Why Every USA Soccer Fan Should Get Behind #ProRelforUSA

Promotion/relegation is now the number one topic in USA soccer outside of the regular news cycle of current men’s and women’s national team fixtures. How will an open USA soccer system become a reality? It will happen when enough common people unite their voices on the issue and surpass the requisite tipping point of public pressure. When the volume on the issue is loud enough, authorities with the power to force the change, whether that be FIFA, the U.S. government, or U.S. Soccer Federation itself, will have no choice but to react accordance to the voice of the people. The immediate goal for the promotion/relegation movement is to create a critical mass of education and awareness among USA’s 330 million people, and more specifically, the estimated 30-60 million soccer fan segment within. There are two main reasons why the average USA soccer fan should get behind the promotion/relegation USA Soccer movement: It will create better American soccer players and clubs, and it will leverage USA soccer to do a ton of social and economic good for the people of America.

1. Increased soccer quality and popularity

First, it will increase and better consolidate popularity for the sport while also serving to develop better players, clubs, and national team talent pool. Second, and more importantly, an open system drives interest and investment at all levels of the game. From the powerhouse clubs in division 1, all the way down to the amateur sides in division 12, everyone has incentive to pour time, effort and resources into their club in order to achieve the next step in excellence.

2. Creating socioeconomic good

As outlined in this piece by Mehdi Manseur, open systems are a tremendous way to increase social mobility and economic prosperity. What’s more American than equality and opportunity?

Creating an open sports system for America would result in national and regional economic growth heretofore unforeseen and untapped, increased competition and resulting benefits to consumers, increased economic empowerment to minority communities, diversity of ownership of professional teams, the alleviation of the inequities of the NCAA and greatly benefit public finances.

American soccer is at a crossroads. It can choose to keep banging its head against the wall of mediocrity via the same old closed-system, or it can observe the wild success of open system soccer around the world and align the American ecosystem accordingly. This current U.S. Soccer Federation is now merely a proxy federation for the business interests of one private company: MLS. We need to get it out of our heads that the current status quo leadership truly has the best interest of American soccer at heart. They do not.

It is up to common USA soccer fans to make true system reform happen in American soccer. Silence is compliance, and the tired, discriminatory status quo will keep rolling along if no one decides to speak up in opposition.


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U.S. Soccer Follows Typical Government-Authorized Monopoly Script

The MLS monopoly that sits atop USA soccer is not necessarily founded and preserved by a lack of oversight from governing authorities – namely, the U.S. Soccer governing federation (USSF). The thinking here is that the federation either did not have the capacity, or was unwilling to prevent MLS capture of the USA soccer marketplace. This line of reasoning is a bit off base. It is important to understand this key truth when examining MLS’s position in the USA soccer ecosystem: the MLS monopoly over USA soccer is knowingly enabled and authorized by the U.S. Soccer Federation. USA soccer fans must realize that blame for USA soccer closed-system ineptitude rests 100% on the U.S. soccer federation. The 100% authority that USSF holds over USA soccer must also include the corresponding 100% responsibility.

The battle to free American soccer from harmful MLS control starts and ends with appeals toward USA soccer’s governing federation. The two possible scenarios are to reform the existing U.S. Soccer Federation from within through fan or FIFA pressure, or set up a replacement USA soccer federation and acquire official recognition from FIFA. The latter scenario seems to be the best bet for success at this point. The foresight of MLS in a wild-west USA soccer era was shrewd, and USSF did fall asleep at metaphorical wheel of governance, but the important fact is that the U.S. soccer federation has been captured through either payoff or infiltration, and U.S. soccer leadership is fully aware of this. The MLS tail is waging the USSF dog, so to speak, and USA soccer fans must now intervene to restore authority back to all USA soccer constituents instead of a select few. 

This USA soccer market-capture dilemma follows the same pattern we see with truly harmful monopolies in other industries. The practice of regulatory capture, where one firm uses government as a puppet to protect itself from competition, rings familiar. Liberty and the free market are not bad at their essence. Problems arise in the free market when a government oversteps its bounds thanks to corruption or ineptitude. Do you blame private healthcare firms for simply taking advantage of the lobbying and bribery opportunities the U.S. government affords them? Of course not – the enabling governing officials are at fault. The solution for problems in the free market is not slapping on more regulation and restriction, but rather granting more freedom and autonomy. A government’s job is to be a watchdog and enforcer of fair market opportunity for its constituents, not to determine the winners and losers within the market. 

