MLS purists have long battled against the notion of promotion and relegation in American soccer. This position has often been backed by franchise owners.

However, moving into 2023 it appears as though the winds of change are swirling with the success of MLS Season Pass.

In a survey conducted by ESPN in 2019, 64% of current MLS players would like to see a promotion and relegation model implemented into the league. 

Threat of relegation would increase competitiveness

One of the main sticks used to beat Major League Soccer has always been a lack of competitiveness. 

There have been exceptional teams over the years. Most notably the Atlanta United team that featured Miguel Almiron. However, those teams often break-up quite quickly after achieving success. 

Many have long believed that introducing relegation would massively bolster the competitiveness of the league. 

With teams near the bottom being forced to improve their own squads, as well as recruit better players, there is clear evidence to suggest overall improvement would come. 

The problem is that owners would be required to self-sacrifice for the greater good. There aren’t many billionaires who want to do such a thing. 

It would also take a number of years for there to be a tangible difference in the league. 

Players would start to become more attracted to the league once it appears more competitive. The more teams that are fighting for something in a season, the better a league.

Support is a problem for MLS teams

There is a burgeoning lower-level of soccer in the United States. However, it would take a lot of structural work to marry that with MLS. 

Players who believe relegation needs to be brought into the league were also surveyed on how likely it was. It was telling that there were many negative comments. 

“I just don’t think it’s feasible,” an unnamed player admitted to ESPN. 

“I don’t think an MLS team that gets relegated will be supported in the way it needs to be supported. 

“I think the fan base isn’t strong enough yet and ownership will lose too much money.” 

MLS alternatives?

Nobody knows the sport better than the players. They have a feel for the environment they’re playing in. You have to take their concerns seriously. 

However, that doesn’t mean promotion and relegation in American soccer is impossible. It just needs to be implemented gradually. 

One proposed idea would be to vastly expand the league as it currently stands, building up a strong base of teams. Then you could slowly bring in an MLS2 style structure, much like the Premier League’s under-21 league has done. 

With more established teams, you’d have a greater base of interest in the sport. This would limit the fiscal losses of relegation, as well as keeping the two products linked.

For now, it appears as though the players are not getting their wish any time soon.

Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire