On Promotion – Relegation: A Default Response to the Status Quo Crowd

By @k2thedubs

 

I’ve decided to write a clear and concise response to the seemingly endless conversations I have had on promotion – relegation. Rather than rehash the debate ad nauseum on each occasion, I will simply refer my interlocuters to this piece and refrain from engaging in a discussion until they address the question posed at this article’s conclusion.

The question regarding promotion – relegation is a philosophical question. Should the market be open with freedom of access to any interested clubs[1] who agree to move up or down based on the merit of their performance? Or should the market be closed with access to top-flight soccer restricted to a small subset of clubs selected for participation based on the discretion of a handful of bureaucrats of questionable motivations and expertise?

Full stop. That is a straightforward conceptual question that requires an answer. You either support an open system or a closed system.

If you side with an open system, great. Let’s discuss next steps and begin formulating an action plan for executing an integrated soccer pyramid.

If you side with a closed system, then I challenge you to explain why. I have yet to see a cogent rebuttal to the promotion – relegation argument, but I’m open ears and invite any contrarians to make the case.

I have found that the closed system crowd generally sidesteps the philosophical question at the heart of the matter and instead jumps ahead to posit some excuse(s) about the difficulty of implementing promotion – relegation.

That line of thinking is completely backwards. That is akin to opposing climate change and efforts to mitigate its effects due to perceived, whether actual or imagined, difficulty in enacting effective policies to thwart its impact (i.e. achieve the desired objective of the original question).

We must first come to an answer of the initial question – open or closed system or to intervene or ignore climate change. Then, once that question is answered, we can delve into the practical ramifications of that answer, irrespective of their level of difficulty.

For as long as I’ve been following soccer, the discussion has been flipped on its head with proponents of our closed system demanding justification for a shift to an open system. I do not accept this premise.

The rest of the world adheres to an open system, and examples of success can be observed in dozens of countries spanning diverse cultures, backgrounds, and geographies. We have no reason to expect we would not experience similar success if we would elect to follow this approach[2].

We are the exception, not the rule. We are the outlier, and our track record shows that our approach is unsuccessful and offers no evidence to refute the proven model used by the rest of the world[3].

We must reframe this conversation. Why should advocates of an open system have to justify their position? Instead, proponents of a closed system should explain why they perpetually choose to not adopt the best practices used by the rest of the world when we have repeatedly failed using our alternative method. Defaulting to the preservation of the status quo without sensible rationale is fallacious and insufficient, particularly when the status quo involves a prolonged history of discriminatory conduct.

I challenge the closed system crowd to provide a convincing explanation for maintaining our closed system, despite evidence of its ineffectiveness, and electing to not adopt (or initiate plans to adopt) an open system. Until I hear a persuasive counterargument against promotion – relegation I’m going to immediately suspend the conversation because, until that question is satisfactorily answered, there is no productive dialogue to be had.

Closed system crowd, the ball is in your court. Please present your case (remember to limit your response to the philosophical question). Any replies related to the implementation of promotion – relegation are invalid and will be dismissed.

 

Addendum

The replies have begun to roll in and I must say I’m thoroughly unimpressed. My prompt specifically requested responses to the philosophical question rather than excuses, but I have yet to see many follow that overture. Instead, I have seen all the typical stale excuses and have highlighted the most frequent offenders below.

  • Dearth of Resources / Infrastructure
  • Lack of Interest
  • Insufficient Money / Investment
  • Not the Right Timing
  • Partial Promotion – Relegation for lower divisions[4]

Each of these defenses has been effectively argued against so I will not spend any time regurgitating what has already been said.

There has been one argument that some have clung to which is worth debunking because it is particularly specious to the point of absurdity.

To those who argue that it’s unfair to open the market because MLS owners have invested money to buy into a closed market, I urge you to consider the flaws in that logic. The notion that MLS owners have a credible gripe about fairness is quite ironic since the primary basis of their investment was the artificial scarcity and anti-competitiveness permitted by USSF legislation, which marginalizes all but a select few communities.

I’ve yet to see an MLS owner advocate for an open system, which illustrates that they have no problem investing in and benefiting from a closed system (to the detriment of many others who are less fortunate), but are ready to cry foul when the rules shift to a more just and equitable structure. Oh, the hypocrisy. This is like a drug cartel complaining about the prospect of heighted competition and less favorable business dynamics when a new Chief of Police comes to power and terminates their pre-existing bribery arrangements.

Second, if the perceived “unfairness” related to the dilution of their investment (it must be stated that this is a practical ramification of the philosophical question) is the main impediment, then we can figure out a solution. The prospect of a difficult policy solution does not validate the persistence of a rigged system. I think a simple remedy is to offer a buy-out, to make whole at the cost of their investment, to any MLS owner(s) who desire to forego their investment in an open system.

I would expect few[5], if any, MLS owners would be interested in reneging on their investment because they understand the potential of an open system, which is incredibly telling in and of itself. In terms of the buy-out, I would suggest the remaining MLS owners pony up to reimburse their colleagues who desire to leave. They can use proceeds from the handsome profits they have accumulated over their years of monopolistic advantage.  Seems like that problem is resolved.

Third, in terms of unfairness, these owners enjoy a massive structural advantage from their many years of participation in the first division. Every MLS franchise would have an enormous head start, some for more than two decades, over the rest of American soccer clubs. If they are so afraid of being dethroned by the existence of fair and open competition, that, again, reveals so much.

Ultimately, if you find that your sympathies lie with the plight of monopolists’ losing their institutionalized advantage over the empowerment and sanctioning of opportunity to the public at large, I urge you to reexamine your beliefs.

 

 

[1] Provided they comply with any established prerequisites and standards.

[2] I’m going to pre-empt a tired argument that some may be contemplating. None of the mainstream American sports are comparable to soccer because they are not sports that exist in a global, borderless ecosystem that involves regular international competition (for results, players, resources, tactics, strategies, etc…).

American sports are akin to the utilities industry, as they are largely uncompetitive (globally) and quasi-monopolistic, and they cannot be compared to truly open marketplaces as their underlying dynamics are different. The comparable for American soccer is not the NFL, MLB, or NBA whose competitive ecosystems are either entirely or largely confined to the U.S. The comparable is other domestic soccer systems in countries across the world who virtually all utilize promotion – relegation.

[3] Contrary to the myth that MLS peddles, I have, as have many others, disputed their notion of progress at length in the following pieces – here, here, here, and here.

[4] This violates the central tenet of the philosophical question. You either support an open system or not. There is no gray area.

[5] MLS owners may pretend this is not the case for the time-being because it is in their best interest (and conversely, the worst interest of US Soccer as a whole) to preserve their monopoly, but, if push came to shove and promotion-relegation was on the precipice of implementation, I challenge you to identify any owner who would willingly accept a buy-out at cost and relinquish their opportunity at massive capital appreciation in the open market. We cannot let the monopolists’ self-serving objections dictate policy for the entirety of our country.

 

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36 thoughts on “On Promotion – Relegation: A Default Response to the Status Quo Crowd”

  1. You start with two suppositions:

    1. Things have to be binary. You either support an open system or you support the oligarchs who are crushing soccer in this country.

    2. I don’t have to support my case, you (meaning the supposed closed-system defender) do.

    I’ll tackle #1 first.

    As far as I know, all but 3.5 countries have promotion/relegation. The exceptions are the USA, Canada, Australia and that weird thing India does.

    They do not, however, all have promotion/relegation all the way down the pyramid. Even traditional European powers such as England and the Netherlands have waited a long time to open the gateway between amateur and pro. Being the Anglophile that I am (ask me about Monty Python and The Young Ones sometime, and Doctor Who was better in the old days), I’ve done some research on the colorful history of the League/Non-League gateway in England: https://duresport.com/2015/02/09/promotionrelegation-in-england-the-big-drop/

    In fact, a lot of countries didn’t even have pro/rel at all for generations. I’m not even going to try to summarize Brazil’s decades-long effort to organize an actual national league. Didn’t seem to hurt their national team.

    But let’s get back to the amateur/pro gateway. In the late 1990s, we actually had a lot of D2 and D3 clubs. What happened to them? Many folded because no one vetted their ownership (the much-lamented Pro League Standards were designed to stop the rot, though you could certainly argue that they’ve overcorrected). But then a lot of them *chose* to go up … or down. My favorite team of the late 90s, the Carolina Dynamo, once had a viable argument to be one of the top 15 teams in the USA and Canada — they were deserving finalists in the old A-League. They found they could draw decent crowds without the expense of paying players. That’s why the PDL (and, yes, the NPSL) are so large.

    Now let’s look from a developmental standpoint. We want pro clubs to have academies so we can extend the reach of our youth programs, yes? Great. Unfortunately, what you’ll find in England (check Ranting Soccer Dad’s pro/rel archives for the England case study) is that clubs frequently shut down their academies when they drop — or, in Huddersfield’s case, when they just figure other clubs are doing it better.

    You may argue that the EPPP, unique to England, is more responsible for the shuttering of those academies. The problem isn’t that it’s an open system. The problem is that it’s a badly regulated open system. That’s a fair point.

    But then that concedes point #1. **It’s not binary.** Just as the Second Amendment says “well-regulated” and not “yeah, let’s give everyone automatic weapons,” you don’t want to just throw open the floodgates without putting some thought into it.

    I’ve been exploring the possibility of a system that offers the *opportunity* of promotion but sets a floor for relegation. The idea is to use our massive land mass as an advantage. Too many open systems are a ladder, not a pyramid. We can and probably should have scores of clubs at the D3 and/or D4 level, funneling upward to a D2 and D1.

    I think my plan entices investors because it maximizes opportunity and minimizes risk. You may argue there’s a better plan out there, and that’s great.

    But … and at long last, we get to point #2 … NOW you have to tell me why.

    I’ve put out a plan for a system that you’d have to call “open.” It would set minimum standards for clubs (not leagues, which would have very basic standards like “must have an anti-doping program,” “must have access to professional financial advice” and “must be able to fulfill basic customer service obligations”), and if you can meet the standards to go pro, you get to play in a pro league. You can climb higher. You cannot fall lower.

    So … can you tell me what sort of open system (Mexico, England today, England pre-EPPP, England circa 1980, Qatar today, South Korea) you’d prefer and why it’s better than mine?

    We’re not done with point #2, though. Because you’re not selling this to me. For some reason, people have thought for about 15 years that if they just harass me long enough, they’ll get pro/rel. I don’t have land to offer for a stadium. I don’t have substantial money to invest.

    You’re selling an open system to sponsors. TV companies. Investors. Casual fans.

    And they might run through this list: https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2017/10/06/promotionrelegation-propagandareality-part-5-cons/

    (I’d also add that they might ask what’s different about soccer. Look at every other sport’s dominant leagues: Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, the KHL, SuperRugby, Pro 14 rugby, Twenty20 cricket leagues. No pro/rel.)

    And you won’t have the luxury of telling them “no, YOU have to make the case for a CLOSED system.”

    Honestly, I don’t think this post pushes things forward. I’ve tried. For years. We’ve finally got some rational people to the table — I find the Chattanooga discussions quite interesting — but they don’t have the experience or the know-how to make it happen just yet. You’re going to have to build a bridge between that group and some sympathetic people with experience (I doubt Peter Wilt is the only one).

    And you’re not going to do it with an ideological purity test. (Isn’t that how we wound up with Trump?)

    The USA and Canada have gotten pretty far with the closed system. If you know a bit of U.S. soccer history (or if you’re over 30), you know how extraordinary that is. In 1996, the conventional wisdom was that MLS would fail — not because it was a closed league, but because Americans didn’t care about soccer outside the occasional big event. Just like we can draw 90,000 for a Women’s World Cup final but struggle to draw 9,000 to a women’s pro game outside Portland. Just like we’ll get out and watch any Olympic sport when it’s in the Olympics, but we don’t even pay attention to the track and field world championships. That’s what people thought of soccer at that point and for years afterwards, especially in 2002, when MLS was basically down to three owners and no one cared about World Cup broadcast rights.

    Do I think the system should open up to take the next step forward? I do. But you still have to make a case for others, and then you have to talk specifics.

  2. The two suppositions you identify are correct.

    The debate surrounding pro – rel has run amok and been, for the most part, wildly unproductive with many supporters on either side refusing to engage in reasonable dialogue. We can discuss the merits of the lack of engagement but that’s a separate topic.

    Ultimately, however, those in positions of power to change things (in whatever way they see fit) are in the closed system camp. So in regards to #1, I was attempting to take a step back and reframe the conversation around pro – rel to the most fundamental, philosophical level. I figure if we start there, we can actually have a discussion and people can decide which system they prefer.

    Philosophically, should the system be open or closed? Give no consideration to practical ramifications, just simply decide what you (the general you) feel is right and best serves soccer in this country. It’s important to do this first because that will dictate how we design and implement whatever system people choose, which as you mention can vary from country to country. But, I want to reiterate one last time, the fundamental guiding principle – open or closed – will drive everything in regards to how a system is organized and operates.

    At risk of belaboring the point, it is a binary decision on what system – open or closed – should shape the framework of soccer in America. I do not disagree that there are degrees of variety in how different countries execute their systems and the US will have to determine the appropriate variation for itself should it chose to embrace an open system, but the differences among countries’ open systems are details.

    The philosophical divide is clear – every successful soccer country embraces and utilizes an open system (philosophically speaking, I recognize that there are discrepancies among the actual set-ups).

    On to supposition #2, which branches off from #1. Fortunately, in this debate, unlike many others, we have the luxury of a robust data set with samples spanning diverse cultures, geographies, and socioeconomic standings. Given the multitude of examples of success, it is clear that the best practice for a domestic soccer is an open system. There is no example of success from a closed system (I know some may be jumping at the bit here, but I will address this shortly). As such, the burden of proof is clearly on those who choose to embrace a system that deviates from what is proven to be the best model around the world, not to mention the active discrimination it begets and promulgates.

    In terms of the rest of the response, I have to say I don’t give much credence to the middle paragraphs detailing the differences in pro – rel in countries across the world. This article, and the on-going debate in the American soccer community, is still existential in nature. Many people are clamoring for change and a good chuck of people prefer to maintain the existing structure. This article is attempting to provide the winning argument for the existential battle between those who support an open system vs those who support a closed system.

    This fight is alive and well. We are in the midst of it on a daily basis for many years, as you know well. Once that fight is won (hopefully in favor of an open system and sooner rather than later), we can delve into how the US will set up its system and, then, your paragraphs became relevant. Time for a quick sidebar here – so many people (and not suggesting you but it just came to mind) name potential challenges (which may or may not even be difficult in addressing) in implementing an open system and think that passes for an argument against an open system.

    If (and hopefully when) the US adopts an open system, it will not occur overnight or at the snap of a finger. People will get together and sort out all of the logistical and executional challenges. Then, once a plan is firmly in place, it will be implemented in phases but ultimately lead to an inter-divisional system where clubs rise and fall based on sporting merit. It’s not the Wild West, as many opponents would lead you to believe. An open system means freedom of opportunity with no barriers to entry (provided you meet the established criteria, some of which you mentioned in your response) to any willing and able participants.

    You raise a good point – you are not the gatekeeper and you do not decide what goes in the US. For an open system to work, there would have to be sufficient interest and capital from all of the necessary stakeholders (owners, players, coaches, staff, sponsors, fans, etc…).

    There is ample evidence that our market is unsaturated and there are many stakeholders chomping at the bit trying to get in. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and has the fastest growing popularity in the US, particularly with key demographics. As you mentioned, we have countless teams (PDL, NPSL) that field unpaid players. Moreover, if the market were to open, we would finally get to see just how big the potential soccer market is in this country.

    In terms of the what’s different about soccer, I addressed in my article but will re-post below (since it was a footnote that people may have ignored).

    None of the mainstream American sports are comparable to soccer because they are not sports that exist in a global, borderless ecosystem that involves regular international competition (for results, players, resources, tactics, strategies, etc…).

    American sports are akin to the utilities industry, as they are largely uncompetitive (globally) and quasi-monopolistic, and they cannot be compared to truly open marketplaces as their underlying dynamics are different. The comparable for American soccer is not the NFL, MLB, or NBA whose competitive ecosystems are either entirely or largely confined to the U.S. The comparable is other domestic soccer systems in countries across the world who virtually all utilize promotion – relegation.

    The statement “The USA and Canada have gotten pretty far with the closed system” is your opinion. There has obviously been progress since 1990, but who’s to say that progress is the best we could have done. I certainly don’t believe it is. If a different system were set up from the start, there’s no telling where we could be right now. And examples like Atlanta United, where an expansion team started from scratch can usurp incumbent competition (with decades-long head starts) in a matter of months, show how grossly inefficient and inadequate our soccer market is.

    But that is unimportant. The past is the past and it cannot be changed. At this juncture, there is a mountain of potential waiting to be unleashed and we are squandering it with every year continued down the MLS-only path.

    At the end of the day, we have millions upon millions of people aching to participate in soccer in this country, and all they want is a chance to compete at the highest level. To deny and disenfranchise the masses is wrong. You can argue about the exact structure, but that comes later. For now, it is imperative that we settle this existential debate – open system vs closed system – or else we are bound for more and more mediocrity. I’m hoping pieces like this can lead to the end of this debate and be the catalyst for the adoption of an open system, which can finally propel the US to the pathway to excellence.

    1. I’ll suggest a different way to frame it:

      Most people (fans, players, etc.) WANT an open system. (For purposes here, I’ll define “open” as ANYTHING with pro/rel, whether it spans the entire pyramid from D1 to your local beer league or whether it has Mexico’s single-team relegation or whatever. I can understanding wanting to build from consensus, and I would agree that the consensus is that we’d like to give more clubs an opportunity to move up. You and I certainly agree on at least that much — though I should point out, as I have before, that my role here is mostly messenger, not advocate.)

      So maybe this is a better question: **How do we make it happen?**

      I’m not sure of the answer, though I’ve long thought (you can find in my archives) that the idea of starting a pro/rel system — maybe lower division, but with a mostly professional top tier — is probably a good start. If nothing else, you’ll make lower-division soccer more interesting. But if it goes well, MLS owners would be much more likely to want to get involved, and voila — there’s your pyramid.

      Every reasonable plan I’ve seen has, as you suggest, some sort of gradual transition. That gives everyone time to figure out the details. You may not think the old-school MLS owners deserve some sort of recompense from a philosophical point of view, but that matters little — from a practical and probably legal perspective, they need to be coaxed to the table.

      We should be looking forward, of course. But we can’t ignore the history. You raise an entertaining question about whether we would have something totally different if USSF had not gone with the MLS model in the mid-90s. But there simply weren’t a lot of people who believed in a soccer league that would draw more than 10,000 fans per game. They just weren’t there. MLS started with about seven full-fledged investors, and that number dwindled to three in 2002. Those three made MASSIVE investments to keep Division 1 soccer alive in this country. The next wave made massive investments to move it to the next level, and so on.

      Would MLS clubs have academies if they had doubts over their futures? Again, if you look to England, the answer is uncertain. Would Arthur Blank have started Atlanta United, the example you cite, in an open system? I don’t know. Let’s not assume the answer is yes.

      The frustration for me is that everyone always says the sides are entrenched. That’s not really the case. The problem is that we’ve had 15 years of unrealistic garbage, and when people point out why it’s not realistic, they’re slandered and abused. I know plenty of people who’ve told me they don’t really care about pro/rel, but after years of abuse, they hope it never happens.

      So my suggestion to new people coming in would be this …

      Demonstrate that you’re different. Show us that you’ve read all the histories. You understand why the USA is unique. You’re not just saying, “Well, it works in Germany!” Great. It ain’t working in China or India or other countries with massive populations and large economies.

      Show us that you’re thinking creatively. Show us that you want to convince people AND hear their concerns. Rocco Commisso owning a soccer team for five minutes and calling a 30-year U.S. Soccer volunteer ignorant? Yeah, that’s not going to work.

      For too long, the conversation has been that if you don’t see the obvious merits of an open system, you must not understand soccer. That was crap then, and it’s crap now. People who’ve spent decades studying soccer history actually have something to add to the conversation, and yes, they’re fully aware of that pro/rel system that the person on Twitter discovered three months ago after stumbling into an EPL broadcast on TV.

      Show us something different. I actually think you might get somewhere.

      1. As you say, we agree that establishing consensus is an important point and you state you support “giving more clubs an opportunity to move up”. I’m not sure if you would characterize that as supporting an open system, but, at a minimum, you support an “opening” of the system.

        Then, you immediately jump to the question “how do we make it happen” from the standpoint of execution. That’s too grand of a leap at this stage. We are far from a consensus on the existential concept of open vs closed system so I think it is imperative for us to reach consensus there first so that’s what I’m attempting to drive towards with my piece.

        The reality is we (collectively as the stakeholders of US Soccer) are still very far from embracing and, even further, adopting an open system. We have had decades of federation policy-making and just had an election process that showed how opposed the powers to be are of an open system, so while you raise non-trivial points on the challenges and potential hurdles to overcome in implementing an open system, those take a backseat to first shifting public opinion to the acceptance of an open system.

        I will add that as much as we like to emphasize the many supposed difficulties of an open system, I think they have been overstated. There are literally dozens of countries who manage to pull it off effectively. It’s a structure that facilitates the soccer ecosystem of a nation and its competitive environment. The clubs ultimately prosper or flounder but the structure is largely impartial.

        Next, I’ll respond quickly to some of the points you raised.

        China and India aren’t great counter-examples. They are not comparable sporting nations to the US and have no soccer history. I don’t think their lack of success serves as a strong counterargument to pro-rel. I’m not dismissing their experiences entirely and think we should learn from their pitfalls but their experiences should not counter the stories of more similar countries, Iike Germany (which you explicitly mentioned), who are successful.

        We definitely disagree on the remuneration for current MLS owners. As I mentioned, in my article there are workarounds and solutions to be found that are more than fair. Remember the expansion fees have only exceeded $50 M in the past decade so there aren’t many owners that have paid exorbitant expansion fees.

        Moreover, I don’t believe the plight of monopolists losing their power deserves sympathy. Business dynamics are not rigid and often change. Most businesses, certainly ones benefiting from structural competitive advantages, are susceptible to regulatory risk. These owners are no different. If you buy into a closed market, you know full well that it can be opened in the future so you should not cry foul if it does.

        On the topic of history, I am not attempting to diminish or ignore the contributions made by certain groups. However, at this juncture, the environment is vastly different and the current structure is unquestionably designed to benefit MLS / SUM at the expense of the betterment of our country as a whole and that is flat out wrong. The Atlanta United example (and many other recent examples of expansion success, heck even LAFC so far) illustrates just how inefficient our soccer system is. To not demand change, and, even worse, to support its continuation is utterly unjust, marginalizes mass groups of people, and cripples our soccer potential.