We must understand USA soccer governance duties as well as MLS’s relationship to the U.S. Soccer Federation. Blame in this case must fall on USSF since it has ultimate authority to decide on the matter. Blaming a free USA soccer market for MLS’s capture of the USA soccer ecosystem is the same as blaming USA healthcare woes on a free market. Both are sourced from crony capitalism brought about by expanded government, not true capitalism. The U.S. Soccer Federation has decided that the MLS company is the winner and everyone else is the loser in the American soccer market competition. This is clearly a case of a soccer governing body fundamentally failing in its FIFA-mandated duty.

USA soccer players, fans, and clubs must understand that priority number one in the quest for USA soccer progress is appealing for change at the policy level of the ecosystem. It is not very productive to expend time and resources building in the USA grassroots when the MLS monopoly has power to hold a glass ceiling above and topple the build work of any club it sees as a threat. It is still commendable to build in the grassroots, but if you can only pick one task between building in the grassroots and speaking up for policy change, speaking up is the best choice. Power lies in the hands of USA soccer constituents. Silent hope is just the same as complying with failing and toxic USA soccer closed-system policy. The key to reform is building enough public pressure so that either USSF, FIFA, or the U.S. government is forced to act.


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MLS is Embarrassing USA Soccer

Is American soccer really the best version of itself in 2019? How long will the people of America let the failing Major League Soccer closed system squat aimlessly on the USA soccer division 1 sanction? Surely, in a land with 24 million soccer players and an insane abundance of infrastructure and resources, American soccer can do better than the paltry TV ratings and embarrassing attendance numbers of the MLS/Soccer United Marketing cartel.

It is time to reevaluate America’s commitment to MLS as the capstone of its soccer ecosystem. For years, fans have been battered with the tired old “give it time” excuse, yet two and one half decades later USA is no closer to closing the gap with the world’s top soccer nations. The U.S. national team is no better off than it was in the mid-1990s, USA club teams have not won the CONCACAF Champions League for 20 years, and the “best” American players are still nobodies in the global marketplace.

MLS launched in 1996, and it has had nearly 25 years to stabilize and prove itself as the standard-bearer for the future of USA soccer. What are the results? MLS captures a smaller and smaller slice of the entire American soccer fan market with each passing year (this slice is down to 6% as of 2018). MLS national TV broadcast numbers, which happen to be the most accurate way to gauge product popularity, are embarrassingly low. Apart from a few outlier teams with peculiar, carnival-like crowds, MLS fan attendance is sparse. Even the small, tin-can, soccer-specific stadiums are being fitted with tarps to cover empty seats.

It is not a crime for MLS to be less popular than foreign club soccer options in 2019, but the crux of concern should be that the MLS popularity share in American soccer is trending downward. Even if MLS is “growing” when evaluated against versions of itself in previous years, that marginal growth is worth little when foreign club soccer competitions (Premier League, Bundesliga, Liga MX etc.) are growing at a faster rate. MLS might be growing a little inside of its own isolated bubble, but zoom out to the entire American soccer market pie, and MLS relevancy is shrinking. Is this really a course worth continuing on?

What is the next step in the evolution in American soccer? The fork in the road is clear: Continue down a path of “we’ve always done it this way” with a failing MLS closed system, or dream and plan for an American soccer that will one day be the best soccer nation in the world. It is up to the millions of people and thousands of clubs in American soccer to decide their future. The governing authorities must ultimately submit to public pressure, so each and every person must understand that their voice matters. If enough common constituents in USA soccer decide to speak up for change, either USSF, FIFA, or the U.S. government will be forced to open USA soccer for all with a system of promotion/relegation (#ProRelforUSA).


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The Antitrust Argument that Will Open USA Soccer

What would it take to defeat the Major League Soccer (MLS)/U.S. Soccer monopoly with an antitrust  lawsuit? It is important to remember that the USA soccer closed system has something that the isolated U.S. sport closed systems do not: a globally recognized divisional sanction that provides a clear pathway to individual club profit beyond internal league competition. Hinging an antitrust lawsuit on the lucrative nature of FIFA’s divisional sanction standard is the key to toppling the unjust MLS/U.S. Soccer monopoly.

There is a strong antitrust lawsuit case to be made against MLS/U.S. Soccer monopoly because a nation’s division 1 sanction is directly linked to profit via international club competitions. Qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup are the profit pathways in USA’s case. USA clubs directly benefit from participation in these competitions through shared TV and ticket revenue from the tournament itself. The other side of this same coin is that division 1 sanctions are seen as the standard indicator of club quality around the world, and that achieving this status indirectly leads clubs to profit through global prestige and notoriety. International shirt sales and TV rights for the D1 league are indirect profit examples in this case. 

