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DaMarcus Beasley believes MLS needs promotion and relegation

Four-time World Cup participant. UEFA Champions League semifinalist. U.S. Men’s National Team mainstay. MLS veteran.

As far as active American soccer players go, DaMarcus Beasley is probably as well-equipped as any to speak with authority about the state of the game in the United States. He has plenty of ideas for how it can grow, too, including introducing promotion and relegation to MLS.

Beasley is in the final months of a storied, 20-year career that has seen him play at the highest levels of the game in Europe, Mexico, and the United States. The 37-year-old Houston Dynamo captain has seen how the game has evolved in his homeland in that span and also where it still falls short, and one thing he believes could take the sport to the next level in the U.S. is implementing relegation.

Mind you, he admittedly does not know how it can be executed but he does think it would take the game further.

“100 percent. 100 percent,” Beasley told SBI last week when asked if he thinks MLS would benefit from having promotion/relegation. “I’m not the money guy and (the one who will figure out) how it’s going to work and who loses money if a USL team comes up, how can they stay afloat. I don’t care. If we can do it, they need to figure it out.

“That would put more pressure on the league, that would put more pressure on players to perform, that would put more pressure on — even if we still keep the (Designated Players) — the DPs to perform every game. Everybody. Everyone. Everything is heightened. Everything is heightened from a pressure situation, even if it’s a young player in that environment. When you’re fighting relegation, you have to be mentally tough.”

Coincidentally enough, Beasley’s comments came a day before Zlatan Ibrahimovic ripped into the MLS playoff format. Ibrahimovic stated last Thursday that he thought the system, as it currently stands, fosters complacency and does not make for an environment that is intense enough to bring out the very best in players.

Beasley — who like Ibrahimovic has previously played at high levels in Europe for clubs like PSV Eindhoven but has also fought relegation — echoed an opinion and sentiment similar to that of the Swede.

“The mentality of the American player has to change,” said Beasley. “I think that comes from individually and the coaches and it goes from the whole league as well. I think we need to put more pressure on young players because it’s not there. We need to put more pressure on the young kids and I think in the league it’s hard to do that because, for one, if there’s a hot shot young player, everybody wants to just tote him up and say he’s the best player in the world.

“If he’s not, then it’s like, ‘Okay, well, where can he get that exposure, that pressure to play and to grow and to be mentally strong as a player?’ Nowhere really because, no disrespect to MLS, but when you lose a game and you don’t play well, it’s like, ‘Eh.’

“For MLS, making playoffs is the threshold. That’s where the lines is. Really? That’s how it is. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Beasley added an interesting anecdote about a day at training with the Dynamo in which some of the club’s academy players were brought over to watch the first team practice. The former U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder/defender noticed, however, that none of the youngsters were really focusing on the training session.

“I think Jurgen (Klinsmann) touched on it a lot. A lot of the things that he spoke about were true,” said Beasley. “The mentality of American players, it’s once you get to a certain level, you think you’ve done it all, you think you’ve done it all and that’s it. That’s what the problem is.

“In Europe, and I’m sure a lot of people can agree to what I say, the youth players when they’re there and the academies are there — I remember one day we’re at training and our youth team was there watching us train and they’re all like this (gestures holding a device and staring at it) on their phones. All of them. That’s the mentality we have.

“My point is, they’re in the academy. They’re 16-, 15-years old and they think they’ve did it all, ‘Ah, yeah. Dynamo, okay, I want to go to Europe.’ You ain’t going to get to Europe with that! I guarantee if AC Milan, Schalke, Chelsea, if the young kids get a chance to sit and watch the first teams train, they’re going to be like this and watching eye to eye, ‘ Oh, man. What is (Christian) Pulisic going to do? What is — whoever they’ve got on the field — what are they going to do? How do they play? How do I get there?'”

For Beasley, any changes, as well as the ultimate goal, have to be to get the U.S. Men’s National Team to win a World Cup some day. Granted, that might not be MLS’s primary objective as a business, but Beasley believes it is something both the league and U.S. Soccer should prioritize because that is “what it is all about.”

One of the ways to do that, as far as he is concerned, is introducing promotion and relegation and making MLS games mean more.

“If you’re one of the stars or you’re 18- and 19-years old, you’ve got to be mentally tough,” said Beasley about promotion and relegation. “I went through it, with Puebla. I’ve been through it so I know the fighting relegation thing. I think that would definitely, 100 percent (help).”


