Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC hosted FC Tulsa before a sellout crowd at Weidner Field in the USL Summer Showcase, where the topic of promotion and relegation was top of mind at the USL Mid-Year Meetings. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Spr
If there was one topic on the minds of everyone watching this year’s USL Summer Showcase and the Mid-Year Meetings that were part of it in Colorado Springs, it was that of promotion and relegation.
From USL Championship President Jeremy Alumbaugh’s perspective, that was to be expected.
“Promotion-relegation is a hot topic, and it gains a lot of interest from media, from fans, from people all over, and rightfully so,” Alumbaugh said during a halftime interview with Marion Crowder. “It’s got everything, it’s got drama, it’s got storylines, it has a lot of things that a lot of places are able to experience.
“At the same time, it’s complicated. There’s a lot of factors that go into it. There’s a lot of things to consider. So, we’re going to spend time this week talking about those things. Then the next couple of weeks, we’re going to do the same and we’ll see what some potential reforms might look like to our competition.”
USL Championship and League One clubs compete against one another in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, with the Championship's Louisville City FC hosting League One's Lexington SC earlier this year. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Over the past few years, the USL has been very open about its interest in finding new ways to increase drama through meaningful matches and its in-depth research around several potential competition changes, including promotion and relegation.
Pop culture examples such as Ted Lasso and Welcome to Wrexham have raised mainstream U.S. awareness about the competitive structure, and more voices in American soccer are weighing in.
Among them is current United States Men’s National Team defender Tim Ream, whose Fulham side is gearing up for the new Premier League season. An alum of USL League Two – where he played for Chicago Fire Premier – Ream believes the structure adds an element for players and clubs that changes the game and mindsets.
“I’m all for promotion and relegation,” Ream told Front Office Sports Today last month. “It puts a lot of pressure on relegation – and when you have pressure, you can see who can handle things and who can’t.
“To start it in the USL is a good jumping-off point. … I think a lot of people will be [watching] with one eye on how it goes.”
Ream and Alumbaugh both have a connection to St. Louis, where Ream was born and raised and where Alumbaugh was President of former USL Championship club Saint Louis FC. Six months into his tenure as USL Championship President, Alumbaugh regularly notes how much the league has achieved.
“[The USL] means a lot to me personally and professionally it has done a lot for me,” he said. “These six months have been amazing. … The talent that we’re getting in this league, and especially the youth players that are coming in. You look at Josh Wynder, somebody from Louisville City that grew through that Academy, developed in that Academy into the First Team and then gets transferred over to Benfica for seven figures. Kobi Henry at Orange County last summer, the same thing over to the First Division in France.
“The global market is recognizing the talent here and you players are recognizing that the USL – and specifically our clubs – are able to create an environment where they can grow on the field off the field and it's a great place for them to start their careers.”
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC’s downtown home of Weidner Field served as an apt backdrop to an entertaining contest on ESPN2 against FC Tulsa – and the more than 200 executives from 70 communities around the country that gathered to keep pushing the game forward.