Several narratives around world soccer, and the United States' place in it, exist under the umbrella of three paradigms, or assumptions. Unfortunately this tends to limit the number of conversations that can be had. I'm not saying I'm the only one thinking outside of the box here, but I don't get to see these three assumptions being challenged. They are:
First, FIFA is the world governing body, and exercises power over national federations. Second, national federations exercise power over leagues operating in the country. Finally, those first two matter.
The domestic narratives affected by these assumptions are myriad, and range from the training of U-5's to the selection of the World Cup host. The challenge of implementing a pyramid that offers opportunities to ambitious players and clubs without upsetting the viable economy that has risen around the current system is probably debated the loudest. This is the primary reason I am challenging the three assumptions.
When considering the pyramid, no matter your opinion on its current benefits or downsides, the questions I keep asking myself are, why does any league need "sanctioning" from US Soccer, and what's to stop a league operating in any way they choose, as long as it's legal?
I hear frequently that US Soccer and MLS have some sort of nefarious arrangement protecting Division 1 status for the latter. The difficult thing is, and correct me if I'm wrong, Division 1 status is not a law. While it may carry some influence, it has no power to determine the success of a club or league that desires it. Many fans who espouse the benefits of the NASL already know this.
NASL has plans to grow large enough to establish a promotion and relegation system of its own. Would the league and its many financially-savvy ownership groups attempt this if it were impossible under the reign of Sunil Gulati and Don Garber? Absolutely not. If the market will support an open pyramid, and I think it will someday, go ahead and build one. I'm looking forward to seeing it.
"But Kepner," you'll say, "MLS has a stranglehold on the biggest markets, sponsorships, tv deals, and flying cars! No one else has a chance!"
Every week, it seems, NASL and USL are generating revenue, stability, and legitimacy with new partnerships. There is no question that the market is supporting more and more soccer across North America. NASL owners are brazenly moving into Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago, to say nothing of the Cosmos who, even under the current rules, could someday be bigger than ever. There are, and will be, plenty of fans to go around. Patience among fans, unfortunately, is in shorter supply.
Look at pro soccer through the eyes of those who are putting their money where there mouths are. The independent owners of clubs in NASL and USL are doing the same thing that the oft-maligned billionaire founders of MLS did 21 years ago. They are betting their time and money that they will someday make it back. It's as simple as that. They are just doing it one club at a time.
US Soccer does not determine our clubs' success. We do.
Even more interesting in the discourse than our own issues at home is the ironic concern with how FIFA (you know, that FIFA) views them.
Please. The idea that the world's most corrupt non-governmental body needs to worry about us playing our soccer in the summer instead of the winter, and the fact that we have a single-entity league that was established to satisfy their demands when we bought the ‘94 World Cup (yep, went there), and that we care, is so absurd to me that I can scarcely bear to think about it.
Look, if we do what's best for us, assuming anyone knows what that is, then eventually our leagues and national team will improve, and we might just win the World Cup. Some day. So the old boys club in Zurich can just settle down and put up with it. Beyond hosting another World Cup, someone is going to have to tell me why to care about FIFA.
FIFA does not determine our success. We do.
The point of all of this is to say that yeah, things are imperfect, but they always will be. There are no circumstances surrounding the game in our country that are insurmountable. Every single person who cares about the game can do something to move it forward, and I hope you do. But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
So, while some will stand around pouting about the state of things, I'll be over here watching some beautiful game, and having a damn good time doing it. I hope you will too. Isn't that why we care about this stuff in the first place?