How to Reform the MLS

In most professional soccer leagues around the world there is a system of promotion and relegation. At the end of the season ~3 teams could move either up or down within the system of leagues in their domestic associations based on how well they perform throughout the season; however, this isn’t the case in the United States and Canada. In fact, the MLS rewards the biggest loser at the end of the season with the first overall pick in the MLS Superdraft.


Most of the USMNT squad responsible for the collapse in the Hexagonal currently plays in the MLS. In a system that rewards losing there is no incentive to improve, and in its current state there is no optimism for the foreseeable future.


To simulate the promotion/relegation process here’s an example of what would happen this time around:


2017 MLS Cup Standings

Courtesy of MLS


2017 NASL Standings

Courtesy of NASL 


LA Galaxy would be automatically relegated to the North American Soccer League (NASL), and Miami FC would assume their position in the MLS. D.C. United would play against the San Francisco Deltas in a playoff to determine who would play in the MLS the following season.


To better understand this format let’s take a look at how the Pro/Rel system works for the Bundesliga in Germany: The bottom two teams in Bundesliga are relegated to 2. Bundesliga and the top two 2. Bundesliga clubs take their place; however, the third worst club in Bundesliga plays a playoff with the third best club in 2. Bundesliga for the right to compete in the Bundesliga the following year.


2016-17 Bundesliga Standings

Courtesy of ESPNFC


2016-17 2. Bundesliga Standings

Courtesy of ESPNFC


The Premier League in England takes a slightly different stance on the matter of promotion and relegation. The three worst teams at the end of the season are relegated to the second division, the EFL Championship, and the Championship’s top two teams are automatically promoted to the Premier League. A four team playoff between the teams that finished 3rd-6th in the Championship takes place in order to determine the third and final team that gets promoted to the Premier League.


2016-17 Premier League Standings

*Red = Relegation

Courtesy of ESPNFC


2016-17 EFL Championship Standings

*Green = Promotion

Courtesy of ESPNFC


Another take on Pro/Rel comes from my home country of Costa Rica. In the first division, Liga Futbol de Primera Division, the team that finishes 12th on aggregate over both legs of the season is relegated to the second division, Liga de Ascenso, and the winner of Liga de Ascenso takes their place. This year Municipal Grecia, champions of Liga de Ascenso, were promoted, and San Carlos, 12th place in Liga FPD, was relegated.



Invierno, the first leg of the season, is on the left. Verano (or Clausura), the second leg, is on the right.

Courtesy of FCStats


Apertura 2016 courtesy of Wikipedia


Clausura 2017 courtesy of Wikipedia


In Costa Rica the winner of Apertura plays the winner of Clausura (Jicaral vs Municipal Grecia).


In short, a Pro/Rel system will benefit the MLS in the long run due to the competitiveness of it. Now in order for this system to be implemented, the United States Soccer Federation needs to give grants to every team in the NASL to upgrade their stadiums so that they can handle a standard MLS crowd. In addition to the grants, the Superdraft needs to be reformed so that it would resemble what is in Europe.

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