Morning Footy, the anchor show for CBS Sports Golazo Network, once again brought up the hot discussion of pro/rel in the US. The first edition of the show displayed the drama that is promotion and relegation, using Wrexham’s dramatic win over Notts County in the fifth tier as a primary example. On Wednesday, the four-person crew of Morning Footy dove back into the debate, getting quite heated in the process.

The focus was not on the greatness of it, but rather on whether or not promotion and relegation could ever work in the United States. As of now, MLS is a closed league. The teams at the bottom do not suffer the punishment of going down in the pyramid. Likewise, teams in lower divisions, like the USL Championship, have no chance to rise up to be in the top division.

The general consensus across Nico Cantor, Alexis Guerreros and Charlie Davies was that if promotion and relegation is ever to work in American soccer, there must be major changes to both the infrastructure and the mindset.

The importance of a pyramid system

“Right now, you have teams that can be mediocre, and mediocre is okay for them,” Charlie Davies said. “There are no consequences, there is no drop, no financial implication, which is why you want to see players go to Europe.”

Davies alludes to the fact that many top American players have made the switch to Europe. There, they have that pressure of relegation. For example, Leeds United is firmly in a relegation scrap. It has Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson as regular starters when fit.

Nico Cantor argued something similar to Davies. “Not having relegation begets mediocrity at the lower levels,” Cantor claimed. “You need to build some sort of competition for the teams that can’t just be stagnant if you’re losing out on a season.”

Cantor furthered his argument by saying relegation would eliminate passive investors.

“There is a whole infrastructure that you need to change, and there is a whole bunch of businessmen that you need to convince. Imagine the [LA] Galaxy if they were in relegation.”

Alexis Guerreros, who adamantly claimed that he does support promotion and relegation in the United States and North America, said relegation would create more competition and interest within the league. He compared MLS to Real Madrid. The draw of Real Madrid is the UEFA Champions League, not the FIFA Club World Cup. The Club World Cup, the best possible award an MLS team can win, does not move the needle. Relegation could do that and breed more excitement within the league.

Morning Footy lays out pros and cons of pro/rel in United States

In terms of excitement, part of the draw of MLS is that any team could win the MLS Cup. In fact, based solely on league titles MLS has more parity than other top European leagues. Guerreros brings up Real Madrid, which has not finished outside the top four in Spain since the 1999/2000 season.

Host Susannah Collins mentioned FC Cincinnati finished around the bottom in MLS in each of its first three seasons. Cincinnati qualified for the playoffs last season and is now top of MLS after seven games in 2023. Relegation in MLS would have sent Cincinnati down to the pits of a hypothetical lower league in its foundational years. Instead, players like Brandon Vazquez were allowed to blossom.

Guerreros brings up a con to relegation. MLS is making money off selling players to other leagues. Gaga Slonina, Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi and Alphonso Davies all developed in MLS academies. Each made the move to Europe within the last four years and is among the most expensive outgoing transfers in MLS history.

“What happens to Weston McKennie if FC Dallas had gotten relegated,” Guerreros questions. “Maybe that academy doesn’t have the funding to continue.”

Cantor countered. “Maybe another academy in USL that gets promoted to MLS comes out with the next superstar.”