Hey y’all! So this is a series I’m doing that explores a hypothetical future in sports where I make extremely bad/bold predictions and format it like it’s a present day news article. Don’t be afraid to sling suggestions at me. It might give me a chance to learn something I don’t know and I love to learn! Enjoy!
NEW YORK — It may have been the worst kept secret in sports over the past year, but there was still plenty of intrigue today at the Major League Soccer offices as Don Garber officially unveiled plans to introduce promotion and relegation to Major League Soccer for the 2025 season.
“It’s no secret that this is what the fans want, and we are finally able to implement a version of promotion and relegation to American soccer for the first time,” Garber said to a national contingent of soccer media.
Promotion and relegation are long-standing mainstays of professional soccer in other countries, whereby teams that finish in bottom positions of the standings (or table) will compete in a lower division the following season, and teams that excel in their lower divisions will “move up” to compete within the higher competition. The implications move beyond the schedule, however, as the leagues operate with some level of independence, which means that when teams move up, they are privy to massive swaths of money from endorsements and broadcasting contracts.
“As we officially introduce FC Cincinnati and the Detroit City Football Club to Major League Soccer, we finally have a sustainable, responsible, and exciting plan to introduce the promotion systems used all over the world.”
While fans have long clamored for promotion and relegation in the US Soccer pyramid, many will likely remain disappointed, as Garber deflected several questions about including the United Soccer League and the third iteration of the North American Soccer League in future promotion and relegation plans.
“We are Major League Soccer, and can only speak on our own matters,” said a visibly frustrated Garber.
As he explained how the new system would operate Garber produced a very welcome visual aid. The league stands at 30 teams now, which will be broken into two divisions of 15 based on on-field performance. There is currently no avenue to change divisions in either direction due to financial situations or off-field actions, although Garber did not commit to keeping it that way.
“We’ve discussed internally the prospect of using an administrative relegation or making teams ineligible for promotion as a punitive measure, but we ultimately decided that we don’t foresee any conduct by any of our member teams that would necessitate such an extreme measure. It’s not permanently off the table, however. We have made that very clear to the executives.”
MLS Cup Playoffs will be somewhat affected by the move. The tournament will still be a twelve team competition, but the top ten spots will be reserved for the higher division, named “MLS Premier Division.” The bottom two spots saved for the lower level, named the “MLS Competition Division.” The Eastern and Western Conferences are no longer a part of the picture.
Each team will play one home and one away match against each team in their division, plus six “wild card” matches, which will give general scheduling preference to the Premier Division team. Garber emphasized that traditional and growing rivalries will be heavily considered when dictating the wild card schedule.
“The truth of the matter is that we’ve seen some amazing rivalries develop in our league, and we will absolutely never rob our fans of those experiences. Seattle and Portland fans can sleep easy tonight knowing that they will play their traditional match every single season.”
These concessions to keep certain matchups on the schedule was met almost immediately with criticism on social media, with tireless advocate for promotion and relegation Wes Testerveld tweeting “This is such a fake and plastic version of pro/rel I honestly wish they didn’t [expletive] bother. #ProRelForUSA”
Garber said that he was “more than aware” that this system would draw criticism but made it clear that he was confident that the fans generally would find the arrangement exciting and meaningful and emphasized that each and every point would become “that much more meaningful” when the difference between 12th and 11th place has consequences that extend into next season.
The promotion and relegation aspect will resemble the system utilized in England’s Football League. The bottom 3 finishers in the Premier Division will be relegated, while the two playoff teams from the Competition Division would be promoted. The third place team would host and earn a bye into the MLS Competition Playoff Final. Meanwhile, fourth and fifth place would meet in a semi-final.
“With this system, every team has a reason to fight for every point all season long. We are confident that this will create a higher level of competition in our league, and a more exciting product for the fans,” Garber said in a closing statement to the press.