Top Division Soccer, USA

Imagine 1st Division Soccer

A few weeks ago it was announced that Don Garber, MLS Commissioner, was going to visit Columbus on May 2nd. Rumors flew. Stadium naming rights? A new scoreboard? Goal 10k hit? ..Turns out it was just a routine visit announcing that the league business summit will be in town again. Fair enough, but about half way through watching it I imagined what it could have been...

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“Hi. My name is William Sasquatch. I’ve been asked to come to Columbus, along with league commissioner Don Garber, today to talk about the future of Major League Soccer and the exciting plans we have for this league.

First off. It is an honor to be here talking soccer in Columbus, Ohio. I can say with complete and total honesty that this is a great city with great people. There were a number of MLS staff folks that traveled with me and they all said the same thing. Of course I put them up at the Hilton at Easton Town Center and, from what I understand, out-of-towners really like that place. [Laughs]

I know it might not seem like it but MLS has the utmost respect for this club, the Columbus Crew. You guys have been here since the beginning. Before even most of the guys from corporate you see here today. And you will be here long after I, and the others, are gone.

With that, I can’t think of a better place to talk about our plans for top division soccer in the United States for a little bit.

Over the past few months; Myself, Don Garber (Commissioner of MLS) and Sunil Gulati (President of the United States Soccer Federation) have been working with Bill Peterson (NASL Commissioner) and Tim Holt (President of the United Soccer League) on how to make soccer in this country better.

Now, I’m not going to go on and on about the nuts and bolts of the operation today but I will say that we have agreed in making strides towards linking the top three leagues in this country together.

I’m going to be honest with y’all here today: Promotion and Relegation is something we want to achieve soon. We feel it is a no brainer. Why? Because the more we shed the “American” take on the game, ie. no ties, shoot outs, expanded subs, clock that counts down, etc... we find that the game gets more popular.

But for some reason we always tell you the same thing. It’s not financially feasible. While that may be part of it, it is not the main problem. It’s really that none of us get along well enough to make that happen. Looking at you Bill and your Cosmos brand goldmine you are sitting on [laughs].



Seriously though; By not getting along, I mean that our goals are different in each league.

So, until we can work out the details of promotion and relegation we’ve come to an agreement and have signed off on a 1st Division Soccer+ (or 1DS+, working title). The top three clubs from each league will play each other once with blind draw determining game location. That works out to be eight extra matches for each of these clubs over a calendar year.

What we hope to do with this league is use the relative popularity of MLS and bring top level play to some of other cities without a MLS team.

If we were to stop the clock right now in all three leagues the 1DS+ would look like this:

NASL: Carolina RailHawks

NASL: Minnesota United FC

NASL: Tampa Bay Rowdies

USLPRO: Richmond Kickers

USLPRO: Orlando City SC

USLPRO: Charleston Battery

MLS: Montreal Impact

MLS: FC Dallas

MLS: Houston Dynamo

For those wondering, I’ve pulled these clubs based on Points Earned Per Game as of 7:30 PM EST, May 12, 2013. For the NASL, because of their split schedule, we would take the combined league leaders in the calendar year.

Here’s is the reward for this group. In recent years the US has sent four clubs and Canada one to the CONCACAF Champions League. We will keep the five clubs but change who fills the slots.

The top 4 teams in this group with automatically qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. The final spot is reserved for the US Open Cup winner. If that winner is one of four teams above it falls to the next highest in the 1DS+ League group.

Some of you might be wondering what the reward is for MLS Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup winners. These will remain as a trophies in that league but will not ensure CL entry. We are hoping to migrate away from top division playoff system and replace it by adding focus on this 1DS+ league and the US Open Cup.

These matches would be scheduled during the summer months and end in the fall so as to avoid any conflicts with CONCACAF Champions League games MLS clubs might be playing. We will also be working with the folks that organize the US Open Cup to ensure we respect their schedule in every way.

What these games might do is push out some of the summer friendlies that US and Canadian teams play in the summer. But that kinda brings me to my next point. We believe that this type league, working in sync with other events, will help improve the game here in the United States and Canada, long term, and set up a strong professional landscape in this country.

Looking up and down the list in my list of clubs I see some great destinations and stadiums. I’ve personally been to WakeMed to see the RailHawks play. Richmond is a great city and their team predates MLS clubs. Charleston, another beautiful city that I just visited last year, also has a stadium in Blackbaud that was built almost exactly the same time as Crew Stadium which makes it one of the oldest professional soccer stadiums in the country.



I believe that organic and autonomous growth is critical to the future of this sport in the United States and Canada. By helping to build a deeper and wider foundation we can finally build something that will stand the tests of time and allow us to compete on the worldwide stage.

Frankly, this is something we should have done a long time ago.

Integrating our professional soccer leagues opens the door to improvement through competition. It will help raise the level of play and energize a generation of fans in dozens of cities across the country and not just the 19 MLS ones.

From there we can work on what makes this sport so popular across the world; promotion and relegation. Imagine cities like Minneapolis, Phoenix or Wilmington battling for promotion to our top league through play and not privilege or the highest bidder. Or a NPSL Brooklyn Italians club getting the opportunity to achieve something great.

Soccer in this country, when looked through the spectrum of pure competition, reflects our our best qualities. Something finer. Something greater.

I’m excited to get this started as I am not satisfied with the current set up. I fell in love with this sport because of a group of parents in Northern Virginia who followed the Washington Dips of the old NASL and wanted to get involved. It came in the form of youth soccer. Around the time I was in High School, Major League Soccer got going. Now... Here we are.

The future is here and we look forward to it taking on any challenges it takes to make this sport everything it can be here in this corner of the world.

Thank you all and thank you Columbus for hosting us today.”


Here was the conference, in reality. Turn on your local sports station, pretty sure they are talking pre-season NFL.. maybe some NBA or NHL playoffs.

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