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Relegation is coming to the US, but don't expect to see Messi in the USL Championship next year

Major League Soccer is preparing to enter a new era following the arrival of the Greatest Of All Time, but the wall-to-wall coverage of Lionel Messi's movements in Miami has been momentarily broken by a seismic shift from America's second division, the USL.

As reported by The Athletic's Tom Bogert and Jeff Rueter, the USL will vote in August over adopting a promotion and relegation system. The format would be three pro tiers, requiring a restructure in 2024 and then the implementation of promotion and relegation in 2025.

The vote is no sure thing and there's certain to be opposition from some owners. Many USL Championship clubs have received heavy investment over the years with soccer-specific stadiums being built across the league, and a drop to USL League One would be a real risk. 

But still, there's really nothing like the drama of avoiding the drop (Everton on the final EPL matchday was pure pandemonium) and the thrill of securing promotion (Luton Town and their 10,000-seat stadium joining the EPL), so the USL would be electrified from top to bottom.

MLS, of course, would remain its own separate entity, living in its secure private bubble where entry requires a $500 million expansion fee. However, there's hope that if the USL finds success with promotion and relegation, then maybe MLS could come around and work with the USL on a four division professional system.

For fun, let's take a look at what would happen right now if promotion/relegation was implemented across the land.

Relegated from MLS

27th-place Toronto FC

28th-place Inter Miami 

29th-place Colorado Rapids 

Outlook for these clubs: This is probably the clearest example of why MLS doesn't want pro/rel right now. Toronto and Miami moved mountains to land Lorenzo Insigne and Lionel Messi, respectively, and now two of the league's biggest draws would be playing in the USL Championship. But I think both clubs would still get big crowds in the second division (as long as Messi's still around) and would get promoted right away (as long as Messi's still around). 

I'm less hopeful for Colorado. Owner Stan Kroenke deserves a relegation for his lack of investment in the squad, but I don't think fans would flock to Commerce City for USLC action.

Promoted from USL Championship 

1st-place Sacramento Republic FC

2nd-place Tampa Bay Rowdies 

3rd-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Outlook for these clubs: The Rowdies would make a great replacement for Miami, but their 7,000-seat stadium that used to be a ballpark could use some work. Sacramento has long wanted to join MLS, and they've got a nice 12,000-seat soccer-specific ground. 

Pittsburgh would bring the smallest stadium into MLS (5,000), but Highmark is right on the river downtown and a MLS rivalry with Philadelphia would be intense. 

Relegated from USL Championship

22nd-place Miami FC

23rd-place  Las Vegas Lights FC

24th-place Hartford Athletic

Promoted from USL League One 

1st-place Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC

2nd-place Forward Madison FC

3rd-place North Carolina FC

Relegated from USL League One

10th-place Lexington

11th-place Chattanooga Red Wolves SC

12th-place Central Valley Fuego FC

Promoted from USL League Two

1st-place Chicago City SC

2nd-place Flint City Bucks

3rd-place Fort Wayne 

We'll get them next year, Minneapolis City SC.

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