There are probably lots of reasons to be upset about Orlando cutting in line for an MLS franchise, if that's how you see it. You might feel a little queasy about taxpayers footing the bill for, in the words of William Manchester, a giant playpen for millionaires. You might believe that your non-MLS community would do as good a job or better of supporting a team. You might wish to extract a promise that even if the team doesn't change its name, it at least fixes its logo so it doesn't look like Mama Lion spent her pregnancy nibbling on spent fuel rods. You might be a fan of a Western Conference team, and realized that within a couple of years the East will get another couple of scrub-ass expansion chew toys while you have to deal with freaking Kansas City AND Houston, God damn it. Me, though? I couldn't be happier. When this tale of two Cities is written, MLS will have added a big money team out of thin air, and leveled up another lower division market. Among other things, that will JUST ABOUT DO IT for promotion and relegation talk in this country. As everyone has been told, Manchester City will buy in for $100 million, and Orlando will apparently pay $70 million. To put this a little bit into perspective, Phil Anschutz bought the Galaxy from Marc Rapaport in 1998 for $26 million, which would be $36 million today.
Wow. MLS has been around long enough that we have to adjust for inflation. That just hit me. I don't know whether that speaks more to MLS or to our alleged economy, but golly.
Anyway, Phil Rawlins, a man who I have no evidence to suggest does not have the nickname "Easy," is about to bet seventy million donuts that Major League Soccer isn't going to establish promotion and relegation anytime between now and when the sun goes out. Otherwise, it probably would have been a tiny bit cheaper to pay players who could beat NASL-quality teams like Atlanta and Chivas USA.
Speaking of NASL - the truly delightful reaction to this has been from New York Cosmos fans, and others who insist on seeing Orlando's entry into MLS as "promotion" for winning USL-PRO. Apparently it's unfair to New York, which is getting a second MLS team in 2015, that Orlando will join the league ahead of Long Island.
Now, do not get me wrong. I've felt the Twin Cities has been an overlooked MLS potential market since the beginning of time, and from what I've seen places like San Antonio could join MLS next year and do just fine. Those guys have a right to grumble simply because they are dependent on a passing bajillionaire to pony up an expansion fee.
The Cosmos are hilariously different. Their ownership could easily have afforded an expansion fee, but they chose to "challenge" MLS from the Hofstra campus, with little more than an unexpired 70's trademark. Now a different ownership group has claimed their turf, and a lower division team has elbowed them aside. I don't exactly know how the Cosmos were going to force MLS to bring them in on the Cosmos' terms, but I think it's fair to say those assumptions are now, to put it delicately, non-operative.
People's reactions to this have been thrilling. I know it's cheesy to quote random rants on Twitter, but I just can't help it:
"You've destroyed any sense of legitimacy in North American soccer!"
"All you have to do is write a check, boom, you bought yourself a spot in D1."
"Not sure how all clubs in America can sit and tolerate this buying spots in D1."
"There needs to be calls made and outrage expressed, lawyers involved to really stop this"
"Can FIFA and Sepp Blatter please wake up and stop this farce of a league."
Yeah, Sepp Blatter, there's the guy to uphold integrity and fair play. I mean, when your doctor prescribes hemorrhoid cream, why not use rattlesnake venom instead?
Unsurprisingly, seeing Tinkerbell bleeding out through a gaping stomach wound has not stopped the clapping. The premise that FIFA can somehow save the day is very tempting to some born-again Blatter-lovers:
Orlando City is MLS's 21st team--which is above the FIFA-mandated 20-team limit for top flights. The English Premier League so many Americans watch now originally had more than 20 teams. In fact, the Englsih Premier League had 22 teams its first couple of seasons. But in 1994, FIFA ordered the FA to reduce the number of teams in the Premier League from 22 down to 20. Without teams folding and a promotion/relegation system in place, this was easily accomplished. Four teams would be relegated from the Premier League following the 1994-95 season and only two teams would be promoted from Division One of the Football League (now known as the Football League Championship).