        In terms of Arthur Blank, nobody can say specifically whether he would have invested in an open market. But, in an open market, the demand would be filled by some prospective billionaire owner. MLS is literally turning away billions of dollars in investment even in spite of the artificial scarcity that discourages the full universe of interested parties from participating. That’s crazy! American soccer can use all the investment it can take, and yet they are turning away dozens of clubs that can viably compete with any MLS franchise in under five years of existence.

        I disagree with your closing paragraphs. The sides are firmly entrenched. USSF and SUM / MLS have shown no interest in embracing or championing an open system concept in this country. So, for 15 years (or more), people have been fighting a nearly impossible fight which exacerbates their frustrations.

        I understand you (and others) have experienced vitriol from pro-rel supporters and that is not ideal, but the ire goes both ways. For instance, look at how you’ve grouped and characterized those in your post – “person on twitter who discovered EPL three months ago”. That’s not exactly upholding the dignity of those of opposing viewpoints (and again, I’m not condoning those who utilize or endorse malicious conduct but respect should go both ways).

        Your bitterness or personal history may be impairing your judgement. I don’t mean to disparage your years of working as a soccer volunteer but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are an expert. Some people with years of experience are the foremost authority on a topic and some are imbeciles (and many are in between). You may need to check your ego if you think nobody’s opinion matters if they do not have a certain amount of time in the game or you do not respect their credentials. The strength of an idea should be paramount and outweigh any personal preferences.

        You say demonstrate creative thinking. I touched on this in my article – that is backwards. MLS has demonstrated its own shortcomings and inefficiencies repeatedly. So no, first we need to sway public opinion and the opinion of USSF to make this existential change of thinking which still is a far cry then we can delve into execution.

        “For too long, the conversation has been that if you don’t see the obvious merits of an open system, you must not understand soccer. That was crap then, and it’s crap now.”

        I’m sorry but this is just wrong. The merits of an open system are obvious. You seem to fixate on potential challenges with an open system, which nobody denies exist, but ignore the graver challenges of a closed system.

        Consider the history of soccer in the US that you outlined. Despite hosting the 1994 World Cup and garnering massive financial investment, the closed system was on the verge of collapse in the early 2000’s. Further, our closed system has seen more instability and undergone more relocations, team foldings, and league failures than almost anywhere in the world.

        If an open system had been established initially, it likely would have been more stable and the market (in its entirety) would have dictated its success, rather than the substandard product of an artificial closed market. The concentration of power, bestowed by the closed system, is precisely what portended the near collapse of soccer in America. A structure with a wider distribution of power is far more secure.

        The how to make it happen (from an executional standpoint) can and should be contemplated simultaneously but that does not matter until people agree that an open system is the right path forward.

        As mentioned above, we are nowhere near that consensus in the court of public opinion or USSF governance. So, I will reiterate again, any perceived challenges in implementing pro – rel need to take a backseat. Anyone who cares about soccer in this country should be pushing and demanding steps be taken to initiate an open system. It is not okay to be neutral on this existential matter (of adopting an open system) and it is flat out wrong to oppose it.

        Ultimately, I challenge you to explain why you (or any ardent soccer supporter in America) should not be actively fighting for the adoption of an open system? You say you support an open (or opening) system, but what have you done or what are you doing to make that happen?

      2. I simply cannot agree that we have to follow this order:

        1. Get everyone to agree that we need an open system.

        2. THEN start talking about ways to make it happen.

        Put yourself in the shoes of an investor — if you’re only mildly sympathetic to the billionaires who’ve invested in MLS, then pretend you’re a non-billionaire who owns or is thinking of starting a D2 or D3 club. (The example that always pops into my head — the Richmond Kickers, the 1995 Open Cup champions who are still around in USL and actually have a model club setup with the pro team atop a youth pyramid.)

        If you’re that person, a binary “open-or-closed, pick one now” discussion is, to say the least, unappealing. You’ll want to know what we mean by “open.” If you hear the pro club with youth programs that you’ve been building for 25 years can be relegated to a mostly amateur league after one bad season, you’re going to be skeptical, and you’re going to want details about how that drop can be mitigated. If the system ensures that you’ll always have “pro” status and pro competition as long as your club meets Pro Club Standards (venues, youth programs, proper staffing, etc.), but you’ll have the opportunity to go higher, that may be more interesting.

        In more practical terms:

        LIKELY PALATABLE: A vast pyramid of regional leagues at the D3 or D4 level from which it would be exceedingly difficult or impossible for a club with the resources of the Kickers to be relegated.

        LESS PALATABLE: A system that’s exactly like England — 20 teams in D1, 24 in D2, 24 in D3, 24 in D4, 24 in D5 (and by that point, many teams aren’t fully professional, and many don’t have — or have cut — their youth academies), and only THEN do you regionalize and broaden the base of the pyramid.

        We also need to back up a bit and figure out what we’re trying to do with an open system. I talk about this at length in two posts:

        https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2017/12/03/what-are-the-goooooooals-of-a-promotion-relegation-system-in-the-u-s/

        https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2017/09/23/promotionrelegation-propagandareality-part-4-pros-positives/

        (So, no, it’s not fair to say I’ve ignored the positives of an open system. Frankly, while this conversation has been better than most, I’d advise you to read some of what I’ve written before you tell me how bitter and dismissive I am toward people who clearly haven’t read what I’ve written, let alone people who’ve accused me of taking under-the-table money from MLS or setting up Twitter bots. Cool?)

        Let’s look at a few possible reasons to go “open” or goals with such a system:

        IT WILL MAKE US LIKE THE “REST OF THE WORLD”

        Terrible argument. I’m glad you noticed that China and India have reasons **other than pro/rel** that explain why they’ve accomplished so little in world soccer.

        Here’s the kicker — **there are many reasons other than pro/rel why the United States isn’t Germany or England**.

        Consider the charming story of the WWI Christmas cease-fires, with English and German soldiers coming out of the trenches for a kickabout between people who were usually trying to shoot or maim each other. That’s how deeply embedded soccer was in those countries, and the Bundesliga was another couple of decades away.

        Ideally, pro/rel will help expand soccer’s footprint. But it’s no magic bullet. Casual sports fans in the USA often don’t even notice what league they’re watching. I’ve seen minor-league baseball and hockey teams move “up” with no difference in attendance — in fact, the Greensboro (NC) hockey team LOST a lot in attendance when they moved up from the ECHL to AHL because they were less interested in the unfamiliar NHL prospects whizzing around the ice than they were the familiar plodders and punchers who could be counted on to drop the gloves with Richmond and Roanoke a few times a year.

        The bottom line is this:

        **There is no country like the United States.** Russia has a bigger land mass but also has much more authoritarianism — if Vladimir Putin wants the Russian football league to start each game with a judo competition, you’ll see judo matches before each game. India’s a better analogue than you might think because it has another sport deeply entrenched and way ahead of soccer in popularity. (“Everyone in India knows who Sachin Tendulkar is.”)

        So you can’t wave away the difficulties. They exist. You have to ADDRESS them and tell people how you’re going to overcome them.

        WE’RE TURNING AWAY BILLIONS IN INVESTMENT

        People have said that for years, and there’s never been a shred of proof, unless you count Riccardo Silva walking up to MLS HQ with an “offer” he knew they couldn’t consider and had no demonstrated substance to it.

        In the meantime, people HAVE invested billions in MLS — and USSF as a whole. I’ve heard people argue SUM has just been pocketing money that should’ve gone to USSF. Well then, given the $150 million reserve USSF has built up in the last 15 years, that must mean a TON of money has come in, right?

        It’s not going to be enough for Silva or Eric Wynalda to say “Oh, I know all these anonymous investors who’ll give tens of billions to get an open system off the ground.” Those people need to show their faces. And we need to vet them.

        The graveyards of U.S. soccer are full of people who claimed to have the financial backing to make things happen and did not. (That’s why everyone agreed to the 2010 Pro League Standards, as flawed as they are and as much as the 2014 revision made them worse.)

        WE’LL CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY

        It’s a good argument to a point. Everyone loves to point to NBA teams tanking for draft picks, which is something the NBA needs to fix somehow. (I’ve long thought the NBA is the league best suited to going pro/rel *right now* — facilities exist, and the tanking problem is far more severe than it is sports in which a single lottery pick isn’t going to make a huge difference.)

        That said, I’m not a fan of people getting laid off when they had nothing to do with the lazy-ass players who quit trying for Aston Villa in January of their relegation system. Wynalda’s story of someone throwing a shoe in Germany is easily countered by the experiences of those who’ve played in Scandinavia and try to bail themselves out rather than bailing out the relegation-threatened club. (Again, the difference between Germany and other countries isn’t the league system. It’s the culture.)

        And again, I’m not a fan of a team having a rash of injuries and having to change its economic model. That doesn’t mean we can never have relegation — it just means we’ll need to consider parachute payments, revenue-sharing on a far better scale than we’re seeing in England (where owning a Championship club is the equivalent of flushing money down the toilet), and perhaps a relegation “floor” below which a club that meets certain standards cannot be relegated.

        WE’LL CREATE OPPORTUNITY

        This is the BEST argument. Everyone loves the idea that the Richmond Kickers could win another national trophy — D1 league, Open Cup or something we have yet to imagine. Everyone loves the idea that we’ll have a pro academy within an easy drive of 99% of the population.

        ***

        Finally, let’s back up on one point:

        THE USSF ELECTION WAS NOT ABOUT PRO/REL. (Not much, anyway.)

        I asked Carlos Bocanegra how much they discussed it in the Athletes’ Council. The answer: “None.” When I talked with state associations, they were far more worried about top-down mandates that were hurting them — the DA, the birth-year age-group changes. You can argue that’s a narrow, provincial view of things, but I assure you it’s not. These are the people doing the grassroots work. That’s not the only perspective you need, but it’s a perspective that certainly shouldn’t be dismissed. (Ahem — Rocco Commisso.)

        My experience with most of these folks when it comes to pro/rel is that they like it but think it’ll never happen.

        They can certainly be persuaded.

        So when you ask me what I’ve done for pro/rel, I’m going to shock you. I think I’ve done more than just about anyone. (Maybe not Peter Wilt.)

        Why? Because I’m giving ideas that address everyone’s concerns. I’m helping people refine their arguments to convince people. Bullying and slandering people on Twitter (and BigSoccer and the web at large before that) hasn’t gotten us anywhere. You need to demonstrate to people that it can be done, and that means taking their objections and concerns into account.

        In short — less of Germany and England shooting each other and using gas in the trenches. More Germany and England hopping out of the trenches to play on common ground.

      3. That’s the only order that works. Please explain to me how we can possibly adopt an open system without #1 having already occurred. That is the first step. And since we are far from achieving that, I am fighting to bridge, and, eventually, close that gap.

        You say you cannot agree to that order. How do you suppose it will actually happen? Look at D2/3/4 soccer in America right now. There has been no meaningful investment in players, infrastructure, youth academies, managers, tactics, etc… Why? It’s not rocket science. Without opportunity to reach the highest level and achieve the associated rewards (financial, prestige, reputation, etc…) there is no incentive to do so.

        The order I lay out does appeal to investors. Why would anyone commit to investing at any level other than MLS in our current structure? I will use Atlanta United’s example again. Do you think Arthur Blank (or any prospective wealthy owner) would make any of the investment he did without the potential of competing to be the best?

        In terms of turning away billions of dollars, over a dozen cities applied for the latest expansion round that requires, among other things, a $150 M expansion fee and sizeable investment in facilities / stadium. Think of the cities that didn’t even muster an application because of the limited availability and odds stacked against them. And MLS will select less than a handful. So, by definition, they are turning away billions of dollars. Most jarringly, as previously mentioned, MLS’ current stable of franchises are so lacking in quality that they are capable of being usurped by a newcomer in almost no time. It’s a travesty that MLS continues to strangle the soccer market in this country.

        Your whole hypothetical thought process of a perspective owner is fallacious. One of the primary appeals of an open system is that you do not need to speculate what will attract an investor; you simply let the market decide. As mentioned above, the inherent ceiling of lower division soccer discourages any serious investment. If the system was open, everyone would understand the rules and any potential investor can commit to the game with a precise understanding of the opportunities and risks.

        Your notion of American exceptionalism misses the mark. While America is a unique country (though not necessarily exceedingly moreso than other countries in the world), that does not serve as an excuse to not embrace an open system. The structure of our open system may differ (in material or immaterial ways) than those around the world but the fundamental, existential idea of open vs closed is completely separate from and has nothing to do with American “uniqueness”.

        We currently have a closed system in both practice and spirit. I will reiterate that we need to shift public opinion to the acceptance of an open system then we can take the time to devise and construct exactly how that will work in our country. That – the recognition and acceptance of change – must come first. Otherwise, we will continue to spin our wheels in this debate, as we have done for far too many years already.

        Also for the record, please explain any difficulty in creating an open system that you feel is exceedingly complex or cumbersome. Most of the issues you (and others) have raised pertain to the specifics of deciding how a system will look, given that multitude of pathways / frameworks we could pursue. None of those various pathways (in my estimation) are remarkably difficult in executing. They may involve intense deliberation to decide which to purse, but that is an important distinction between actually being exorbitantly difficult to implement.

        I, too, appreciate that we’re able to engage in a civil debate because this is important stuff so I will respect you and appreciate the respect you grant me.

        However, in terms of ideas, I must say its revealing that you missed the third, and arguably most important, prong of the benefits of an open system. To me, it’s simple. An open system is fair (you touch on this in your opportunity section) meaning anyone who satisfies the established criteria can participate. An open system is meritocratic (you touch on this in your opportunity section) meaning that objective performance and results are the basis for reward or punishment. Finally, what you missed, an open system fosters and cultivates excellence (rather than mediocrity). This is the most important piece.

        It must be stated that MLS currently fails at all three of these. So, for me, it is inexcusable to not be fighting to end its hegemony, or, worse, to encourage its dominance. I understand that you have concerns about how an open system will be executed, and, as mentioned, believe you raise worthwhile points that should be explored. However, I cannot understand why you or any state associations or any other pertinent stakeholder of soccer in this country is not incessantly battling for the adoption of an open system to end MLS’ ineffectual rule.

        I will ask you again to explain that.

      4. >>> That’s the only order that works. Please explain to me how we can possibly adopt an open system without #1 having already occurred. That is the first step. And since we are far from achieving that, I am fighting to bridge, and, eventually, close that gap.

        I actually found in the course of the rest of this post that we explain it.

        But here’s a short practical reason: If you tell someone now “open or closed, period,” they’re going to say what people have said for years: “I’d love open, but it won’t work.”

        You have the burden of demonstrating that it’ll work. Not in Germany. Not in England. Here.

        I think — and this is just my opinion — that the best way of doing so is to show that you’re willing to consider a lot of flexibility within that system, including parachutes, other mechanisms to keep youth academies going, etc.

        >>> You say you cannot agree to that order. How do you suppose it will actually happen? Look at D2/3/4 soccer in America right now. There has been no meaningful investment in players, infrastructure, youth academies, managers, tactics, etc… Why? It’s not rocket science. Without opportunity to reach the highest level and achieve the associated rewards (financial, prestige, reputation, etc…) there is no incentive to do so.

        I point you again to the Richmond Kickers. They have never tried to move up to D1. They’ve floated between D2 and D4 before settling in D3. They are a robust youth club with a professional team.

        Also, I point you to the New York Cosmos, which certainly attracted investment without any sort of clear path to D1. (Before Rocco, especially.)

        But the funny thing here is that I disagree with your examples but agree with the overall point. I think there’s a benefit to having a pathway to the top.

        >>> In terms of turning away billions of dollars, over a dozen cities applied for the latest expansion round that requires, among other things, a $150 M expansion fee and sizeable investment in facilities / stadium. Think of the cities that didn’t even muster an application because of the limited availability and odds stacked against them. And MLS will select less than a handful. So, by definition, they are turning away billions of dollars.

        THAT is an interesting point. But several of those bids fell apart under closer scrutiny. “We’ll build a downtown stadium!” they say. Then they learn for themselves what many clubs have learned over the years — it’s not that simple.

        Also, consider how a lot of current clubs made their way to MLS. They started out in D2 or even D3. They got their houses in order. When they were ready to meet the standards, they moved up.

        So when you make your pitch to investors and TV networks and so forth, by all means, tell them an open system offers a clearer pathway to the top than we currently have. But you’ll have to explain to them why it’s better than the pathway Seattle, Portland, Montreal, Minnesota, Orlando and Vancouver took.

        >>> Your whole hypothetical thought process of a perspective owner is fallacious. One of the primary appeals of an open system is that you do not need to speculate what will attract an investor; you simply let the market decide.

        OK then. The market has decided. It’s decided that a closed system works best.

        No, seriously — this is the lesson from the NASL, which had all sorts of bluster a few years ago about how it didn’t matter if they were considered D2 or not, they were going to build a pro/rel pyramid and attract more money and better players than MLS. It didn’t happen.

        Even if you reject THAT argument — the entire premise of switching from a closed to an open syste is predicated on the *assumption* that you’re going to get investment that will make up whatever losses are incurred in the transition and/or by relegated teams.

        In other words — we don’t need to speculate what will attract an investor? Oh yes, we do. That’s the crux of this argument.

        >>> Your notion of American exceptionalism misses the mark. While America is a unique country (though not necessarily exceedingly moreso than other countries in the world), that does not serve as an excuse to not embrace an open system. The structure of our open system may differ (in material or immaterial ways) than those around the world but the fundamental, existential idea of open vs closed is completely separate from and has nothing to do with American “uniqueness”.

        I don’t know of other countries that had outright disdain for soccer for generations. Soccer was the sport foreigners played, and when they came to the USA as immigrants, they’d better take up football, baseball and basketball like good Americans. Read any number of several books on the topic. There is no reputable history of American soccer that does not take this cultural reality into account.

        Does it mean we’re inherently opposed to pro/rel? I don’t think so — most of our amateur leagues use it. (My team got clobbered in its one season in Upper Division — we were usually a Middle/Lower yo-yo team, and it didn’t help that one of our military guys got reassigned right when we were promoted.) What it means is that we started out far behind the rest of the world.

        I don’t know how old you are. I’m 47. In my lifetime, I’ve seen soccer go from something that was outright scorned (I spent nearly 20 years in newsrooms arguing for more soccer coverage) to something that’s now kind of cool. And STILL there are vast numbers of Americans who aren’t interested. We all threw parties when soccer moved up to FOURTH in a recent poll of sports.

        >>> We currently have a closed system in both practice and spirit. I will reiterate that we need to shift public opinion to the acceptance of an open system then we can take the time to devise and construct exactly how that will work in our country. That – the recognition and acceptance of change – must come first.

        Agreed. And again, I think the way to do that is to show that the “open” concept is quite flexible. If it’s “four tiers of 24 teams or bust,” you’ll get nowhere. If you show a willingness to consider alternatives, you might get somewhere.

        >>> Also for the record, please explain any difficulty in creating an open system that you feel is exceedingly complex or cumbersome.

        In short: For an awful lot of people — again, not just MLS billionaire owners but owners in the USL, PDL and NPSL (frankly, a lot of clubs in USASA, too — they don’t seem to be flocking to the Chattanooga summit) — this system is working. It may actually have worked better when we just let kids be kids and developed Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Eric Wynalda, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Pope, Brian McBride, etc. The more “seriously” we take soccer, the more ground we seem to be losing. (Maybe there’s a counterargument that our player pool today is far deeper than it was in the 1990s, but I think any of those players that I named would easily walk into the MNT starting XI if they were in their primes today.)

        If you try to *impose* an open system, you’re going to face tons of lawsuits. For 20-some years, people have investing at several levels of soccer without the fear of being kicked out of a fully professional league. You can’t impose something on them. You have to persuade them.

        >>> However, in terms of ideas, I must say its revealing that you missed the third, and arguably most important, prong of the benefits of an open system. To me, it’s simple. An open system is fair (you touch on this in your opportunity section) meaning anyone who satisfies the established criteria can participate. An open system is meritocratic (you touch on this in your opportunity section) meaning that objective performance and results are the basis for reward or punishment. Finally, what you missed, an open system fosters and cultivates excellence (rather than mediocrity). This is the most important piece.

        But does it really?

        How does a European club advance to become a powerhouse? (Leicester is the exception that proves the rule.) It attracts a billionaire investor or two. The idea that clubs can, on a regular basis, move up the ladder simply by out-soccering everyone else is simply farcical. Southampton has a great academy, which is uses to sell players to better clubs so it can … stay pretty much exactly where it is.

        A pro/rel ladder encourages clubs to aim for eighth place. Or 17th. Relegation battles are entertaining, but they can produce some grim soccer, with grizzled veterans using every bit of gamesmanship they can muster to keep a club afloat while the prized prospects who could use a chance to develop sit and wait. This is actually an ADVANTAGE of a closed system — when D.C. United knows it’s out of the playoff spots, it can play the youngsters and see who has a realistic shot of hanging around at this level, then build for next year.

        Want to reward managers and coaches for good decisions? Run a salary-cap league. Want to have 2-3 clubs that can outspend everyone else and dominate? Open system, no cap.

        In MLS, a small-market team knows it can win a championship if they can just put the right people in place. It’s happened many times. In the EPL, a small-market team can win a championship if they find a one-in-a-million diamond in the rough like Jamie Vardy and have every other player on the first team have injury-free career years.

        So I “missed it” because it is, quite simply, a terrible argument.

        >>> However, I cannot understand why you or any state associations or any other pertinent stakeholder of soccer in this country is not incessantly battling for the adoption of an open system to end MLS’ ineffectual rule.

        State associations are run by volunteers who have a lot on their plates. (The youth associations, anyway. Many — certainly not all — adult-only associations are sleepy organizations that represent a small fraction of the adult soccer being played in their states.) They have to figure out how to accommodate U.S. Club Soccer, the Development Academy and anyone else who wants a league run a certain way. They have to figure out what they can do with ODP now that so few people care about it. They have to figure out how to respond to parents who say, “They don’t make us do this crap in lacrosse!” and bail out on soccer.

        As for me?

        I’m not sure who you think I am. I’m a journalist. I sometimes veer into advocacy, but my fundamental position is and always will be “anti-BS.” I talk about it at length here:

        https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2018/03/09/revised-rules-of-engagement-and-objectivity-or-when-to-shut-up/

        I may be idealistic, but I think that’s a valuable public service. In this conversation, I’m pointing out holes in your arguments not to make you give up and accept MLS for what it is, but to make those arguments stronger.

      5. I disagree. I think I, and many others, have clearly demonstrated that our closed system does not work and is grossly inefficient. Thus, the burden should be on USSF / MLS to explain their devotion to the closed system when its failings have been exposed. To continue to maintain that system despite that knowledge is egregious. It’s particularly appalling that we continue down that path with the understanding of arrangement between USSF and MLS that incentivizes them to maintain the closed system at the expense of the masses.

        You must remember that my article and this debate still is in the existential realm. Many soccer people, both in high governance positions and casual fans, reject the concept of an open system. As such, for the time being, I’m taking all the practical ramifications of implementation off the table and am simply focusing on the existential concept of open vs closed.

