American soccer system flawed, Atlanta Silverbacks are a prime example

Jack Hudson

The Atlanta Silverbacks used to be Atlanta’s main source of professional soccer. That has changed with the emergence of Atlanta United, which is has become the center of everything soccer within the city. As Atlanta United gains more notoriety, the less we hear from the Atlanta Silverbacks, and with the current state at which soccer in the United States functions, the odds are we’ll never hear from them again. The main cause of this issue is the lack of relegation and promotion amongst the different leagues.

In most countries, the top teams at the end of each season are promoted eventually reaching the first division while the bottom teams are relegated leading all the way up to . This serves as motivation for teams looking to get promoted, while striking fear into those wishing to remain in the top flight. It’s what makes leagues such as the English Premier League and other ones around the world so much more interesting.

In the United States this is not the case. The top tier of American soccer is known as Major League Soccer. The leagues below include the United Soccer League, North American Soccer League, and the National Premier Soccer League. However, these leagues are not connected, and operate independently from each other. A team cannot move up and down from one league to the next.

By having this stagnancy of teams, it allows mediocrity to fester. Teams aren’t worried about being dropped to the second tier, and the fans aren’t as invested into seeing their teams succeed because they know they will never see their side in the first division. One of the greatest aspects of European soccer is seeing a team work its way through the system, and finally making it to the highest level. And just as exhilarating, perhaps even more exciting than the title race, is watching teams battle it out to prevent relegation. These are aspects that the American soccer system is lacking.

In the case of the Atlanta Silverbacks, they never had a large fan base. Their average game attendance in 2014, before Atlanta United stepped in, was 4,447 people. Whereas in Atlanta United’s inaugural season, their average is around 46,000 fans. Nonetheless, the Silverbacks fan base hasn’t completely diminished, but, in comparison, they are nowhere close.

Some may argue that the lack of fans for NASL teams is the main reason why there can never be the emergence of lower league teams onto the biggest stage.However this argument becomes invalid when we look at FC Cincinnati, a team who plays in the USL, and actually took down several MLS teams in their 2017 US Open Cup run, a competition similar to the FA Cup in England that allows all teams in American to compete against each other. Cincinnati’s average game attendance in the 2017 season was 21,280 fans, which is much higher than MLS side FC Dallas’ 14,000, a team that typically finishes top in their conference each year.

Allowing teams to move up and down would improve the competition, and would breathe new life into the American soccer system. No longer would teams like FC Cincinatti have to outdo MLS teams in attendance and level of play while playing in the second tier without any hope of moving up. It would also motivate teams like the Silverbacks to invest in their program with the hopes of reaching it to the first division.

his lack of hope has caused teams like the Silverbacks to let their program run. It can be seen at the games, in their stadium and with their team. But if they were given, at least the hope, of moving up into the MLS, they might invest a little bit of money into their program. So if the United States wants to improve their legitimacy in the world of soccer, they must unite their leagues. The Atlanta Silverbacks are a prime example of the flaws in the current situation.

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