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The Rise Of American Soccer, And How To Continue It
Major League Soccer attendance and TV ratings are at all time highs. Also, it seems, that after much trouble, the US Men's National Team is becoming a dark horse, and a threat to be reckoned with. While the MLS looks like it has a promising future, the NASL and MISL looked the same years ago. Here are some steps that should be taken to improve soccer in America.
#1: Finish With The Expansion Of Major League Soccer
The addition of New York City FC will bring Major League Soccer to 20 teams in 2015. Sometime in the next year, the MLS should decide whether the league should continue adding teams, or end expansion until further notice. If expansion does continue, it should be limited to one or two teams, as any more would be far to many. None of soccer's 'major leagues' (La Liga, EPL, Ligue 1, Bundesliga) have more than 20 teams. Orlando City SC would probably be the best option for the MLS, with the Carolina RailHawks, the San Antonio Scorpions and Atlanta Silverbacks FC as other good options for the league. The Silverbacks and Carolina would probably be favored over San Antonio, as the league currently lacks a Southeast team. After the expansions are wrapped up, the league should take into consideration a promotion-relegation system (see #3).
#2: Boost The US Open Cup
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is the American version of the FA Cup. It contains loads of drama and upsets, and offers a bid to the Continent's Cup (The Europa League counts!). The only difference between the two competitions is media. Only the final rounds of the US Open Cup are televised, let alone pumped up media-wise, while the preliminary rounds of the FA Cup are live-streamed online, and sometimes even televised. In this year's event, two MLS powerhouses the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders were knocked out early on my much weaker opponents. While LA and Seattle didn't play their best squads (due to the level of their opponents and the international break), both games were entertaining and would gather a reasonable TV rating. Also, this would boost America's 'minor leagues' the NASL and USL, who can use all of the media coverage they can get.
#3: A Promotion-Relegation System
The thought of a promotion-relegation system has been tossed around lightly since the establishment of the league, however it has always been shot down due to the thought of low attendance and low quality in the lower tiers. This reasoning is wrong. Attendance has been rising in both the USL and the NASL, with San Antonio pulling in an average attendance of 7,500 (their stadium has a capacity of 8,000), an impressive feat for a team playing in the NASL and in their second year of existence, in a state that already has FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo. The Indy Eleven who will start playing in the NASL next season have 3300 season tickets sold already, and are expected to average 8 thousand to 10 thousand in their first season. Currently, Chivas USA are barely averaging 8,000 fans and the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire aren't too far behind them, averaging only 11,000 fans a game.
On the other point of low quality teams, the quality of the NASL and USL are improving, as seen by the US Open Cup matches. Orlando City SC and the Carolina RailHawks both have MLS quality teams, and have consistently beat quality opponents during friendlies. Below is a table of lower-tier teams vs MLS quality teams.
The NASL and USL should merge forming a 16-22 team lower tier. While this would force removing some teams from the NASL and USL, it would be for the best of the league, as FC Edmonton who barely average 1,000 fans a game has neither the quality or the fans to be in the league. A promotion-relegation system would force teams like Chivas USA to improve their team, while raising attendance at lower-tier games, due to the prospect of teams being able to make it to the MLS. The MLS should form one conference, and take the last place team and relegate it. The second to last place team should play a promotion-relegation playoff with the second place team in the lower tier, like in Germany. The system should start around 2016 and it is a system that will move American soccer forward.
A Sample Of Lower-Tier Teams vs Quality Opposition
Charleston Battery (USL)
Portsmouth FC (Championship)
Orlando City SC (NASL)
Orlando City SC
Orlando City SC
Carolina Railhawks (NASL)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL)
#4: Create A New League Logo (Seriously.)
While this isn't the most pressing of concerns, the current league logo is a laughingstock. The logo looks rather old and childish, and could use a tune-up. Rumors have been swirling that a new logo is in the works so stay tuned...