Send us a message

Interested in being a part of the team? Get in touch with us today.
May 152014

If you spend any amount of time Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that there is a bit of a “soccer war” brewing.

With lower division leagues like the reincarnated North American Soccer League (NASL) and the United Soccer League (USL) starting to grow their ranks, there are those who feel it is time to open up the US Soccer “pyramid” and implement promotion and relegation to give the members of these lower division leagues a chance to shine. I tend to agree with those people. It feels like there are too many opportunities in too many cities around this country to just limit the “top flight” of American soccer to those teams capable of wooing a sugar daddy to pony up exorbitant expansion fees. Of course, there are those who believe that such a world is too “foreign” to actually work the way it’s supposed to in the US. And then there are the current owners in Major League Soccer (MLS) who have no desire to risk the value of their teams to the prospect of relegation.

Earlier this week this debate was fired up once again after ESPN, FOX, and Univision announced they have agreed to a new deal to secure broadcast rights for Major League Soccer and US Men’s National Team (USMNT) games. Since the rights to both MLS and the USMNT were packaged together, many (including myself) raised suspicious eyebrows as to how the money from this “historic deal” would be divided up. In theory, the USMNT games are what drove the value of this deal and any money paid for their games should be expected to go straight to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). Sadly, we’ll never know how much the federation keeps for itself to reinvest and how much it could (potentially) “donate” to Major League Soccer. After all, the current president of the USSF is Sunil Gulati, a former employee of Robert Kraft, the owner/operator of MLS’s New England Revolution. This is a legitimate concern in the eyes of the American soccer fans everywhere.

But should it be everyone’s No.1 concern?

I came across the following tweet this morning and it made me wonder if this current “war” about leagues and opening the “pyramid” is really what’s necessary for growing the sport in this country.

The initial response would be: Well someone has to organize the games!

This is very true. But you know who organizes games at the grassroots level? Volunteers and people making far less money than MLS commissioner Don Garber or even NASL commissioner Bill Peterson. Your local U12 isn’t paying a franchise fee to join its “league” the way new MLS sides Atlanta, New York City, and Orlando City have. So in reality, MLS (and NASL and USL) really isn’t a “league”; it’s simply a franchise.

So to rephrase the question: Are “franchises” really what we need to grow the game in this country?

Sure, MLS games are always going to be on TV and they are going to get the lion’s share of attention from the national soccer media. But is MLS really responsible for the growth of the sport in this country? Below are a pair of tweets from a gentleman I just came into contact with today while discussing this current “soccer war” and whether or not it is entirely relevant.


At times, it certainly does feel like arguing for/against promotion and relegation is a bit defeatist. Realistically it is unlikely to occur any time soon. It requires action from the USSF, which is notoriously lazy and inefficient and you could be forgiven for thinking its leadership favors the wants/needs of MLS over other leagues. But as Mr. Bernhardt so eloquently pointed out, great things happen outside of MLS. Sacramento is drawing record crowds playing in the equivalent of the “third division”. NASL’s New York Cosmos are looking to win this year’s US Open Cup in the hopes of becoming the first non-MLS side to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. There are stories of soccer’s growth all around this country and they are occurring without the help of MLS. Heck, last July I wrote about Nashville FC; a 100% supporter owned team that plays in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). They offer “memberships” and members who pay their dues are offered the opportunity to vote on all matters pertaining to the team. Many would decry this as a “waste of time”, but Nashville FC just completed their first ever game and show no signs of going away anytime soon.

So again the question is asked: What does it really take to grow the sport of soccer in the United States?

The more I’ve pondered this question today the more I keep coming back to the efforts of this country’s youth soccer coaches. Much like the “league” debate, there is an established “power structure”, if you will, among the youth soccer coaching hierarchy in this country. Too often club profits and the wants/needs of directors are made the priority rather than the education of the players who represent the club. But there are numerous youth soccer coaches across the country who are making legitimate strides towards improving the quality of individual American youth soccer players.

You also can’t ignore the increased exposure to foreign professional leagues; the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga come to mind right away. In 2015 Fox Sports will start broadcasting German Bundesliga games in addition to MLS. The rise of the Internet has increased out exposure to the sport at its highest levels; particularly the prestigious UEFA Champions League. I’ve spent many a Tuesday/Wednesday afternoon over the last 9 months going to pubs around Dallas and watching UEFA Champions League games with complete strangers, many of whom come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Then there’s this summer’s FIFA World Cup. Nothing brings the United States together quite like competing against the world and this summer’s tournament is no exception. Millions will get decked out in red, white, and blue and cheer the Stars and Stripes on against the world’s best. Some will go back to ignoring soccer for another four years after the tournament concludes. Then there are those who won’t. They’ll gain an appetite for the game that needs to be satiated. They’ll turn to various outlets, whether it’s watching nationally televised MLS games or going to see their local team, regardless of the league that team plays in.

The previously mentioned NPSL is a “league” with teams all around the country, but it couldn’t be more different from MLS. NPSL teams are made up of amateur players, many of whom play for an NCAA school in the fall, and they play 6-8 games each spring in regional conferences to limit travel expenses. Here in Dallas alone, we now have 3 NPSL teams. In other cities the local NPSL team is the only team the community gets to watch. Detroit is an excellent example of this. Detroit City FC continues to grow its fan base despite no foreseeable future in one of the more prominent leagues. The soccer fans in Detroit could care less what league they play in, they simply want a team to watch. This is what makes soccer so different from any other sport. The game is a romantic one. The local team represents its citizens and vice versa. There is a very intimate connection.

I’ll still continue to tweet out against the current state of things when it comes to “leagues” and the USSF and all that fun stuff. But that’s not how I’m going to really help grow the game. I’m going to get my USSF “E” coaching license and starting teaching the game to young kids. I’m going to go out and support Dallas City FC and Liverpool Warriors instead of FC Dallas. I will write more stories about organizations like Nashville FC. I will put my time and energy into nurturing that romantic connection between the sport and my local community and increasing awareness of the sport at the grassroots level.

And if you want to truly make a difference, I suggest you do the same.

Adam Uthe

VP of Content Development for GFT and proud supporter of Columbus Crew (MLS) and Liverpool FC (EPL). @AUtheGFT

  2 Responses to “More Than Just A League: The American Soccer Debate”

  1. Great article. I live in Fort Worth, and am very glad we just got a team because I just could not get totally behind supporting a team that is located over an hour away by car. I’m not sure who decided that it was a good idea to put the only (at the time) soccer team in DFW in Frisco, but it was a travesty. Here’s hoping Vaqueros FC is successful!

 Leave a Reply



Refresh Image


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>