In the intricate realm of American soccer, the enduring and contentious partnership between Major League Soccer (MLS) and FIFA’s regulatory arm, the United Soccer Federation, has been a source of skepticism for over two decades. Industry insiders point to conflicts of interest and practices that overtly impede competition, a departure from the standards observed in most other industries. The perplexing decision of the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) to shield a privileged few within the MLS while curtailing potential investments in a sport beloved by 4 billion people worldwide raises significant concerns.
Functioning as a gatekeeper, the USSF has fortified barriers around the MLS by enforcing stringent league standards that not only determine divisional status but also impose impractical financial, geographical, and logistical regulations on its leagues. Despite direct inquiries regarding the USSF’s divisional mandate, General Council member Greg Fike has remained unresponsive, emphasizing the opacity surrounding these decisions.
The alleged bias becomes glaringly evident in the saga of the North American Soccer League (NASL), which, despite seeking Division One status alongside MLS, found itself sidelined by the USSF, citing instability as a convenient excuse. Ironically, numerous NASL teams were assimilated into MLS or the MLS-affiliated USL, effectively serving as the reserve league for MLS. Legal consequences ensued, with the NASL’s antitrust case against the USSF and MLS scheduled for trial on September 9, 2024, contingent on the outcome of summary judgment motions.
The legal complexity deepens with Relevant Sports, LLC’s case against FIFA and the USSF, challenging a 2018 policy that divided the geographic market. The soccer promoter alleges that this policy unlawfully restrains teams from playing official season games outside their home territory.
Adding to the concerns is the recent $50 million donation from Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the NFL’s Falcons and MLS’ Atlanta United FC, to the USSF for a new training center. Unraveling these layers reveals a disconcerting proximity between the USSF and MLS, a relationship that appears to favor a select few at the expense of the broader soccer community and the sport’s growth in America.