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USL Should Compete Directly against MLS

The United Soccer Leagues has been a doormat to the MLS for too long.  They have allowed MLS to walk all over them.  MLS has taken multiple cities from the USL to put into their league and have not suffered any kind of legal troubles or image issues. 

This has been a coup for MLS.  They have done the deed without having to put forth the effort normally associated with bringing along brand new franchises. 

But, without any formal partnership, who is really at fault? 

The USL has a flawed business model, and the future for its First Division franchises are all in jeopardy.  Anytime a First Division franchise shows promise, its immediate goal becomes how to make MLS.  Even as new franchises come on board with USL, such as the Austin Aztex or others, it is easily apparent that with the right moves, MLS is not too far away. 

History shows that the USL should compete directly against MLS.  In both the history of football and basketball in the U.S., leagues have merged and absorbed each other. 

In football, the American Football League (AFL), consisting of teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, and Oakland Raiders, merged with teams from the NFL, which consisted of teams such as the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.  In basketball, teams from the American Basketball Association were absorbed by the NBA after an agreement of merger. 

Perhaps the USL’s future will be to be bought up by MLS to be a ‘minor leagues’ of sort.  But, the USL should consider that MLS is susceptible and it is possible that the USL could be the dominant league at some point in time in the future. 

As the USL sets its course for its future, with foundation at the youth and community levels as its bases, it should be more bold with its professional teams and not take for granted that MLS must be the ‘dominant’ league and the USL only a ‘funnel’ league.

The USL should approach an outsider cable television station like VERSUS to broadcast games on a regularly marketed basis.  It needs to bring its league closer to the American audience so that it can promote its Second Division teams sooner and form a more broad First Division.  A team in Charleston or Rochester is impressive with its own kind of marketing potential.  A league with many teams from cities or areas of 300,000- 500,000 or more people can also provide tons of soccer excitement. 

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  1. Roger

    December 21, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Another advantage of the promotopn / relegation syetem that nobody talks about is that it is a self adjusting system.
    Imagine that MLS would get to 20 “franchises” (that word makes me think of Mc’donnals); wich by the speed MLS has grown would be 2020 or something like that.
    The us soccer gurus got together and decided that those are the best markets for MLS. But life is allways changing and in 3 or 5 years there may be changes on the condition of those markets. So you know what thet will do? Remember the Fusion?
    Promotion and relegation is the perfect solution for soccer to keep up with economical and social changes, that way if a club is mismanaged or the economy of certain market suffers, the club most probably would get relegated. In a lower division it may get a brake because expenses will be less; giving it time to recover and fight back for promotion.
    This could also work the other way around,a small market today may be a perfect fit for the main stage in a couple of years and pro/rel will give the that needed chance.

    Imagine the exitment that would bring if places like Rochester,Charleston,Montreal and many others would have a chance of promotion?

    Dont you think those clubs would want to invest more and built better teams if results on the pitch will be the judge of their league status?

    How could promotion and relegation be bad for US soccer?

  2. Ted Westervelt

    May 7, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Why do we keep trying to force soccer into our stilted sports consciousness? Stop and think: If the FA decided on a franchise model, instead of an open model at it’s inception – soccer may have stayed as domestic as the football or baseball did to the US. Free your mind from the franchise. Make the transition now. Within three years, we can have three vibrant 20 team leagues whose clubs are all fighting to advance. Or, we stay isolated from the rest of the world and continue to run top division U.S. soccer like an Applebee’s franchise.

  3. Pittsburgh Steelers Jerseys

    December 25, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    I think USL cities like Rochester, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver could potentially make good additions to the MLS. All of them enjoyed some success during the old NASL and they could again be viable. Adding additional teams such as these would increase the league's footprint, bring in more fans, media coverage, etc.

  4. D!

    November 17, 2008 at 11:31 am

    If Promotion /Relagation is so great why USL is not using it with its own teams? Why?
    As for those claiming for a separate Canada league. What are you scares of. thwere are american players palying in Canada. What if canadians want to pay to see our players develop on there turf.

  5. Joey Clams

    November 17, 2008 at 7:32 am

    People, USL won't be ALLOWED to compete with MLS. This isn't football or hockey. If it pretends to be a D1, it will be branded a pirate league and its players will be ineligible to play for their national teams. If the national teams select and use those players, Fifa will suspend the federations. Aside from that, you go on and on about the number of medium size cities and the possibility of “excitement” there, but you dismiss the possibility of similarlty sized cities forming the core of an independent Canadian league. The situation as it stands is ridiculous: there is no shortage of American cities but we're allowing bids from Canada to drive up the price. The whole North American soccer scene at the professional level- and I use the term “North American” reluctantly – deserves 30 days of psychological evaluation in a state facility. Both leagues and both countries would be better served if they do things the way they're done everywhere else: you look out for you own and you don't crap on your own doorstep. Of course, that would require the USSF to man up but we know FOR A FACT that MLS has bought it off.

