Five changes that would put MLS on top

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By NICK PAPADIS
College Contributor Network

There is no doubt that MLS is on the rise. With the expansion at the beginning of next season, and more teams expected to join in the coming years, American soccer is growing to new heights.

However, the top-tier domestic league still has a long way to go before it will be amongst the top leagues in the world. To be competitive and amongst the world's top leagues MLS will need to instill five major changes.

Improve youth systems:

It is a known fact that in the US the youth system is quite different than in many other nations around the world. Unlike many other countries, almost all players go to college prior to beginning their professional careers.

This is the first major change necessary for MLS to improve. The current system sees players go through a youth system unrelated to a professional team, then go on to college before even being looked at by professional teams.

While I am by no means suggesting players should not go to college, I do believe that changes need to be made to the current system. Teams should be encouraged to develop youth systems and academy systems signing players from younger ages and developing them through their academy.

The college system is not mutually exclusive with an academy system. If an academy system was put in place, players could play for their college team during the NCAA season, then train with their club's team during the off-season.

This would promote a higher level of play from a younger age, thus improving the league as a whole as well as improving the US National Team.

Increase the number of teams and introduce the relegation/promotion system:

MLS is currently already in the process of expanding which is a huge start and should continue. With the addition of NYC FC and Orlando City, MLS is now at 20 teams and plans to increase that to 24 by 2020.

However, simply expanding is not the answer. Along with expansion, MLS should introduce a relegation system much like that used by countries across the world. This would not only expand the number of teams but would also help build more regional fan-bases for all teams.

If the league opted to have 20 teams in MLS, with the bottom three being relegated to the NASL and NASL teams having the opportunity to be promoted to MLS, smaller teams could build large followings. This would expand the reach of soccer to many smaller markets that may not typically be thought of as hubs of professional sports.

The introduction of relegation would also increase pressure on teams and give them an extra goal to play for. With a relegation system, it becomes interesting to watch not only the top teams, but also to watch the teams battling to avoid relegation.

Teams under pressure of relegation are forced to make crucial decisions and strive to avoid being relegated rather than having the option of writing off a season and hoping for improvements in the next campaign.

Small teams also have more incentive and can be rewarded. NASL teams would have great opportunities to increase fans and increase revenue which would grow the sport as a whole.

The downside of introducing relegation is that the current playoff system would not be as effective. However, in total, a relegation race would likely be more interesting for a wider range of people than a playoff race.

Change the season to align with other leagues:

Another change that would greatly benefit the league would be changing the season to align with other leagues around the world.

This is not an issue of conforming with other leagues, but an issue of keeping the league at its peak every year. With the current schedule, the MLS season conflicts with international competitions such as the World Cup and Euro Cup.

Though this does not always affect the league too much, when international competitions are occurring many of the league's top players are unable to compete for their clubs due to being on international duty.

Also, when large competitions such as the World Cup are going on, league play is less interesting because many stars are playing for their national teams.

Changing the season to the more typical August-May timeline would put soccer in direct competition with football and basketball, but would also help keep the league at peak performance every season.

Do away with the Designated Player rule:

The rule which is in place in an effort to keep the richest teams in the nation from becoming too overpowered also puts huge limitations on clubs. Though it is always interesting to see teams that have the same number of "stars" getting rid of the rule would help bring a greater number of world-class players to the MLS.

Teams should be allowed to buy any player they have the funds to purchase. The league should not be able to impose restrictions on who teams can and can not buy.

In place of the designated player rule, MLS should try to use a UEFA-style Financial Fair Play (FFP) rule. This would allow top teams to buy top players, but also would keep the league fair.

Develop stronger international club competitions:

The final change that would help MLS become one of the world's top leagues is to create a more prestigious international club competition.

The current CONCACAF Champions League does not provide the level of international competition that creates a more competitive domestic league. If the top teams in the league had an opportunity to participate in a very competitive international competition, it would increase competitiveness at the domestic level.

For clubs in Europe, the UEFA Champions League is the ultimate goal because of the prestige and monetary incentives of the competition. For clubs in MLS, the CONCACAF Champions League is not as much of a reward, thus they do not strive for it nearly as much as European clubs strive for the UEFA Champions League.

If a more competitive international competition such as a combined North American/South American club competition were created, teams would have a greater incentive to reach the top of their league.

The creation of such a competition would be a monumental task, and would not only involve changes by MLS, but leagues around the continent. However, the difficulty would ultimately pay off monetarily as well as increase the competitive spirit of teams throughout the Americas.

Conclusion:

While many of the changes that would help MLS become one of the world's top leagues are huge undertakings, the league has an infinite amount of potential.

Within the next few generations, MLS will continue to rise to prominence regardless of the steps taken by the league, but the five changes above would help take the league from a competitive league to a league that could compete with the EPL, Bundesliga, and La Liga.

Nick Papadis is a sophomore at American University majoring in Broadcast Journalism. Nick broadcasts AU men's soccer amongst other sports, and is an avid Liverpool fan. Follow him on Twitter: @NPSoccerTalk
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