Back in February, the United Soccer League announced that it was seeking second division status with the United States Soccer Federation. Currently in the third division in the U.S. soccer pyramid, the move to apply for the second division, occupied by the North American Soccer League, would require that all teams have a stadium capacity of 5,000 and that the stadium is soccer-specific.
It’s a pretty big step for a league that is relatively young league and it requires a lot for a handful of the teams, like the Austin Aztex, who need find land and build their own stadium in a short period of time. But the biggest issue with this ambitious move is the fact that this league has an identity crisis.
Right now, it’s really hard to peg down what the USL really is. Is it just a third-tier league like you would see in Europe? Or is it essentially MLS’s version of Triple-A baseball?
Whatever it is, the USL has to define what it wants to become before it makes the jump into the second division.
A couple of years ago, it was easy to figure out what the USL was. It was a middling league that was questionable on whether it would make it. The teams were not connected to any MLS team, at least not officially, and it certainly wasn’t the home to many MLS reserve teams. It was easy to state that it was a simple third-tier league, like that in England.
But the events of the last couple of years have muddied that water. Currently, there are eight teams that are directly related to MLS squads, including some really bad “II” names, i.e. Seattle Sounders II. Only five teams don’t have an MLS affiliate this season. And going off of that, it really appears as though the USL is simply a minor league for MLS.
That said, the desire to jump up to the second division makes me wonder why they even want to be Division II. Aside from tighter rules for franchises and maybe a little bit more legitimacy, there’s no real good reason to make the jump unless the end goal is Division I, which we all know isn’t happening unless MLS falls off the face of the Earth. And being a second division minor league is no different than being a third division minor league in my eyes.
My solution for the conundrum is simple: the USL needs to be it’s own league. Yes, a partnership is fine and is important for financial survival. But take out the MLS reserve teams. Bring back the MLS reserve league and have them play there. Teams can still have some affiliation between leagues, but only so far as loaning players out for the season.
This clears up the current identity crisis the league has and sets up nicely for promotion/relegation, which is the eventual goal for soccer in America, even if it’s way down the road.
But the USL has to determine what it is and what it wants to be before moving to the second division. Is it it’s own league or is it a minor league for MLS? The choice is up to them, but it’s a choice that it has to make.