Observers I speak to note that the quality of play in the lower divisions (but importantly not in MLS) has weakened over the past few seasons. This is probably directly due to MLS expansion. Not long ago, second division teams could occasionally compete at the same level as MLS clubs in continental competitions and the domestic US Open Cup. However, those days seem to have gone by the wayside as the top second and third division players of the era from 2006 to 2010 now have mostly been integrated in MLS. The poaching of top clubs from the lower divisions to MLS such as Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and Montreal has also diluted the talent base from the lower leagues.
Ultimately in a business that needs cash to operate and doesn’t receive lots of sponsorship or TV dollars, expansion is critical. But lower-division leagues need to be careful about the outside image they project in terms of stability and consistency. Major League Soccer needs to be concerned that with constant expansion without a deepening of the North American talent base that they will be essentially a glorified second division in many locales.
US Soccer perhaps needs to be more vigilant about making sure the infrastructure from a player standpoint exists before more professional clubs are formed.
I don’t have an answer or remedy for this situation, and maybe the status quo is fine. But it is a question that is often the point of discussion between soccer fans and those who work in the game in the US and Canada. It is certainly worthy of a larger discussion.