USL spending and a new D2 idea

At SocTakes, Nipun Chopra has done a deep dive into USL spending, which has really ramped up over the last decade.

You could say that’s a strong rebuttal to the notion that people are unwilling to spend money on lower-division clubs that have no pathway to the upper divisions unless they have a spare couple hundred million to spend. But it’s not that simple, and Nipun suggests we could be looking at another USL bubble as we had in the late 90s. (He actually uses the analogy of a Shepard tone, which is brilliant.)

The figure that stands out: Player salaries per team are somewhere in the $250,000-$500,000 range. That’s maybe $10,000-$20,000 per player. More likely — a few players are making a living range while a lot of others are filler.

In the grand scheme of things, I’ll always argue that I’m more concerned about women’s national team pool players barely making $10,000 in the NWSL, and I’d love to know why all these owners are more willing to spend this kind of money on the 21st through 40th best men’s teams in the United States instead of the top 10 women’s teams. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

But let’s see if we can make things a bit better for the men. If the NASL had one legitimate point, it was the idea that the Cosmos and a couple of other teams (look, if you’re going to say MLS operations with sprawling youth programs aren’t “clubs,” then I’m not going to call Miami FC a “club,” either) were able to pay a bit more. I’m not going to say “what they deserve” because, for the umpteenth time, I’m not going to weep for Danny Szetela wrapping up his professional career after 15 years and 100 chances while Tori Huster and other potential *World Cup players* have to play the offseason in Australia and risk overuse injuries just to keep playing into their mid-20s.

Sorry … sorry … you can tell this sort of nonsense is difficult to swallow. But anyway …

Paradoxically, I think we can create more high-paying jobs for non-MLS players if we have fewer Division 2 teams. Here’s how:

  • Let D2 teams be freed from whatever central management the USL is imposing. You may need a salary cap (I actually prefer the luxury-tax model) to keep at least a little bit of parity, but put it really high — say, $1.5 million for a luxury tax or $2 million for a cap. That might actually convince NASL holdouts to come over and play. (If Commisso and Silva don’t like it, fine. Sell the teams.)
  • Everyone else drops to D3, which would retain a stronger central league management.

What we’re headed toward now doesn’t make a lot of sense. Thirty-some D2 teams and barely eight D3 teams? Let’s leave the inverted pyramid to journalists, shall we?

So we might have, say, 16 teams playing D2. Top of my head, drawing heavily from an attendance chart and some belief in markets that deserve better (St. Louis, for instance) — Cosmos, Miami FC, Jacksonville, North Carolina, Sacramento, Indy, Louisville, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Oklahoma City.

That’s 14. I’m not sure USL stalwarts Richmond, Charleston and Pittsburgh would want to spend that much.

Yes, you in the back? You have a question? Let me guess — what about promotion/relegation?

I think it’s feasible here. Start D2 with the 14 clubs (and yes, some of them are clubs — look at the Richmond Kickers and tell me otherwise) and two others.

You’d need some caveats. If the Kickers, who have opted on multiple occasions not to go big-time, don’t want to go up, don’t force them. But if the top two teams in D3 think they’re ready to try D2, go for it. Perhaps those teams would include an MLS reserve side — the USA certainly wouldn’t be the only country with reserve sides on these tiers of a functional pyramid.

And you might need some bolsters for relegated teams. If they have academies, perhaps they should have a specially designated parachute payment to keep those academies running. (I still can’t believe someone related to the Cosmos once mocked such a suggestion with a Helen Lovejoy-esque “Think of the children!” motif. If we’re not trying to develop young players, what the hell are we doing? Let’s just shut it all down and watch the EPL on TV.)

Perhaps then we could see the following steps:

  • NPSL-Pro and NISA join up with this model to give us even more D3 fun.
  • A top-tier amateur division, which could officially D4, has promotion opportunities to D3. (I don’t think relegation from D3 to D4 is necessary or advisable unless we have hundreds of clubs at D3 — at this stage in the USA’s development, it makes no sense whatsoever to bump a pro club with an academy of any sort down to an amateur league.)
  • Then, yes, perhaps pro/rel between D1 and D2.

The latter would have some criteria involved. Not just the usual “pile of money to ensure club doesn’t fold midseason” but also stringent academy criteria such as the ones Germany imposed.

And a women’s pro team. So many we can finally start paying Tori Huster what she deserves as a nice side benefit to giving a few hundred more guys a chance to earn a living in this game.

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