U.S. Soccer presidential candidates tackle promotion-relegation

Pro/rel, the favorite topic of many American fans, was one of the subjects at Saturday's U.S. Soccer presidential forum GotSoccer hosted in Atlantic Beach, Florida.

Here's what the five candidates in attendance had to say about promotion-relegation.

Paul Lapointe, the Northeast Conference manager for the United Premier Soccer League, the national amateur league that has introduced promotion-relegation in its Western and Colorado Conferences, termed pro/rel "a fresh start for American soccer."

"I totally believe it," he said. "But this is my take on it: Major League Soccer at this point, we not going to go in those castle walls and interrupt that sandbox with promotion and relegation because there's lot of business associated and tagged to this process."

Lapointe suggested that a test program with promotion and relegation be instituted with teams from the NPSL, PDL, UPSL and state association teams with similar business models. He said he'll define the process.

Paul Caligiuri's first playing time in Germany was with Meppen in 1988 after it won promotion to the 2. Bundesliga, and he later played with St. Pauli in 1995-96 after it won promotion to the top level of German soccer.

"I understand the excitement it brings fans, what it does for players in terms of healthy competition," he said. "Each and every practice, you can't become complacent. We have to build that culture and can start it at the grassroots level."

Michael Winograd said it is not a practical reality at the pro level at this point, given MLS's franchise rights and contractual relationships and agreements between the teams and the league.

"To make it a reality, we must immediately start focusing on building the strength, stability and profitability of the lower leagues," he said. "Close the gap between the lower leagues and MLS and bring that possibility into the nearer term."

Winograd also cautioned that it must be determined just what is U.S. Soccer's power.

"I don't think," he added, "U.S. Soccer should be in the business of ramming things down people's throats."

Like Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda knows the culture of promotion and relegation first hand from his career in Germany. He was on clubs relegated from the Bundesliga -- Saarbruecken in 1993 and Bochum in 1995  -- and was on Bochum in the second division until the start of MLS in 1996 when Bochum was promoted.

"I think this country is ready," said Wynalda, "and there are reasons why it is ready, and one of them is we don't understand how exactly a flourishing league operates."

He says there are promotion-relegation mechanisms that allow clubs to be compensated -- parachute payments -- and that system allows them to assess the bad practices that got them relegated.

"Teams in Germany go up and down, up and down," Wynalda added, "and made more money in the end because of the mechanisms in place."

Steve Gans, who has consulted for EPL clubs and networks, says the year-end interest in promotion and relegation is one of the things that makes soccer inherently great but it has other benefits, too.

"The passionate promotion-relegation people have made a really good point that has not been lost on me in the last four weeks since the U.S. got knocked," he said. "The player who plays week in and week out knowing he or she is playing for survival develops more of a cutting edge. That said, you can't divorce promotion-relegation from the reality of sports in this country."

He noted the "wasteland" that was pro soccer for outdoor players and fans in 1985-96 and doesn't want to return there. He cautioned that it remains a very complex issue and can't be imposed on MLS given the current economic structure.

28 comments about "U.S. Soccer presidential candidates tackle promotion-relegation".
  1. Gus Keri, November 12, 2017 at 8:41 a.m.

    With the continuing expantion of MLS, I don't see any lower division catching up with MLS. MS is destroying the competition from lower divisions' clubs in the same market.
    The only possible way of getting pro/rel in MLS is by MLS getting so big number of clubs, it would have to split into two leagues: MLS-1 and MLS-2 and run pro/rel among them. Just like what happened in Japan.

  2. Alfred Randall replied, November 12, 2017 at 9:13 a.m.

    Big money is blocking Pro/Rel but if it were implemented at all the lower divisions eventually MLS could be relegated in the eyes of the supporters by this process. I'm sure what you're suggesting could happen as well. Not qualifying for 2018 sure has people realizing our system or lack of one needs work though.

  3. david kindness, November 12, 2017 at 10:21 a.m.

    If The MLS wants to be considered a real league then it need pro/rel .. theres enough teams now to make 2 divisions ..TIME HAS COME TO STEP IT UP .. 