  1. A few items…

    Our best athletes have no interest in soccer. Despite it being the easiest sport to access – all you need is a soccer ball – literally zero of the best athletes un the U.S. have chosen this sport. Imagine Anthony Davis in the goal instead of on a basketball court; Odell Beckham, Jr, as a striker, or pick a running back or defensive back in the NFL as a defender. Imagine 6.3″ Steph Curry in the midfield; imagine 6’5″ James Harden with his ability to draw fouls (lol).

    Also… the MLS should have great interest in the our success – failure, too – in the World Cup. After all, it is a barometer of where we stand in the soccer world. That we are not competitive speaks directly to the competition level in the MLS.

    At present I’m not sure relegation and promotion are viable because of the lack of financial investment in the MLS. When USL teams have 20,000 seat stadiums filled with fans, when MLS teams all have soccer-dedicated stadiums with at least a 40,000 seat capacity and are filled with fans we’ll know the interest is there on the professional level.

    With the NFL being outed as a sport where every contact position player suffers a life-long debilitating injury and where owner complacency is a real thing due to revenue sharing (see the Detroit Lions for a fine example of this), with once fans turning away from the violence, and with parents actively not allowing their children to not become involved in the game, soccer is in a unique position RIGHT NOW to make a move into prominence. Let’s hope that becomes a reality.

  2. The owners are going to be the problem for some teams but I have a hard time believing every owner is against pro/rel. One way to insure it happens is if any existing teams get sold to owners that are pro/rel friendly and then it might be possible.

  3. If promotion/relegation motivates teams and players, why is it that every league in Europe includes teams are largely going through the motions because they are safe from relegation and are highly unlikely to be promoted? Why do English commentators wonder about the purpose of clubs like Everton or West Ham (and more than a few other mid-table teams)?

    MLS is far from perfect but, unlike the English leagues, for example, the current MLS structure makes it much more difficult for a team to buy a championship (see Manchester City) or spend itself into bankruptcy (see Portsmouth or Bury). Nearly all MLS clubs begin the season with a decent chance to make the playoffs and win the championship. You can’t say that about any major European league.

    If you want to motivate young American players, why not offer the prospect of decent salaries and real playing time? Sadly MLS teams have followed the path of least resistance and indulged in renting foreign players, some at great expense, rather than developing American players. Many young Americans stand a better chance of getting real playing time outside the United States than in MLS. At the risk of offending the soccer snobs, I would be happy to see teams that included eight or nine Americans on the field even if it meant lower “quality” in the short term.

  4. Most of this discussion is totally irrelevant. Follow the money. The cost of an MLS franchise is now way above $100 million. On top of that, most teams are getting new stadiums which cost around $150 million or more. While the teams don’t bear the brunt of all that cost, then they have all the costs of salaries, travel, and the myriad costs associated with a team. So, a new team (and many established teams) probably has at risk somewhere around $300 million in investment. A new franchise rarely does well the first year, so with a strict pro/rel system, those teams would likely go down after their first year, wiping out most of the value of that $300 million. What owner is going to agree to that? Then, where would the promotion come from? A USL team that maybe has a stadium seating 8,000 and a $1 million payroll? In the EPL a promoted team gets something like around $50 million or so that they can use to go out and spend on more and better players. Relegated teams get a similar amount of money. Could MLS afford to do something similar and, more importantly, would the other owners agree to it? If they don’t, where does the promoted USL team get money from to become competitive? No other major league sport in the US has anything like a pro/rel system and it isn’t going to happen with soccer, certainly not in the next generation.

    • I see it in 20 years or so when MLS has franchises out into 35-40 markets and the league is too big. The large franchises would then promote themselves into the MLS Premier League. MLS will have to increase its popularity and get a lot more TV revenue for that to happen. For the reasons you suggested I don’t see USL being promoted into MLS.

      • This is the possibility that makes sense. As with anything in our economic system, available funds is the key. Media revenue will probably determine the future, along with the size of markets.

