USA Soccer’s Closed System Is Immoral

In the midst of the battle to bring open, promotion/relegation soccer to America (#ProRelforUSA), it is important to not lose sight of the very heart and soul of the cause: USA soccer must be opened because it is the just and moral thing to do. Upholding a closed domestic system in global soccer is flat-out immoral and evil. There is no need to rest all hope and debate on utilitarian arguments such as, “open systems produce better soccer and more money so therefore USA should adopt it as well.” Never forget that the clinching argument in the promotion/relegation USA debate is the question of right versus wrong.

There are many great illustrations and aspects in the trimmings of the promotion/relegation USA soccer argument, such as the nuts and bolts of the format, success stories from open systems around the world, and observations and experiences in the U.S. closed system. By all means, paint the world with these talking points, but always remember:

The onus is not on open USA soccer advocates to prove the utility or benefit of open soccer systems. Closed USA soccer system apologists should be put on the spot to explain why blatant discrimination and disenfranchisement is right and tolerable. 

Why is closed-league soccer immoral? Global soccer operates in a FIFA-governed ecosystem. Each country has a promotion/relegation ladder capped by a division 1 which is used to filter the best of the best into regional and international club competition (think UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup). Besides the revenue and prestige that entry into international competition generates for clubs, the fact that a club is “division 1” carries with it implied legitimacy and recognition in global soccer. It is not just a label attached arbitrarily. If a club is D1, they must be pretty good. This leads even more of the revenue and prestige mentioned above.

How would these same principles apply in a hypothetical U.S. Soccer open system? As a USA soccer club moves up and down the ladder via wins and losses, corresponding revenue and prestige increases and decreases. There are variables and outliers, but the general rule remains constant. The rise and fall of independent clubs should be looked at just the same as individual businesses rising and falling within any industry. Soccer, and sport in general, is not “just a game.” There are economic and social consequences beyond the grass field. Real lives, jobs, and pocketbooks are part of soccer competition as well. Most agree that economic and social equality are human rights, so it would then follow that the U.S. Soccer closed system of today is immoral and unjust.

Make sure to always approach the promotion/relegation USA soccer question from its primary standpoint of morality. The sporting quality details are great, but remember where the true high ground is. A promotion/relegation USA soccer system has tremendous potential to make a giant economic and social impact in America. For those who oppose an open system, the onus is on you to explain why keeping the USA soccer system closed is more just and moral than opening it.

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The USA Soccer “Unique Market” Myth

Every so often, an investor-operator or media apologist affiliated with the MLS/U.S. soccer closed-system status quo declares that the American soccer market is somehow “unique” and drastically different from the rest of the soccer world. These unique differences exist, but every country in the world possesses its own set of them. These characteristics should be folded into the standard open, promotion/relegation soccer system, not used as an excuse to run a perverse and immoral closed system.

The latent purpose of this “unique soccer country” claim is to provide the grounds of justification for the discrimination and disenfranchisement brought about by USA soccer’s closed system. “You see, the USA soccer market has unique challenges and needs special considerations and protections in order for the game to survive and grow,” they exclaim. Year after year, USA doubles down on the failing MLS closed system and sees little to no progress. The nation is reluctant to break the cycle and change course because it is stuck in a flat-earth mindset that makes it believe that a closed system is required for soccer’s very existence in America.

If you take stock of USA’s cultural and sporting attributes, it is difficult to conclude that the USA is missing required soccer-nation ingredients:

  • 24 million soccer players (still a gigantic number even if off by multiple million)
  • 330 million total population (with 24 million players, it is clear that there must be at least 30-50 million soccer fans in America)
  • #1 national wealth and infrastructure
  • 100+ years of professional soccer history
  • High U.S. TV ratings for foreign, open-system club soccer and the World Cup.

USA clearly has strong soccer culture and history. Some say that competition from other sports (NFL, NBA etc.) is an insurmountable barrier, but with a population of 330 million, the 24+ million soccer players and fans mentioned above are more than enough to build a top-notch soccer nation. There is enough room for both “big American sports” and “big USA soccer” to exist.

Every nation has its unique cultural mixture and identity, but these differences simply provide the backdrop for the open soccer competition that must ensue. The entire soccer world and all of soccer history proves that the sport’s open-system essence is never the cause of instability. The 0% open system collapse rate speaks for itself. The only way that things can go wrong is through government mismanagement, and this is exactly what is happening with the overreach and corruption of today’s U.S. Soccer governing federation.

The only thing “unique and challenging” about American soccer is the fact that its governing soccer federation refuses to align with the open-system essence of global soccer, and FIFA’s corresponding promotion/relegation mandate. Division 1 sanction exclusivity should not be granted to one single constituent (company or club) in the ecosystem, as has happened with club MLS and its control over U.S. Soccer D1. The current U.S. Soccer governing federation is completely compromised. It is acting as a proxy federation working for the business interests of the MLS company.

USA soccer does not struggle because of bad ingredients, it struggles because of a bad chef (U.S. Soccer). It is time to start holding leadership accountable. If this federation will not lead USA soccer into alignment with FIFA’s mandate on promotion/relegation, it is time to start a new governing federation that will. Until then, keep speaking up for change and keep educating people on the myths and realities of the USA soccer ecosystem.

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