MLS promotion, relegation will never happen, league president says

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Soccer in the United States will never have a system of promotion-relegation similar to those in leagues across the world, Major League Soccer president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said Tuesday.

Speaking to media gathered at a breakfast meeting as part of MLS All-Star festivities, Abbott said flatly that, based on current league plans, it "never happens."

This is despite MLS's planned expansion to 24 teams by 2020 and potentially even more beyond that. Abbott said the MLS business model has remained the same throughout its existence and will likely remain.

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He characterized the single-entity system as a partnership among owners based on being "competitions on the field and business partners off the field." Investors pay a franchise fee to enter the league, and the league controls player movement and contracts.

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In recent times, MLS's lack of transparency has come under heavy scrutiny, as United States internationals Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey joined the league as Designated Player signings. Despite previously published MLS roster rules, they skipped the allocation process normally reserved for national team players entering or re-entering the league.

Before the 2014 season, MLS published a new rule stating that "Designated Players of a certain threshold — as determined by the League — are not subject to allocation ranking." That did not apply to returning U.S. national team DPs Maurice Edu and DaMarcus Beasley.

In light of Abbott's comments, MLS appears prepared to continue staking out its position in a unique manner, attempting to insulate itself from global market forces to ensure financial viability of all franchise investors.

NASL, U.S. Soccer's second division, isn't as closed off to the proposition, however. The league, whose teams have plenty to gain by the prospect of promotion, maintains its stance of openness to promotion and relegation in the wake of Abbott's remarks.

"The NASL is focused on continuing to expand the global game in North America and remains open to any and all efforts to align our professional soccer league with the rest of the world," the league said in a statement released to "We remain open to the concept of promotion and relegation and many other concepts our great fans and partners associate with top level soccer around the world."