    • Very excellent post Gary Page.
      Lestt we forget– the prevalence of pro/rel systems in global soccer was never introduced because the people involved thought “Jeez, this is the best way to develop our country’s players!”.
      In almost all cases, countries that have pro/rel adopted them decades before the emergence of TV revenue and big bucks. It was simply a fair system. In a country like England (the major incubator of professional club soccer), the idea of divisions and pro-rel was simply practical and competitively fair. Even in a physically small country like England, it’s impossible for 80 clubs to play each other (let alone home-and-away) during the course of a season or calendar year. So they divided into subdivisions, and clubs were allowed to “play their way up” over time. A wonderful and fair system, that is still followed at the amateur level. But a big risk once money comes into play.
      And that brings us to MLS And MLS has never wanted to be that. When the money came in to certain European leagues, it made certain clubs unbelievably wealthy. Created an almost irreversible wealth gap. And for the “have nots” it created an environment of constant existential risk. MLS owners bought in specifically for the purpose of avoiding this risk. Until it is solved (and it may be somehow one day), pro-rel will never come close to being implemented.

      • Thanks for providing the historical background which provides the foundational aspect of the European system. I hadn’t even thought of this.

    • All good points GP, just adding my thoughts. I’ve never been a die hard pro/rel guy for MLS, I wouldn’t mind it but also don’t see it as the be all end all we need to become more competitive. I don’t see it as a binary either/or type decision in regards to accomplishing the long term plan to become a dominant world class league. I think one day (not now) MLS still can become a top class league in the world without pro/rel. However, I do believe its not possible for MLS to become top class until it removes so many of the player movement restriction and possibly moves away from the single entity structure but still keeps a salary cap similar to the revenue share that NFL and NBA share with players. That future all depends on increasing viewership and tv contracts though and with the streaming trends that could change that ad landscape quite a bit over the next 20-30 years time which it would take to grow into a top league. It could be a Netflix or Amazon contract that pushes MLS into that revenue level not FS1 or ESPN.

      Given our legal system and the huge expansion fees being paid by new owners there is practically zero chance of a true pro/rel system happening in any near future, maybe 50 years or more but even then if there was no clause or language in an expansion contract stating the risk of relegation than legal that’s a breach of non disclosure of risk and you’d get sued big time, something the league doesn’t need. The idea of an MLS1 and MLS2 is more plausible but still could be difficult to make work legally I think unless some future ruling interprets MLS to actually be the US Soccer pyramid itself allowing it to restructure into different levels over time.

      All of this makes our system look very different from Europe and SA which I’ve kind of given up MLS looking like Europe a long time ago and still think it could be great one day even without all the baggage surrounding various part of the European system. Its the competitive environment that we’re not creating and I think that’s more at the heart of what Run DMB is saying and we have to find a solution to make the competition between players and teams more urgent/fierce.

      • All good points with which I agree. Beasley is really dealing more with the theoretical and you and others are looking at it in more practical terms.

    • Of course MLS owners do not want to do it. Even the #ProRel4USA combatants agree that MLS owners do not want to do it. Those who argue for it believe it should come in the form of a mandate from the federation. MLS will never agree, because they have everything to lose. Pro/Rel would have to come from a federation who steps up and says “Implement pro/rel, or you will lose your first division status.” That’s what Pro/Rel advocates want – a federation who will bravely say “we are doing this, so get on board.” That is not likely to happen under the current regime.

      Another option would be a FIFA mandate. A third option would be a major lawsuit in which every non-MLS team in the country sues MLS/USSF for monopolistic practices.

    • The Sounders just sold a minority stake for almost $60 million. No one seems to know how minority the stake is, but suffice is to say Gary is exactly right in terms of the gap.
      It was never great, but now it is insane.
      For me, I don’t know why MLS would artificially relegate teams to not be able to win the championship every year no matter how big the league. Seems like a pretty dumb thing to do.
      I get it if you can only have 20 teams because of the structure of the league….but that isn’t MLS’ problem……..right Zlatan ?!?!

  5. Without PRO/ REL there is no pressure to excel. Without excellence there is no reason to watch. Unfortunately the MLS malaise is spreading to the national team. MLS USMNT SUM USSF are making money until that is no longer the case nothing will change.

  6. Now US Vet is stating the obvious. Where are all those MLS shills out there to mock him and laugh at such a crazy notion of adopting relegation/promotion?

  7. Won’t happen in anyone reading this articles lifetime… the Clubs/Leagues in the United States won’t support it for a very long time…. many MLS teams struggle with attendance and revenue. Lower league teams struggle mightily with attendance, revenue and facilities. That won’t change for a very long time.. if ever.

    Why would the cheaper ownership of the league (Dynamo.. etc…) voluntarily open themselves up to relegation? I don’t see it.

