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US Soccer should consider eliminating D1, D2 and D3 designations


The continuing battle being waged publicly over the value of Division 1 sanctioning within the US Soccer pyramid has the making of the start of another “soccer war,” which the sport in North America can scarcely afford. While many fans of the game in the United States and Canada simply watch foreign leagues on their TVs or computers, others are deeply invested in community-based soccer projects and local professional clubs.

Without promotion and relegation within the pyramid the governing body for the sport, the US Soccer Federation (USSF) has been empowered to set arbitrary standards for designation of leagues and the member clubs within the leagues.

I don’t want to get into the specific discussions about the standards currently set by the USSF for Divisions One, Two and Three. I do however feel it is necessary to articulate why within a system without promotion and relegation, an option should be placed on the table to end division designations while at the same time eliminating the calls for promotion and relegation within the existing league structure.

Last week on the Divers and Cheats show, Soccer Reform’s Ted Westervelt argued for building side-by-side pyramids within the US system that have promotion and relegation. In an ideal world, that is a noble goal. However, in the current landscape it seems a long way off indeed. But with the present-day structure not built for promotion and relegation while being governed by a body, the USSF, that has been accused of conflicts of interest regarding the pro leagues, perhaps a solution would be to eliminate these designations.

The United States structure already has numerous elements in violation of FIFA principles and seemingly contrary to the way game is organized abroad. Thus lifting the division structure, which might seem so foreign or controversial, would simply be the latest in a long line of tweaks to ensure the sport continues to grow in the all-important North American market.

Allowing the three fully professional US leagues (MLS, NASL and USL) to compete in an open marketplace without the potential prejudices of the governing body or the arbitrary nature of the current league standards would give each club and league and opportunity to control their own destiny.

The marketplace could then clearly decide which leagues are more prominent and which clubs are the best run. Like college sports where the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) have a similar league designation as D1 college conferences, the leagues could exist side-by-side and compete for fans, players, sponsors, investors and credibility.

Major League Soccer has done an impressive job, in a business sense, of building its brand. In a designation-less pyramid, MLS could use its single-entity brand and enormous reach with sponsors to compete on its own terms in its own way with NASL, which advocates a more open, and laissez-faire approach to its league. The clear differences between leagues could be compared side by side. Eventually the market might dictate that NASL has no business expanding to larger markets or playing in substandard facilities while MLS attracts global superstars and top-dollar sponsorships. Or similarly the marketplace could decide they like the NASL with its smaller stadiums, more intimate atmosphere and more tactical approach to game management.

I am not necessarily an advocate for this point of view. However, as the discussion progresses on the standards written and imposed by the USSF with regards to pro leagues, I do believe this is a tact that should be at the very least debated. Unless we have promotion and relegation, perhaps the most objective and fairest way to let leagues and clubs be what they want to be is by eliminating the pro league division designations.

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  1. Len

    September 18, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Good article Kartik. USSF would do well to seperate themselves from MLS/SUM and remove the meaningless without pro/rel D1,2, and 3.

    Replace them with two pro designations – one for “Major Pro Independant League’s” consisting of the established MLS and young but improving year by year NASL.

    Second designation for the MLS’s reserve/affiliate minor league Usl as “Development/Reserve Minor League consisting of the MLS farm teams and affiliates.

  2. Len

    September 17, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    Good article Kartik. USSF would do well to seperate themselves from MLS/SUM and remove the meaningless without pro/rel D1,2, and 3.

    Replace them with two pro designations – one for “Major Pro Independant League’s” consisting of the established MLS and young but improving year by year NASL.

    Second designation for the MLS’s reserve/affiliate minor league Usl as “Development/Reserve Minor League consisting of the MLS farm teams and affiliates. If Usl decides to create another independant league without those farm team/affiliate teams then then they would be free to do that as well and join the “Major Pro Independant League’s”.

  3. yespage

    September 17, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    The article indicates there is some public war over the Divisional structure of US football. I’m not aware of a war, forget about it being public. The NASL throwing pebbles at MLS’s windows doesn’t count as a war.

    We keep reading about the NASL this, and the NASL that, but in the end it is a minor league that almost no Americans know about. Their video distribution was given away to ESPN so that it could be streamed by those who even knew it existed. And there is your free market for you.

    The NASL is a sub-par league that offers sub-par fixtures in sub-par markets with sub-par players. There is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is the continued persistence by some to make the NASL molehill into a mountain.

  4. danwolf02

    September 17, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    I agree with Kartik to a certain extent. If we can’t have Pro/Rel then why not just do away with the pyramid. I also think that if US Soccer goes this route then the Confacaf spots should just got to the final 4 teams in US Open cup.

  5. Sdflash2006

    September 17, 2015 at 10:30 am

    The only people who care about NASL are the owners who want a backdoor way to get into MLS without paying expansion fees and the fans they have duped into being their stooges. NASL is free to compete all they want now and the fact that they are not designated as a Division 1 league does not stop them from doing it. Their franchises should focus on building a credible story on why they should be one of the expansion cities when MLS inevitably becomes a 32 team league. U.S. Soccer has a lot of other issues to focus on now instead of this self serving garbage.

  6. Blue Lou

    September 17, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Here is an idea: league commissioners and owners outside of MLS pull their heads out of their rear ends.

  7. Artimus

    September 17, 2015 at 2:56 am

    So it turns out the author of this piece is the former head of communications and pr for the NASL. No wonder he’s arguing for the elimination of divisions. Not only is the NASL losing out to MSL, it really should be third division behind the USL.

    • Kevin

      September 17, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      It’s a well known fact that Kartik was a former NASL employee. However, he critizes both MLS AND NASL if you actually read his articles or tweets. While I’m not sure if a division-less American soccer landscape would work, he does make a point that the standards set out by USSF really don’t mean a lot when there is no pro/rel.

      • yespage

        September 17, 2015 at 4:31 pm

        The author rarely criticizes the NASL and the majority of time posts articles about how the world could be changed in order for the NASL to become the Premier League in the US.

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