MLS should buy USL

Don Garber, MLS Commish

Don Garber, MLS Commish

News broke a couple of days ago that Nike has put its 100% ownership of USL up for sale. MLS should buy the leagues – USL-1 and USL-2 (not to mention the other 4 leagues that are under the umbrella) – and turn them into full-on developmental leagues, which would benefit everyone in North America.

Of course, as Jack Bell reported, MLS has firmly denied that it will buy USL. “We recently evaluated the opportunity to purchase the U.S.L., but elected to not submit a bid for the league,” Dan Courtemanche, a senior vice president for marketing and communications at MLS, said in an e-mail to Goff. That’s poor business sense.

MLS apparently doesn’t realize that it can’t exist without feeder leagues. It might think that the NCAA will provide enough talent (perhaps true: it works for the NFL) or that because it’s called MLS it will be a young player’s first choice (most definitely not true: the best players target Europe from an early age). Add to those concerns the stringent salary cap, low starting salaries, and severe roster restrictions and you have a top-flight league that could really use a place to develop talent. That is not to say that MLS is a bad league; I’m just saying that it hasn’t changed like I thought it would by this point.

Another perspective is offered by Gareth Wheeler. He believes MLS should buy USL in order to implement a full-scale promotion/relegation system. While that is an admirable idea, it will never fly in North America, not when new owners have paid $30 million and more to have a team in MLS. Promotion and relegation are simply not part of the North American sports culture and, while I would love to see it, I can’t see it happening.

If MLS really wants to become a cartel on the order of Major League Baseball, it needs a developmental system. USL offers that. MLS needs to buy USL, even though it won’t. Although that might be a good thing for the North American soccer fan: a competing league might force MLS to re-think some of its policies

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