When stake the antitrust argument on the factors of domestic competition only – as the case example of the Fraser vs. MLS did around the turn of the millennium – it is a much more difficult case to win. For example, isolated U.S. sports like American football or baseball can make a decent case that they are competing fairly because there are no extracurricular profits to be had outside of the confines of their own competition. Sure, teams and owners can make profits within a U.S. sports league, but the direct and indirect profits they generate are not assisted by the outside interference of a global governing body for their sport. Being in their U.S. sport league does not assure them of entry into any international competitions that provide externally generated profit opportunities as FIFA does for domestic soccer clubs around the world. These U.S. sports leagues could also make the case that anyone is free to start a competing league since there is no globally recognized D1 standard to adhere to in these isolated sports.

The winning legal case can be distilled down to this: Access to the USA soccer division 1 sanction allows clubs in the USA soccer ecosystem to attain profits through access to FIFA-sanctioned competition. Allowing one company or club to hold exclusive ownership of this D1 sanction is violation of U.S. antitrust law and principles. MLS should be given the choice to either align with an open-access, promotion/relegation USA system, or it should be forced to give up the U.S. Soccer Federation division 1 sanction an operate sanction-free like all of the other closed USA sports leagues.


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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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USSF Is Responsible for USA Soccer Instability

The common declarations on the state of USA soccer continue to be: “We need a stable system!” and “We need to grow the game!”

Wait a minute. Let me get this straight:

  • USA has had soccer for 100+ years (yes, even pro clubs and players that go back that far).
  • USA has 24 million soccer players (more than the entire populations of many great world soccer nations).
  • USA sets the attendance and profit standard for hosting World Cups (USA just promised an $11 BILLION 2026 World Cup profit to FIFA).

Despite all this, USA is still lamenting over how weak and unstable its soccer is?

The real story? America goes bonkers for the normal soccer seen around the world, but its domestic club soccer competition (led by a failing MLS closed division 1) is woefully unpopular (MLS has a paltry 6% share of soccer TV viewers in USA).

There is no soccer problem in USA. There is no soccer fan and player interest or passion problem in USA. Perhaps it is time to examine U.S. Soccer governing federation (USSF) leadership and policy?

“It’s the SYSTEM, stupid!” – me

A closed USA soccer system that only gives one company/club (MLS) access to division 1 is absolutely toxic to stability and growth. Why should millions of soccer-crazy Americans care and invest in USA domestic soccer when they are denied a fair opportunity to compete? Compare the world’s open systems with USA soccer’s closed system and there is no contest.

Open systems:

No open soccer system has collapsed in world history.

I repeat:

Open. Systems. Never. Ever. EVER. Collapse.

100% stability rate.

Most of the soccer world has seen wild success under open-system policy. The planet’s top national teams, club teams, and players all come from open systems. Off the pitch, the most profitable and popular domestic and international competitions are made up of open system clubs and national teams. The most profitable clubs come from open systems.

USA’s closed system:

USA’s domestic club competition sees an average club collapse rate of TEN clubs per year. This really is all the evidence we need in this debate. USA has the most unstable domestic soccer system – by far.

Many USA first-division (MLS) players make less than $100,000 per year. Many second-division players (currently USL) do not make a livable full-time wage. No paid playing opportunities exist with clubs below these two divisions.

USA soccer’s closed system encourages league versus league infighting. Leagues are able to poach clubs from competitor leagues (MLS D1 has poached multiple clubs from NASL D2 in the last 15 years) or place new clubs in close proximity to competitor-league clubs in order to drive them out of business.

Here is a snapshot of USA soccer closed-system chaos as of October 2017 (via @Flight_19):


The evidence is clear: open soccer systems are far superior to closed systems. Any argument that the current USA soccer closed system is more conducive to stability and growth than the open system alternative is just plain wrong. USA soccer’s closed-system policy is a self-fulfilling prophecy of instability.

Are open soccer systems utopia? No one is claiming perfection or that the harsh realities of open markets do not exist, but an open system that is 90% healthy is leaps and bounds ahead of USA soccer’s current stability standard.

Clubs can struggle or even collapse within open systems, however, these examples account for just a tiny percentage of the ranks of healthy clubs in open systems. Even with these outlier instability cases, clubs that have to shut their doors or file for bankruptcy (administration) usually have brands and supporter trusts that live on for “rebirth” in the future. Soccer clubs, when hosted in an open and unlimited soccer ecosystem, are practically inextinguishable.

Does the current U.S. soccer federation intentionally plot this instability, or is it just a result of clueless incompetency? Is this federation now just a front for MLS business interests and are the decisions made by this supposed “impartial” body meant to benefit MLS and kill of any outside competition? With the way the federation continues to double down on this toxic closed-system policy, questions like these must be asked. It is time to hold the USA soccer governing federation accountable.

