Even if MLS buys the USL, don’t look for Pro/Rel anytime soon

According to Ben Rycroft in Toronto, MLS is investigating buying the USL. I guess since the USL is apparantly knocking on death’s door, MLS thinks it might be able to get it at a very bargain price. Of course, this author reads as the next step towards promotion and relegation.

For the 3,406th time…

That isn’t ever happening in American soccer. It increases to risk to the individual investor far too much and, in one swoop, turns MLS into a terrible business proposition. That remains a fact. A purchase of the USL doesn’t change that.

What a purchase of the USL might do is give MLS its own minor league with a system of affiliations that more resembles the American Hockey League instead of England’s Football League. Sorry, truthers, this USL purchase may lead to a few good things, but pro/rel won’t be one of them.

I could see some kind of amagalmation of USL 1 and USL 2 into a single second division of affilated clubs supported to different degrees by their parent clubs. MLS is not going to purchase a bunch of shoestring operations (with Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and possibly Montreal gone, all the good organizations are in MLS now) and suddenly give them a chance to oust one of their long-standing clubs and chuck them into the “minors.”

Rycroft says that the MLS deal is looking more unlikely (and thus making his headline all the more misleading) and that some group, “comprised of private investors,” will instead purchase the league. I would be willing to bet that this will only hasten the end of the professional USL divisions.

If I were an owner of a USL 1 or 2 club, I’d want to get under the wing of a parent club as soon as possible. Do you give up a piece of your identity? Sure, but you also gain a great deal of security. Look at how long other AAA markets have had teams in their respective sports. Scranton’s had AAA baseball since 1946. Toledo’s has had a AAA team since the 60’s. Looking at hockey, Hershey’s had an AHL team since 1938 and Rochester’s had one since 1956.

For the USL to go it alone like this is simply bad business. If their goal is to survive long enough to have MLS inexplicably absorb them as European-style second division, they’re living in a world just as delusional as the pro/rel “truther” fans demanding it.

It’s not hard to imagine a 20 team minor league made up of current USL markets and a few new ones. Imagine this:


  1. Baltimore
  2. Raleigh
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. Charleston
  5. Cleveland
  6. Miami
  7. Tampa
  8. Rochester
  9. Long Island
  10. Ottawa


  1. Austin
  2. St. Louis
  3. San Antonio
  4. San Diego/Orange County
  5. Sacramento
  6. Minnesota
  7. Des Moines
  8. Edmonton
  9. Las Vegas
  10. Phoenix

I do think the two Caribbean teams might get pushed out here because I doubt MLS teams will want their affiliated players so far away. I included Canadian teams because 1) they’re clearly interested in getting teams and 2) the AHL, PCL, and IL have had teams in Canada for decades and getting them back and forth to the US quickly hasn’t proved a major issue.

I hate yet again to be the one who removes the straws the pro/rel truthers clutch so tightly, but it’s simply not going to happen. The EPL will get rid of promotion and relegation before MLS ever enacts it. They’ll only be joining all American sports, Rugby League’s SuperLeague and NRL, as well as Rugby Union’s Super 14 in doing so.


12 thoughts on “Even if MLS buys the USL, don’t look for Pro/Rel anytime soon

  1. USL is idiotic not to merge with MLS. They’re obviously hoping that they can surpass MLS someday. Or that MLS might collapse someday and USL could step in and take over as the top division.

    Neither will ever happen.

    If MLS and USL merged, it would be the best thing ever for both. And for soccer in North America.

  2. Yep

    USL clubs could make a reserve league truely work or potentially even a reserves play in the USL work. Sometimes with less travelling for the reserves and youth teams could really be nice.

  3. I’d add Victoria and Tacoma to the list of Western Teams.

    I hope that the MLS DOES NOT BUY THE USL. Why? Well as ideas go, its not bad to be honest , but I don’t want to give any more excuses for the Pro/Rel crowd to post their “if only we had Pro/Rel in the US then soccer- I mean FOOTBALL- will be the US’s most popular sport EVAH!!!111!!”. The metric system has a better chance of being adopted in the US then Pro/Rel.

  4. When you list Las Vegas as a viable USL market you damage your credibility. Soccer cannot be played outdoors in summer in Las Vegas.

