Tucked away in some of my modified promotion/relegation ideas and then expounded upon in an Open Cup idea is this notion — meaningful tournament games played in February in warm-weather and domed venues.
Suppose we could …
- Come up with something akin to the NCAA’s March Madness?
- Come up with something that gives soccer clubs what they’re all seeking through promotion/relegation — opportunity?
Let’s point out early — this is not a substitute for a promotion/relegation system. This idea works with open systems and closed systems. It works if the USA remains on the Brazilian calendar or switches to the English calendar.
It does work best if pro soccer has, like the NCAA, a lot of regional leagues. (Or regions within a larger national framework, if you prefer.) We should have that. In a country this size, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a national third division, then a national fourth division and so forth. Other countries split into regional play a few levels down the pyramid — Germany and France at the fourth, Spain at the third, even England at the sixth.
In fact, if you prefer a soccer model to a basketball model, just tell yourself we’re modeling all this after the German Futsal Cup.
Here’s the idea: No more MLS-only (or, if we’ve radically changed the league system, no more Division 1-only) tournaments. Maybe not even a national tournament for a Division 2 or Division 3 league, but if someone wants to put together the equivalent of an FA Trophy or special event to crown a “D3” champion, fine.
But this is the tournament that determines the USA and Canada’s professional champion. Each year, we’ll have three top-tier trophies:
- Pro League Champion: Determined by league play, wrapping up either in May or December, depending on which calendar we pick.
- U.S. Open Cup Champion: Probably determined in August, depending on whether we want this to include “summer league” teams (PDL, much of the NPSL, etc), but that’s another conversation.
- Pro Cup Champion: Late January through February.
The format would depend on many factors. But here’s one hypothetical idea:
- 24 teams: The champion of every regional pro league (D3, USASA, whatever), a couple of teams from D2 and the rest from D1.
- Three-team round-robin groups. Everyone gets at least two games that way.
- The eight group winners play a simple knockout tournament. Total of five games for the finalists.
Maybe you could also do a 32-team tournament. Maybe double-elimination instead of the round-robin groups. All good.
You could do brackets, like the NCAA Tournament. You’d have the occasional blowout, but you’d have the occasional upset.
It would finish up in late February, one of the deadest times in the U.S. sports calendar. Not yet NCAA Tournament time. Not yet the stretch run of the NBA or NHL. No baseball, aside from autograph-seekers in Florida. No gridiron. (During Winter Olympic years, you’d have a conflict, but maybe creative scheduling could help.)
And every pro team would have an opportunity to win a national championship. Every year. No matter which division they’re in.
Opportunity’s what everyone wants these days. Right?