After missing out on the latest World Cup, something has to change for the United States. My solution: Introduce a relegation system.
The current system that is used in the United States is flawed. Prime example number one. A country that has over 300 million people failed to qualify for the World Cup. Many people blamed the disheartening failure on a lack of player talent in the United States. Many think that American Soccer is just kickball with no possession and quick touches. I believe the exact opposite. In the United States, we do have the player talent necessary to qualify for a tournament like the World Cup. The struggles that plague the growth of soccer in the United States, lie within the foundation of how the system is set up.
The United States is made up of four main leagues, the MLS, the NASL (inactive for the 2018 season), the USL, and the NPSL. There is also the development league, the PDL. What is unique about how the United States soccer pyramid is set up, is that it does not have relegation, meaning their is no movement between leagues by teams, or at least not as much as there should and can be. The United States is one of the few countries who does not boast a relegation system. For those not familiar, a relegation system rewards the top three teams in the league, by promoting them to the next division. The system also punishes the bottom three teams in the league, by demoting them to the division below. So for instance, in England where the relegation system is used, the top three teams in the Championship League would be promoted to the Premier League, while the bottom three teams would be demoted to League 1.
The constant swapping of teams between leagues presents a great opportunity for teams in England. By moving up leagues, they gain the advantage of attracting new followers, new revenues (TV deals and streaming rights), and more exposure. In addition, it allows players to better develop, by receiving the opportunity to compete at a higher level. Compare that to in the United States now, where the same teams will be playing in the MLS as the year before, minus expansion teams. Think about the missed potential by not having a relegation system in the United States. There are many players and teams that are of top quality to be playing in leagues above where they currently are, but they are stuck due to the lack of a relegation system.
For example, I have personal experience with an NPSL team. The team is good. They deserve a chance at playing at a higher level. Unfortunately, the only time that comes around is during the US Open Cup. This team has beaten a USL team and should have beaten another. They can clearly play at a high level and have players who deserve a look. However, it is going to be hard for the team to get this opportunity due to the flawed system. It rewards the teams at the top by providing them with safety and comfort, while hurting the teams at the bottom by not allowing them to find out how good they can really be. Players additionally miss out on growth potential, from not getting the opportunity to play at a higher level. Sometimes all teams need to give them a little push to compete better is pressure. A relegation system would provide that pressure, as top teams would fear falling out of the top league.
Some defend the current system as they say that TV rights would become complicated and revenue systems would be affected by using a relegation system. But soccer is growing in popularity in the United States. Just look at the craze that is being created in Atlanta, as it is becoming a national hotbed for soccer. Missing the World Cup has provided United States Soccer a valuable opportunity at reflection. To pick out what works and to find new ways to grow the game. Relegation in my opinion is the way to grow the game. It provides excitement, opportunity, and promise. Soccer in the United States is on the rise, and the United States must get this right leading up to the next World Cup if they are to ever return to relevancy at the global stage.