  6. Jonathan

    November 16, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    As a non spectator of US club soccer, USL has won my respect due to the Champions League (and MLS has reinforced my view that one needs to be paid in order to watch it). Reading more about USL vs MLS, I am in favor of the league with less central planning/ intervention.

  7. Poster

    November 13, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    If the USL serious wants to compete with the MLS, it may behoove the league to take advantage of the fact that MLS has failed to place a team in one of the boroughs of NYC. Serious cracks in the MLS' armor need to be utilized. Take advantage of the fact that MLS is frightened of promotion/demotion. And I completely agree with the idea of the poster above, contact Versus or some other such cable station that will gladly take the programing on the comparative cheap. Throw in XM Radio or the like for national exposure.

  8. wssvii

    November 13, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    It is a business, and like all businesses it comes down to money. In sports, that amounts to attendance and television. MLS has ESPN. When was the last time you saw USL on a major network? The Dynamo playoff game brought 30,000 fans to attendance. The 2007 USL Championship brought what, 2000 fans to a rec field?

    The USL will never compete with MLS and I seriously doubt MLS spends much time thinking about it.

  9. Jonathan

    November 13, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    I agree entirely.

  10. eplnfl

    November 13, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    USL becoming an arm of the MLS would work well. The real issue would be if we can in the US adopt a relegation system. Part of what American soccer is missing is the passion created by fans trying to get their promoted up and the battles to stay up. If the USL became a true first division in the European sense it would be a first in American sports and a hit with the fans.

  11. Jonathan

    November 13, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    I agree that they should merger. It will give signicant more marketing leverage!

  12. undrafted

    November 13, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    MLS has LA, Chicago, Toronto, Philly, Houston, & Seattle locked up. The Red Bulls' new stadium opens next year on spot easily accesible by public transportation. MLS has longstanding presence in New England, Denver, and Dallas. USL failed miserably in San Francisco, while the MLS fanbase in San Jose is decent. MLS has SSS's in Columbus, Salt Lake, and soon Kansas City.

    USL doesn't have the markets to compete with MLS long-term. MLS has kept salaries as low as possible. So a USL team who double their salary budget could start stealing away some MLS starters. MLS has a new CBA due soon, after which salaries will likely rise.

    I agree with USL investing a little more in top markets, while requiring the weakers ones to come up to standards or get out. They can push MLS. But I don't see how they have the right footing in the right markets to try a direct competition that'll force a merger.

  13. BishopvilleRed

    November 13, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    USl is a bipolar league. On one level, they have clubs like PR and Montreal who do well in the CONCACAF Champs League. Then, on the other hand you have a club like Richmond that simply decides to drop a level to lower operating costs.

    USL need to solidify the base before they drive for expansion. Who's to say a club in USL won't get cold feet after slow return on investment just like an MLS club? Salary structure is different, but travel expenses and other sundry expenses add up quickly. Make sure everyone can (and wants to) compete before trying to spread out and “claim territory”


  14. undrafted

    November 13, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    all generalities, no specifcs. What players? Which investors?

    of the top 56 draft picks into MLS (the SuperDraft), from a quick look, I can't find a single one that turned down MLS for USL1. The only one contracted to USL is pick #23 Yomby William (after signed and cut by KC midseason). I can't even find any clear defections from the supplemental picks. An undrafted player from 2007, Martin Nunez was a nice find for Carolina (after passing up a developmental deal from NY). And Jay Needham was a high profile defection – still a rarity.

    Now if you're talking about players bolting for USL after 1 year in MLS, that seems to be happening. But it's guys who MLS opts not to elevate to senior contracts since they're not yet meriting playing time.

    I'll have to ask, what 2008 draft picks were raided by USL?

    Is Rob Clark more soccer savy than Oscar de la Hoya?

  15. kkfla737

    November 13, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    USL is per my sources strongly considering this. They won't challenge directly but in a more subtle fashion. To a certain extent this started this past season with USL clubs raiding young players with perks who had been drafted into MLS. USL is also getting some solid investment which is football savvy unlike some of the MLS investors who like the early days of the league may panic when they don't get sufficient return on their investments quickly.

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