel.

Pro/rel is the four letter word of US soccer regardless of how you feel about it. Personally, I am highly skeptical that it could ever happen here, but the fact that Mr. Edwards was discussing it should not be ignored. Promotion and relegation is not going to happen overnight and it makes some sense that it would start in the lower divisions rather than the closed system of Major League Soccer.

In 2018, the USL will have 33 teams (including the Colorado Rapids affiliate—Charlotte Independence) in two conferences spread throughout the United States and 2018 will mark the second year of the USL being the second division in the US Soccer “pyramid.” Discussion about forming a third division has been going on for some time, and it seems like this might be a thing in 2019. How that division would look and what that would mean for leagues like the NPSL and PDL is not clear, but the USL has the power and clout to make this happen.

With a second division of USL, you could conceivably have a promotion and relegation system in the United States. But would it work? And is it really promotion and relegation?

First question: Would it work?

If the USL is behind it and it is coming from their president, then could. Clearly, there are a lot of logistics to be worked out, and you would still need to talk to owners in “USL1” about the possibility of relegation to “USL2.”

Money is king in all sports, and soccer is no different. It is not about development or branding or attendance: it is about money. If the USL thinks they can make it work, and they can get the dollars and cents to add up, a version of pro/rel could become a reality.

Second question: Is it really promotion and relegation?

Look, I get that there are those out there that will only accept pro/rel as it is set up in Europe and I see nothing wrong with that position. I also get when people say “MLS ain’t broke, so why introduce pro/rel.”

I get it all.

But if there is a team from one division getting promoted to a higher division based on sporting merit and a team that gets sent down to a lower division on their lack of sporting merit...isn’t that promotion and relegation?

Secret Third Question: Who cares? It’s not like MLS is gonna change!

You are probably right. MLS will never change.

But, MLS gets things right a fair amount of the time. (Except with Columbus. #SaveTheCrew)

If the USL is able to build a model that is sustainable and can show that pro/rel can work in the US, I could see Major League Soccer getting on board with it.


Honestly, pro/rel still feels like a pipe dream and something that I won’t see in my lifetime. But the idea that pro/rel starts in MLS is an even more unimaginable dream. At least this possibility with USL gives some hope. And that is kind of exciting.

I am not one that thinks that US Soccer is broken and only pro/rel can fix things. Nor do I think that forcing it on owners of MLS teams makes it happen. (Can you say massive lawsuit?)

The only way, in my opinion, that pro/rel happens is organically. It will need to start small and grow from there. The USL seems a perfect place for pro/rel to begin, even if it doesn’t involve MLS. At first.

And the beauty of trying pro/rel in the USL is that if it doesn’t work, soccer supporters in America can finally know that.

But I am a significantly optimistic soccer fan (even if I am not always that way with my Burgundy Boys) and I believe that if pro/rel is successful in the USL, MLS will seriously need to look at a pro/rel option and system.

Maybe. Hopefully. One Day.