        The fact that so many people, many of whom are supposed soccer “experts”, either based in title or reputation, reject this idea is what is infuriating and why people like me are fighting the battle to sway public opinion on this issue (again at a philosophical level).

        In terms of pathway, I point to Atlanta United and LAFC and other teams that demonstrate you can start from scratch and expect to succeed right away. The teams you mentioned went the route of lower division to MLS simply because there was no other option for them under the existing structure at the time. But, like you said, under an open system new clubs will enter at a lower division and have years of gestation to mature before they rise and compete in top divisions.

        In terms of speculation, I will refer you back to my point on the billions of dollars of investment ready to be unlocked in short order. It’s extremely difficult to make an earnest argument that there’s uncertainty around the investment appetite for soccer in this country. You’re asking an impossible question – prove that the market is there. Nobody can prove the amount of interest in a hypothetical market but virtually every sign indicates that the demand is enormous and simply needs to be unleashed. If one of the supporting points of your argument is the risk that there is insufficient demand to support an open soccer system in America, you are seriously stretching.

        In terms of NASL, you are utterly and completely wrong. That does not prove that the market prefers a closed system. How can you even suggest that was a true experiment of an open system? That’s completely inaccurate and disingenuous.

        I don’t disagree with anything you wrote in your three paragraphs on soccer history, and I appreciate your perspective (equipped with many years around the game) but none of that addresses what I wrote in the paragraph you are commenting on, and it’s a very important point. Nothing about America and its uniqueness prohibits its from embracing an open system. Why can’t we initiate plans to adopt an open system knowing the deficiencies of our closed system?

        Again, I’m not even arguing about the specifics of how the open system is organized. I have my views, you have your views, and others have presented compelling views as well. I’m open to flexibility and understand there are a number of approaches that could take shape in an open system.
        However, I will reiterate again, I’m focusing on swaying public opinion of the acceptance of an open system which is an ongoing battle.

        I challenged you to identify any difficulties in creating an open system that you feel are exceedingly complex or cumbersome. For the record, your response does not name any. Instead, you discuss litigation and the belief that many people believe the system is working. Neither of those are difficulties of implement an open system, so you have still yet to name any (in any of your responses) so, again, why can’t we push for an open system?

        I will address the two points you raised below.

        Litigation, again, is not a reason to not implement an open system. Is it something to consider and take into account? No doubt about it. USSF governs soccer in this country and is responsible for legislating the infrastructure. They have the unilateral authority to implement an open system. They can be sued for any number of reasons whether operating in an open or closed system (as you well know, they are in a number as we speak). That should not impact their fiduciary duty to do what’s best for soccer in this country.

        If there are genuine soccer people that believe the system is working (would be a contradiction, fyi), then that’s a whole other can of worms and we can get into that. I’ve written extensively on the topic and am happy to re-hash that discussion at any time. In short, though, the US has never demonstrated an ability to compete with top international competition (on more than a one-off occasion), has a mediocre domestic league, and has never produced an international-caliber player (when scores of countries, even ones at minute fractions of our size, have produced multiple).

        Your rebuttal to the excellence argument is where we completely diverge. I could not disagree more and cannot tell if you are simply posturing for the sake of argument because your logic here is seriously lacking. I will challenge many of your assertions in the following paragraphs.

        >>>>> How does a European club advance to become a powerhouse? (Leicester is the exception that proves the rule.) It attracts a billionaire investor or two. The idea that clubs can, on a regular basis, move up the ladder simply by out-soccering everyone else is simply farcical. Southampton has a great academy, which is uses to sell players to better clubs so it can … stay pretty much exactly where it is.

        >>>>> A pro/rel ladder encourages clubs to aim for eighth place. Or 17th. Relegation battles are entertaining, but they can produce some grim soccer, with grizzled veterans using every bit of gamesmanship they can muster to keep a club afloat while the prized prospects who could use a chance to develop sit and wait. This is actually an ADVANTAGE of a closed system — when D.C. United knows it’s out of the playoff spots, it can play the youngsters and see who has a realistic shot of hanging around at this level, then build for next year.

        >>>>> Want to reward managers and coaches for good decisions? Run a salary-cap league. Want to have 2-3 clubs that can outspend everyone else and dominate? Open system, no cap.

        >>>>> In MLS, a small-market team knows it can win a championship if they can just put the right people in place. It’s happened many times. In the EPL, a small-market team can win a championship if they find a one-in-a-million diamond in the rough like Jamie Vardy and have every other player on the first team have injury-free career years.

        It is vital to recognize the difference between parity and competition. Parity is independent of quality. MLS has parity. A middle school basketball league can have tremendous parity. A game of cornhole at a family reunion can have enormous parity. You get the picture.

        Competition and excellence are entirely independent from parity. You cannot conflate parity and competition, which is an oft-repeated mistake. Some highly competitive leagues will have parity and some will not. If Bayern Munich runs away with the Bundes Liga, that does not mean it’s not competitive. The competition level is higher and more fierce in the Bundes Liga than almost anywhere in the world.

        Sports are not the only example of this. We all know the soccer examples but look at other sports or business. By your definition, track and swimming were not competitive because Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps were “powerhouses”. Is Fast Food non-competitive because of McDonald’s? That makes no sense. When the best are orders of magnitude better than their competition, it elevates the quality of the whole.

        >>>>>A pro/rel ladder encourages clubs to aim for eighth place. Or 17th.

        This is abjectly false. Once again, the system is architecture and it is impartial. Clubs can decide what their goals and objectives are. Some clubs (lots of them even) are content to be minnows and represent their local communities. Fortunately, an open system accommodates ambitions of all sizes. And if a “smaller” club does produce a world class player, they are compensated for their efforts which energizes and incentives all levels of the pyramid. Some clubs will be more middle of the pack and fiscally conservative. Other clubs will endeavor to be giants and compete for league and international titles. An open system caters to all.

        Conversely, look at the apathy that a closed system like MLS engenders. In fact, the majority of the criticisms you levy at an open system apply directly to MLS. MLS franchises have no identities. What does any MLS franchise stand for? What are their modus operandis?

        You suggest that an open system is susceptible of “some grim soccer, with grizzled veterans using every bit of gamesmanship they can muster to keep a club afloat while the prized prospects who could use a chance to develop sit and wait”. Do you watch MLS? Are you familiar with the league? This sentence reads as a critique of MLS where the quality can be seriously poor for lots of games since so many have no stakes. Moreover, I don’t have to cite the statistics but MLS franchises are awful at player development and playing younger players despite, as you mention, no incentive structure to prioritize winning.

        >>>>>Want to reward managers and coaches for good decisions? Run a salary-cap league. Want to have 2-3 clubs that can outspend everyone else and dominate? Open system, no cap.

        What is this logic? The world is comprised of competition with unequal resources. Look at countries, businesses, schools, sports, etc… As I described above, this is not a bad thing. There is a place for every type of club in an open system, and the beauty is the equality of opportunity. A club that sends a zillion dollars can play the tiniest club in the world and the result is decided on the field. In the US, we deny these opportunities.

        >>>>>In MLS, a small-market team knows it can win a championship if they can just put the right people in place. It’s happened many times. In the EPL, a small-market team can win a championship if they find a one-in-a-million diamond in the rough like Jamie Vardy and have every other player on the first team have injury-free career years.

        This is such a misguided sentiment. You are confusing the proportion of teams in a league capable of winning the title with quality. Again, this is not the case. The fact that MLS has so many potential champions in a given season is a bad thing. It’s because the league lacks quality and randomness / luck tends to have a greater impact than quality. If the quantity of potential winners is what you crave, then go watch one of those middle school basketball leagues. Tons of parity there.

        In terms of those members you mention, I say those volunteers should step aside. There are countless individuals who possess the passion, determination, and wherewithal to achieve results in this country. If it’s too difficult for them, then they should relinquish their positions.

        The fact is we’ve gone back and forth at length here and we’re largely in the same spot. You have not demonstrated any reasons why an open system is not superior to a closed system from a philosophical standpoint. You’ve raised many valid considerations that should be taken into account when devising plans to implement an open system, but you have not identified any exceedingly difficult hurdles to overcome in that process.

      6. Going with excerpts here to avoid going in circles and move us closer to wrapping up, but I appreciate the discussion …

        >>> I disagree. I think I, and many others, have clearly demonstrated that our closed system does not work and is grossly inefficient. Thus, the burden should be on USSF / MLS to explain their devotion to the closed system when its failings have been exposed. To continue to maintain that system despite that knowledge is egregious.

        I respect that opinion. I think it’s far less universal than you’d imagine. Some of it might be generational — people my age could scarcely have imagined a league as successful as MLS is now, while younger people are questioning why the USA doesn’t have something better. That doesn’t mean either generation is completely wrong. It really means they should be listening to each other rather than saying the other is “egregious.”

        >>> You must remember that my article and this debate still is in the existential realm. Many soccer people, both in high governance positions and casual fans, reject the concept of an open system. As such, for the time being, I’m taking all the practical ramifications of implementation off the table and am simply focusing on the existential concept of open vs closed.

        I’ve run out of ways to explain that it’s simply impossible to discuss open and closed as a simple binary thing.

        >>> It’s extremely difficult to make an earnest argument that there’s uncertainty around the investment appetite for soccer in this country. You’re asking an impossible question – prove that the market is there.

        The Fraser v. MLS suit proved the market wasn’t there in the past. (Well, “proved” in a legal sense.)

        >>> In terms of NASL, you are utterly and completely wrong. That does not prove that the market prefers a closed system. How can you even suggest that was a true experiment of an open system? That’s completely inaccurate and disingenuous.

        Not quite what I was saying, but that’s my fault for being unclear. Here’s the broader perspective: For generations, the market was open. If you wanted to form a soccer league, go for it. Nothing worked until MLS came along. No one even *tried* a pro/rel league because no one saw the merits of it.

        That said — the NASL certainly talked big and didn’t back it up. They can blame the Pro League Standards and Sunil Gulati all they want, but people who’ve been following this since 2010 (or earlier) aren’t buying it.

        Has there been a “true experiment” of an open system? No. Because the investment has never been there. Ever.

        If it’s there now, they should speak up. Maybe to move this conversation forward, you could lobby the ownership groups that didn’t win the MLS expansion sweepstakes — the investment you say we’re failing to capture — to band together and press USSF on the issue.

        >>> Why can’t we initiate plans to adopt an open system knowing the deficiencies of our closed system?

        Initiate away. I’m not stopping you.

        >>> I’m open to flexibility and understand there are a number of approaches that could take shape in an open system.

        Good. Be sure to mention that, and you may sway some opinions.

        >>> I challenged you to identify any difficulties in creating an open system that you feel are exceedingly complex or cumbersome. For the record, your response does not name any. Instead, you discuss litigation and the belief that many people believe the system is working. Neither of those are difficulties of implement an open system, so you have still yet to name any (in any of your responses) so, again, why can’t we push for an open system?

        Push away. I’m not stopping you.

        Again — I’m just telling you the obstacles. I don’t see any that are “complex and cumbersome.” I see the obstacles I’ve mentioned — a lot of U.S. soccer (lowercase s) investment is tied up in the current system, and your options are to (A) persuade them otherwise or (B) build your own system and fend off their commercial and legal challenges. I think (A) is more feasible. If you can put together a lobbying group that persuades soccer stakeholders to move toward pro/rel, great.

        >>> USSF governs soccer in this country and is responsible for legislating the infrastructure. They have the unilateral authority to implement an open system.

        I doubt the court would agree. In fact, some of the lawsuits they’ve faced challenge that unilateral authority — directly.

        >>> If there are genuine soccer people that believe the system is working (would be a contradiction, fyi), then that’s a whole other can of worms and we can get into that.

        “Genuine soccer people” were involved with the original NASL in its 1970s heyday. They ignored the Open Cup and CONCACAF. They put in shootouts, cheerleaders, a modified offside rule and so forth. Most of the people leading that effort were not American by birth or citizenship.

        I bring it up because “genuine soccer people” aren’t as unified as you think. Again, the Athletes Council did not discuss pro/rel in the many hours of discussion on the election, according to Carlos Bocanegra (I can check with others if you like). They voted for Carlos Cordeiro. Are they not “genuine soccer people”?

        >>> the US has never demonstrated an ability to compete with top international competition (on more than a one-off occasion), has a mediocre domestic league, and has never produced an international-caliber player (when scores of countries, even ones at minute fractions of our size, have produced multiple).

        You may call this pedantic, but … Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Carla Overbeck, Briana Scurry, Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Kristine Lilly, Becky Sauerbrunn, etc.

        Also … Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller and Tim Howard.

        I’d agree the US men’s international record is lacking, though if you compare World Cup performances over the past 20 years, only a tiny group of countries has done better. Right now, we stink. No doubt. Is that the league’s fault? Or is it because youth soccer is a mess?

        >>> Your rebuttal to the excellence argument is where we completely diverge. I could not disagree more and cannot tell if you are simply posturing for the sake of argument because your logic here is seriously lacking.

        I mean every bit of it, and you’ve missed the point. What makes a winning club in Europe? $$$$. Or … nah, I’m too lazy to look up the Euro symbol. Back in the pre-Bosman days, you could have a Nottingham Forest come through and win. Not these days, when the top clubs can just buy the best talent.

        >>> Conversely, look at the apathy that a closed system like MLS engenders. In fact, the majority of the criticisms you levy at an open system apply directly to MLS. MLS franchises have no identities. What does any MLS franchise stand for? What are their modus operandis?

        Look at the rivalries. D.C. United and the MetroStars hated each other from Day 1. It was United’s Bolivian/Salvadoran flair vs. the MetroStars’ tenacity. Real Salt Lake is a scrappy overachieving small-market team. Atlanta is building around Tata Martino and expensive young South American playmakers. Houston will put you to sleep. Colorado has been plodding in the past but is trying to change that. NYCFC has Patrick Vieira adapting to the unusual circumstances of Yankee Stadium. Seattle invented soccer — just ask them. Toronto cast its lot with much-maligned U.S. national teamers and Giovinco.

        I know all that, and I hardly ever watch the league.

        >>> (The usual argument about MLS games being meaningless)

        I’ve been in MLS locker rooms. These guys care.

        >>> In terms of those members you mention, I say those volunteers should step aside. There are countless individuals who possess the passion, determination, and wherewithal to achieve results in this country. If it’s too difficult for them, then they should relinquish their positions.

        A. Can’t step aside until someone else runs.

        B. The state association volunteers are pushing back on things that make sense for state associations. They think (and I agree) that a lot of what U.S. Soccer is doing in youth soccer is counterproductive. What do you gain by making them step aside?

        C. Seriously — how old are you? How long have you followed the sport? And what makes you think you’re going to get anywhere by telling people who share a lot of your frustrations to “step aside”?

        If you want an open system, you need to persuade people who matter. (In other words, not me, and not anyone who spends a lot of time on Twitter.) Trust me, most of them aren’t evil. But they’re not going to listen if you come in lecturing them when you clearly don’t have a full grasp of the issues and history. They’ll listen if you can demonstrate that it’s really possible to address everyone’s concerns and make this work … for everyone.

        Don’t fall into the Bernie Bros trap. Don’t settle for the self-satisfaction of ideological purity. We can make actual change. Just listen, and then persuade.

      7. In all honesty, I appreciate this discussion. I don’t know how productive it has been, and cannot say I’ve been persuaded by much of what you’ve said but I respect that you’ve engaged in the discussion in a genuine manner.

        Soccer has been a passion of mine for virtually my whole life, and I’ve been involved in the game since the turn of the century. I don’t confess to know everything, but I have a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and ideas to share. I’m fully willing to listen to others and engage in discussions like this one.

        What I find frustrating is that I don’t feel my voice or concerns are being listened to? I’m happy to listen, but it does become difficult when you feel like you’re shouting from the bottom of a well with your concerns falling on to deaf ears.

        You talk about persuasion a lot, but, from my vantage point, the people with influence who can actually change things have no interest in listening. That’s the struggle. What do we do when we can’t even have our attempts at persuasion heard? I don’t think you’ve answered that. Moreover, I firmly believe the evidence and strength of argument is all in our favor, which makes it all the more frustrating and demoralizing.

        I’ve actually written some pieces that you may find interesting on how the USMNT fares relative to the rest of the world in the World Cup (see here – https://bit.ly/2pAFNUj) and the state of US soccer following its failure to qualify for the World Cup (see here – https://bit.ly/2kXg0mU). The high level is that the US ranks 30th out of 37 countries who have qualified for at least 3 of the last 7 World Cups, just one rung above the bottom tier of teams like Greece, Iran, and Tunisia. To me, that’s pitiful.

        You ask the question if the deterioration of the USMNT is due to the league or youth soccer. You must understand that these are inextricably linked and directly relate to this conversation on open vs closed. There is no market mechanism incentivizing excellence and best practices in player development (or first team quality, for that matter_. I understand that MLS franchises are attempting to develop players but there are no consequences (positive or negative) for them whether their processes are world-class or horrible. As such, it’s no surprise that their attempts have been mediocre, at best. This is all related and is critical to understand.

        In terms of the burden of proof, we appear to be at an impasse. I see that you think it’s a generational divide but, to me, there are clear examples of the deficiencies of a closed system that I think should lead anyone to the conclude that change (no matter how big or small) is necessary. And yet, I don’t see evidence that USSF or many soccer fans want to see any change in the landscape of soccer in America. I really cannot understand that. Couple that with the fact that every elite soccer nation utilizes an open concept, and I truly am at a loss for why many people reject that system.

        We definitely disagree on the binary concept. To me, its black or white. The spirit of the soccer system is either open (promoting fairness, opportunity, and excellence) or closed (which does not promote the aforementioned principles).

        Do you genuinely believe that there would be a dearth of investment appetite if soccer was opened? Or do you just think it’s not possible to know? If that’s the case, what would you guess the appetite would be in an open system?

        >>>>> Has there been a “true experiment” of an open system? No. Because the investment has never been there. Ever.

        I agree there has never been a true experiment of an open system. I don’t think you can conclude that is because the “investment has never been there”. Since it was never given the chance, there is no way of knowing. That being said, I think at this juncture there is more than enough demand to capitalize a robust and vibrant open system in America. I hope we’re given the chance to see if that is true.

        I do predict we will see USSF continually pressured on this issue so I expect we will see intense lobbying throughout the next 5-10 years. I just hope it can breakthrough and make an impact. I’m not optimistic about its chances for the reasons I’ve described throughout this piece.

        Open system advocates are all on board to initiate the system, but we are limited in what we can effectuate, given the governance in this country. Do you have any suggestions of how to make it happen? I’m open ears. It feels we have no ability to enact measures towards an open system without support from USSF.

        I appreciate you answering on the obstacles, and I’m glad you agree that there are not any overly difficult obstacles to overcome in implementing an open system. I disagree on the two options but I understand your opinion.

        Can you elaborate on the USSF unilateral authority point? It is my understanding that an alternative D1 would never be officially recognized by USSF or FIFA so, thus, would not actually be an alternative D1.

        In summary, what do you suggest someone like me (or the masses of people like me) do to effectuate change? I fervently believe in the merits of an open system but struggle to see how I can actually cause change when the people who can create change refuse to listen or even acknowledge the existence of issues that plague this country’s soccer. I’d love for someone to suggest the way to initiate change. I hope it’s not simple discussions and listening (not that I’m opposed to those) because I want something more tangible and actionable because we have been engaging in discussions for a long time and it’s gotten us nowhere.

      8. I think this has been productive. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a discussion in which one party says, “My goodness — you’re right. I’ve been looking at it the wrong way the whole time.” But over time and reflection, people do understand each other a bit more. A lot of my political and theological views have changed over time, and it was never a single moment that galvanized things.

        Where we differ is this:

        1. You see MLS as a failure. I see MLS as flawed and in need of something new to take it to the next level, but I think it has succeeded in establishing a firm foundation for pro soccer moving forward.

        2. You see little wrong with chipping away at that foundation. I think we need to move to preserve that infrastructure — facilities, academies, etc. (That’s one reason why I cannot abide by the idea of moving the Columbus Crew, leaving behind the first stadium built primarily for an MLS team and an academy.) It’s not just that I think the people who’ve invested billions will sue if we impose an open system on them — I think these people need to persuaded to be a part of whatever change we create so we’re not essentially starting from scratch.

        3. You see this as binary, open or closed, and you say we need to convince people to accept “open” before we talk about specifics. I think you’re going to need to offer some hypothetical specifics to convince people to accept “open.” If you demand that they accept your way of thinking without offering specifics, they’ll HAVE to say no, and then we get nowhere. (See the final question-and-answer below.)

        4. You see youth soccer linked to an open system. I do not, and the research on my blog explains why. The USA produced a lot of good players when we had NO league to speak of. I agree that we need a solution on solidarity payments and training compensation so that clubs can reap the benefit of developing the next Weston McKennie, but I’d point out that an MLS club did indeed develop McKennie even without such incentives. And solidarity pay/training compensation is an issue for the lawyers and union bosses, who currently think it’s impossible and need to be persuaded otherwise. (My suggestion for the next CBA, in my FourFourTwo piece on Garber’s legacy: MLS should offer outright free agency in exchange for union concessions on solidarity pay.)

        But are these really fundamental disagreements? I don’t think so. The people who taunt me on Twitter have long thought I’ll be upset (or out of a job) if we suddenly go pro/rel. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’d both like to see an open system — you just think it’s more of an imperative than I do, and I’d caution to make sure we preserve the progress we’ve made rather than burning everything down and trying to start over. And on a personal/professional level, I think I’d have great material for a sequel to Long-Range Goals, or at least quite a few good stories to pitch.

        Here’s where we agree:

        1. MLS (and perhaps USSF, though USSF has actually been receptive to pro/rel in the USISL and in NISA — the NISA issue is the “must have one guy worth $10 million” part of the PLS) should be more open to considering an open system.

        2. OPPORTUNITY. Clubs and communities should have opportunities to compete, spreading the soccer culture to more areas. Consider the NCAA basketball tournament — small schools can dream of one day making a run against the Kentuckys and North Carolinas.

        3. Club-affiliated youth academies. We need to have them all over the place. The current Development Academy works for the MLS clubs but not youth clubs that have no professional team revenue and have to charge families a ton of money. If an open system can encourage more clubs to have a pro team (and yes, I’d suggest reaching out to existing youth clubs to see if they can morph into a pro club), we could only benefit. (That said, this is why I’ve been suggesting some modifications — when a club goes pro, I think we need to help it *stay* pro unless it’s simply not meeting standards over a prolonged period of time.)

        So to answer your questions:

        >>> Can you elaborate on the USSF unilateral authority point?

        The simple answer would be lawsuits. The ChampionsWorld lawsuit challenged the USSF’s authority, with hazy results (the court didn’t rule on some of the underlying issues because they were moot, as I recall, but check Ted Philipakos’ book for more) and the NASL suits may take it a step farther.

