Commentary

Can the USA's lower-division Pro/Rel quest affect European Super League plans?

Two seemingly unrelated forces could be on the strangest collision course in modern soccer history.

First, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has finally taken up the long-pending request for arbitration filed by Miami FC (Riccardo Silva) and Kingston Stockade (Dennis Crowley) asking FIFA to enforce its rules -- which, as we’ll see later, have multiple interpretations -- on making its members institute promotion and relegation.

Second, momentum is growing toward a European Super League. Though the rank and file of the Premier League are fighting plans to do so, the conversation isn’t likely to end. In May alone, UEFA found itself at odds with clubs over a proposal to revamp the Champions League, Borussia Dortmund managing director Hans-Joachim Watzke said such a Super League was inevitable, and prominent soccer writer Jonathan Wilson expressed his exasperation with the one-sided FA Cup final by saying the “least bad solution” may be to let the big clubs go off on their own.

And while the USA’s status as a soccer nation is often derided, Americans are playing a big role on either side of this.

On one side, Silva and Crowley are at the vanguard of a movement that has shifted from its Twitter-troll origins to a more legitimate group of committed owners. Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing’s stranglehold on the U.S. market is a formidable obstacle, as is the in-fighting and incoherence among reformers:

The newly sanctioned Division 3 league NISA, which hopes to be a cornerstone of a promotion/relegation pyramid, parted ways with league executive Bob Watkins a couple of weeks after he released a video update that landed with a thud, with one of many negative Twitter responses asking, “Is this a hostage video?”

USL, which once attempted promotion and relegation and often teases the prospect of doing it again, is suing the bare-bones but rapidly expanding UPSL, claiming trademark infringement.

The UPSL also is pushing toward promotion/relegation, and it has done so in a couple of regions. Other regions have long-standing amateur leagues that have had promotion/relegation for decades, raising the question of why another tournament (the UPSL’s playoffs) on top of the Open Cup and Amateur Cup is necessary.

And it’s safe to say that these entities do not appear close to a merger with each other, the NPSL or the US Premiership.

On the other side of the coin are a bunch of Premier League owners and impresarios. Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson, authors of the Premier League history The Club, described a Manhattan meeting in which the big clubs, heavily influenced by American owners, weighed their options. In Der Spiegel’s expose of a plans for a breakaway league, one of the alleged power brokers was American deal-maker Charlie Stillitano.

Coincidentally, Stillitano is involved in a legal dispute with U.S. Soccer over staging matches with foreign teams on American soil. Again.

Stillitano has certainly pushed the notion of a closed European league into the spotlight, saying on SiriusXM, “There are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful elements to relegation and promotion and there are good arguments for a closed system.”

So, hypothetically, let’s say the international arbitrators order FIFA to emphasize Article 9.1 (division assignments “depend principally on sporting merit”) over Article 9.2 (“may be subject to other criteria”).

What happens to the European Super League?

Don’t bet on any of this happening. An oft-cited paper by law professor Steven Bank says the chance of Silva and Crowley winning at CAS is unlikely.

But a U.S. lower-division action affecting the European giants would be the mother of unintended consequences.

(Beau Dure is the author of “Single-Digit Soccer: Keeping Sanity in the Earliest Ages of the Beautiful Game” and the host of the podcast “Ranting Soccer Dad.” He coaches and refs youth soccer in Northern Virginia.)

mls, usl
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