    Isn’t it true that, unlike MLS where the league “owns” the teams, USL owns nothing but the name “USL”. What would buying USL actually buy? Would not the team owners, who in USL are independent of the league, just form their own league and call it NSL or something?

  5. Hey, whoa. I was just tossing cities out there. There are USL teams in El Paso and elsewhere across the southwest. Is Vegas that much hotter?

  6. Where’s the love for the Puerto Rico Islanders? I highly doubt MLS would kick out one of the best teams in USL-1 (with continental success to match) in case of buying their league.

  7. The merger is a good idea, the MLS needs a developmental league to serve as a training ground for younger players. Nothing makes a player better than actual time on the pitch.

    As much as i hate the idea, I doubt implementing the relegation idea would work in the MLS. First off, attendance in certain cities is tenuous enough as it is. Secondly this is a system that would scare off fair weather fans that usually get interested in footy whenever a world cup rolls around or the US gets on a hot streak. Lets say these guys finally take an interest and start to follow their local MLS team, only to see it go down a division if it goes down, and not get a fresh start and a high pick in the draft like most other sports in the US do. This would drive them away in droves, and those are the people the MLS needs to keep around as fans, fans new to the sport who come in through a casual interest and eventually fall in love with the game and become lifelong fans.

    I know a lot of mls fans out there want it to be like the premier league, but guys, the Brits have been at it for almost a century and we can’t use their formula, MLS has to find it’s own identity and formula to become a true established sport in America. Attendance might be up, but certain High School Football(American football that is) teams in Texas draw more fans than a game than the Wizards or FC Dallas.

  8. Yes, but stating the blatantly obvious isn’t Aaron’s style.

    Which is also the reason he didn’t say “Ben Rycroft is a low-wattage, arrogant, bottom-feeding piece of shit”.

    Why is it that apparently no one in Canada understands MLS?

    They all seem convinced that a bunch of really stupid billionaires started a sports league without having the first damn clue what they were doing but, fortunately, a crowd of drunken Canadians barely out of high school who hold down low-paying hourly jobs are much much brighter and more business-saavy than a bunch of mopes like Phil Anschutz, Clark Hunt, Stan Kroenke and Robert Kraft have finally arrived to explain things to them.

    Promotion/Relegation is all just ignorant twaddle promulgated by dumbshits who couldn’t run a lemonade stand.

    MLS needs a minor league system that they can use the way baseball uses AAA, moving players up and down without having to have them clear waivers.

    Nobody ever suggested that when the Rochester Red Wings or the Toledo Mudhens win the International League they ought to be promoted to the AL (without, of course, having to pay an American League expansion fee) while the Orioles and the Indians should find themselves riding buses to Springfield.

    It’s absurd.

    As for the USL, I have news for Rycroft: it’s been for sale for 20 years. I know this because I was part of a group that considered buying it in 1995. The price then was a million dollars, which we had the ability to raise, but the problem was you weren’t actually buying anything because Fred Marcos doesn’t have anything to sell you except the name.

    After that, it became a question of how in the world you could possibly make that model pay. And the truth was, you couldn’t. There’s simply no money there.

    Which is wny – imbeciles like Rycroft might want to take notice – teams come and go and collapse. It’s because the teams pretty much all lose money all the time.

    So paying someone a million bucks to take an unprofitable league off his hands is doing HIM a favor but isn’t doing much for the buyer other than hosing him up the short chute.

    Ben seems to feel it’s a revelation that USL isn’t making money. Well Gollllllleee, Sgt. Carter, they’ve been around for 20 years and have never made a goddam dime.

    It would be stupid for MLS to spend more than a buck-fifty on buying out Ferdie. Just start their own minor league and drive him to bankruptcy in six months. Much cheaper.

  9. I don’t claim to have any detailed knowledge of MLS or USL finances. But as a consumer I would like to see the idea of promotion/relegation kept alive, if only as an option for some time down the road.

    In my opinion promotion and relegation protect the consumer from ownership that doesn’t try to be competitive. (The Clippers of the NBA are an example). If it creates extra risk for the owners of clubs in the first tier, it also creates an extra possibility of reward for those who invest in the lower tiers.

    It may be untenable at the moment but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be investigating ways to make it happen someday. Calling it “ignorant twaddle promulgated by dumbshits who couldn’t run a lemonade stand,” doesn’t create a good environment for that.

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