        This is another way the USA is different. I went to a session at the NSCAA convention featuring a couple of people from Germany, and they were asked what’s different between the USA and Germany. The guy said in the USA, you have many organizations that have a say in things. In Germany? He held up one finger.

        And that’s because USSF, from a legal perspective, often isn’t in a position to say no. You want to run your own soccer organization that competes with what USSF is trying to build in youth soccer? Well, maybe they’d rather you didn’t, but they can’t tell you not to do it. Compare that with England, which has an open system but can also pass a player-development plan that utterly robs the lower divisions.

        >>> In summary, what do you suggest someone like me (or the masses of people like me) do to effectuate change?

        The tactics are getting better. For years, we had people like Ted Westervelt tossing up easily refuted arguments, and then when those arguments were refuted, he’d accuse people of all sorts of misdeeds — taking money from MLS directly or just doing MLS’ bidding because we were afraid of losing credentials. (Never mind that the people who engaged most with him don’t have — and in some cases never had — press credentials.)

        We still see a few people in positions of power who operate under the assumption that pro/rel is something others are actively keeping down rather than something that hasn’t been seriously considered. Rocco Commisso is one of them — he has a hole in his U.S. pro soccer knowledge between Pele’s NASL days and the day he bought the Cosmos.

        But a lot of the current leaders in the movement — Dennis Crowley, Robert Palmer — are well-intentioned. They’re new to the sport, and they don’t pretend otherwise. But they listen.

        They still need to do more to build bridges. I think it was a terrible idea to hold the Chattanooga summit without Peter Wilt, who has the experience (in MLS, NWSL, NASL, indoor soccer, the USSF board, etc.) to understand what can be done. There’s apparently a gulf between the UPSL and NPSL (Nipun Chopra and Chris Kivlehan would surely know more about that than I do), and the Chattanooga summit was woefully shy of traditional amateur clubs who’ve been playing pro/rel in their local/regional leagues for generations. If those amateur clubs aren’t interested, someone should really be asking them why. The answer would surely help Palmer, Crowley and company plan their next steps.

        So keep talking. But make it about the benefits of an open system — which, unfortunately, aren’t really well-defined here aside from the deeply flawed argument that it’s working for Germany, Spain and … maybe England? … so surely it would work here. (Seriously, we really can’t say “rest of the world” when CONCACAF nations are beating us with a bunch of MLS players. And Iceland’s success is rooted in federation-driven coaching education — their league system hardly matters, and the pro clubs themselves are nowhere near as successful as the national team.)

        No more talking about the evils of the people who are supposedly trying to keep it down. You’re not going to persuade stakeholders by accusing them of things they know they haven’t done. And such talk doesn’t win over a lot of people who are on the sidelines but could be persuaded to join your movement.

        And listen to people — amateur clubs, USL owners, NPSL owners, journalists, U.S. Soccer voters and yes, even the MLS billionaires — to find out what it would take to persuade them to change. You don’t have to meet their every whim, but you might find a way to get them on board. They don’t have all the answers, but neither do you. We’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before — the goal shouldn’t be to do what England is doing but do BETTER than what England is doing.

        And that’s what we want. Everyone on board for a common goal.

      9. I agree, I believe that is becoming productive because we are clearly articulating our positions and discovering the areas of agreement and disagreement. I was hoping to be less long-winded in this response but you touched upon a number of areas I feel are important to discuss.

        Fair point on the nature of debate and impact of persuasion. My only caveat is that this debate is not new, and I, personally, am not seeing significant shifts in opinion one way or another. Perhaps, as you say, things happen gradually so they are difficult to precisely pinpoint and escape notice, but that is why I am less satisfied with simply continuing conversations.

        On MLS (point #1), I don’t think we are that far apart. I don’t see MLS as an abject failure and believe it deserves some recognition from the groundwork it has laid, but I do think it has significantly overstayed its welcome in its current form and has reached the point where its flaws are so obvious and debilitating that is unacceptable to not be pushing for their reform and correction.

        Under its current structure and based on my understanding of the USSF / MLS’ vision, I don’t foresee any path towards excellence. Moreover, I believe the shortcomings, which I’ve identified, are primarily (if not entirely) rooted in the closed structure that has persisted for the past 25+ years. Further, I think USSF / MLS’ continued discrimination against groups (we can debate how large that market is, but, I assure you, it’s substantial) who are fully able and willing to compete right now is immorally and fiduciarily negligent and contemptible.

        On point #2, I don’t forecast the potential doomsday scenario you fear. Granted, we don’t know how a transition to an open system will play out, and there is no way to predict how existing MLS owners will react (separate point – I weight the relevance of their feelings significantly lower than you do). That being said, the USSF should enforce the necessary steps to propel soccer to the next phase of growth in this country. As I’ve said previously, we can figure out ways to accommodate or placate the MLS owners to garner their support, but, ultimately, the desires of a small subset of people should not have the authority to dictate the trajectory of soccer for a nation of 300 M+ people.

        Ideally, existing MLS franchises and teams from USL / NASL / NPSL will all roll into the open pyramid. It would be silly from them not to, but that’s their decision. I don’t believe we should let fear or threat of uncertainty prevent the progress that is so desperately needed from taking place in this country.

        On point #3, this is where we fundamentally disagree. I’ll rephrase differently. The execution of an open system will involve many moving pieces with many stakeholders’ needs requiring consideration. As such, I think it is IMPOSSIBLE to develop a plan that will address and satisfy every constituent – it’s simply too large a task since it’s constructing the architecture for a system that will impact tens of millions (if not more) of people. Therefore, it is imperative to first establish consensus that a transition to an open system from our current closed system is necessary. Once that consensus is established, we (collectively) can take the time to formulate the specific execution (giving thought and consideration to the multitude of preferences, desires, and priorities of various stakeholders) of the open system.

        On point #4, I disagree. Player development is an integral component of an open system and inextricably linked to the whole operation. Let’s take McKennie, Sargent, Adams off the table because they are too young to conclude what has actually even been developed, if anything. Can you name 5 (or whatever number) elite players that have been developed under this closed / MLS infrastructure? Let’s examine their development and see what conclusions we can reach.

        Moreover, I don’t believe that a McKennie or Pulisic or Sargent or Taitague or whoever can be credited as products of American development. We have to consider Path A and Path B. In Path A (in this case, what has actually happened), these players have elected to go to Europe in their teenage years to attempt to develop into professionals. Maybe they will succeed, maybe they will not. But either way, Europe is a key component in their success or failure.

        In Path B (in this case, hypothetical), we have to consider how would the careers of those players unfold if they choose to stay in the US during their late teenage years to develop into a professional. As many people, have written and, counter-intuitively, MLS actually offers fewer opportunities for promising, young players and has a worse track record of player development than its international counterparts despite, as your previously mentioned, the incentive structure to provide opportunities to younger players since there is no threat of relegation or substantial adverse consequence for sacrificing results for development.

        Stemming off my question above, I don’t believe there are many, if any, examples (too early to tell on Acosta, Adams, and Glad types. Not to mention, we will never really know their quality until they venture abroad) of players who chose Path B and developed into elite players. That, to me, is a huge problem and another key indictment of our system.

        On your summary, I really don’t view the transition to an open system as “burning everything down and starting over”. I think we’ve exhausted the potential of the current structure of our system and a transition to an open system will unleash an exponential next phase of growth that builds off of the past decades of ground work.

        In terms of points of agreement, not much to add there though I will say, on point #3, you’re hitting on how an open infrastructure operates. Clubs choose how they desire to be formulated. Many will have youth teams at various age levels and an adult team. The adult team, depending on the clubs’ ambitions and objectives, will find its competitive equilibrium in the pyramid (that’s why there are lots of levels).

        In terms of the USSF point (and thanks for the background), I understand that the USSF lacks authority to prevent alternative organizations from forming and having a go at soccer in the US. My question is different. Can’t the USSF mandate an open system with a multi-tiered pyramid at any point? Sure, we have to figure out who participates and what not, but there is no stopping them from legislating an open system, right? That’s why their reluctance to embrace or entertain the idea of an open system is so frustrating. They are the body with the most power to effectuate change.

        The last point I want to touch is your idea that CONCACAF’s success over the USMNT hurts the argument for an open system. Let’s explore that. To me, that’s simply another example of the ceiling our structure imposes on quality. Despite every conceivable advantage (populations size, socioeconomic standing, athletic pedigree, resources, etc…), we are incapable of consistently beating our CONCACAF opponents. Doesn’t that illustrate the shortcomings of our structure? Moreover, the MLS players from CONCACAF opponents tend to be better than the USMNT’s MLS players. The key differentiator that’s given the USMNT a modest advantage has been our international-based players, which, again, serves my point. Without players with international playing experience, we are no better (and arguably worse) than nations a fraction of our size who may only have a dozen or so players plying their trade in MLS or equivalent leagues.

        Last point – did you have a chance to read my two pieces? I’d be curious to hear your response to them because they build the foundation of why I feel our structure is so weak and failing.

  3. “The rest of the world adheres to an open system, and examples of success can be observed in dozens of countries spanning diverse cultures, backgrounds, and geographies. We have no reason to expect we would not experience similar success if we would elect to follow this approach.”

    I think a big part of the closed-league story in the U.S. is how sports are organized on the bottom of the pyramid.

    In the U.S., high schools and colleges are the de facto pyramid bottom and cannot be promoted or relegated and are tough for clubs to compete with since they are subsidized with tax dollars or by other sports at the school.

    In open-system countries, sports are played more in clubs than in schools. Open systems emerged from tens of thousands of clubs that can be promoted and relegated. What support goes to such clubs in those countries goes to schools in the U.S.

    1. Hey Seth, thanks for chiming in!

      I agree that high school and college have a role to play in the infrastructure, but, if the US were to adopt an open system, their roles would become secondary to that of the clubs who will provide teams at various age levels and rungs of the pyramid.

      So I agree that there will have to be an evolution where the prominence of clubs emerges over high school and colleges. FYI, I am only speaking to soccer on this topic. Basketball, football, and baseball operate differently and would not likely follow this path.

      1. I agree.

        My point is, in open system countries, clubs didn’t emerge from the open system. The open system emerged from clubs, which emerged from the love for the sport.

        In the U.S., the shool/club structure emerged around the love of glory (with enough subdivisions, everyone has a chance at a trophy) and the love of bragging about their kid being a college athlete, in any sport (at any level), not love for the sport.

        Emulating something at the top-level, like an open-system, may not help much if the love of sport isn’t there to back it up, though I don’t think it hurts, either.

        Until I see kids playing monkey-in-the-middle on their driveways, widespread, like they play basketball or baseball, I don’t expect anything to help much.

        With true love of the sport, the MLS becomes irrelevant naturally because there would be clubs and leagues built on their their fan support rather than their owner and taxpayer wallets. The only option for the MLS in that world is to open up or die.

  4. Beau, you make good points. The divide could be generational. Those who saw the game morph from an obscure niche sport, to its mainstream status today, vs those who grew up with soccer and are frustrated by its current level. And yes, both groups want to take the game higher. Your comments on local clubs gradually adding pro teams also resonated. Where I disagree, is not the impact pro/rel and solidarity payments (as you mentioned) would have on the youth system, but how to achieve that.

    You’re right in addressing the widespread grievances against birth year and DA. Those are valid concerns, and it’s essential to foster a widespread love of the game at all playing levels, but those issues aren’t as pressing as the brutal state of player development. While those who engage online can be relatively knowledgeable, the truth is, the majority of youth clubs are not. Most executives, board members, and even DOCs I’ve encountered are painfully ignorant of the US soccer landscape. It’s incredibly rare to find youth teams who consistently have sequences of 5+ passes in a game. Forget pattern play or receiving across the body. Only recently have we started to move away from punting to midfield.

    Unfortunately, ugly soccer is the norm and it impacts all youth levels. DA teams blow out non-DA, yet are obliterated by MLS Academies, who in turn are dominated by a handful of academies (many of which are dominated internationally). Currently, I can’t think of more than 5-10 clubs/academies who consistently play good soccer. The reason for that is ignorant, albeit well intentioned, leadership and a lack of a meritocratic system.

    Most clubs I’ve been involved with and/or spoken with, know next to nothing about pro/rel or solidarity payments. Worse, most aren’t even aware of the 5-10 clubs that are having success. Mention the youth teams/coaches of Galaxy, Dallas, TFA, or ATL and be prepared to confront blank stares. What’s so frustrating, is we have knowledgeable people willing to do the work, but their paths are blocked. It’s all too common for good coaches/leaders to be sidelined. I don’t know if it’s attributed to fear of change, jealousy, or entrenched ideas, but either way, there are too many ineffective leaders guiding youth soccer. As you say, solidarity payments are key here, but so is pro/rel. It’s necessary to approach investors with the right plans, but in order to expedite that process, we need to educate the millions of well-meaning, yet ill informed within the youth soccer community.

    I earnestly appreciate the work you do online – the research, blog, Twitter, etc. – I just hope you spend even more time educating your local community on the benefits of an open system and solidarity payments.

    Thanks to both Kyle and Beau for the engaging discussion.

  5. Ionic — I’m tempted to ask where you’re encountering these coaches, because that’s *generally* not my experience. I’m probably going to have my town club’s TD on the podcast sometime in April, and he’s up to speed on all of this.

    But I’m also pitching an NSCAA — I mean, United Soccer Coaches — session on soccer politics, so maybe it’ll help me to know a lot of coaches know nothing! And yes, I was a little surprised at the convention this year — it’s one thing when the fanboy/fangirl crowd at Hope Solo’s session doesn’t know what Soccer United Marketing is, but I was stunned that no one at Eric Wynalda’s session knew, either. Does anyone read what I write? Or listen to Jason Davis? Or read … anything on Twitter?

    Kyle — A few points, by your request!

    NEW (Point, um, 0?): I’ll disagree about the conversation shifting. Peter Wilt, for one, sees an open system as far more feasible today than he did 10 years ago. No lower-division clubs were interested in it several years ago — at least, they weren’t saying so. Now, we have a lot of lower-division clubs talking about it. Some are newbies who haven’t done the research — they’re the equivalents of the NASL expansion owners of the late 70s or USISL expansion owners of the late 90s who had no idea what they were getting into. Some of them are egomaniacs who think they should be allowed to dictate everything. But some of them are really giving things a good hard look.

    It’s still going to take time. A lot of people who would’ve been mildly skeptical of pro/rel in 2002 became bitterly cynical over the years as they dealt with slander and nonsensical arguments for years. They won’t be won back overnight.

    POINT 1: Yeah, we’re pretty close on MLS. It got the USA from 0 to 50. Now we need to get from 50 to whatever won’t get points on our license. (Sorry — was in a wreck on the Beltway last weekend, ironically on my way to my first in-person MLS game in a couple of years.)

    POINT 2: We’re not far apart. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle. It’s something to consider. Like planning to walk a few blocks and seeing rain in the forecast — it won’t stop you from walking, but you might want an umbrella or a raincoat.

    POINT 3: We’ve been around and around on that. The only thing I’d add would be a restatement of the new point “0” above — the conversation IS changing. And only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes.

    POINT 4: First of all, youth development in the USA has a bazillion different factors at play. Culturally, we are not Brazil or Germany or France or England. The best work to change that is probably being done by the U.S. Soccer FOUNDATION, not Federation, which is trying to create more places for people to play. The argument as you state it moves the goalposts all over the place — we can’t credit MLS clubs for developing players who move to Europe when they’re 18-19, but then MLS also can’t take credit for players who move here from Central and South America when they’re 18-19?

    In short — it’s difficult enough to decide how much credit or blame you’d give MLS academies for player development. (I’d argue one issue with MLS academies is that they only play other Development Academy teams and the occasional internationals — they’d learn a lot more if they played up an age group, played a men’s amateur team or even put their reputations at stake against a local youth club roaring to take the anointed prospects down a peg.) You’d have a REALLY hard time proving it’s MLS, not cultural differences or poor coaching education or any of myriad other factors, that account for the U.S. youth not being as good as others. (You may notice that Eric Wynalda, for one, argues that our youth are as good as anyone else’s.)

    And I really have done the research on this. An open professional system is far from a magic bullet for youth development, especially when you’re talking about an open system with unforgiving relegation rules (and this gets us back to why we need to discuss WHAT open system we want rather than just saying “we want an open system”) that might make clubs fold up their academies. So you’d have an academy in, say, Boise for a couple of years, and then it closes, and then another academy opens in Fargo, but it only stays in the pro ranks for a year and then closes its academy after two years, etc. — is this what we want?

    Finally, while I realize MLS coaches are counterintuitively unwilling to play the kids, a closed system can actually give clubs more incentive to do so. D.C. United fell way off the pace one season, so they played the kids. Some of them developed quite nicely, and United benefited the next year. Can’t do that if you’re worried about relegation.

    Again, again, again — this is not an insurmountable obstacle. It’s something to consider.

    On to your questions:

    >>> Can’t the USSF mandate an open system with a multi-tiered pyramid at any point?

    I don’t know that they could, honestly. The way it’s worked for decades is that a league makes a proposal, and USSF sanctions it. The exceptions — USSF stepped in to run the Division 2 league for one year when neither NASL nor USL was at critical mass, and USSF provided seed money and early staff (and subsidies that continue to this day) for NWSL.

    From a practical point of view, if they tried to impose a multi-tiered system, they (A) would be sued by everyone in MLS and (B) might be scraping for teams to fill it.

    I’d also point out that they’re more willing to entertain the idea of an open system that you’d think. They didn’t object to USISL’s pro/rel of the late 90s. The problem Peter Wilt is finding with NISA, as I understand it, is far more a case of the PLS than pro/rel.

    >>> The last point I want to touch is your idea that CONCACAF’s success over the USMNT hurts the argument for an open system. Let’s explore that. To me, that’s simply another example of the ceiling our structure imposes on quality. Despite every conceivable advantage (populations size, socioeconomic standing, athletic pedigree, resources, etc…), we are incapable of consistently beating our CONCACAF opponents. Doesn’t that illustrate the shortcomings of our structure?

    I’d argue it illustrates shortcomings with our youth system. Kids that have come out of Bradenton have had an entitlement mentality, and that may also be true of a lot of Development Academy kids.

    Also, sending players overseas doesn’t necessarily help. Omar Gonzalez is no longer an MLS player. Michael Bradley has been in the nitty-gritty of European struggles. Jozy Altidore has been in actual relegation battles. (The best national teams mostly have players who have NOT been in relegation struggles — take a look at Spain’s most recent roster, for example. A whole lot of Real Madrid and Barcelona, with a bit of Valencia, Atletico and Chelsea.)

    >>> Last point – did you have a chance to read my two pieces?

    I did. I like the data analysis. The counterpoint Gulati has made at the other extreme — how many countries have played in seven consecutive World Cups and reached the round of 16 in four of them? It’s not many.

    That said, there’s a bit of luck involved. The 2002 team was probably the best the USA has ever sent to a World Cup, thanks in part to some players who were never healthy or in-form suddenly being healthy and in-form. But if South Korea hadn’t knocked out Portugal, the USA wouldn’t have made it to the second round. (And THAT would’ve been unfair because the ref in the USA-Poland game was abysmal.) The ref missed a handball in USA-Mexico. (And missed another in USA-Germany, or else the USA might have made the semifinals — and barely had enough players available to field a team.)

    As for national attitudes — why use anecdotal evidence of one Bleacher Report piece? How about people who actually get out and cover the team? Steven Goff’s a pretty cynical guy. I don’t think Grant Wahl, Jeff Carlisle or Michael Lewis has been overly effusive.

    But here’s the important point — you don’t do anything to tie it to MLS or pro/rel or anything else of that nature.

    And that takes us back to a key area in which we apparently still disagree. There are so many aspects of American soccer that are different from the rest of the world. The biggest isn’t the league system. It’s the fact that soccer is barely the fourth most popular team sport in this country, and maybe not even that. It may be catching hockey, but at the youth level, lacrosse and a whole lot of other activities (e-sports! Ultimate!) are nipping at soccer’s heels.

    Now — can an open system help change that? Perhaps. And that’s an argument worth exploring.

    1. I think this conversation has illuminated a fundamental difference in our conclusions because, for the most part, it seems we agree on the issues and stature of US Soccer as a whole. When examining the benefits of an open system, you tend to exercise extreme skepticism and find any possible explanation to discredit the open system for its contributions to positive elements of a soccer system. In contrast, when examining the issues in our system, you do the opposite and attempt to find any explanation (“America is different”, “Soccer has a hostile relationship in the past”, “Soccer is less popular here”) to refute the notion that our closed system contributes to soccer’s problems in this country.

      Ultimately, that’s what it seems to boil down to me (please correct me if you feel differently). You may disagree with this characterization, but if a third party were to read this discussion (and other pieces of your writing), I think they would conclude the same. And not to pre-empt your response (but I guess that is what I’m doing), I don’t think you can state you’re simply poking holes and trying to strengthen the open system argument because you are using two different critical lenses – an unwavering, hyper-critical lens against the open system and a forgiving, nothing can be proven definitively since we’re dealing with multiple variables lens when defending the closed system – which is not fair, in terms of evaluating / building an argument.

      On Point 0, I hope that’s the case but it hasn’t necessarily been my experience. I am optimistic of the efforts of folks like Peter Wilt, Dennis Crowley, and Robert Palmer.

      On point 3, you are copping out in regards to the absolute comment. If someone says people deserve to be treated fairly in the workplace, that is not viewed as an absolute; rather, just an axiomatic principle for societal norms. I am saying there is no “plan” (that you have been calling for) that could, in and of itself, i) solve every key problem in the execution of an open system and ii) shift mainstream public opinion from favoritism of a closed system to an acceptance of an open system.

      I try to avoid bringing politics into a soccer conversation, but there is an apt analogy to make related to gun control. No past gun control bill has ever or could ever do i and ii for the gun debate. The way to enact change is by shifting public opinion (which has been happening for years) and then, once some modicum of consensus is reached, a bill / plan can actually be implemented to enact reform which, perhaps, is on the precipice.

      In terms of point 4, I notice you did not answer my question. Like you, I’ve thought and written about this extensively so I’m open to hearing a counterargument to my own but you’re not providing any examples. I said nothing about Central / South America (we can discuss that, if you like, but I made no mention in my response).

      The goal posts are not moving. Read what I wrote – it’s straightforward. I think you’re evading because it puts your argument in a tricky position. The reason you cannot credit MLS for a McKennie is because there is no analogue player to McKennie who has taken the MLS path and leapt to stardom (again McKennie is 19 and not a finished product so it’s a moot point for him / others his age but you get the picture).

      Interestingly, American Soccer Now (https://bit.ly/2GrhjHx) just published a piece about how McKennie is ready to step into a leadership role with the USMNT. Again, this is a 19-year old who has played like 20 games of pro soccer but he’s thought of very highly already. Why? Because he’s producing in the Bundes Liga. With real stakes and against the best talent. There is no possibility he would be where he is or his perception on the USMNT would be where it is if he stayed in MLS. That’s the larger point we are talking about.

