If it hasn’t been clear to you over the last decade or two, get used to this idea: in American soccer, it’s either the MLS way or the highway.
Yesterday marked the announcement of Minnesota United FC (MNUFC) making the big move from the North American Soccer League up to Major League Soccer for the 2018 season. Dr. Bill McGuire, MNUFC owner, was able to bring the state’s Twins (MLB) and Timberwolves (NBA) ownership groups on board to successfully bid for a franchise.
With the announcement has come articles numbering the days to NASL’s 2nd Division implosion. MNUFC is a powerhouse of that league, no doubt – though not quite the gem the New York Cosmos are made out to be. Still, Minneapolis/St. Paul is a signifcant market for MLS to claim. Getting MNUFC could certainly weaken the NASL, no doubt about it.
Just like every other independent (non-MLS Reserve) team in the lower divisions, MNUFC had aspirations of being in the top division. Who can fault a club that can align the resources to meet MLS’s hefty demands? Teams from Sacramento to Pittsburgh all wish their metropolitan markets (and just as important, their pocketbooks) suited Don Garber and the MLS owners.
But let’s face it, losing a team like MNUFC isn’t the NASL’s real problem. Their Achilles heel is that MLS doesn’t like them very much.
A week ago, Bill Archer at Big Soccer wrote about the MLS/NASL battle. reporting on the dissolution of a potential relationship between MLS and the NASL, which would have brought the leagues closer together in their dealings. In that article, the New York Cosmos is cast as the main culprit behind the downfall of that pact, leaving MLS to bargain (and ultimately align) with 3rd Division USL.
At the moment, there is a turf war. You have MLS and USL on one side, NASL on the other. In a growing soccer country, there are markets galore. Phoenix, Detroit, San Diego, Nashville, Memphis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, which of those might be the next Minneapolis or St. Paul? Yet the NASL is already being doomed by many writers. Why?
I’m not here to predict the future. But if NASL does fold, it won’t be because of one team changing alliances. It’s because they’ve been shut out of the system by MLS.
To an extent it’s indicative of business today. Out with the Mom & Pop, in with the merged conglomerate. I think we’ve become somewhat immune to this in the public, developing a tolerance to the news of BigCo being bought up by BiggerCo, and eventually driving LittleCo out of business. The lower overhead costs of the merged means the ability to undercut the market price. Once the competition goes, the free market dynamic is compromised.
The US Soccer Federation sees the crowded sports market as reason enough to believe in the single entity. Keep costs down and the league succeeds. Overspend and goodbye soccer.
Does that hurt the soccer consumer in the US? That all depends on who you ask, whether it be an MLS executive, a Cosmos owner, a player in either situation, or the average fan of either or these enterprises. They all have different interests, some aligns, some competing.
But as the days pass, the entities that dare to defy MLS are having the pressure amplified.
Even Jurgen Klinsmann is now cast as a rogue villain out to ruin the good thing MLS has going. Every Yanks loss is met with hopeful smirks from analysts that the German will be run off by the Federation. When the US was killing it in 2013, they loved him. Then he suggested MLS needed some changes, and now he’s a heel.
That’s the theme, it seems. Cross MLS, and your days will be numbered for you. The league continues to expand its size and power in the US and Canada, and it appears the health of the sport in North America will be dependent upon its continued success.
And for the unbiased consumers, we can only hope it’s the right path.
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