  4. ernesto kirchgassler replied, November 12, 2017 at 10:30 a.m.


  5. frank schoon replied, November 12, 2017 at 11:14 a.m.

    DAVID, I will consider it a real league when it plays the level of soccer of Italy, Germany, France, England, Spain, etc....

  6. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 12, 2017 at 3:26 p.m.

    So there are only five "real leagues" in the world?

  7. Scott Johnson replied, November 12, 2017 at 7:22 p.m.

    One step at a time--I'd settle for being better than Liga MX first.

    That, and being better than the Championship.  A good threshold for a "real league" is "better than any country's second division".  MLS is almost there, having only England's second division to surpass.

  8. Bob Ashpole, November 12, 2017 at 11:25 a.m.

    Pro/rel is the least important issue at the USSF level. It is a league issue. That is where the practice originated and where it is administered. The big issue is technical: how to improve the way the sport is played in the US?

    The biggest takeaway I found from the forum was that all of the candidates are well qualified for the position. All want to help grow the sport in the US. Every candidate should be included in some way. USSF is a management team, not just one person.

    It is great to run USSF like a corporation with officers and a board of directors, but the sport is not a business. Sure there are businesses involved but the sport is not the same as the business. The sport needs soccer decisions to be made by the best players, coaches, and referees in the country, not the best business people or league officials. That calls for a national technical committe to plan and oversee the National Coach/technical director and technical staff. Not to advise business managers about technical issues, but rather to plan and control the technical side of USSF.

    The problem with technical "advisors" is that managers typically have some technical expertise and will second guess the advice. It is an exceedingly rare manager that will listen to advice and follow it when it runs counter to his own opinions. If an organization needs technical experts, then to succeed technically they have to rely on the technical experts in technical matters. If managers second guess the advice, it defeats the purpose of having technical experts.

    Instead of a stovepipe USSF organizational structure isolating "elite" developmental clubs from the state and youth organizations and segragating players by gender, we need an inclusive pyramid structure and a federal style of working with the 50-plus state organizations.

    In youth soccer we need to use different models for advanced teen players and for pre-teens and recreational players. Training children like minature professional players and expecting them to play in matches like professionals do is counterproductive. You end up with players lacking technical skills, lacking creativity, and lacking a tactical understanding of the game.

    In other words the players are short on fundaments. There are clubs that have been and are currently doing it right, but I won't be satisfied until all clubs follow best practices. 

    In my mind this election should be decided by which candidate is most likely to bring change to the technical side of USSF. (Most agree that USSF is healthy on the business side.)  

  9. frank schoon replied, November 12, 2017 at 2:45 p.m.

    BOB, AMEN...
    And as far as Pro/Rel goes  ,we have  lots of other more important things to worry about, for like you say, we need improve things more on the technical side. This is why I want to hear what these
    candidates have to say on those issues...

  10. beautiful game, November 12, 2017 at 11:35 a.m.

    Promo-Relegation is dead in the MLS because soccer is not the #1 cultural attraction. There is no commonality and comparison between the Euro-club fan base and the U.S. fan base. Personally, I follow the quality clubs in the MLS, a few years as a Galaxy/Crew/NYRB/Fire/1990s DC United fan; always flip-floping with quality which in most cases is hard to find. Bottom line, sports culture is the key ingredient for a Pomo-Relegation possibiliy. It will never happen until soccer becomes the #1 sports attraction and part of the American culture. So all this talk is just talk.

  11. R2 Dad replied, November 12, 2017 at 11:55 a.m.

    hmmm......unless one of those sports were to implode:

  12. R2 Dad, November 12, 2017 at 11:50 a.m.

    I believe the correct response is, "Depends on whether I get a board postion at SUM or not".

  13. Kris Spyrka, November 12, 2017 at 3:14 p.m.

    Eric Wynalda gets it, and had the huevos in his statement to say it (the others did not, unless I missed it).  Mr. W has my vote!

  14. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 12, 2017 at 3:27 p.m.

    But you don't have a vote, do you?