      I will ask again, can you name a handful of American players (you can add some Central / South American, if you’d like, but name at least 5 American) that have become elite under this closed / MLS infrastructure? The fact that this question does not have many (if any) obvious answers is telling.

      My point is independent from whether or not our youth are as good as international counterparts (that’s a separate debate we can have). There are few (if any) examples of players who stay in America for the entirety (or majority) of their careers and develop into legitimate international-caliber players. Nearly every top USMNT player from past decade plus has considerable European experience. That is not coincidence.

      In terms of CONCACAF, your response lacks any substance. You say the kids “are entitled”. That response, coupled with the fact that you don’t see the link between player development and an open system, is a massive miss. So to extend your argument, you believe MLS players from other CONCACAF countries are better than their American counterparts because they are less (not?) entitled? Correct me if I’m mis-characterizing your position, but that’s what I gather from your response.

      In terms of your Boise and Fargo academy arguments, you are veering into doomsday territory again. Please provide evidence (I know you mentioned Huddersfield previously) of any pattern of academies closing from relegation. There are one-off examples but this is not a rationale systemic fear, at least in terms of empirical evidence.

      The DC United example is non-sensical. Your argument suggests that a primary mode of player development is meaningless, end-of-season games for teams in closed systems that have no fear of relegation. I understand what you’re saying but it is divorced from reality. Not only is the maximum population set extremely small, but players all over the world manage to develop quite will without this unique situation. In fact, many agree (and a huge portion of this piece argues) that the incentive structure of an open system promotes top quality across the board (youth academies, reserve teams, young players on pro teams, loanees, grizzled veterans, etc…) because the margins between teams are thin and the consequences are grave. As such, being able to develop players, even 2% better than your peers, is critically important.

      Your (Gulati’s) argument on the World Cup is happily one-sided. I directly address the idea of the USMNT’s World Cup “success” in my piece. Their results, which are objective and not subject to narrative distortion, are very poor in terms of every statistic (win-loss record, goal differential, etc…) The USMNT are a South Korean goal, a Donovan extra-time goal and/or Joe Hart howler, and John Brooks header away from a single knockout round appearance (as host nation, finishing third in their group) since 1930.

      They have relied heavily on Lady Luck in their various advancements. As I wrote in my piece, the track record should be evaluated in its totality with full acknowledgement of where luck played a factor and how the USMNT actually performed, which, overall, is not very good. Also, your sugar-coated (I’d even argue, biased) recollection of USA v Poland is revealing. Honestly, go back and watch that game (I have). They were playing a lame-duck opponent and conceded twice in the first five minutes (though Donovan did have a header called back) and eventually fell behind 3-0 when all they needed was a draw to control their own destiny.

      Simply put, the persistence of the knockout round in 4 of 7 World Cup narrative is spin to its most extreme degree. There are many nations who have not met this feat that are clearly better than the US both in terms of actual World Cup performance and reputation. Neither Chile, Uruguay, nor Colombia have even qualified for 5 of the past 7 World Cups. Using Gulati’s argument, the US is better than them. Portugal and France haven’t reached the knockout stages in 4 of 7 World Cups and both have missed multiple World Cups. Are they inferior to the US? You see where I’m going with this. As mentioned above, the 4 of 7 World Cups is an inflated statistic that does not marry to the underlying performance of the USMNT World Cup, but Gulati and many American media members cling to it for dear life because it gives them a semblance of credibility (that does not stand up to even minor scrutiny).

      Your retorts are weak. Why did I quote Bleacher Report? I linked to four different articles that shared a similar rosy sentiment; I just happened to choose one for a pull-quote. I could have chosen quotes from multiple articles, and there were many articles I did not include because I felt four was sufficient to illustrate the point.

      In terms of coverage, none of the mainstream US soccer voices are critical of the team (or US Soccer as a whole or the closed system). The farthest they go is offering vanilla criticism (see Wahl after US – Argentina in 2016 Copa America – https://on.si.com/2G4dJUg). That’s another game to re-watch. That game was a slaughter. The US did not record a shot and the passes in final third were as lopsided as you will see an international match. The US could not retain any semblance of possession and struggled to win the ball back from Argentina who easily controlled the game and had the US running in circles throughout after gaining an early lead.

      Contrast those types of articles with coverage from outlets like The Guardian who cast a critical eye and raise serious questions. That game is eye-opening and shows the gulf between the US and real soccer nations. Yet it gets written off and forgotten in a matter of days. Those games (knockout stage in an international tournament), which are infrequent, serve as litmus tests for a country like the US but are hardly treated as such. Every player on Argentina displayed superior technical and tactical proficiency. Shouldn’t that raise eyebrows? Shouldn’t the media explore that topic? Not to mention that all of the panelist before the game predicted the US would win.

      Looking forward to reading your responses to these points.

    2. You guys have covered definitely covered pro/rel, but want to make a quick response to DA/MLS player development.

      Beau, you suggest MLS academies play up against non-DA teams. That would be ugly. By now, DA encompasses *most* worthwhile clubs. If MLS teams are routinely blowing out non-MLS academies, playing high school kids would be a waste of time. Also worth noting that most MLS academies regularly move players up, and occasionally into USL. The MLS academy focus on the player, rather than the team, is a good one.

      Last comment on the IMG/DA sense of entitlement, can’t agree there either. It’s fairly well accepted the IMG experiment was a failure. From coaching to schedule, it didn’t work. The players may have been entitled but in that environment, most weren’t going to succeed. In terms of DA entitlement, it’s tough to be entitled when a DA player is routed by an MLS academy, and it’s hard for an MLS academy to be entitled when they park the bus against the better academies. You would have a better argument with the kids who are on the National Team, playing USL, etc. But hopefully as MLS begins to buy/sell more, those kids hit Europe at 18.

      Oh, and glad you plan to interview more coaches, I think you’ll be surprised at the lack of knowledge. I personally know MLS academy coaches, who refuse to let their CBs cross midfield. As we all agree, solidarity payments and pro/rel will help weed these coaches.

      1. Ionic — I think you’re seeing disagreement where it doesn’t exist.

        What I’m saying about the DA has been said by some good DA coaches like Benjamin Ziemer, who wonders why he has to fly his U16 team 1,000 miles to win a game 5-0 when he can play a local U19 team. Maybe that game would also be 5-0. Maybe it would be 3-1. Either way, he’s saved 1,000 air miles (and all the travel time that could be better spent training or doing homework) for the same game or better.

        I’m not sure you understand what I mean about a “sense of entitlement.” The word on a lot of kids coming out of Bradenton was that they expected to have the world handed to them. And that’s what some people are seeing today with DA kids (though the DA is, of course, big enough that we should be careful about generalizing too much). The common thread is that kids are selected and then put in a silo where they’re made to think they’re simply the best and no longer have to prove it.

        As for weeding out the coaches — there’s a problem with your theory. It’s one thing to “weed out” bad coaches. It’s another thing entirely to replace them. Where are you going to find the good coaches to replace them?

      2. Not saying disagreement, just adding detail.

        Can’t say I know much about Sacramento’s program, I’ve heard good things about the 02s, but for the most part their games seem to be quite competitive. Not saying they aren’t quality, but they’re not regularly thumping teams.

        I understood you perfectly on “sense of entitlement.” I heard IMG kids felt that way, too. Just saying that isn’t why they failed. As I said, I’d agree with you on the entitlement when it comes to National Team players who are getting USL time. But as you mention, DA is big enough that I haven’t found the silver spoon mentality among most DA players.

        For replacing coaches, we have excellent coaches all over. Unfortunately, paths for growth are quite restricted. Most DOCs only leave when they retire, or move on. As I’m sure you know, there are a ton of politics. The MLS Academy coach I mentioned is a former National Team player. The club values the name recognition over player development. Solidarity payments forces clubs to hire based on merit. Too costly not to.

      3. This may be petty, but I looked up the Sacramento DA scores. The 01/02s are their best team, and their avg goal differential is +2 per game. Winning 3/8 against SoCal teams. They don’t need to fly 1,000 miles to find competitive games.

      4. ? I thought you were saying DA teams should play older, non-DA teams. Regardless, the main point here is that DA has been a massive step forward, as have the MLS academies. Unfortunately, the development is still weak. A clear example is the current GA Cup, where it seems no MLS teams will advance out of group. In my view, the poor development is largely because of ignorance and politics. Glad we both agree solidarity payments and pro/rel will help move things forward.

  6. You know I write for The Guardian, right? I’m live-blogging USA-Paraguay and will try to be appropriately cynical. (I kid, but it is indeed easier to be candid when talking about the MNT than it is about the WNT. I question something Ali Krieger does, and then a message board claims I said it because I asked her out and she shot me down. Some WNT fans make Ted look like an honest and friendly guy.

    But we are indeed going in circles at this point. You come up with tons and tons of ways the US national teams are deficient, and you’re mostly right. But you blame them all on MLS, which is a bit peculiar. Whose fault was it before 1996?

    We agree MLS needs to move forward. We disagree on the whole binary thing, and I’m glad you brought up gun control, because this is a good place to wrap things up.

    The Parkland kids aren’t absolutist. The March wasn’t to ban all guns. (See their arguments in … well, The Guardian. I’m quite proud to write for them.) They want to accomplish specific things.

    Did you see the picture of the gun owner/hunter at the March? (I’m sure he wasn’t the only one – he expressed what others have expressed.) He wants to keep hunting. He doesn’t need an assault rifle to do so.

    And so the conversation moves forward. Excellent.

    So I’d suggest getting to work. Take an honest look at my work, where you’ll see more about England’s academies and so forth. Think about how we can do it better. I’ll be interested to see your proposal. Not as interested in a perpetual interrogation of why I don’t blame every failing of US Soccer on the closed system.

    Have a good week.

    1. I did not know you right for The Guardian, and I read them often so I don’t know what that says about you or me, but I’ll keep an eye out for your stuff in the future.

      I disagree on going in circles. I think our disagreement has forced us to refine our points and has exposed the areas where we differ, which, in turn, allows us to debate the specific points of contention. As each of us has said, we’ve agreed on a number of points and have identified the areas where we disagree. I believe that conversation is worthwhile and productive, but you apparently feel differently.

      It does not escape me that in the latest back and forth you’ve ignored areas where I don’t believe you have a good answer. I’ll detail below in case you decide to respond and to alert anyone who reads this (special place in heaven for those who made it this far) of what’s left unresolved or unaddressed.

      When examining the benefits of an open system, you tend to exercise extreme skepticism and find any possible explanation to discredit the open system for its contributions to positive elements of a soccer system. In contrast, when examining the issues in our system, you do the opposite and attempt to find any explanation (“America is different”, “Soccer has a hostile relationship in the past”, “Soccer is less popular here”) to refute the notion that our closed system contributes to soccer’s problems in this country.

      You use two different critical lenses – an unwavering, hyper-critical lens against the open system and a forgiving, nothing can be proven definitively since we’re dealing with multiple variables lens when defending the closed system – which is not fair, in terms of evaluating / building an argument. Please clarify if you feel this is inaccurate.

      There is no magic proposal. You rely on this notion as a crutch to pretend that you are receptive to the concept of an open system but you’ve generally displayed hostility and extreme skepticism towards it throughout this discussion and much of your own writing. But, I’ll paraphrase (one last time) what I’ve said repeatedly.

      The execution of an open system will involve many moving pieces with many stakeholders’ needs requiring consideration. As such, I think it is IMPOSSIBLE to develop a proposal that will address and satisfy every constituent – it’s simply too large a task since it’s constructing the architecture for a system that will impact tens of millions (if not more) of people. Therefore, it is imperative to first establish consensus that a transition to an open system from our current closed system is necessary. Once that consensus is established, we (collectively) can take the time to formulate the specific execution (giving thought and consideration to the multitude of preferences, desires, and priorities of various stakeholders) of the open system.

      A proposal can be contemplated contemporaneously, but, like in the case of gun reform legislation (note I never talked about bans), will never gain traction without first having significantly shifted public opinion. Moreover, why can’t someone like yourself advocate for an open system while still using a critical eye in poking holes in proposal? Instead, you do none of the advocacy (which you claim to do) and just play critic to one side and not the other. That’s hypocritical and unfair but if that’s your prerogative, so be it. Just don’t pretend that is not what you’re doing.

      You did not name any American players (or Central / South American either) that have become elite under the closed / MLS infrastructure.

      You did not dispute what I wrote about McKennie.

      You did not dispute that there are few (if any) examples of players who stay in America for the entirety (or majority) of their careers and develop into legitimate international-caliber players.
      You did not comment on the CONCACAF argument which you basically glossed over in the first place.

      You did not provide evidence of a pattern of academies folding due to the prospect of relegation.

      You did not respond to my counter-argument to your theory that closed systems may actually be conducive to player development because there is no threat of relegation.

      You did not explain how USSF is open to the idea of pro – rel more than “I might think”. I find that hard to square with the form USSF President’s insistence that the US would never adopt it. Care to bridge that gap?

      You did not respond to my retort to your / Gulati’s argument on our World Cup track record, which exposes the truth in our World Cup history.

      You did not respond to my arguments on the attitude of soccer media in this country and the lack of criticism of any larger, systemic issues in US Soccer.

      Worse, you claim to agree with my review of the USMNT’s record, but do not see the link to our system.

      It’s very suspicious that someone like you who has a history of engaging in long-winded debates on all things soccer suddenly decides to move on when challenged to defend his positions or address specific issues.

      1. I think this has gotten less productive because we can’t seem to agree on what to talk about.

        You haven’t responded to my points on the “binary” approach, particularly the gun-control debate analogy. Instead, you’re accusing me of dodging questions that I’ve frankly answered, either here or in my previous work.

        My answer to most of your questions is this, from my previous reply:

        >>> You come up with tons and tons of ways the US national teams are deficient, and you’re mostly right. But you blame them all on MLS, which is a bit peculiar. Whose fault was it before 1996?

        So you keep saying “why haven’t we produced better players?” My answer is that we’re not very good. Compare the coaching education in Germany to ours. Then remember — most of that was done *by the federation*, not by the clubs.

        And frankly, you keep misrepresenting my work. My work for the past 15 years is hardly an “unwavering, hyper-critical lens against the open system,” nor is it an iron-clad excuse of the closed system in perpetuity. I may have more sympathy than you do toward the need to have a closed system from 1996 until the present, and that’s fine — we can disagree on that. I want it to change, and I have specific ideas and critiques that demonstrate possible paths forward. Frankly, you don’t! You just say we need to agree on an undefined “open” system before we talk about anything else — but in the meantime, you’re happy to repeat and restate a litany of problems in U.S. soccer that you want to blame entirely, without evidence, on the closed system and not any other aspect of U.S. soccer.

        You say I’m being “hypocritical and unfair” in criticizing “one side” while not doing the advocacy. Look, you’ve taken a side. I’ve pointed to places where we agree. You’ve glossed over those and insisted on discussing the places where we disagree — which can be fruitful, but not if you’re going to turn around and say that’s “hypocritical and unfair.”

        I’m sure I’ve posted this link before:
        https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2017/09/23/promotionrelegation-propagandareality-part-4-pros-positives/

        Also check out this:
        https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2017/07/27/how-the-usa-can-do-promotion-and-relegation-better-than-england/

        And this:
        https://duresport.com/2017/01/01/the-2017-pyramid-plan-and-prorel-myths/

        Going back a few years ago:
        https://duresport.com/2015/09/09/yet-another-promotionrelegation-idea-youll-all-ignore/

        And even farther, when we were starting from scratch in women’s soccer (again):
        https://duresport.com/2011/12/07/great-time-for-promotionrelegation-fans-to-step-up/

        And this might be the best distillation of what I think can be accomplished aside from creating opportunity:
        https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2017/10/13/the-best-post-tt-pro-promotionrelegation-argument/

        So let’s take the things you accuse me of ignoring:

        >>> You did not name any American players (or Central / South American either) that have become elite under the closed / MLS infrastructure.

        I listed a few here: https://the93rdminute.net/2018/03/19/on-promotion-relegation-a-default-response-to-the-status-quo-crowd/#comment-10334

        BUT … that’s not many. I don’t dispute that. And I don’t have to. You have to create the proof that the lack of elite players from the USA is *solely* or even *primarily* the result of the closed league structure, not the generations of cultural antipathy toward the sport and the lack of investment in coaching education. Good luck with that.

        >>> You did not dispute what I wrote about McKennie.

        You moved the goalposts and claimed you didn’t.

        >>> You did not dispute that there are few (if any) examples of players who stay in America for the entirety (or majority) of their careers and develop into legitimate international-caliber players.

        See above.

        >>> You did not comment on the CONCACAF argument which you basically glossed over in the first place.

        See above.

        >>> You did not provide evidence of a pattern of academies folding due to the prospect of relegation.

        I pointed you toward my blog. Here’s a direct link to one of the posts, which links to a couple more:

        https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2017/11/09/the-myth-of-promotion-relegation-and-youth-development-continued/

        >>> You did not respond to my counter-argument to your theory that closed systems may actually be conducive to player development because there is no threat of relegation.

        Your only counter-argument was that I’m “divorced from reality.” I think otherwise. And I’d point out that this is how teams build in other sports. Soccer simply evolved differently.

        Still, soccer has a “minor league” system just like baseball. It’s just less formal. Instead of agreements to promote from the Durham Bulls to the Atlanta Braves, the European equivalent of the Bulls puts its players up for auction in transfer fees. On the flip side, you have clubs like Chelsea that have great academies because they’re rich, and very, very few of those players get through the first team because they have 30-plus players out on loan. They eventually sell a lot of them. So no matter where players play their academy dues, they’re generally developed at smaller clubs (all over the world) and brought up to the big time.

        In the absence of such a system (though with the USL arrangements and more scouting in Latin America, we’re seeing more of that in MLS), giving players time at the top level at the end of a season is the next best thing. That’s how baseball and basketball teams rebuild, and we’ve seen it in MLS.

        >>> You did not explain how USSF is open to the idea of pro – rel more than “I might think”. I find that hard to square with the form USSF President’s insistence that the US would never adopt it. Care to bridge that gap?

        That’s one person, and even he was “agnostic” on the matter. I think you could make progress with well-reasoned arguments. (Which, frankly, this it turning out not to be.)

        >>> You did not respond to my retort to your / Gulati’s argument on our World Cup track record, which exposes the truth in our World Cup history.

        See above. We’re not very good, even though we’ve actually been better than most countries in the last 28 years. Before that, we won a gritty game against England in 1950, and we were semifinalists in a World Cup that was basically a Copa America plus France, Yugoslavia, Romania and Belgium, way back before anyone took the event seriously.

        >>> You did not respond to my arguments on the attitude of soccer media in this country and the lack of criticism of any larger, systemic issues in US Soccer.

        I know the soccer media better than you. Not bragging. It’s just what I do.

        Want links? OK.

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/soccer-insider/wp/2018/02/09/u-s-soccer-will-elect-its-president-next-to-an-amusement-park-this-is-fitting/?utm_term=.dea45b36dc33

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/soccer-insider/wp/2016/12/08/sunil-gulati-needs-to-set-the-stage-for-a-successor-at-the-helm-of-u-s-soccer/?utm_term=.39f22883d22c (that’s Goff’s call for Gulati to step aside, nearly a year before the qualifying disaster and something I referenced in my Guardian piece: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/mar/03/us-soccer-federation-annual-meeting-long-term-future

        http://www.espn.com/soccer/club/united-states/660/blog/post/3228314/bruce-arena-paid-the-price-for-the-us-world-cup-failure-and-so-should-sunil-gulati (Carlisle says Gulati should step down)

        Hey, let’s go back a ways:

        https://www.si.com/vault/1999/06/14/262145/inside-soccer

        Let’s check out my work:

        Skepticism in action …
        https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2018/02/01/fact-reality-checking-the-sunil-gulati-speech/

        The Crew and Breakers …
        https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2018/01/28/time-for-u-s-pro-leagues-to-treat-their-cornerstones-a-bit-better/

        What Garber needs to do in 2018 …
        https://www.fourfourtwo.com/us/features/mls-commissioner-don-garber-legacy-final-year-contract

        This mountain of research certainly isn’t all poppies and roses:
        https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2018/01/05/what-i-learned-reading-tons-of-ussf-minutes-and-transcripts-part-2-2010-2017/

        But yeah — please go on about how one dude at Bleacher Report and three other anecdotal pieces that weren’t frothing at the mouth to dismantle USSF are reflective of the U.S. soccer media in general. (As if we in the media ever agree on anything!)

        >>> Worse, you claim to agree with my review of the USMNT’s record, but do not see the link to our system.

        I can’t make that case for you, and you haven’t made it.

        >>> It’s very suspicious that someone like you who has a history of engaging in long-winded debates on all things soccer suddenly decides to move on when challenged to defend his positions or address specific issues.

        How many kids do you have? How many freelance projects are you trying to get done?

        I’ve addressed and defended everything. You choose not to agree with — or in some cases, not to read — my arguments.

        If you think this conversation is worth continuing, please explain why. Trying to bully me isn’t going to work. It just makes me less inclined to take you seriously.

        If you want to argue with an actual anti-pro/rel person, I’d suggest Dan Loney or maybe any thread on the topic on BigSoccer. But I have to warn you, I don’t think you’ll enjoy it — because you have said **absolutely nothing** to support the notion that the closed system is to blame for all our ills and an undefined “open” system that demands fealty before we know specifics will solve everything. I’ve actually tried to make the case for you, but you’ve chosen to focus on the negative. That’s unfortunate.

        If you want to continue THIS discussion, you’re going to have to start making some actual points rather than simply accusing me of refusing to answer when I stopped dealing meth or kicking puppies or whatever. See http://www.fallacyfiles.org/loadques.html

      2. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I went back and re-read our full discussion. I’ve organized my response below into themes from the discussion in addition to addressing your replies in your latest post. Apologies for the length.

        Bullying

        I have not bullied you (or even attempted to bully you) at all in this conversation. I have questioned and scrutinized (and also agreed with) various ideas of yours, but I have upheld the dignity of your character. Criticism of your views vs you as a person are very different so don’t resort to playing victim if your ideas fail to hold up.

        In fact, on multiple occasions, you have tried to insert your perceived superiority (age, number of freelance projects, children, career credentials, etc…) to validate an argument that did not have backing in evidence or reason. Whatever ego you (or anyone) have does not trump the content of your ideas. You write a lot but being prolific does not equate to wisdom. Some of your ideas (again not an attack on you, personally) are sorely lacking in substance.

        Gun Control Analogy

        Gun control is a perfect analogy for our argument and you are on the opposite side in this case. Like an open system for soccer, gun reform was long thought impossible in the United States. This year marks an inflection point where pent-up frustration from repeated events of gun violence coupled with years of shifting public opinion (review surveys on openness to gun reform legislation), shrewd use of social media, and resonance / attention of the Parkland students has propelled what was previously thought to be impossible (or at least highly improbable) – actual gun reform legislation.

