Last week, two US-based soccer clubs, Miami FC and the Kingston Stockade FC, filed a claim with the Court of Arbitration on Sport (CAS) to require the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) to to follow FIFA’s rules by adopting promotion and relegation within the US Soccer pyramid.
We at World Soccer Talk endorse this move by Miami FC and the Kingston Stockade. This isn’t meant a shot at the top-tier US league, Major League Soccer (MLS). In fact, were it not for the persistence of MLS owners and their invest millions of dollars in the sport, we may not have top level soccer currently in the United States. It is because of MLS’ success in its first two decades of existence that we are able to have these conversations about promotion, relegation and a general restructuring of the US Soccer pyramid and player development system.
MLS has done its part in growing interest in the game to unprecedented levels in this country. But after 22 years of closed leagues and a franchise-based system, it’s time to take the training wheels off and join the rest of world in having a truly open league system.
The benefits of an open league system for fans are unquestioned. The ability to support your local amateur, semi-pro or professional club with the hope that they can one day rise to the top of US soccer pyramid through sporting merit – the same principle that is applied across the rest of the world in the sport with the exception of Australia. The United States is a meritocracy in so many professions. But in the sport of soccer, an arcane, franchise-based closed system allows those at the top of the USSF or MLS to choose winners and losers, what cities have first division teams and what cities do not. This is completely contradictory to the way this sport is organized across the world as well as to basic core American values.
In a May 2017 interview with another publication, Kingston Stockade owner Dennis Crowley indicated he would seek to build a separate pyramid outside the MLS structure to force promotion and relegation to be part of the US Soccer system since the existing leagues in the country were all franchise-based closed leagues. But what has become apparent to Crowley as well as the owner of Miami FC of the second tier North American Soccer League (NASL) is that limitations at the top of the existing pyramid are preventing the organic growth of this sport in the US.
Crowley has evolved on this subject as he discussed last week in his Medium post.
We think a lot about how a small club like ours can change things, and instead of lobbying the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) which sits at the top of all things soccer in the USA, our approach has been to try to change things from the bottom-up — through writing, documentation, and transparency. Our thesis has been if you can build a strong foundation of clubs and leagues in the lower parts of the pyramid, you can start to make change. And once you start to change the system at the bottom, you can start to push that change up to the top.
However, we’ve come to realize that there are also opportunities to try to change things from the top down.
Crowley’s evolution mirrors the reality of today’s situation. While we have patiently supported lower division teams in our regions and wished MLS well as they have grown to a vibrant 22-team league, the overall growth of the quality of domestic soccer has not matched the increased levels of interest, participation and investment in the sport. The simple explanation for this is that closed systems don’t encourage innovation, player development and real competition. They simply reinforce monopolies and control for the elites.
We (Kartik Krishnaiyer and Christopher Harris of World Soccer Talk) strongly endorse the actions of Kingston Stockade FC and Miami FC and hope it will lead to the types of reforms we believe need to be made in the US Soccer system.