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The Myth That Holds Back American Soccer

It is time to shatter the notion that soccer is a small sport in America. A deeper examination of the nation’s landscape proves that soccer is indeed a big sport, and may even be its chief sport. Soccer only appears to be a small sport in the USA because of U.S. soccer federation (USSF) governing policy which dooms the U.S. domestic club soccer competition to unpopularity and mediocrity. The “soccer is a small sport” myth is sabotaging USA soccer ambition and expectations.

The evidence suggests that USA has all of the ingredients of a big soccer nation. 

Today’s USA soccer landscape:

  • 24 million soccer players (FIFA census as of 2006). Even if this number is off by multiple millions, the figure is still astounding. 24 million out of USA’s 330 million population means that 1 out of 14 people you meet in America is a soccer player.
  • The total number of soccer fans (anyone at least moderately interested in soccer) would have to at least match this 24 million player count. A reasonable estimate would be somewhere between 30-60 million soccer fans, or 1 in every 9 people you meet.
  • Each year, Americans pack stadiums for dozens of foreign soccer club and national team matches. Many of these crowds exceed 50,000 people.
  • TV ratings for foreign club soccer competitions and the World Cup are high despite the fact that many matches take place during U.S. weekday afternoons or weekend mornings.
  • The 1994 World Cup holds in USA the all-time attendance record for the tournament and the 2026 World Cup in USA looks likely to break that record while raking in immense profits.
  • 30 different ethnic groups have populations of over one million people in America.
  • USA is world #1 in wealth and infrastructure.

With USA’s population of 330 million people, there is plenty of room for soccer to be a big sport alongside multiple big U.S. sports.

America is unique in that it hosts multiple other popular “U.S. sports” such as American football, baseball, and basketball. This uniqueness is sometimes misconstrued as a barrier to soccer’s ability to be a big sport in USA. The flawed logic goes that since soccer is not the king sport in the USA by far, as is the norm in most soccer nations around the world, it is therefore not possible for soccer to be a big sport in the country.

“USA soccer will never thrive until it becomes more popular than NFL or NBA.”  Sure, it would be great if soccer attracted most of the national sport attention in USA, but this unique landscape does not disqualify USA from being a big soccer nation. A 330 million population leaves plenty of room for huge followings of baseball, basketball, American football, and soccer.

USA’s estimated soccer player and fan population alone matches the entire populations of many great soccer nations around the world.

  • Uruguay has a population of 3.4 million. USA’s 24 million soccer player population dwarfs that total by an 8 to 1 ratio.
  • Holland has a total population of 17 million. USA has 7 million more soccer players than that.
  • Spain and Argentina each have total populations of 45 million. America’s total population is seven times larger.

The “soccer is a small sport” myth is self-sabotaging American soccer.

What sustains this myth is the fact that the USA domestic club soccer competition is extremely unpopular. As of the start of 2018, Major League Soccer (MLS) captures just 6% of USA’s total soccer TV viewership. Since the USA domestic club soccer competition is so unpopular, it fails to gain traction with USA’s mainstream sport, news, and pop-culture media outlets. When people do not see much USA domestic club soccer presence on TV and online, they naturally conclude that soccer itself is just not that big in America.

Satellite TV, mobile and online connectivity has clearly illustrated America’s love for the normal version of soccer seen around the world. The USA domestic soccer competition uses an MLS-based closed system with no promotion and relegation (a closed market). This MLS-exclusive ecosystem drives away fan interest and investment from the majority of USA’s soccer population. USA does not have a soccer popularity problem, it has an MLS problem. The 6% MLS share of the total USA soccer TV market is shrinking (it’s down from 7% in 2016).

If Americans think that soccer is a small sport in their country, their default output will inevitably match with small dreams, ambitions, expectations, and pressure on those in charge of the federation.

USA misses the World Cup out of a cakewalk qualifying region?

“No big deal. USA is a small soccer nation anyways. Try again in four years.”

Nobody cares about U.S. domestic club soccer?

“No big deal. Soccer is so young here in America. Give it another 20 years to grow.” 

The “small sport” myth keeps American soccer mired in mediocrity. USA is a soccer-crazy nation that has all of the tools required to conquer the world. It must unleash itself by aligning with the global standard of soccer: independent and unlimited clubs in a promotion/relegation (open market) system. No more training wheels. No more “baby sport” excuses. Those in charge of American soccer must be held accountable for a lack of progress by the domestic club competition and national team.

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