  15. R2 Dad replied, November 12, 2017 at 3:41 p.m.

    FPGN....adding value since 2016.

  16. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 12, 2017 at 6:20 p.m.

    No it's been far longer than that.

  17. John Soares, November 12, 2017 at 4:24 p.m.

    Don't really care one way or the other, BUT. For various reasons money/investment being at the top. It will not happen. Also seems many of those in favor simply want to join the club without paying the entrance fee.
    Beyond that, pro/rel does not effect the top half of the league (always the same 4 to 6 bottom teams). Therefore it does not impact the quality of play of the above average teams. Seldom is a player from these teams selected for the national team...no impact there eirher and yes the argument will continue...

  18. Christopher Tallmadge, November 12, 2017 at 8:54 p.m.

    I really wish people would forget about this.  Given the way MLS is structured, the expansion fees etc. the owners will not do it.  Maybe if they get to 32 teams a 1st & 2nd division system could be established, but that is a long way off.  Does anyone really believe that enough clubs can be financially viable to fill credible second, third etc. divisions at this time?  A better solution is probably the baseball/hockey model.  It has worked very well for a long, long time and puts plenty of pressure on players to get better to build and keep their careers.

  19. R2 Dad replied, November 13, 2017 at 12:11 a.m.

    I'm not too worried about existing MLS owners financial well-being, and maybe you shouldn't either. Wiki: "The 50+1 rule (German: 50+1-Regel) is an informal term used to refer to a clause in the regulations of the Deutsche Fußball-Liga. The clause states that, in order to obtain a license to compete in the Bundesliga, a club must hold a majority of its own voting rights. The rule is designed to ensure that the club's members retain overall control, protecting clubs from the influence of external investors." In other parts of the world, the game belongs to the fans, not some douche owner who theatens to move to Austin because his ROI is not meeting plan.

  20. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 13, 2017 at 11:44 a.m.

    That's great but pretty irrelevant to the game in the US where that rule doesn't exist.  If it weren't for owners taking a chance on MLS in its early days the league wouldn't exist.  

  21. R2 Dad replied, November 13, 2017 at 11:53 p.m.

    You are faling to imagine a world not dependent on billionaires to play a game requiring a field, a ball, and two goals.

  22. Scott Johnson replied, November 14, 2017 at 4:17 p.m.

    It's worth noting that the NFL essentially bans the sort of ownership arrangements that R2 Dad might like (the Green Bay Packers being the notable exception, and allowed under a grandfather clause).

  23. beautiful game, November 13, 2017 at 11:49 a.m.

    Bottom line, anyone who thinks MLS is anything near the quality of MX league is delusional. MLS soccer is a quality desperate league with only a handful of players that can produce on a consistent basis. Over the years, I would watch dozens of MLS games during the season; and now a dozen games is more than enough.

  24. frank schoon replied, November 13, 2017 at 1:12 p.m.

    IW, Wow, I'm surprised you can take that much....

  25. Bob Ashpole replied, November 13, 2017 at 2:37 p.m.

    A single entity structure makes expansion painful.

  26. frank schoon replied, November 13, 2017 at 3:55 p.m.

    Bob, Johan Neeskens has come out with new book in Holland written by Visser( I don't know if it is in English) In an interview he stated this morning that the most intense game he ever played was the one against Brazil in WC'74.(It's on youtube). He scored the first goal against Brazil in the game from Cruyff's assist. The way he scored was by sliding in a manner not seen in soccer. He learned to slide by having played baseball. Both Cruyff and Neeskens were good baseball players as a second sport.
    It was a slide he used in baseball and had scored several goals employing that slide.

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, November 16, 2017 at 4:34 a.m.

    Thanks Frank. So far no English edition available.

  28. frank schoon replied, November 16, 2017 at 9:31 a.m.

    Bob, I'll keep my eye on it if it comes in English I'll let you know. To me it so important to read all books by the players who had contributed to Total Soccer and made the game so beautiful. For example read books by players who were either coached by or played with Cruyff and read about the some anecdotes about Cruyff. There you'll find excellent gems information....

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