        Now, let’s compare this to soccer. Following your argument, gun reform legislation would only be possible if gun reform advocates created a legislative proposal / plan that was so convincing and foolproof that opponents could not help but be persuaded to embrace gun reform. This could not be further from the reality unfolding. There is no universally accepted, specific gun reform measure(s) being championed. Rather, they have simply galvanized public opinion that enough is enough and steps need to be taken to reform gun laws in this country to limit further acts of avoidable violence.

        Sounds awfully similar to my argument, doesn’t it? An inflection point where pent-up frustration from repeated events of disappointment / failures (USMNT track record) coupled with years of shifting public opinion (as you said, Wilt, Crowley, Palmer, etc…), shrewd use of social media, and resonance / attention to a catastrophic event (of World Cup qualification failure) has propelled a nearly impossible feat (the transition to an open system). In contrast to the gun reform debate, though, soccer suffers from a few inhibiting elements – the role of the media and the status of public opinion – that have prevented the momentous inflection point that gun reform is experiencing.

        Unlike gun reform, soccer’s national media is not highlighting the unusually unique aberrations of our performance relative to the rest of the world (unlike with gun violence where our alarming statistics blast across the news). Further, public opinion related to the acceptance of an open system is not as far along as acceptance of gun reform, which I believe is a byproduct of many of the factors we have discussed (lack of critical media, uninformed public, conflicted USSF leadership, etc…).

        Binary Philosophical Question – Open vs Closed

        “You haven’t responded to my points on the “binary” approach”

        As I’ve stated repeatedly, I believe the path to an open system is like that of gun reform so I am pushing to sway consensus towards an open system because the specific execution of the plan is a secondary step (we first need to garner overwhelming public support) and not overly complicated (you and I both agreed on this).

        I’ve deliberately ignored (multiple times) your request to provide the specifics of a proposal because I do not believe that is the path to enacting an open system. As I previously stated (and you agreed), there are no overly complicated or cumbersome hurdles to overcome in executing an open system. Instead, the biggest challenge is shifting public opinion to the acceptance of an open system, which, again, is what I have been focusing on in my original article and throughout our discussion. The specifics of my proposal are moot so I will not do that.

        You have refused to address the binary element of open vs closed from a philosophical standpoint (again I’ve literally contextualized as philosophical throughout to remove any element of practicality and simply focus on the concept) which is no surprise (you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself).

        High Level Summary

        Let’s boil this down to simplest terms.

        Agreement – we largely agree on the problems and deficiencies of the US as a soccer nation.

        Disagreement – you feel the cultural differences of our nation are the primary contributor to our deficiencies. I feel our system is the primary contributor to our deficiencies.

        Shifting Burden of Proof

        Throughout this conversation you have exercised a double standard. For certain assertions I have made, you have demanded concrete, unassailable evidence of proof (which in many of the cases would not be possible). For certain assertions you have made, you have challenged me to directly disprove your claims.

        Look at your latest retorts. You continue to sidestep many of the difficult questions and, when you do respond, you provide minimal evidence. Meanwhile, you consistently demand incontrovertible proof on the other side. This is objectively unbalanced (I would argue hypocritical, but I’ll keep it light) treatment, yet you see no problem with that.

        In the absence of a perfect world where we can conduct controlled experiments on every issue, people rely on observations, make inferences, and examine evidence to draw conclusions. There is no reason to employ such monumentally different burdens of proof for two different sides of an argument. These are unreasonable standards and I will highlight some examples below.

        Things you’ve demanded I prove.

        • Linkage Between US Soccer’s Problems and its Closed System

        To suggest that our country-wide system, in which MLS and its academies form the pre-eminent competitive structures, is not linked to our holistic performance and quality of play is absurd. It’s self-evident. We can argue to what degree (and I certainly would argue it has a major impact) but to dismiss it or request evidence of its direct impact is filibustering at best and outright denial at worst.

        The system (whether closed or open) is like the hub of a wheel and, from that hub, there are spokes that connect to the various components of a soccer system – professional league structure (pyramid), player development, coaching, infrastructure, grassroots / culture, broadcasting / media relationships, governance / ownership, talent identification / scouting, etc… Each of these spokes will be massively impacted and influenced by the hub at the center.

        You’ve blamed differences in culture and coaching education for contributing to our poor performance. These are undeniably shaped and affected by the closed system that frames the structure of soccer in this country. To suggest they are unrelated to and disconnected from the system is quite a leap (of which, I, following your lead of course, would request proof).

        One last minor point. The articles I have written that I have mentioned in this conversation have centered around the deterioration (and to a lesser extent, overall weakness) of USMNT performance so your point on “what about prior to 1996” is irrelevant since I’m only talking about the period of time after that point.

        • Double Standard / Two Different Lenses of Evaluation

        >>> You did not explain how USSF is open to the idea of pro – rel more than “I might think”. I find that hard to square with the form USSF President’s insistence that the US would never adopt it. Care to bridge that gap?

        That’s one person, and even he was “agnostic” on the matter. I think you could make progress with well-reasoned arguments. (Which, frankly, this it turning out not to be.)

        Here is a perfect encapsulation. This is literally as sunny a spin you can frame your response here. That one person happens to be the President and someone who about every who’s who in soccer references all the time for his massive contributions. He has been in major leadership positions in US soccer for thirty-ish years. If the President of the US came out against gun reform that would be a big deal.

        Just one person! Come on. That’s incredibly disingenuous.

        Things you’ve claimed without similar (or any) demands of proof.

        • That the US is so different from the rest of the world

        One of the central tenets of your argument has been that the US is so different from the rest of the world so things that work (or do not work) abroad cannot necessarily be assumed to apply here. That could be i) true (you’d have to prove this) or ii) a convenient rebuttal to any arguments citing international examples as evidence. Since you haven’t done i (feel free to make the case), I’m inclined to believe ii.

        I would counter and ask, what about when there is a commonality among dozens of countries that have a myriad of differences from one another? Do you believe all these unique differences are lesser than the difference of the US to all other countries (seems highly unlikely but that at least follows internally consistent logic)?

        Have you done an investigative analysis of every country that utilizes an open system and compared / contrasted each country to determine their precise similarities and differences and the magnitude of each? Based on your arguments, that is the standard you would have to uphold.

        Instead, you have said the America is “different”, “has a history of cultural hostility”, and “is not the most popular sport” and that is why comparisons to other countries are not applicable to the US. There are quick retorts to each of those and you have not provided evidence (let alone indisputable proof) to make your case.

        There are many differences among countries that have experienced success with an open system. Your support for hostility is primarily anecdotal and there are examples of sports rising and falling in interest throughout American history so I’m not sure what we can make of that even if that were to be definitively proven, which is doubtful. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world so the US does differ there, but there are many countries where there are highly prominent sports other than soccer and that does not seem to deter them from being successful. Moreover, I’d argue that a strength is the US its size, which allows it to flourish in many sports whereas smaller countries may only have the resources to excel in a few, if any, sports.

        Further, couldn’t you reframe that point and argue that a certain common factor (in this case an open system) has experienced success in 95+% of cases across a multitude of different environments? Perhaps that factor transcends national idiosyncrasies, no?

        Moreover, you continually suggest the potential chaotic effect of an open system. You understand that the market will dictate its own demand, right? I grant you that we don’t know how big or small that demand is, but we do know that we artificially stifling that demand across the board (again, more than a dozen cities vying to join MLS) and at all levels (diminished incentive to invest and develop at lower levels). Why is it so difficult to recognize and acknowledge that? Upon that recognition, a natural next step is to take steps toward an open system.

        • NASL’s struggles (potential failure) show that the market prefers a closed system

        In terms of your views and biases, you literally said that the example of NASL proves the market prefers a closed system. So, yeah, I think my lens analogy is appropriate. You apply two (extremely) different sets of criteria in your evaluation. This is a free country and you do what you want but that inequity saps your credibility.

        • That pro – rel encourages clubs to aim for “8th place” or “17th

        Think about that logic. Using that same logic, what would you say MLS / closed system encourages? I’m genuinely curious.

        • You’ve maintained that there is no (minimal?) connection between youth and pro soccer

        You need to elaborate on the disconnect between youth soccer and pro soccer. You write – “I’d agree the US men’s international record is lacking, though if you compare World Cup performances over the past 20 years, only a tiny group of countries has done better. Right now, we stink. No doubt. Is that the league’s fault? Or is it because youth soccer is a mess?”

        I addressed the World Cup performance already and showed that our performance is inferior to the vast majority of other countries. Your statement shows a clear separation between pro soccer (the league) and youth soccer. Why do you think these are separate and unrelated?

        Your statement insinuates the league is in good shape whereas “youth soccer is a mess”. Again, please elaborate.

        You’ve criticized some of my arguments for lacking proof. This is verbatim what you wrote.

        “>>> The last point I want to touch is your idea that CONCACAF’s success over the USMNT hurts the argument for an open system. Let’s explore that. To me, that’s simply another example of the ceiling our structure imposes on quality. Despite every conceivable advantage (populations size, socioeconomic standing, athletic pedigree, resources, etc…), we are incapable of consistently beating our CONCACAF opponents. Doesn’t that illustrate the shortcomings of our structure?

        I’d argue it illustrates shortcomings with our youth system. Kids that have come out of Bradenton have had an entitlement mentality, and that may also be true of a lot of Development Academy kids.”

        Aren’t you contradicting yourself here? You’re claiming that weak professional results (USMNT vs CONCACAF opponents) are attributable to our youth system. Sounds like you think there may be a connection between youth soccer and results in the professional ranks after all.

        Let’s talk about proof. This argument (“entitlement”) is so shallow and baseless, I don’t even know where to begin. You act as if you’re extremely well-researched and formulate bulletproof arguments grounded in reason and evidence. This is not the case.

        • USMNT World Cup Track Record

        >>> You did not respond to my retort to your / Gulati’s argument on our World Cup track record, which exposes the truth in our World Cup history.

        See above. We’re not very good, even though we’ve actually been better than most countries in the last 28 years.

        Wrong – seriously explain that statement (“we’ve actually been better than most countries in last 28 years”). Based on what evidence? We just went through this. This is simply not the case

        Responses to your Latest Reply

        Now to quickly address your specific points.

        You’ve been disproven on a number of topics (billions of dollars of investment, for instance) and have yet to revise your opinions. You stated the following.

        “I’m not a fan of people getting laid off when they had nothing to do with the lazy-ass players who quit trying for Aston Villa in January of their relegation system.”

        First off, this is full of conjecture (“lazy-ass players). Second, where is your proof?

        Here is our fundamental difference. I sympathize with the millions of stakeholders (players, coaches, fans, employees, etc…) who are disenfranchised and cast aside by our closed system. You, instead, fear the potential lay-offs of the products of a market economy. Do you protest every time a corporation lays off employees? How about if a restaurant fails due to “lazy-ass owners (players)”? What about if a factory shuts down from poor management?

        I believe you’re using a faux argument to serve your point that is divorced from reality because I seriously doubt you lose a wink of sleep over the employment fate of employees in other industries. Further, a closed system suppresses far more employment than an open system may endanger so it’s not a logical concern, if your actual worry is the well-being of employees.

        You said there has never been “sufficient investment” to justify an open system and yet MLS sidelines billions of dollars. You can’t have it both ways. To suggest there is meager investment appetite is completely bogus; the structure, if anything, limits demand and yet there is still stockpiles of capital ready to be deployed.

        >>> So you keep saying “why haven’t we produced better players?” My answer is that we’re not very good. Compare the coaching education in Germany to ours. Then remember — most of that was done *by the federation*, not by the clubs.

        On player development, that’s it? We’re not very good? Not exactly an in-depth exploration there. Why aren’t we that good, Beau?

        On coaching education, Germany is a great example. Look at Klopp, Nagelsmann, and Tedesco. You believe the federation is responsible for them? You don’t believe the competitive environment, a byproduct of their open system, they were raised in isn’t more of a factor? Again, you’d argue intuitively that MLS would be more likely to hire young coaches with limited playing experience and no professional coaching experience, but would you look at that – it actually happens in one of the best soccer nations in the world and not in the US. Why??? They have real stakes and clubs are forced to use conviction and perhaps unconventional means to find a diamond-in-the-rough coach. There is no such pressure, thought process, or system in the US (where I don’t even need to get into the homogeneity of the coaching pool).

        >>> And frankly, you keep misrepresenting my work. My work for the past 15 years is hardly an “unwavering, hyper-critical lens against the open system,” nor is it an iron-clad excuse of the closed system in perpetuity. I may have more sympathy than you do toward the need to have a closed system from 1996 until the present, and that’s fine — we can disagree on that. I want it to change, and I have specific ideas and critiques that demonstrate possible paths forward. Frankly, you don’t! You just say we need to agree on an undefined “open” system before we talk about anything else — but in the meantime, you’re happy to repeat and restate a litany of problems in U.S. soccer that you want to blame entirely, without evidence, on the closed system and not any other aspect of U.S. soccer.

        This is a doozy. My response above covers most of this but I’ll repeat. The closed system infuses nearly every element of soccer in our country both in explicit and implicit ways. I’d challenge you to explain how the system is not materially affecting the state of soccer in America.

        >>> I listed a few here: https://the93rdminute.net/2018/03/19/on-promotion-relegation-a-default-response-to-the-status-quo-crowd/#comment-10334

        BUT … that’s not many. I don’t dispute that. And I don’t have to. You have to create the proof that the lack of elite players from the USA is *solely* or even *primarily* the result of the closed league structure, not the generations of cultural antipathy toward the sport and the lack of investment in coaching education. Good luck with that.

        Your original reply talked about suppositions. Look at the suppositions you make here. We agree on the problem (a lack of, and inability to produce, elite players). You assume it is due to i) cultural antipathy and ii) lack of investment in coaching education. How are you sure its these factors and not a closed system, which, by the way, has a direct impact on both of these factors? You constantly demand proof from me. Where is the proof of this?

        Also, you named Friedel, Keller, and Howard. There are three goalkeepers who played almost their entire careers in Europe. Please answer honestly. If there are players, name them. If there are not, say so.

        >>>You did not dispute what I wrote about McKennie.

        You moved the goalposts and claimed you didn’t.

        >>> You did not dispute that there are few (if any) examples of players who stay in America for the entirety (or majority) of their careers and develop into legitimate international-caliber players.

        See above.

        >>> You did not comment on the CONCACAF argument which you basically glossed over in the first place.

        See above.

        You literally stopped trying here. See above is not a response to four different items. Conveniently, you’ve now sidestepped answering these items three times and these are not items we have covered previously.

        >>> You did not respond to my counter-argument to your theory that closed systems may actually be conducive to player development because there is no threat of relegation.

        Your only counter-argument was that I’m “divorced from reality.” I think otherwise. And I’d point out that this is how teams build in other sports. Soccer simply evolved differently.

        This is literally from my original piece, but soccer is not like other sports. Stop perpetuating this myth. You argue incessantly that America is so different from the rest of the world and, thus, examples from other countries do not apply. Then, you spew these examples from basketball, minor league baseball, and hockey, which are vastly different from soccer. Remind me how this is not a double standard. I think you, of all people, could understand the drastic differences among things.

        None of the mainstream American sports are comparable to soccer because they are not sports that exist in a global, borderless ecosystem that involves regular international competition (for results, players, resources, tactics, strategies, etc…).

        American sports are akin to the utilities industry, as they are largely uncompetitive (globally) and quasi-monopolistic, and they cannot be compared to truly open marketplaces as their underlying dynamics are different. The comparable for American soccer is not the NFL, MLB, or NBA whose competitive ecosystems are either entirely or largely confined to the U.S. The comparable is other domestic soccer systems in countries across the world who virtually all utilize promotion – relegation.

        Want links? OK.

        I just read each of the articles. Please show me where there is real criticism. Where are hard questions being asked? Where are people questioning how we do things? Where are people or ideas being seriously challenged? The harshest (honestly really the only) criticisms came from factual statements like the passage below.

        The women’s team lost at the earliest stage of a major tournament in its illustrious history (Olympic quarterfinals) and is now locked in a nasty labor dispute with the federation. The under-23 men were absent from the Olympics for the third time in four cycles; the U-17 women faltered in the World Cup group stage; and the three-time champion U-20 women finished fourth in their World Cup.

        >>> It’s very suspicious that someone like you who has a history of engaging in long-winded debates on all things soccer suddenly decides to move on when challenged to defend his positions or address specific issues.

        How many kids do you have? How many freelance projects are you trying to get done?

        I’ve addressed and defended everything. You choose not to agree with — or in some cases, not to read — my arguments.

        If you think this conversation is worth continuing, please explain why. Trying to bully me isn’t going to work. It just makes me less inclined to take you seriously.

        If you want to argue with an actual anti-pro/rel person, I’d suggest Dan Loney or maybe any thread on the topic on BigSoccer. But I have to warn you, I don’t think you’ll enjoy it — because you have said **absolutely nothing** to support the notion that the closed system is to blame for all our ills and an undefined “open” system that demands fealty before we know specifics will solve everything. I’ve actually tried to make the case for you, but you’ve chosen to focus on the negative. That’s unfortunate.

        If you want to continue THIS discussion, you’re going to have to start making some actual points rather than simply accusing me of refusing to answer when I stopped dealing meth or kicking puppies or whatever. See http://www.fallacyfiles.org/loadques.html

        I know we’ve each come across harsh at moments because we are clearly passionate about these topics. You seem like a nice guy, and I have nothing against you personally. However, I have serious reservations about a number of your opinions, in terms of substance, internal consistency, and basis in evidence.

        Honestly, we don’t need to continue this. I simply will not allow your unsubstantiated responses to sit idly so if you keep responding with what I deem to be baseless arguments, I will keep replying.

        I doubt we move beyond the differences we’ve established though I am open to continuing. I’d love to hear your responses because I’ve raised numerous points that you have not yet addressed and exposed inconsistencies in your arguments so I’d be curious to see how you respond. I leave the ball in your court.

      3. Your attempted bullying is as such: You’ve accused me of ignoring points and then running away rather than answering them. You’re implying that you somehow “win” the argument because you’ve raised points I haven’t answered.

        And you DO personal attacks. A lot. Constantly. You keep telling me I’m making appeals to authority, and you keep telling me I haven’t raised any points or “provided minimal evidence.” You keep accusing me of a “shifting burden of proof” and “double standard” instead of making any salient points.

        I’ve provided plenty of evidence. I’ve linked to massive essays on the topics. On the contrary, I feel like you’re just saying “that’s just the way it is.” Case in point: You say the linkage between the closed system and MNT performance is “self-evident,” which is patently absurd. (At the very, very least, it begs the question of why the USA has done far better in the MLS era than it did in the pre-MLS era, when it could barely field a team.)

        A few selected points, because I simply don’t have time to keep going in circles (THAT is why I brought up my family and workload):

        GUN CONTROL ANALOGY

        Wrong. The Parkland students have specific proposals. Little wonder the March included gun owners who are quite confident that their guns aren’t going to be taken away.

        Here’s the link: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2018/mar/23/parkland-students-manifesto-americas-gun-laws

        And that, frankly, kills your entire argument that everything has to be binary. We’re making progress on gun control because we’ve pointed to SPECIFIC THINGS, not a general “hey, let’s have gun control” argument. Everything else is academic.

        But for sake of posterity and to give you a few more things to read as you work toward lobbying for a new system …

        GULATI AND THE SO-CALLED DOUBLE STANDARD

        So Gulati’s been in a position of power for 30 years? OK. So then how was the USISL allowed to dip its toes into pro/rel? Why did Peter Wilt tell me people at USSF were receptive to NISA, but the biggest hurdle was finding the owners to meet the PLS? (Have you addressed those points at all? I haven’t seen it. And you accuse ME of ignoring YOUR points?)

        US DIFFERENT FROM THE REST OF THE WORLD

        Read “Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism” and/or any of the books I’ve mentioned before. “Soccer in a Football World.” “Soccer Against the Enemy.” The USA is different.

        On the flip side — yes, there are 200-some countries that have pro/rel. Some are very successful. Some are not.

        NASL, CLOSED SYSTEM PROOF, ETC.

        >>> In terms of your views and biases, you literally said that the example of NASL proves the market prefers a closed system.

        Not quite. I already covered this: “Not quite what I was saying, but that’s my fault for being unclear. Here’s the broader perspective: For generations, the market was open. If you wanted to form a soccer league, go for it. Nothing worked until MLS came along. No one even *tried* a pro/rel league because no one saw the merits of it.” (Go back and search the thread. It’s there.)

        (Summing up a few things that have made me turn sour on this conversation: You’re ignoring a lot of points and accusing me of ignoring yours, I’ve mentioned *entire books* that demonstrate my points, and you say I’m not giving you any evidence. And here you continue to misread something even after I clarified. I still think you mean well, and this is certainly a step up from being accused of all sorts of illicit activity by Ted and company, but this isn’t good.)

        EIGHTH PLACE/17TH PLACE/ETC

        We agree here. I hate the MLS playoff system.

        YOUTH SOCCER IS A MESS

        Frankly, that’s quite a bit of my blog. I’ll give you a couple of highlights:

        1. We’re creating a whole bunch of “elite” leagues that cause families to travel more, thereby driving up costs.

        2. Coaching education is too damn expensive. (I think every presidential candidate mentioned this.) Compare THAT to Germany or Iceland, where they’ve made it national priorities to get everyone a B license.

        3. Participation rates have stagnated or even declined over the same period that interest in soccer on TV has exploded. (That should really tell you all you need to know, but if you’d like to learn more — Ranting Soccer Dad!)

        ENTITLEMENT

        I’ve heard this from numerous coaches and managers at the youth and pro level. Want to take it up with them?

        USMNT TRACK RECORD

        I feel a little silly “defending” this point of Sunil Gulati’s. He’s obviously using it as an excuse. But let’s look at the number of World Cup round of 16 appearances from 1994 onward:

        Germany: all six
        Brazil: all six
        Mexico: all six (but never farther!)

        Argentina: all but 2002 (five)
        Netherlands: all but 2002 (five; will obviously miss in 2018)

        USA: 1994, 2002, 2010, 2014
        Spain: 1994, 2002, 2006, 2010
        England: 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010
        Italy: 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006

        Belgium: 1994, 2002, 2014
        Switzerland: 1994, 2006, 2014
        Sweden: 1994, 2002, 2006
        Nigeria: 1994, 1998, 2014
        Chile: 1998, 2010, 2014
        France: 1998, 2006, 2014
        Paraguay: 1998, 2002, 2010

        I may have missed another with three, but I doubt I missed any more with four.

        Just proof that you can do just about anything with data. Or the USA really is one of the top 10!

        LAZY-ASS ASTON VILLA

        I watched them play. You can disagree if you want.

        ENDING IT HERE

        >>> I believe you’re using a faux argument to serve your point that is divorced from reality because I seriously doubt you lose a wink of sleep over the employment fate of employees in other industries.

