If one takes a closer look at the relegation and promotion battles that we witnessed across some of Europe’s top leagues over the last few months, it is only obvious that the idea of trying to survive adds as much excitement to football as trying to win the title. In Major League Soccer, the excitement is arguably drawn from the play-off period, when teams that have barely made the cut receive a lifeline and get to have a go at winning the title, despite, in many cases, playing a rather underwhelming regular season. Now, this is a system that works to a certain degree, but pretty much disregarding a team’s achievements, including goal difference and the accumulation of points, during the regular season is a dangerous game.
In many leagues, it does actually go down to the wire, as they say, and games between first and second in the table for example, gain weight and can produce blockbuster game days. On the other hand, some leagues, this year’s Bundesliga and Premier League being two of them, produce a breakaway champion too early in the season. However, these leagues have other types of excitement on the menu. In both the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the last match day of the season was decisive with regards to the respective battle against relegation. With several clubs in danger across both leagues, the final day of the season triggered some nail-biting excitement, with some clubs achieving the unexpected, whilst others failed to make up for the earlier performances. Without a doubt, a relegation battle is just as exciting as fighting for the title, as the example of Germany’s VfB Stuttgart in particular, illustrates.
Just a few days ago, former German international and current head coach of the US men’s national team Jurgen Klinsmann, stated that adding the concept of relegation would make the MLS a much more exciting prospect. In addition to this, it would certainly draw more attention to the lower tiers of US soccer. Such a system would not allow any teams to ever settle down and plan for next season due to the play-offs being a lost cause. Instead, every team would have to ensure a comfortable distance to the bottom of the table, which in turn, would increase the competitiveness of the league. In other words, every team would play for something at any stage of the season. For many young players in particular, the exercise of trying to avoid the drop, would be beneficial in terms of character-building.
Given the franchise system in the MLS, introducing relegation might be incredibly hard. However, the supporters, players and ultimately, the clubs would create a much more competitive environment and would arguably draw more international attention to the MLS. Unfortunately, as things stand, Sunday’s game between New York City and Montreal could not be less interesting for genuine football fans.