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Six Degrees: Pro/Rel

SOCCER: OCT 06 MLS - San Jose Earthquakes at Portland Timbers

There was a tiny bit of news this week, but only enough to fill a couple degrees. Let’s bang that out, then have some fun talking about pointless pro/rel stuff.

1) This week, we found out the 2020 opening day will be March 1st versus Minnesota. What’s noteworthy about this?

Well, it’s our earliest opener ever, beating last year’s March 2nd. I guess that’s mildly interesting.

Also, it’s a home game, which will be a nice change from this past year, when we spent the first three months on the road. (I’m really looking forward to a normal schedule again.)

And finally, it’s the 3rd time in 4 years that we’ve opened the season against Minnesota. This must be a coincidence, right? Surely, the league isn’t doing this on purpose, with the goal of creating some weird opening-day rivalry between the teams. I guess we’ll find out in 2021. If we open with Minnesota for the 4th time in 5 years, then we’ll know it’s a conspiracy. Since this is America and every scandal has to be given a “gate” suffix, I’m gonna go ahead and call dibs on “Loonygate.”

2) Did you hear Grant Wahl’s podcast with Gio? Give it a listen, there’s lots of really good stuff.

Most interesting to me were the times Gio talked about this past season. You could hear in his voice how difficult a season it was. And not just because of the weird schedule. To my ears, it sounded like a lot of the problems were because of team psychology. It sounded like the locker room culture was not good.

I haven’t spent a single second in the Timbers locker room, so everything I say here is total conjecture, but I’ve got two ideas about why the locker room culture might have gone bad.

The first possibility: maybe Diego Valeri’s frustration with his contract bled over into his day-to-day attitude. Maybe he was a little mopey and shitty about it. Maybe that affected the whole team.

Since it’s Valeri we’re talking about, I’m not sure I buy this possibility.

3) But my second possible reason for the locker room problems seems a little more believable. Is it possible Brian Fernandez was an asshole?

One of the things I remember from the period right after Fernandez showed up was interviews with other Timbers. They talked about how they’d never seen anyone so driven to get goals, how even during practices, Fernandez was just intensely focused on scoring all the time.

Is it possible that what they were really thinking was, I’m gonna try to say nice things about the new guy, but there’s a side of me that thinks he’s kind of an asshole?

Is it possible that, over time, this intensity got worse? That it stopped being charming or inspiring, and just became annoying? Annoying to the point that the locker room became a little fractured?

As I said before, I have absolutely no inside information here. This is 100% conjecture. But what do you think? Think I’m right?

4) Okay, let’s talk promotion and relegation. There’s nothing that will get American soccer fans frothing at the mouth like a good pro/rel conversation.

I’ve been listening to Tutul and Neetol Rahman’s MLS history podcast, called “25 Stories That Made MLS.” The whole series is good and you can check it out here.

They had one pod where they talked about pro/rel and how it might work here in the US. Their idea: a super-league combining the best teams from MLS and Liga MX. The best teams each year in normal-MLS would get promoted to the Super League, where they’d battle it out with the best teams from Liga MX. There would be no threat of getting relegated from normal-MLS, just going up and down between it and the Super League (or whatever it would be called).

It’s an interesting promotion/relegation idea, but different from mine. Here’s mine. Lemme know what you think.

5) Now, before I start, please note that I am not and never have been a pro/rel fanatic. Yes, soccer in America is proving its viability, but I think we need to keep proving it, over a long period of time, before we try pro/rel.

But how close are we to that point? Franchises in Sacramento and St. Louis have both been approved. That would bring the league to 29 teams. There’s talk of Charlotte joining, which would take it to 30.

At what point is promotion/relegation a legitimate possibility? 40 teams? That’s too big for one league, so let’s start there. Let’s say MLS has 40 teams.

Now, we could set it up the way USL’s set up, with an East league and a West league. We’d have 20 teams in each league, then the top finishers meet for the championship.

But this would only work if the conferences didn’t play during the regular season. Otherwise, it’s exactly what we’ve got now, with our current Eastern and Western conferences.

6) But how about this idea? What if we split MLS in two, but vertically, with 20 teams in the 1st tier and the other 20 in the 2nd tier. USL would get bumped down to the 3rd tier of US Soccer, with MLS1 and MLS2 the top two tiers. There would be no difference in money between MLS1 and MLS2, so getting relegated wouldn’t be a financial death sentence, but there would be a difference in prestige.

Each year, the bottom 3 teams in MLS1 would get demoted to MLS2, while the top 3 teams from MLS2 would get promoted to MLS1. (For financial reasons, I’m not sure if the bottom MLS2 teams should go down to USL, but maybe you could convince me.)

Depending on the rate we add new teams, I could see us successfully doing this by 2040. Or maybe in 2046, as part of the league’s 50th anniversary.

What do you think? Awesome idea or complete malarkey? I’d love to hear your ideas. No pro/rel ever? Yes pro/rel, but different? Let’s hear some ideas. It’ll be fun.