        Yeah … you’re veering into Ted territory now. You aren’t making any argument here. You’re just accusing me of being a black-hearted asshole.

        Want to try again?

      4. On bullying – Here is the definition of bully (verb) – use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

        So yeah, there was no bullying done. None of the examples you mention even remotely constitute bullying. And many of them are true.

        Examples of ignoring.

        From my last reply – Also, you named Friedel, Keller, and Howard. There are three goalkeepers who played almost their entire careers in Europe. Please answer honestly. If there are players, name them. If there are not, say so.

        This one literally says to address one way or the other.

        From my last reply – I just read each of the articles. Please show me where there is real criticism. Where are hard questions being asked? Where are people questioning how we do things? Where are people or ideas being seriously challenged? The harshest (honestly really the only) criticisms came from factual statements like the passage below.

        Example of appeals to authority.

        From one of your earlier relies – Seriously — how old are you? How long have you followed the sport?

        And another – I know the soccer media better than you. Not bragging. It’s just what I do.

        These are not “accusations”. I’ve just illustrated examples of the things you cited. Quit playing the victim card. I’m literally describing what has happened.

        We’ve written thousands of words back and forth. You are fully capable of addressing something when you feel like it. You’ve ignored certain topics multiple times, which leads me to the only rational conclusion – you’re intentionally avoiding them.

        You’re a writer (you’ve mentioned it a lot!). If you hand in a draft of an article to your editor and he or she says your piece lacks substance and you need to start over, is that bullying? You are conflating criticism and scrutiny with bullying. They are very different and should not be confused.

        On the topic of ignored points, I’ll quote another that you’ve avoided repeatedly.

        From my last response – I would counter and ask, what about when there is a commonality among dozens of countries that have a myriad of differences from one another? Do you believe all these unique differences are lesser than the difference of the US to all other countries (seems highly unlikely but that at least follows internally consistent logic)?

        Have you done an investigative analysis of every country that utilizes an open system and compared / contrasted each country to determine their precise similarities and differences and the magnitude of each? Based on your arguments, that is the standard you would have to uphold.

        Now let’s talk about condescension (I’m guilty of it as well in this convo).

        You’ve referred to me as Ted (which I presume is meant pejoratively) on multiple occasions and said all of the following.

        “And you’re not going to do it with an ideological purity test. (Isn’t that how we wound up with Trump?)”

        “So I “missed it” because it is, quite simply, a terrible argument.”

        “But they’re not going to listen if you come in lecturing them when you clearly don’t have a full grasp of the issues and history.”

        “Don’t fall into the Bernie Bros trap.”

        So, yeah, you can be pretty unhospitable as well. Don’t act all high and mighty.

        On improvement from pre-MLS era – I wrote the following in my last reply.

        “One last minor point. The articles I have written that I have mentioned in this conversation have centered around the deterioration (and to a lesser extent, overall weakness) of USMNT performance so your point on “what about prior to 1996” is irrelevant since I’m only talking about the period of time after that point.”

        As I have stated multiple times, my pieces have centered on last 20-ish years of performance.

        We actually have a lower FIFA ranking (note, I fully recognize its flaws) now than we did in the early 1990s. As the self-proclaimed soccer historian you are, I’m sure you know that the US beat Argentina 3-0 in the 1995 Copa America in Uruguay in arguably the most impressive victory (certainly top 5) in USMNT history. Moreover, you, yourself, stated that the 2002 World Cup team may have been the best of all-time. MLS had no impact on 1995 Copa America and minimal impact on 2002 World Cup squad (half of key players never played in MLS) so how do you square that? It’s just not as straightforward as you suggest.

        On the gun reform analogy – I need to quote a favorite move line – “How can you be so obtuse. Is it deliberate?”

        I’ve never once discussed a ban on guns, which you continue to suggest. I don’t know where you’re getting that from.

        Verbatim from an earlier reply -On point #3, this is where we fundamentally disagree. I’ll rephrase differently. The execution of an open system will involve many moving pieces with many stakeholders’ needs requiring consideration. As such, I think it is IMPOSSIBLE to develop a plan that will address and satisfy every constituent – it’s simply too large a task since it’s constructing the architecture for a system that will impact tens of millions (if not more) of people. Therefore, it is imperative to first establish consensus that a transition to an open system from our current closed system is necessary. Once that consensus is established, we (collectively) can take the time to formulate the specific execution (giving thought and consideration to the multitude of preferences, desires, and priorities of various stakeholders) of the open system.

        The story of gun reform aligns neatly with my narrative. The nation has literally finally galvanized around Parkland on the amorphous concept of gun reform. This past weekend saw a “March for Lives”, not a “March for Universal Background Checks”.

        The gun reform storyline is further along than open system in soccer but it has followed the exact outline of what I described. Consensus finally appears to have been established (again, we are not there yet in soccer) so now people are able to delve into specifics, such as the ideas in the article you linked. There are many other suggestions as well. There will be much more debate back and forth before actual legislation is passed, and I assure you it won’t be a carbon copy of the “Parkland Proposal” from the article you linked. Re-read my words above. This is what is happening in gun reform.

        On Gulati – Seriously, look how far you are bending the truth. You’re telling me that Gulati has not been in soccer leadership for 30 years? Literally, one of your articles says 40 years. I know you think this is impossible, but that is what we call a DOUBLE STANDARD.

        From the Goff article you linked – “With 40 years of involvement in the sport, from coaching to administration, he’s hardly an empty suit. Prior to the presidency, he was the executive vice president for six years.”

        This was the original point on Gulati – “I find that hard to square with the form USSF President’s insistence that the US would never adopt it. Care to bridge that gap?”

        I would have much more respect for the integrity of your opinions if you would have conceded this point and admitted you were off base here.

        On American exceptionalism – “On the flip side — yes, there are 200-some countries that have pro/rel. Some are very successful. Some are not.”

        This is why your argument is incredibly flawed. Think about pivotal factors in education. Let’s say parental involvement and exposure to X amount of words by a certain age. In a group of 200 students (from a diverse background of varying neighborhoods, religion, socioeconomic standing, etc…) who grew up with sufficient parental involvement and the requisite exposure to words, most will be successful, but, still, some will not.

        Does that mean we shouldn’t support and promote those factors? Those factors do not guarantee success, but an overwhelming majority of successful students share those factors. That tells us something. Here’s where we differ. I see these 200 students and note that the best 20 all have parental involvement. That tells me there is something to it. It’s not perfect but it’s a best practice to adopt. You see some students were unsuccessful despite having parental involvement and conclude there’s no proof parental involvement would help little Johnny or Janey from America because they are different than the other students (despite the collection of 200 students spanning every conceivable trait across the board).

        Please discuss what every top (let’s say top 15-20) soccer nation has in common. List all commonalities and what you think can be drawn from them. Also discuss whether these countries are homogenous or heterogeneous.

        Please discuss the nations who are not successful with pro – rel. Please explain where the US stacks up relative to all of this. Why are they more or less likely to be successful with pro – rel than other nations?

        On 8th / 17th place – Okay, so you say you agree, but you literally argued the other point a few days ago. Have you written about this system you “hate”? Have you railed against MLS for this format?

        On youth soccer – Participation rates are a very interesting topic. Why do you think they have fallen despite increasing TV audience? Genuinely curious, not a leading question. I haven’t read your writing on this so please summarize.

        Here is my contention. Remember what soccer is being watched (hint: not MLS). I think representation and opportunity matter. I don’t have an example but I don’t believe there is any counter-example either. Can you name any country (or region within a country) that has experienced declining participation when their professional structure expanded or opened? Not to mention, as we’ve discussed previously, we are disenfranchising groups so, to me, it is not surprising that participation is stagnating. I would be very surprised if that trend did not reverse if the system opened up. Atlanta could be an mini-experiment. I would hypothesize that soccer participation will increase precipitously there over the next 5-10 years due to the formation of Atlanta United. Curious to hear your take on this/

        On entitlement – Okay, but it’s your argument to make and that’s all you chose to muster. Also, are any of these coaches’ authorities / have they demonstrated a track record of developing elite players? Our former chief scout just posited an argument (not the first time) that Messi lacks soccer IQ so rank doesn’t necessarily mean anything, particularly in this country.

        On USMNT track record – Are you trolling with the World Cup data? I literally wrote one of the most comprehensive statistical analyses on the World Cup that covers all this data (and much more) in neatly organized charts and tables. I will refer you to that piece because this topic is covered in-depth there, but I will summarize some key data points for each country (W-L-D record, Goal Differential, and Knockout Round wins).

        Germany: 32-6-7, +58 GD, 17 KO wins

        Brazil: 29-7-6, +38 GD, 15 KO wins

        Mexico: 8-8-8, +2 GD, 0 KO wins

        Argentina: 20-8-8, +25 GD, 9 KO wins

        Netherlands: 19-6-9, +25 GD, 8 KO wins

        USA: 5-15-6, -16 GD, 1 KO win

        Spain: 18-7-6, +23 GD, 6 KO wins

        England: 11-6-11, +8GD, 4 KO wins

        Italy: 20-6-10, +24 GD, 10 KO wins

        Belgium: 9-6-5, +4 GD, 1 KO win

        Switzerland: 6-5-4, +2 GD, 0 KO wins

        Sweden: 5-6-7, +3GD, 2 KO wins

        Nigeria: 5-10-3, -6 GD, 0 KO wins

        Chile: 4-4-4, -3 GD, 0 KO wins

        France: 13-5-7, +20 GD, 8 KO wins

        Paraguay: 4-6-6, +1 GD, 1 KO wins

        The USMNT have the worst winning percentage and goal differential by a wide margin of any of these countries. They have managed a knockout round win (over Mexico in 2002) which is better than some of these peers but still drastically behind any of the elite nations.

        So there are two competing narratives. In one, which relies on only one data source that is subject to noise (Knockout Round appearances), the US compares with elite soccer nations. In the other, which relies on more robust and predictive data (Win-Loss record, Matches, Goal Differential, KO wins, etc…) the US pales in comparison to all quality soccer nations.

        The data is the data. You can choose to believe whatever you want, but the numbers don’t lie. Obviously, Gulati and the like have chosen the sole favorable data point to tout repeatedly, but if you dig into the numbers and really compare our performance to other countries, it is pretty jarring because there’s not much positive about it.

        On the faux argument – No, I’m really not accusing you of anything. I don’t confess to care about every laid off employee, nor do I think any person truly does in the sense of what are you actively doing to prevent it if you really care. Sure, in concept, we empathize with any human who is suffering and anyone can relate to the plight of laid off employee but it seems like a disingenuous retort. Honestly, not a huge deal here so happy to agree to disagree on this one.

  7. OK, let’s try to reset:

    1. I’ll withdraw “bully” and replace it with “badger.” To me (you may disagree), this conversation turned when you told me it was suspicious that I was withdrawing without answering points that I’d addressed. You keep asking several of these points and claiming they’re not answered. I’ll go through that below.

    You keep insisting that I answer things one way or the other. Why do you get to decide, especially when I’ve demonstrated that the answer is often somewhere in between?

    So it feels to me like you’re trying to declare “victory” in the discussion over a caricature of an anti-pro/rel person. There’s no prize at stake. On the contrary, it does your movement significant harm if you try to paint your “opponent” and something they’re not and then declare “victory.” That’s what Ted (and I’m sorry to bring him up again, but I have to provide context here) has been trying to do for 15 years or so, and that’s why pro/rel has been a toxic subject instead of something we can discuss rationally.

    2. Yes, I keep asking about your age. But I’ll add that it doesn’t mean you have nothing to add to the conversation. In fact, let me emphasize this point:

    *** I think it’s clear that younger, newer fans want an open system, I think there’s more potential investment in that system than there was 25 or even 10 years ago, and I think that’s something MLS and USSF need to address. ***

    On the flipside, though, it’s important to recognize the experience others have. I think the Chattanooga summit should’ve included Peter Wilt, who is quite firmly pro-pro/rel but also has experience.

    And I don’t get the sense you fully appreciate what the U.S. soccer landscape was like in the 1980s and before. Yes, the USA took third in the first World Cup, which had 13 teams and few of the European powers. The next 60 years, soccer was not good, that 1-0 blip against an overconfident English side in 1950 notwithstanding. MLS is better than the old NASL by any measure except TV ratings, which aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison because today we have more soccer leagues on TV than we had CHANNELS on TV in the late 70s. (I actually watched pro wrestling on occasion in those days. There was nothing on.)

    So in short — I can respect the input of younger fans. But it helps if you can reciprocate and appreciate what the previous generation has seen. That doesn’t mean we’re right all the time — it just means we have things to add to the conversation that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

    Perhaps I should’ve toned down “I know the soccer media better than you.” The point is, though, I know all these people — Wahl, Carlisle, Goff, Lewis, Boehm, Davis, etc. I’m familiar with their work. You somehow managed to dismiss a call for Sunil Gulati to step aside as “not real criticism,” so you can see why I’m a little frustrated with that thread of the conversation.

    (And please. You’re not an editor giving me candid but constructive criticism. You’re asking me to repeat answers to things I’ve answered over and over.)

    3. Along those same lines — for a while, I thought we were indeed having a candid but constructive conversation. When I tell you it’s a mistake to insist upon an ideological purity test, I’m not sure how else to say that. And yes, you need to demonstrate a grasp of all the issues and history. As I’m reading this, you have not done so. You’ve chosen to put me on the defensive rather than make an affirmative case.

    4. “It’s not a straightforward as you suggest” is an excellent point. You took my list of World Cup performances quite literally out of context — the preceding paragraph explained that I think Gulati is just making excuses here, and the paragraph afterwards explains that the point is to show you how data analysis can be flawed.

    I’ve dabbled a bit in data analysis, though RStudio is currently sitting idle on my laptop. The important lesson is that data can only answer the specific question you’ve asked. And you may sometimes have contrary data sets that need to be resolved — either with more data or a bit of common sense. Gulati’s data show one thing. Yours show another. They’re both valid. So how do we make sense of that? Probably by saying the USA’s performance over this period is neither as good as Gulati would say nor as bad as you’d say.

    I do remember the 1995 Copa America. They were pretty good but also lucky. The 2002 World Cup squad was also lucky, but they were better, and MLS players (Donovan, Beasley, McBride, Wolff, Mathis, Pope, Sanneh, Hejduk, Mastroeni) certainly had a lot to do with that. (In fact, your assertion that MLS had very little to do with the 2002 World Cup is refuted, quite easily, by a quick look at the lineup for the Portugal game, in which they convincingly beat Portugal’s “golden generation.” That was no fluke. Those were good players.)

    5. Gun reform — I pointed to specific, non-absolute things the Parkland students want, and I’ve demonstrated that gun owners were part of the demonstration. The analogue in soccer would be if we had a march led by students who wanted looser Pro League Standards, USSF assistance setting up pro/rel in lower divisions and then an open system akin to the modified systems I’ve described, and we’d have some people who support a closed MLS (at least for now) involved in the march as well.

    6. Gulati — again, you’re simply badgering me here and trying to make me accept a counterargument you haven’t made. You’re not even trying to address the argument I made (USISL, NISA) in the previous post! At all! Even after I complained that you ignored them! (And you complain that I’m being “condescending”?)

    But look — things are changing. You may complain that USSF rejected change by electing Cordeiro. On the other hand, they rejected Carter. And when I was in Orlando, I saw people with all sorts of perspectives on pro/rel. They simply saw other issues (youth especially) that were more important for now.

    You may not accept my observation on that point, and that’s OK. But please don’t tell me how much more respect you’ll have for me if I concede a point that doesn’t square with what I’ve observed, not just this year but over a period of history. That’s like me saying I’ll have more respect for you if you simply admit you have a third arm growing out of your forehead. (Which would explain at least one call that has gone against the USA in the World Cup.)

    —————————————————

    NEW-ISH, INTERESTING POINTS

    1. Your “American exceptionalism / parental involvement” point is interesting. Seriously. I’d answer it this way: I’ve too often seen arguments (and I’d include this thread as one of them) that insist that an open system is the ONLY difference between us and the rest of the world.

    So let’s extend the analogy …

    Suppose you had kids who had parental involvement from the time they were born, all the way through childhood. And then you had a kid who only got parental involvement from age 15 onward.

    That latter kid is the USA.

    And to answer your point on “nations who are not successful with pro/rel” — they’re in the same boat as the USA. China has a big economy and is very successful in Olympic sports, but it has little soccer tradition. India has a massive population but is more into cricket.

    Population and economics play SOME role in soccer, but not all. Culture is far more important. That’s why it was an upset when the USA beat Argentina, and that’s why it’s not an upset when Belgium beats the USA.

    Where does an open system fit in? It’s a *symptom* of a thriving soccer culture. Not the cause.

    Before 1993, when the MLS sanctioning vote was held, we had a century to start an open system. Why didn’t we?

    2. Youth soccer. A big factor, of course, is cost, and I believe I mentioned earlier that the DA has had the accidental consequence of accelerating the “elite league” arms race.

    And USSF has made other bad decisions here. First was to let everything go with NO oversight, so we had a free-for-all between U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer and other organizations that just confused and irritated parents. One of the goals of the guide I’m writing — actually, the main goal — is to help parents make decisions in what’s generally an alphabet soup of nonsense. Then USSF came in with “mandates” that were unrealistic and poorly researched — they were so badly managed that, for one year, a player born in 2002 would be in one age group in most youth soccer and a DIFFERENT age group in the DA!

    https://www.soccerwire.com/news/clubs/youth-boys/dure-age-group-issue-puts-development-academy-in-a-time-warp/

    I’ve written pretty extensively about the birth-year mandate and how it would drive kids from the sport. People from USSF told me I was making something out of nothing. This election proved otherwise, and I saw a board member grill a staffer on the topic.

    https://www.soccerwire.com/blog-posts/dure-why-do-kids-play-birth-year-mandate-heats-up-argument/

    And then there’s another answer — competition. We have so many sports in this country and so many other activities.

    3. MLS playoff format. Yes, I’ve written a bit about it. In the past, it’s been to give a greater reward to finishing higher up the table:

    https://duresport.com/2015/12/05/the-ideal-mls-playoff-format-2015-edition/
    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/oct/24/breaking-the-law-soccer-playoffs

    My more recent work on modified pro/rel or an NCAA Tournament model suggests we should look at ways to separate the League title from the Cup title, creating a new Pro Cup while declaring the regular-season winner the “League” champion. Some may argue that we don’t need a pros-only tournament when we have the Open Cup, and that’s a valid, reasonable argument.

    Have I not argued with enough force on the matter? Well, again, I think you’re seeing my role a little differently than I am, and I’d suggest reading this …

    https://rantingsoccerdad.com/2018/03/09/revised-rules-of-engagement-and-objectivity-or-when-to-shut-up/

    (I recognize that I may be inconsistent about advocacy. In youth soccer, I’m speaking up quite forcefully on behalf of fed-up parents, but I’m still trying to see all sides. Maybe I’m a little less forceful on pro soccer because I think that’s my role. I don’t know. I’m open to more discussion on that.)

    ————-

    OTHER POINTS

    1. Entitlement. That’s what I’ve heard from plenty of reputable sources. And Thomas Rongen is not our “chief scout.” His role was misstated. He also likes to stir the pot with outrageous statements from time to time.

    2. MNT data is covered above.

    3. Faux argument: “No, I’m not really accusing you of anything.” Well, that’s not how it came across.

    So … do we understand each other a bit better?

    I think an open system should and will happen. I just think this thread has inadvertently demonstrated why the conversation has been so slow to turn. We older folks just hear a lot of accusations. A lot of what you’re asking me here is, “Why won’t you just admit MLS sucks?” MLS is what it is — it’s the most successful pro league we’ve had in a country that had jack-squat in my youth and young adulthood, it’s built up infrastructure on which we should build more, and we need it to get better.

    What we need is an argument that **takes into account** the myriad ways in which the USA is different. Too many people just want to wish it away. We need to turn it into an advantage — maybe a big pyramid instead of an English-style ladder, leaving a couple hundred clubs just a promotion or two away from D2 and eventually D1.

    1. I appreciate the reset. I know we’ve had our ups and downs, but, for the most part, I genuinely have enjoyed the conversation.

      I apologize for my snide remarks. I know we are both passionate about these topics, and I let stubbornness get the best of me on a few occasions.

      On 1, for the record, I haven’t attempted to declare victory. I haven’t used the words win or lose in relation to the argument. I personally don’t appreciate being grouped in with someone who I presume you feel is obnoxious, unwise, and a jackass, but I understand you’ve been burned in the past so perhaps you’re quick to jump the gun. No big deal.

      On 2, In terms of age, I still haven’t said mine because, as I’ve mentioned, I don’t believe it’s relevant. I think the strength of an idea stands alone from the creator’s age. But to appease you, I’m in my 30’s and, as previously stated, have been involved in the game since the turn of the century.
      I recognize the history and respect the opinions of older generations. I believe that we’ve came along way, but there is ample evidence to suggest we are inexplicably sidelining and marginalizing scores of people who can make a real impact and further elevate the game. I haven’t seen any cogent explanation of why that persists (you and I seem to agree here), which is further complicated by the conflicted USSF / MLS relationship.

      In terms of the criticism, let me clarify – I’m talking systemically. How came a freelance writer like myself has spent more time than virtually every professional media member in analyzing and evaluating our performance, particularly when the results are less impressive than the general perception of the public and media, alike, perpetuate?

      How come there aren’t many pieces asking why we have not developed elite international players and have an especially damning track record of generating creative, skillful players? How come people don’t dig into the repeated qualification failures at the youth national team level, including the Olympics, and the Confederations Cup? How come, after certain ghastly performances (like against Argentina in 2016 Copa America) which demonstrate a larger pattern of stagnation and inability to compete with top soccer nations, there aren’t exposés on the root cause(s)? There are big picture questions that are not being asked (there may be one off articles but there is no large-scale, widespread questioning) and believe me I read all of the people you mention and many more.

      We may differ here, but I don’t believe calling for someone’s resignation who has made many missteps (and outright mistakes) and spearheaded a poor run in performance is asking a lot. In my eyes, calling out a leader for poor performance is a very low hurdle for the media. I expect a lot more, and, frankly, don’t see many hard questions being asked or media holding those in power accountable.

      On gun reform / open system, your whole point (see passages of your words below) was that a fully-baked plan (that addressed every issue and allayed all stakeholder concerns) would convince everyone to shift from one side to the other. That is not what has happened / is happening. The Parkland students have not introduced any new gun reform measures – all of their proposed ideas have been floating around and / or have been suggested multiple times in the past. They are not breaking ground with any of their proposed legislative measures.

      From an earlier post of yours.

      “So my suggestion to new people coming in would be this …

      Demonstrate that you’re different. Show us that you’ve read all the histories. You understand why the USA is unique. You’re not just saying, “Well, it works in Germany!” Great. It ain’t working in China or India or other countries with massive populations and large economies.

      Show us that you’re thinking creatively. Show us that you want to convince people AND hear their concerns. Rocco Commisso owning a soccer team for five minutes and calling a 30-year U.S. Soccer volunteer ignorant? Yeah, that’s not going to work.