FIFA may be under pressure to enforce the 20-team limit in top flights from MLS' plans to expand beyond 20 teams, but it is also under pressure from FIFPro (the FIFA players' association) to reduce the number of games overall, with players concerned with the amount of national team matches and international club tournaments like the CONCACAF Champions League, UEFA Champions League, Club World Cup, and Copa Libertadores, as well as league/FA-wide cups like the US Open Cup, Copa do Brasil, Copa MX, and the Capital One Cup.
What does this mean for USSF? It will have to reduce the number of teams in Division 1 (MLS) or risk being ineligible for international tournaments at both the club and national team level, or being passed over for future World Cup bids.
Pretty strong stuff…but factually wrong. The top clubs in the Premier League were easily sold on the idea of reducing teams in order to compete in the Champions League. A few years ago, an idea was floated to reduce the Premier League to 16, and FIFA was neither consulted nor mentioned.
In any case, if MLS needed to reduce schedule congestion, they could simply reduce the number of games in a season. The rumors of reducing the schedule to 28 games were flying high a few weeks ago, FIFA permission was for some reason not brought up.
Just as there is no requirement for a single table, or for each team to play each other home and away, there is nothing that says a first division has to have fewer than twenty teams. You may search at your leisure, but you will search in vain. It's almost as if FIFA leaves scheduling up to its individual federations to decide.
Promotion and relegation, however, is mentioned by FIFA. It's well worth reading, to see exactly how desperate promotion and relegation partisans are to cite the statute, and how cruel and hypocritical FIFA can be when it chooses.
Here is Part 9 of Section IV, "Sporting Integrity" (laugh track), entitled "Principle of promotion and relegation."
1. A Club's entitlement to take part in a domestic league championship shall depend principally on sporting merit. A Club shall qualify for a domestic league championship by remaining in a certain division or by being promoted or relegated to another at the end of the season.
A lot of people stop reading there, and a lot of people do not heed the word "principally." Or "or." Careful reading proves this paragraph to be fairly silly in any case – a club shall qualify for a domestic league championship after being relegated? From what, exactly? A theoretical Super League, I suppose.
But yes, sporting merit is the principal factor, and New York Cosplay fans have every right to oh, whoops, turns out there's more:
2. In addition to qualification on sporting merit, a Club's participation in a domestic league championship may be subject to other criteria within the scope of licensing procedure, whereby the emphasis is on sporting, infrastructural, administrative, legal and financial considerations. Licensing decisions must be able to be examined by the Member's body of appeal.
Member here means the country's federation - for our purposes, the USSF.
The following paragraph is one I anticipate will be seized upon by anti-Orlando partisans with vigor.
3. Altering the legal form or company structure of a Club to facilitate its qualification on sporting merit and/or its receipt of a license for a domestic league championship, to the detriment of the integrity of a sports competition, is prohibited. This includes, for example, changing the headquarters, changing the name or transferring stakeholdings between different Clubs. Prohibitive decisions must be able to be examined by the Member's body of appeal.
This was really about Mexico, which had and has the habit of selling top division rights to clubs that have had an off-year or twelve. As to how effective this statute is, let's see what happens if Chivas gets themselves relegated.
But yes, the Sounders, Timbers and Impact all facilitated their qualification to MLS through simony. Now Orlando is doing the same. They should be struck down with furious vengeance. Has FIFA given us a way to do this? Indeed it has!
4. Each Member is responsible for deciding national issues, which may not be delegated to the Leagues. Each Confederation is responsible for deciding issues involving more than one Association concerning its own territory. FIFA is responsible for deciding international issues involving more than one Confederation.
There you have it - FIFA has absolute jurisdiction on promotion and relegation in leagues that span more than one confederation. Which is none of them in the entire world, unless the A-League re-expands into New Zealand, or Israel and Palestine unite their soccer leagues.
Your watchdog here is CONCACAF, since MLS and the NASL cross the Canadian border. So, if NASL wants to trade the Cosmos for DC United, and the USSF for some bizarre reason refuses to let them do so, Bill Peterson can appeal to Jeffrey Webb for justice, Cayman Islands style.
The takeaway here is that FIFA went to the trouble to draft a statute under the heading of "Sporting Integrity" that it explicitly says it cannot enforce. As far as "the jokes write themselves" territory, I think we passed that point about ten exits ago.
So congratulations to Orlando City, MLS' newest, and southernmost, destroyer of dreams. Now get to work on that logo.