    • This here is basically all there is to say. We can argue all day about whether pro/rel “might” improve the quality of US Soccer. But it’s all wasted breath. Ownership has no reason to expose themselves to that kind of risk. Ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

      • Plus other leagues WERE and ARE going to be the pro/rel with no salary cap. So they did and will succeed better than MLS.
        Like the league the Sounder, Timbers and Whitecaps were a part of for almost a couple of decades.

    • So QWAUSS your argument is 30 or 40 successful leagues around the world with no salary cap and pro/rel work but one league with those parameters failed so it doesn’t work. I don’t know that we’ll ever see pro/rel because it’s too much risk for owners who bought into the old system and no salary cap isn’t realistic at this stage but raising it and allowing more Allocation money or DP slots needs to be done for the league to compete with Liga Mx. Perhaps an American/Canadian DP slot for each team.

  8. We need to change to the European model where almost NONE of the teams are trying to win the league? A system that brings us Juve winning 8 times in a row and almost certainly going to win again this year. Wanna bet against BM and PSG?
    Houston is in 19th place in MLS and 15 points out of 2nd for the whole league ( with LAFC a rare outlier this year ) and we are going to change to the Euro system where 19th place was 72 points out ( PL last year )?
    THAT is what will save soccer in the US….Houston being 72 points out, that really make the players care ?
    Am I the only person watching all leagues? Week one in England had the intensity level of 2nd quarter NBA game in Feb.
    Stay the course. Stupid not to.

    • I am torn between your reply and what Beasley is pointing out. How do we get the best of both worlds? Parity is what will make MLS stand out compared to other leagues, but how do you get the urgency of pro/rel, where you stand to lose millions (if MLS can ever get that kind of major TV money) if you don’t perform on a day to day basis? MLS is safe for owners as they do not have to worry about a major loss of revenue source, so how do you get them to ever agree to changing that? I have seen a lot of proposals, some solid in terms of how you would structure it, but I have a lot of genuine questions in terms of how you actually instigate that level of change. How do you convince MLS brass to commit to it? I have yet to see a compelling answer. Its always, “do it/don’t do it” for just the sake of it.

    • There are a lot of MLS teams that aren’t trying for titles as well. MLS is not producing the level of talent necessary to be a top 10 NT. Some clubs academies are making strides but we’re still seeing youngsters having trouble getting time although it’s far better this season. MLS is entertaining but let’s not equate entertaining with quality. The best players in the league are primarily SA, with the hope that some how their quality will rub off.

      • I would like to see your list, as 14 teams have won MLS in less than 25 years. Out of 24 teams, with new teams like Minnesota doing well this year and Cinci barely even started.
        I don’t fully disagree with you as a Colorado won a title, but it is a small list for sure and compared to Europe, give me a break.

      • Quit Whining About Soccer in the US….

        “….as 14 teams have won MLS in less than 25 years. Out of 24 teams, with new teams like Minnesota doing well this year and Cinci barely even started.”…..hahaha, yet with all the “variety of teams winning” hasn’t raised the level of the league as you think, as Liga MX teams STILL run through MLS teams in EVERY MAJOR COMPETITION (let alone comparing them to EPL, La Liga or Bundesliga).

        ALL THE ELITE PLAYERS in the world play in a particular league system and a particular league format, that according to the best of the best, keeps players fit, sharp, focused and MOST IMPORTANTLY engaged as EVERY GAME MATTERS.

    • Your confusing playing to make the playoffs and hoping to get hot and catch some breaks as playing for the title. Montreal right now is in playoff position but they are not title contenders. 14 in the playoffs is too many 6 to 8 would apply more pressure and make each match more meaningful. As I said MLS is entertaining but it’s not going to produce world class players.
      Liga Mx uses a very different relegation model which relegates just one team each year using records over the past three seasons.

    • Are you being a clown on purpose? Having promotion and relegation doesn’t mean you can’t have financial parity, you insipid monkey.

  9. This is a call to all you billionaires out there – start building soccer teams!!
    Until we get to a threshold of owners buying and building teams we aren’t going to have p/r.
    I think we are moving in the right direction with what USL is setting up, but the numbers aren’t there yet. Stadiums are a big issue, most of these teams would have a tough time even meeting the requirements for the top tier in USL, let alone MLS.
    We’ll get there but I think we’re still a generation or so off still.

    • I think we’re probably more like 5 generations away from where a lot of U.S. fans think we should be now. U.S. soccer is still light years behind Europe and South America in its ability to develop players.

      • If this is along the lines of ‘more teams will just dilute the domestic pool’ argument I heartily disagree. If anything it’s just the opposite.

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