      For too long, the conversation has been that if you don’t see the obvious merits of an open system, you must not understand soccer. That was crap then, and it’s crap now. People who’ve spent decades studying soccer history actually have something to add to the conversation, and yes, they’re fully aware of that pro/rel system that the person on Twitter discovered three months ago after stumbling into an EPL broadcast on TV.”

      Another passage of yours.

      “Why? Because I’m giving ideas that address everyone’s concerns. I’m helping people refine their arguments to convince people. Bullying and slandering people on Twitter (and BigSoccer and the web at large before that) hasn’t gotten us anywhere. You need to demonstrate to people that it can be done, and that means taking their objections and concerns into account.”

      The Parkland students have not “shown that they’ve read all the histories” and they have not been “hearing concerns”. Instead, they’ve demanded to be heard because enough is enough, and they don’t believe we can continue down the path of no gun reform any longer.

      “For too long, the conversation has been that if you don’t see the obvious merits of an open system, you must not understand soccer. That was crap then, and it’s crap now.”

      The Parkland students would not agree with this. They would argue the opposite. If you don’t see the merits of sensible gun reform measures, you must not understand the problem. That is their attitude.

      “I’m helping people refine their arguments to convince people.” “You need to demonstrate to people that it can be done, and that means taking their objections and concerns into account.”

      The Parkland students have not done this. Their proposals are a regurgitation of many previous well-meaning pleas and calls for gun reform. They have not demonstrated (moreso than any past movements) that gun reform “can be done” nor have “they taken objections and concerns into account”.

      The difference is, through their indominable spirit, relentlessness, and freshness of voice, the pendulum of public opinion has finally swung far enough over to the side of supporting gun reform. They have not presented a new and improved plan. They have simply shifted the tides of public opinion. That’s what I’m calling for in the debate for an open system. That is what I believe will propel change, just like with gun reform.

      On Rongen, like Gulati, you are trying to dispute his influence and stature in US Soccer. In reality, he has been involved with US Soccer in various high positions for most of this century. This is not a major point, but I do find the lengths you go to in your defenses of people in US Soccer (Gulati, Rongen) to be noteworthy. I’m really not trying to be difficult, but it seems odd (in that sense I don’t understand your reflex to defend) and unbalanced (in that it doesn’t marry with your levels of support on other topics) to me. It’s not a huge deal, but I can’t help but notice.

      On the flaws of data analysis, I understand the point you are making. Mark Twain, famously, summarized the notion – “there are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

      However, just because a practice (in this case data analysis) is susceptible to abuse, does not mean it should be ignored, which would be quite reductionist since, when used properly, it can illuminate powerful insights. Given this potential for abuse, date analysis should be conducted honestly and transparently so it can withstand scrutiny.

      You have characterized my view as negative. I disagree. I’ve presented the facts and drawn a conclusion solely based on the facts. That’s called being scientific. The consensus narrative has been inflated (and divorced from the facts) so I’ve certainly tried to reign that narrative in, but, again, I’ve centered my conclusions on the facts.

      Applying your same logic, one would reason that South Korea is in the same company as Spain, Portugal, Uruguay, and England because, like those countries, they have reach one Semi-Final in the past seven World Cups. I think it is misleading and counterproductive to peddle these types of narratives. A simple analysis of the underlying data clearly shows that South Korea is unlike these countries and their Semi-Final run is an outlier rather than a likely outcome, given the evidence.

      Here are some facts about the USMNT’s World Cup performance since 1990.

      -They have the fourth worst Goal Differential of any country.

      -They have the most losses of any country.

      -They have advanced to the knockout round in 4 of 7 (soon to be 8) opportunities.

      -They have won 5 total matches.

      -They have one win in the Knockout Rounds.

      -They are tied for fifth worst in winning percentage.

      Those are each undeniable facts. One could cherry-pick the most favorable one (KO round appearances) but that would be deceptive and misrepresentative of the full story. Taken in totality, which I’ve done in my analysis, these facts show that the US fares unfavorably to the top tiers of soccer nations. In fact, they compare most similarly to the second lowest tier of soccer nations.

      I don’t understand the purpose of peddling the rosy (and incomplete) KO round narrative other than self-service, ignorance, or to misinform. So, again, I disagree. Gulati’s narrative is not “valid” in my opinion. It is incomplete and serves to obfuscate the truth and spin.

      Please explain where I have made a subjective claim in this that would constitute “negative”. Virtually everything I’ve written on this topic is based on the facts.

      On 95 Copa America, you’re very dismissive. You write off the team as “lucky”. We’ve never beaten that caliber of component by such a margin in a competitive international match (on away soil, no less!) and you call it “luck”. In 23 years since, we’ve yet to replicate (or even come close) to that type of result. That occurred before any of the “progress” of MLS. I think it’s worth exploring.

      On 2002 World Cup team, you’re being selective. I’ve written in-depth on this (I can send you the spreadsheets to save you the research). I know exactly where and for how many years all the players played, not to mention how many minutes. MLS absolutely played a role, no doubt about it. However, arguably, the best players played exclusively in Europe (Reyna, O’Brien, Stewart) and many key contributors played in Europe at the time of the World Cup (Sanneh, Berhalter, Hejduk, Lewis).

      Also, let’s extend your logic. If that half decade of MLS was so valuable and impactful, then, surely, fifteen additional years would provide exponential influence on the national team, right? However, we have not seen that. Again, I’m not entirely discounting MLS but simply taking a page from your book and “poking holes” to “strengthen your argument” because you’re giving an incomplete picture.

      On Gulati, that’s untrue. I made a simple point – it’s meaningful that the President (and massive figurehead of US Soccer) has demonstrated a reluctance (and in many cases, refusal) to even entertain the idea of pro -rel. You responded, “That’s one person, and even he was ‘agnostic’ on the matter. I think you could make progress with well-reasoned arguments.”

      So I wrote the following (excerpt).

      On Gulati – Seriously, look how far you are bending the truth. You’re telling me that Gulati has not been in soccer leadership for 30 years? Literally, one of your articles says 40 years. I know you think this is impossible, but that is what we call a DOUBLE STANDARD.

      From the Goff article you linked – “With 40 years of involvement in the sport, from coaching to administration, he’s hardly an empty suit. Prior to the presidency, he was the executive vice president for six years.”

      You’ve raised another point (and we can discuss that) but that doesn’t count as a response to the original point. I challenged the veracity of your points and even used your own support to do so and you claim “I’m badgering” you. I’m sorry, but that’s not the case. I’m not trying to name call or anything, but that is pretty thin-skinned. You i) disputed the significance of the stance of a hugely influential President, ii) provided the most favorable (I’m not even sure it qualifies as accurate) descriptor (“agnostic’) of his views, which I think you’d have a difficult time supporting, and iii) insulted my view, urging me to make “well-reasoned arguments”.

      On American exceptionalism, I made that analogy in response to your point – that America is so unique that the successes or failures of the rest of the world would not be applicable to the US. I personally don’t believe the US is as unique and different as you do. I think it is mostly similar to countries in Western Europe and even a few in other continents (Brazil comes to mind).

      My point, in the student analogy, is that there are so many differences between all countries (not just the US) but we do see that all of the top counties (students) utilize the same overarching factor – an open system. To me, that means something. Couple that with the fact that there are obvious and grave inefficiencies of our closed system, and I firmly believe we stand to meaningfully benefit from embracing an open system.

      Your response, that there are differences in timing, does not dissuade the underlying argument and neglects to mention that the difference perpetually reduces over time once we adopt an open system.

      In terms of China and India, I personally just don’t see them as peers to the US in terms of sporting success. They have no pedigree of team sport athletic success. As mentioned above, I think the US (when considering soccer) is far more comparable to a country like Germany.

      I’m not arguing on the merits of an open system in 1993 (and I’m not dismissing it either – it’s a fair point). I believe that there is more than enough evidence that an open system has a strong chance of (transformative) success right now.

      Again, I’m not trying to be prickly (though I know I have in moments) and I appreciate you engaging. I want to clarify my positions. I don’t think MLS sucks. I think it’s structurally flawed and outlived its intended role (and there’s no logical reason to for it / our soccer system not to evolve to accommodate where soccer is in our country).

      Moreover, I’m extremely optimistic and bullish on soccer’s potential in this country. That’s the primary reason why I voice my displeasure at its current stature, which I think pales in comparison to what it could be. I believe there is compelling evidence of the benefits of shifting to an open system and want to see that enacted.

  8. Thanks, that’s a nice reply. Going through the points …

    >>> I recognize the history and respect the opinions of older generations. I believe that we’ve came along way, but there is ample evidence to suggest we are inexplicably sidelining and marginalizing scores of people who can make a real impact and further elevate the game. I haven’t seen any cogent explanation of why that persists (you and I seem to agree here), which is further complicated by the conflicted USSF / MLS relationship.

    We do indeed agree here. In the Twittersphere and on message boards, I think a lot of older people don’t take open-system suggestions very well because the well was poisoned so long ago. Hopefully, they’ll see that some younger people really are doing their research, steering clear of the usual vitriol, and adding good ideas. Unfortunately, there are indeed some younger people who DON’T do those things, and they believe a lot of propaganda.

    Now the important question is whether people in positions of power have also been tainted by the long-standing toxicity of the discussion. I’m not sure. But I’m of the belief that the NASL lawsuits don’t help.

    >>> In terms of the criticism, let me clarify – I’m talking systemically. How came a freelance writer like myself has spent more time than virtually every professional media member in analyzing and evaluating our performance, particularly when the results are less impressive than the general perception of the public and media, alike, perpetuate?

    I’m not sure that’s the case. A couple of factors here:

    1. Reporters often know far more than they can write. It may be an issue of time, or it may be the amount of coverage their editors are willing to edit and publish.

    2. The prevailing tone in journalism from roughly 1930 to 2005 was the “view from nowhere,” an extreme take on objectivity in which reporters didn’t want to be seen as taking a “side.”

    3. You really spend more time than Matt Doyle? You may disagree entirely with him, and he is indeed a paid employee of the semi-but-not-fully-independent league site, but he certainly puts in the time.

    >>> How come there aren’t many pieces asking why we have not developed elite international players and have an especially damning track record of generating creative, skillful players? How come people don’t dig into the repeated qualification failures at the youth national team level, including the Olympics, and the Confederations Cup? How come, after certain ghastly performances (like against Argentina in 2016 Copa America) which demonstrate a larger pattern of stagnation and inability to compete with top soccer nations, there aren’t exposés on the root cause(s)? There are big picture questions that are not being asked (there may be one off articles but there is no large-scale, widespread questioning) and believe me I read all of the people you mention and many more.

    I feel like I read a lot of these pieces, and I think a lot of TV talking heads ask these questions as well. (You saw Taylor Twellman right after the Trinidad game, right?)

    I get the sense you dismiss a lot of these pieces because they don’t hit the root causes you’re expecting. For example — I’m going to place a lot more emphasis on our culture and historical antipathy toward the sport than you are. We can disagree on that, but it doesn’t mean the pieces aren’t being written.

    >>> On gun reform / open system, your whole point (see passages of your words below) was that a fully-baked plan (that addressed every issue and allayed all stakeholder concerns) would convince everyone to shift from one side to the other.

    I think we can bridge the gap here. You’re right that it’s not a fully baked plan. Nor was the March called “March for Stronger Background Checks and Smaller Magazines.”

    But the students’ proposals demonstrated that they weren’t seeing it as all or nothing. Now, you probably aren’t seeing it as all or nothing, either. You’re not demanding that we do things exactly as they’re done in Country X or Country Y. I’d say, though, that it **comes across** that way if you’re saying it’s simply “open” or “closed” with nothing in between, and the Parkland students are doing an excellent job of NOT coming across as “guns or no guns.”

    >>> The Parkland students would not agree with this. They would argue the opposite. If you don’t see the merits of sensible gun reform measures, you must not understand the problem. That is their attitude.

    The key word here is “sensible.” If you say you’re promoting a sensible transition to a flexible open system, that’s more persuasive than just “open.” The Parkland students aren’t saying, “You have to agree that guns suck.” Your argument comes across as saying we must see no benefit to a closed system. There IS a benefit to a closed system; people like us have to make the argument that we can take such benefits into account and come up with a MORE beneficial system.

    >>> The difference is, through their indominable spirit, relentlessness, and freshness of voice, the pendulum of public opinion has finally swung far enough over to the side of supporting gun reform.

    And astounding poise. And reasonable arguments. They’re actually breaking stereotypes that people may have had of gun-control advocates.

    >>> This is not a major point, but I do find the lengths you go to in your defenses of people in US Soccer (Gulati, Rongen) to be noteworthy.

    Yeah … let’s stop this sort of thing. That sounds a bit like you’re accusing me of being compromised. I owe Gulati and Rongen nothing. I personally think Gulati was the right person for much of the past 12 years but made the right decision not to seek another four. Rongen, who has led an interesting career from playing in the Netherlands to coaching American Samoa, has been making a series of bizarre, outrageous and flat-out false (Gonzalez) statements. I don’t know what he’s trying to do besides kill his own career.

    >>> Data analysis

    The full story would also include the fact that the USA won exactly one World Cup game between 1930 and 1994, and that was probably a fluke. Yes, your numbers tell one story — and it doesn’t look good for the USA. But it’s also true that the USA has won twice as many World Cup games from 2002 onward as it did from 1931-2001.

    Also, your analysis doesn’t seem to take qualifying into account. Granted, I’m not sure you could make a good apples-to-apples comparison there. CONCACAF is always CONCACAF, and CONMEBOL is always CONMEBOL. Europe depends a good bit on the luck of the draw, though. In the last draw, you could get Italy or you could get Bosnia. You could get Turkey or you could get the Faroes.

    In any case — we’re really talking about two stories here, both true:

    1. The USA hasn’t been very good in the World Cup since 1990.

    2. The USA has NEVER been very good in the World Cup and has actually been a lot better in the years since MLS came into semi-maturity.

    >>> American exceptionalism

    The USA, moreso that any country I can think of, is a nation of immigrants. Our sports landscape has been shaped by insecurity about our cultural identity. We actually invented a myth about baseball was invented.

    And I can’t state enough — if you’re comparing us to Western Europe in terms of soccer culture, we have never been anywhere close. Again — Christmas Day in WWI.

    >>> I want to clarify my positions. I don’t think MLS sucks. I think it’s structurally flawed and outlived its intended role (and there’s no logical reason to for it / our soccer system not to evolve to accommodate where soccer is in our country). Moreover, I’m extremely optimistic and bullish on soccer’s potential in this country. That’s the primary reason why I voice my displeasure at its current stature, which I think pales in comparison to what it could be. I believe there is compelling evidence of the benefits of shifting to an open system and want to see that enacted.

    This is all perfectly reasonable.

    1. Thanks for the reply (been traveling so not able to respond promptly). I appreciate your points. Going to address in order (mostly) below.

      On generational differences, nothing controversial and nothing to add here.

      On media criticism, here is my response to your points.

      1. Understood. Will touch on this in larger response below.

      2. Understood and definitely an interesting topic in all different arenas that seems to be garnering more attention.

      3. Will discuss below (and will hit #1 and #2 as well).

      I didn’t suggest I spend more time than mainstream journalists (I don’t as it’s not my full-time job / sole focus). However, soccer is my passion and I spend a considerable amount of time thinking and writing about the game.

      In terms of #2, it seems we don’t interpret my work in the same manner. I purposely base my “analytical” writing on data, statistics, or other forms of objective evidence. From that foundation of “true” (for lack of a better word) data, I draw conclusions (and those are certainly subjective and up for debate, though, by building from the raw data, I think I generally put my arguments on stronger footing than most who do not either i) build from an established data set or ii) know / comprehend the raw data).

      The reason I say all this is I’m criticizing the dearth of investigation and exploration of raw data, not the conclusions being made about it (because I don’t believe the first part is being done, we aren’t even at the stage of debating the conclusions). The analyses I’ve performed are relatively simplistic (trend analyses of performance over time and performance comparisons on various criteria / variables) though do require a non-trivial amount of time. I don’t see pieces that either directly (almost none) or indirectly (many don’t) cover the game with acknowledgment of this data, which I find troubling.

      The data (again only raw data, not talking conclusions), in my opinion (and from thousands of people who have agreed on various social media outlets), is illuminating so the fact it is neglected or ignored by mainstream soccer is strange, which was my point.

      I simply don’t see any in-depth empirical analyses comparing the US to other countries and asking big questions. In terms of conclusions, there may be dozens and dozens of different interpretations. You, for instance, may see data that compares the US to other countries and argue many of the points you’ve made here (America is different / culture, historical antipathy, etc…) and I may argue differently. And the next guy may argue differently than both you and me.

      I just find it troubling that I don’t see direct or indirect knowledge of this type of data in the media coverage. I think that’s symptomatic of a lack of critical exploration in soccer media. I explored a series of simple, but fascinating, questions but I don’t really see anyone else doing it. Where are the articles that tackle these questions?

      -How has the US performed against CONCACAF opponents over time?

      -How has the US performed against top international opponents (with some segmentation for quality) over time?

      -How has the US performed against different confederations over time?

      -How has the US performed in different geographies over time?

      -How does the US World Cup performance compare to other countries’ performance at the World Cup?

      These questions help provide the raw data. From there, we (as a soccer nation) should be connecting the dots and asking other questions.

      -What is the relationship between this body of results and the US’ pattern of qualification failures (Olympics, Youth World Cups, Confederations Cup)?

      -What is the relationship to producing world-class players?

      -What is the relationship to creating creative, technical attacking players?

      On Doyle, I don’t doubt his commitment or time spent. He produces lots of content. As you guessed, I’m not a fan of his writing or views, though there are pieces here and there that I agree with. I guess my point was more of a focus of writing. It seems we don’t see eye to eye here, but I feel that big picture, large-scale matters are not explored or investigated with any depth, frequency, or critical lens. So it’s not so much a matter of time being put in, but the focus.

      As you mention, there certainly could be biases at play, though I seriously doubt many pieces have been written that attempt to explore why the US pales in comparison (in any of the angles I have mentioned) to elite soccer nations. For instance, that was the primary reason I wrote my State of US Soccer and World Cup Analysis. Since I could not readily find any analyses that evaluated the US relative to the rest of the world, I created my own. I focused on empirical data so we could establish a set of facts, from which we can draw conclusions.

      And the results are pretty jarring. That’s my point. I don’t think mainstream soccer writers are covering (or are even aware) of this type of data.

      On Parkland, your heuristic seems to be “guns or no guns”, which is not mine. Mine is “gun reform or no gun reform”. I think that is the crucial distinction.

      This article (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/29/17176174/laura-ingraham-boycott-david-hogg-guns) is helpful in demonstrating my narrative. It is the resonance of the Parkland students’ movement, which has proven more resilient and lasting than previous ones, that is causing change and scaring opponents. It is not some new detail or specific reform measure that is stoking their fear, it’s the tidal wave of momentum and shifting public opinion that (for the first time) seems incapable of being quelled or swept away by the next news cycle.

      I haven’t focused on any details of the specific plan because I think we’re still in the first step. Additionally, you (and many, many others) have proposed reasonable plans for the actual execution, but, I will reiterate, that comes next. Again, even the life cycle of Parkland illustrates this dynamic. There was no unified plan of action in the days and first weeks following the massacre. But their message (perhaps finally coincided with a tipping point) reverberated with the nation.

      The World Cup qualification failure has not been the inflection point for US soccer, but it was a seismic shock to the system. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take (and, sadly, I expect will occur) further large-scale disappointments to initiate the reform that both you and I agree is needed and (moreso to me) obvious. I believe there have been more than enough warning signs and “mini” failures that the World Cup failure should have been the straw the broke the camel’s back, but that does not appear to be the case.

      You prefer the term “flexible open system”. To me, a system is either open (pathway to the top that promotes inclusion) or closed (restricted to a subset that excludes large swaths of participants) in spirit. Again, that’s my focus – rallying consensus around the idea of transitioning from a closed to an open system. As I’ve said, an open system has many iterations and, once consensus is established, the specifics of our open system will be formulated and clearly spelled out. Perhaps, that will constitute a “flexible” open system. Perhaps, it will be a “rigid” open system. I’m less concerned with the semantics of it.

      I’d contend that the Parkland students are arguing and would be comfortable saying “our gun policies / laws suck” (again it’s not about guns but about (reform of) gun policies / laws).
      I’m really not accusing you of being compromised and I intentionally wrote my response carefully in order to do so. Factually (go back and read the responses), there’s a pattern of unusual defenses made on behalf of various folks in US Soccer (Gulati, Rongen). You tried to diminish the significance of both of these individuals, which just doesn’t hold water. Not a huge deal and I’m not accusing you of anything but pointing out that it is unusual.

      We disagree on the World Cup conclusions, but we’re at least talking about the same data points, which is a huge positive. I personally conclude differently. I think we’ve actually been declining in performance in the last decade. I’ve written a lengthy piece on this but, short summary, we haven’t beaten a top 20 team in an international tournament since 2009 (Spain in Confed Cup) and have only two such wins since 2002 World Cup (Mexico in 2007 Gold Cup Final being the other). So I actually draw the opposite conclusion – The USA has never been very good in the World Cup (agree) and has actually been worse (changed your words here) in the years since MLS came into semi-maturity.

      On American exceptionalism, nothing new to add here.

      On my position and your response to it, nothing to add here.

      1. I’ll agree to agree with you that we could always use more pieces that look into the factors that created the World Cup underperformance your data shows.

        Wow, that’s awkwardly worded. How about this: Yes, your data set is valuable, and while I personally think some journalists have looked into the issues behind it, we could always use more.

        I’ll agree to disagree about the binary nature of “open” and “closed.” I suppose, personally, I would be in favor of “open” if you make me choose between the two. I just think it would need to be, to extend the Second Amendment analogy, “well-regulated.”

        Funny thing — I’m due to have a piece at The Guardian tomorrow on a completely different topic in which the “is this situation binary or not?” question comes up. Keep an eye out.

        NOW I think we may be done, but I appreciate the reply and conversation, and if there’s something I’ve overlooked, just let me know.

        Cheers.

      2. I thank you for the discussion, which has been fruitful. I know we’ve had our ups and downs, but, for the most part, I genuinely appreciated and enjoyed the conversation.

        I think we have a number of areas of agreement and certainly some stiff areas of disagreement as well, which we’ve discussed at length in this back and forth. While my views (broadly) have not changed, you did raise some worthwhile points to consider. I hope I did for you as well.

        Again, I apologize for any rude remarks. I know we are both passionate about these topics, and I let heat of the moment impact my remarks / tone on a few occasions. I’m glad we were able to conduct a (mostly) civil debate and end on positive terms.

        I wish you well, and I hope we see the adoption of an open system sooner rather than later, but I won’t be holding my breath. So until the next time, I bid you adieu. Looking forward to the next discussion!

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